If you been a Christian for some time, you have heard the calls to “live the gospel’ or to “transform society.” I think Christians mean well with these statements. These assertions, however, are neither helpful nor Biblical. I think they owe more to sentimentalism than to thoughtful exegesis. For instance, how can we live the gospel, when it calls for perfect obedience by the incarnated Son of God? We fail to live the gospel at our birth (Ps 51:5). Nor does the Bible say anything about “redeeming” or “transforming” society. Rather, it talks about renewing our minds (Rom 12:1–2). The Holy Spirit transforms sinners not institutions (Col 1:13). Grace does not restore nature in salvation; it redeems sinners with the person and work of Christ.
We need a biblical theological re-adjustment, when it comes to understanding culture and our place in it. We need to look at God’s good creation positively, yet with reserve. We need to see God’s image bearers with a little more respect (Gen 1:26). The fall did not so defect the image that it no longer remains (Gen 9:6; James 3:9; 1Cor 11:7). There remains in mankind a broad civic and social righteousness. In fact, God blesses the unbeliever along with the believer as He preserves this temporary, provisional, passing away creation.
I want to be clear to state that civic/social righteousness can never remove sin or God’s wrath. What it does, is it allows relative peace in this life. We need peace because there is, at the same time, an antithesis between the unbeliever and God, and the unbeliever and the believer in society. For that reason, I said we need to look at humans positively, as image bearers, but with reserve.
God, in the Gen 3:15ff, announced the antithesis. He put “enmity between” the offspring of Satan and the offspring of the woman. This antithesis was witnessed soon after, when Cain, the offspring of Satan, killed Adam, the offspring of Eve. Following Cain’s sin came justice. Cain in agony cried out for mercy fearing for his life due to God’s curse (Gen 3:14). God heard Cain and placed a mark on Cain to protect him. Any unlawful murder of Cain would have resulted in a “sevenfold” punishment (3:15). Seven in Scripture is the number of perfection. Law and order was placed in society. We would expect it to have come with the godly line, but it did not. The ungodly offspring got the protection of perfect and proportionate justice. He got justice, and he got something we would not have expected to come from the ungodly line, he also became the grandfather of the “Fathers” of art, agriculture, and industry (3:20–22). Within the ungodly offspring of Satan (Jude 11; Heb 11:4), we get culture and society. This should have ramifications on how we judge unbelievers. How often have you seen unbelievers actually do better at differing cultural pursuits? They are image bearers as believers. Salvation does not change the standards of this life. Piano playing remains the same for both the believer and unbeliever. Both have to practice hard; redemption does not make it easier for the Christian. Stay tuned for part II to see how God calls both believers and unbelievers to live together in society.