An Apostle’s Cultural Assimilation: Reaching One More, Part 4

Let’s play a game called, “Do You Know What Song This Is?” Ready, set, go!

  1. “All right, stop! Collaborate and listen…”
  2. “Now this is a story all about how my life got flipped turned upside down…”
  3. “I got my first real six-string, Bought it at the five-and-dime…”
  4. “Just a small-town girl, living in a lonely world…”
  5. “If there’s something strange in your neighborhood, who you gonna call?… ”

How’d you do? My guess is that you got 5/5 (check the end of the article for the answers!)

The crazy thing about this list is that it covers a myriad of different areas. There is a TV show theme song, the title song to a movie soundtrack, a rap song, and classic rock hits! Yet, most of us know these songs by heart! This isn’t just a lesson to the power of music and how what we listen to sticks in our brains, but it’s more importantly a lesson into the effects of culture and its influence.

This is where things get a little interesting. Many people within the church have been raised to think that culture is evil. That culture equals the world, and that it is antithetical to the gospel. But when we pin ourselves against the things in our culture, we forget one VERY important thing.

We are trying to reach people who are living in that culture.

The moment we see culture as evil, the moment we miss the forest for the trees, is the moment we lose the people who we are trying to reach. And don’t get me wrong, there are values that the world holds dear that are rooted in greed and all sorts of evil. But there are also many things in culture that can used as a bridge to reach the lost. Let’s take an example from Scripture.

In Acts 17, Paul is in the middle of one of his missionary journeys when he stumbles upon the town of Athens. Athens was a very philosophical town, and was full of many different gods that the people and the leaders worshipped. When Paul started preaching about Jesus, the men were utterly confused as to what Paul was talking about. They thought Jesus and God were another idol they could add to their repertoire. So, Paul decided to use some of their own language as a vehicle to carry the Gospel.

Athens was full of gods, and there were so many of them that there was actually an altar made “To an Unknown God.” Paul saw the altar and realized that it could be used as an illustration to the God of the universe who was unknown to them! But Paul not only used this altar. He also knew that these men were philosophers, so in the middle of his message, Paul used quotes from two popular philosophers of the time, men named Epimenides and Aratus. These men were the furthest thing from God fearing philosophers. One was Cretan and one was a Stoic, and both quotes that Paul says were actually regarding ZEUS! Yet in this instance, Paul was inspired by God to reference these earthly men and their false thinking to show these men of Athens the truth behind the gospel of Jesus.

This isn’t the only instance of Paul assimilating to the culture and speaking to people within their own situations. When writing the church in Ephesus and Collosae, Paul falls in line with the rhetoric of the people and includes a household code – something only commonly included in this area of the world. When many people read this code today, they do it in isolation; but in the first-century, the people would have compared what Paul said about the household to Aristotle’s household code written in his book “Politics.” Theologian Ben Witherington writes that, “Non-Christian household codes almost always direct exhortations only to the subordinate members of the household. What is new about the code here then [in Colossians] is the Christian limitations placed on the head of household. That is what would stand out to an ancient person hearing Paul’s discourse for the first time.”

Paul repurposed a set of rules and roles for the household and showed a more level playing field for those who were under the care of the head of the household. Paul was aware of the freedom that we now have in Christ, and there are many parts of what he wrote that showed how he cared for women, children, those in the lower classes of society, and minorities. Paul quoted other philosophers in other books, but the theme stands clear – God can redeem things in our culture to bring him glory.

What songs can you quote, what books can you reference, what talk show host can you mention to show someone the love of Jesus. If we view culture as our enemy, we immediately make an enemy out of anyone living in that culture. Let’s speak their language, let’s show them the truth in their world instead of only pointing out only the falsehoods. All truth is God’s truth. So, let’s be like Paul and study what our peers study. But let’s use it to reach one more!

Oh! And here are the answers to the above questions!

  • “Ice Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice
  • “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” by DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince
  • “Summer of ‘69” by Bryan Adams
  • “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey
  • “Ghostbusters” by Ray Parker Jr
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Cat People and Christ Followers – Galatians 2:16

“We are natural-born Jews, not sinners from the godless nations. 16 But we know that no one is made right with God by meeting the demands of the law. It is only through the faithfulness of Jesus the Anointed that salvation is even possible. This is why we put faith in Jesus the Anointed: so we will be put right with God. It’s His faithfulness—not works prescribed by the law—that puts us in right standing with God because no one will be acquitted and declared ‘right’ for doing what the law demands.” –Galatians 2:15-16

Stand-up comedian Demetri Martin is probably the best comedian I have ever heard give one-liners. I don’t know if he is just not a fan of segues or if his brain is full of a bunch of small random thoughts. Whatever it is, Martin knows how to turn one simple thought into something laughable.

For example: “My friend Steve likes cats. People are always saying ‘Oh, Steve’s really a cat person’. No he’s not. If Steve were a cat person it’d be, like, ‘Hey, Steve never goes in the pool’.”

I love this joke because it plays on how we define and describe people. By Steve being a “cat person” most people would assume that he is an avid fan of the fur-balls-whom-shall-not-be-named. But instead Martin turns the idea around and points out that if Steve were a “cat person” he would be half man and half cat… or be a villain who fights Batman – your pick.

Sometimes people get lost in letting the things they do describe and define them instead of letting who they are define them. This is an idea that Paul addresses to the Galatians when he goes over this discourse that he had with Peter.

In the Old Testament, many people believe that what made someone belong to the people of God was if they followed the Law. This is false. The people of God weren’t the people of God, because they followed the Law. They followed the Law (or tried to) because they were the people of God. Make sense? Good. One was part of the people of God in the Old Testament, because they were born into the Jewish nation. God set Abraham apart from the rest of creation and bestowed on him a promise – that He would bless the world through Abraham and that Abraham’s descendants would be innumerable.

The Jews however lost their way. They didn’t follow the Law that God gave them, and because of this, God allowed them to fall into exile. They needed a Savior. That is when Jesus came. Christ perfected the Law in that he obeyed it to its entirety. He came and delivered the people of God from their spiritual bondage through his death on the cross. And after his resurrection, all people were welcomed to be part of the people of God. It didn’t depend any longer on what family one was born into. It didn’t matter if they followed the law. Through Christ’s act of dying on the cross, any one who came to him in faith were welcomed in as God’s people.

Paul’s focus throughout Galatians is not just how one becomes a Christian. The Galatians were already saved. He was concerned about how one continues on after they believe. And he shares here that the people of God are no longer made right with God by following the requirements of the Law.

Many have argued as to whether Paul is refuting the ceremonial law, legalism, or the whole Mosaic Law. Jesus didn’t die solely because of legalism. If salvation was just about legalism, Jesus wouldn’t have had to die. And what would Christ’s crucifixion mean if it only neutralized part of the Law. Though Christ’s death extinguished the ceremonial law, which allowed Gentiles to enter into the Kingdom of Christ, it was extinguished through Christ fulfilling the Mosaic Law in its entirety.

We no longer follow the Mosaic Law.

We now follow the Law of Christ.

Does this mean that there are some things that still apply to believers? Of course it does! Following Christ doesn’t equally Lawlessness. It means a new Law – A new Covenant. Instead of it beginning with birth and ending with legalism, it begins with faith and ends with faithfulness.

The Law was merely a symptom, showing the signs of those who deserved death, and all men were guilty. Paul is trying to show this truth to the Galatians. There are false teachers trying to have them go back to this old way of treating symptoms without being cured. But Jesus already cured the Galatians! They were made right not because they followed the Law, but because they put faith in the faithfulness of Christ.

Don’t follow a set of rules. Don’t think you can get your life right and then come to God. Only through Christ can the guilty be seen as innocent, and only through the power of the Holy Spirit can a sinner be made clean. It all starts with Christ’s death. He died in order that you can be set right with God. Don’t define yourself by any Law or rule or even by church. All those things are chaff if you don’t have Christ. You can have all the looks of a Christian and not be a Christ follower.

Christ has set the world to rights.

Seek him.

Follow him.