How your environment affects you
The scientific debate concerning theories of ‘nurture versus nature’ will continue for a long time to come, but one thing is sure – we are affected by our spiritual environment. Our culture influences how we approach spiritual matters. The claims of the gospel do not conform to the prevailing opinions of our world, either intellectually or culturally. But that’s just the point. Our faith is not the product of our society. It is revealed from heaven. We need to know what we are up against when we preach and live by the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our spiritual environment is not neutral but hostile to faith in Christ.
The issue is far deeper than cultural and intellectual preferences which vary from time to time and from place to place. The source of hostility to the truth of the gospel is spiritual. Humanity is blinded to the light of the gospel by the prince of darkness, the god of the realm of darkness:
But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.
2 Corinthians 4:3-4
In the post-modern West, truth is no longer an objective reality but a confusing cluster of individual viewpoints and perceptions. This form of relativism teaches there is no such thing as the truth – only my truth and your truth. The exclusive claims of the Christian gospel sound arrogant and bigoted. In our current philosophical environment, it is the height of intolerance to say that Jesus is the only way to God. Ironically, one of the last remaining acceptable intolerances of official Western culture is intolerance against Christianity itself. Everything goes, as long as it is not Christian. It takes courage to stand for Christ in that environment.
This descent into relativism leaves the door wide open to confusion and despair. There is no sure word for our world. We are coming from nowhere and drifting into nowhere. There is no hope, no meaning and no purpose – only what you can think, perceive or invent for yourself. But the revelation of the God of the Bible tells a different story. We are created by God for his glory and we find our true purpose in him and his kingdom established in Christ.
The spiritual realm is real
Our faith is solidly anchored in history and provides a reliable source of truth. The spiritual realm and the truths it contains are real. The rock of revelation is there whether people perceive it or not. Truth is truth whether people accept it or reject it.
The problem begins when your faith begins to challenge others – when you refuse to keep it private and want to go public with the gospel. As soon as you assert that your gospel is a ‘matter of fact’ and that your faith is relevant for everyone, you go against the trend. It takes courage to be open about our faith and to attempt to share it with others in our modern society. This contempt for the Christian gospel is set to grow and become even more intense in the future. Pressure will increase from both other religions and from secularism in our generation. How should we react to these things?
Thermometers or thermostats?
Most Christians act like thermometers, reflecting the ambient spiritual temperature. If it is cold, they are cold. If the spiritual atmosphere is open, they are open. If the prevailing spiritual climate is conducive to growth, they grow. But God has not called us to be thermometers, taking the spiritual temperature. Rather, he wants us to act like thermostats and set the temperature both in the church and in society. We should be determining the spiritual environment, not succumbing to it.
By prayer, fasting, and spiritual warfare, we can change the spiritual climate in our church, our city and even our nation. This is exactly what has happened in many nations in the non-Western World. Not so long ago we could speak of Africa as the continent of darkness, but now much of it is blazing the light of the gospel. Latin America has been transformed over the last 40 years, and is now home to a fast growing evangelical movement that is affecting its respective nations at every level. South Korea, once totally dominated by Buddhism, now hosts the largest evangelical church in the world founded by David Yonggi Cho, and has a Christian population of over 26% of the nation.
Overcoming your spiritual environment
We must draw the line in the sand and refuse to allow the spiritual atmosphere to affect us. We must also tear down the strongholds of the mind. I identify the following effects our spiritual environment has on us, which we must learn to overcome by the power of Christ:
- lack of confidence in the gospel
- doubt and unbelief
- spiritual coldness
- fear and intimidation
- spiritual ignorance
- mistrust and division
- civilian mentality (non-engagement in the spiritual battle)
- hardness of heart
- minding the things of self
- neglecting the things of God.
Passion brings transformation
We begin by refusing to allow our spiritual environment to dictate the level of our spirituality. Isaac sowed in a time of famine and reaped a hundredfold in the same year (Genesis 26:12). He refused to accept that his environment had more influence over his fruitfulness than the promise of God for his life. He sowed expecting a harvest, not paying attention to the negative surrounding conditions. God rewarded his faith.
“Christ lives in me”
The secret of passionate and vital Christianity is Christ. He lives in us individually and corporately. He is the source of our life, our joy and our fruitfulness. The apostle Paul spoke of living by the faith of Christ at work in his life (Galatians 2:20). He taught that when we die to the old life, Christ actually becomes our life and the ‘faith of Christ’ begins to operate in us. Jesus credits us with the benefits of his sacrificial death and indwells us with his sanctifying life. We are united with him. This is the summit of individual and corporate spirituality. We are joined to each other in him and he becomes our habitation, our true spiritual environment.
In John chapter 15, Jesus stresses that without him we can do nothing. But that also means joined in vital union with him, we can do all things. When we live in the conscious experience of this truth, we are transformed spiritually. Our repentance, consecration, wholeness and spiritual desire flow from Christ in us. When we stop trying to produce the life of Christ ourselves, we discover that very same life is being supernaturally reproduced in us. Sustained by our true spiritual habitat, our fellowship and witness become natural expressions of who we are.
“I am making a difference”
God has a plan for you far beyond your imagination. You have been masterfully re-created in the image of Christ and shaped by God himself to fulfil his divine purpose for you. Ephesians 2:10 teaches that God has a specially-prepared and tailor-made purpose for you on planet earth. It so perfectly fits you, that you will be able to say, “This is what I was born for!” When we reach out with Christ’s love we become the hand of God to those he is touching with his grace. The partnership is powerful and irresistible.
The “salt and light” image Jesus uses in the Sermon on the Mount brings hope to everyone who would otherwise think they are insignificant. Our good works shine before men and bring glory to our Father in heaven. Traditional church models say to the world, “Come and hear.” Cell church turns this on its head by equipping its members to be salt and light in the world. We say to our people, “Go and show” Christ to the world.
Cell groups bring structured and organised intentionality into the church’s mission to the world. We build microcosmic expressions of the good news in every corner of the ‘market place’ of our generation. We take Christ himself to the multitudes and show them he is alive.. As the Anglican Bishop, David Pytches wrote, “The meeting place is the learning place for the market place.” Serving Christ in the context of Christian gatherings is not enough to win the world.
A constant refrain in my preaching is, “Your occupation is the location for your true vocation.” We train Christians to be active in every aspect of modern life and to influence their world for Christ.
Prayer and intercession, the crucible of spiritual passion permeates the community of believers who throw themselves upon God’s mercy and grace. Spirit-empowered living reaches the lost, the lonely, the broken-hearted and the hurting. First individuals and then whole communities are transformed. Intentional discipleship mobilises the whole body of Christ to rise up and be counted. That is how we can transform our spiritual environment.