This next devotional is noticeably longer—and for that matter, noticeably ornerier—than usual. If you disagree with my opening views, or at least feel I could be a bit kinder, fine. But bear with me, and try to hear the point behind the point, because the more important issue will be bringing up the rear:
There’s a huge preoccupation in the American church right now with cultural relevance—which, in many cases, could just as easily be read as “being indistinguishable from the rest of the world” and/or “becoming as inoffensive to non-Christians as possible.” To be sure, there are plenty of actions the church needs to repent of, and opinions formed in the light of previous cultural norms that need to be rethought in the light of eternity. But let’s be honest: Much of the incessant handwringing about how Christianity is perceived by those outside it has far more to do with how non-Christians perceive us than how they see Jesus. Thomas Merton said it much better than I could, and more than fifty years earlier:
One of the symptoms of this is precisely the anguished concern to keep up with an ever-changing, complex, and fictitious orthodoxy in taste, in politics, in cult, in belief, in theology and what not, cultivation of the ability to redefine one’s identity day by day in concert with the self-definition of society. “Worldliness” in my mind is typified by this kind of servitude to care and to illusion, this agitation about thinking the right thoughts and wearing the right hats, this crude and shameful concern not with truth but only with vogue. To my mind, the concern of Christians to be in fashion lest they “lose the world” is only another pitiable admission that they have lost it. (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, emphasis mine)
Certainly we’re called to love others regardless of how deeply we disagree with their lifestyle or opinions, and just as certainly we’re not called to live in a Christian bubble, sheltered from the rest of the world. However, we’re not called to be relevant or hip or tolerant—we’re called to follow Jesus. That’s it. We only need to be relevant to Jesus. If we’re doing that, Jesus will send us out into his world in the ways he wants us to go. That’s what he does. Any cultural relevance we need will take care of itself, because Jesus will care of it for us—and because we’ve loved those other people enough to see what they really need in their current circumstances.
So, what does my seemingly off-topic rant above have to do with today’s topic of self-consciousness? A lot, actually. If we’ve learned nothing else this week, we’ve learned that a lot of things can trip us up in our walk with Jesus, even when we’re “on our best behavior.” Our insufficiency can overwhelm us. Thus, we often feel as if we have no business talking about Jesus, and that we’re just going to tick people off when we do.
But reflect one more time on the words of 1 Corinthians 1:26–31. Despite all our issues—and arguably because of them—God chose us to be witnesses who would reveal his glory to the world through our weakness. We’re the ones who think we have to be perfect or relevant or inoffensive in order for the gospel to be heard through us. God disagrees—and thankfully he disagreed when he chose you, too. In the words of the late C. Jack Miller, “Cheer up—you’re a lot worse than you think!”