Growing up in a Christian home, I often encountered in those years the need to commit my life to a Christian beyond the church doors. That is to say, I had to learn how to not be a 'Sunday Christian' and my youth was full of clichés such as 'Standing in a garage doesn't make you a car; neither does standing in a church make you a Christian.'
True enough, something I am sure we could all do with hearing a little more. Of course the content of one's life outside of church was never exactly spelt out to me, and it was not till I started university in 2009 that I really had to confront and learn what it meant to be a follower of Jesus in every passing moment.
One of the ways I think I tried to make this easier was to separate life into things 'sacred' and 'secular'. These neatly cordoned off areas helped me to approach life like a pick and mix; I could apply the gospel where I wanted to. However, as my life developed and I gained relationships with people across all the areas in which my life intersected with theirs, I increasingly found this distinction to be less and less helpful.
Paul says in Colossians chapter 3, verse 23, 'Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people'. Thinking about this made me realise that this distinction (secular and sacred) cut my ability to be a disciple of Jesus in my life in half. It also decreased my effectiveness as a witness to God's grace. As Christians we are not narrowly focused on 'saving souls' to the exclusion of all else. We have a duty, as citizens of heaven to impact those around us for their good.
Historically I can think of two good examples of this. In the bigger picture, our western society has been hugely impacted by the gospel, and Jesus' ethic of humility and love for your fellow humans. Whereas in Roman culture there was no positive word for humility (there was a word that meant 'low' and could be used to mean humble, but it was by and large a negative term) nowadays most people would want people to think of them as humble and unassuming. Arrogant people are looked down on.
Our preaching of the gospel should seek to change more than just individuals, but can and should be able to impact whole civilisations so that the people there might look more like Jesus
Perhaps more close to home, Samuel Marsden, the first missionary to preach a sermon on NZ shores as far as we know (almost exactly 200 years ago now!) also saw no need to distinguish between his 'sacred' duty to preach to the local peoples and the 'secular job' of simply farming and living. For Samuel Marsden, as he preached his message he also endeavoured to bring advances in farming and general civic society to the Maori people that they might benefit from him in more ways than one.
If he had simply preached the gospel and left the rest as simply a private duty that had no connection to his preaching and ministry, not only might it have confused his hearers, but it also would have stymied the spread of the gospel across Aotearoa.
So where does that leave you and me? We live in a world that is expanding every day. Information is flying around us faster than it has ever done so before. I encourage you to not separate all the information into 'sacred' and 'secular'.
The way in which we engage with the culture around us should be such that we are always seeking to bring all of our heart and mind to bear upon those things around us.
By seeking always to let our witness to Christ be beyond a narrow 'get out of jail free' card, we make Jesus look beautiful to those around us, not as a curiosity of a strange group of people, but as a person radically alive and changing every element of our life as we follow him daily, whether we are eating, sleeping, reading, talking, studying or simply thinking, we can do it all to the glory of God.
First published March 31, 2014
Dale Wang (23) is completing an MA in Classical Studies at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch while making slightly passable coffee at Starbucks. He has been heavily involved in the Christian Union on campus, being their communications officer and leading bible studies.
Dale Wang's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/dale-wang.html