“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, “for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6) First and foremost, that’s a reference to His saving righteousness which brings eternal life. But He also calls us to care about righteousness in this world. Just a few verses later he goes on to say:
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled by men.
“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13-16)
Those are powerful metaphors. Salt is a preservative that works only when it penetrates into food, and becomes useless when contaminated by other chemical substances. It must remain pure to do its job. Jesus says that Christians, likewise, must penetrate society while keeping themselves from being influenced by sin in the world.
Similarly, light penetrates darkness. To know the truth and fail to stand for it, Jesus says, is as senseless as lighting a lamp and putting it under a basket.
In other words, we don’t just live out our faith inside the walls of our churches and of our homes. We’re not to be of the world, but we’re to be in the world. We’re citizens of an earthly kingdom as well as a heavenly one. Citizens participate in the culture, everything from what children are taught in school to what appears on TV screens.
When it comes to how Christians should be active in culture, people of good will may disagree. Some will argue to limit involvement to what is sometimes referred to as the “social gospel” found in Matthew 25 when Jesus instructs His followers to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and care for the sick. And certainly Christians are, and should be, engaged in such activities. But is that enough?
Take, for example, the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10: Ministering to someone who is naked, beaten and half-dead on the side of the road is an appropriate Christian response. Taking precautions to prevent travelers from being robbed and beaten in the first place — such as supporting government protection for life, liberty and property — is equally important.
Christians also have a responsibility to be proactive in society and address issues, whenever possible, before harm takes place. That means supporting and promoting institutions that are good both for individuals and for society, like the family. That’s the kind of broad view we must take to live out a Christian response in our culture.