When Jesus came to earth as our Lord and Savior, he literally divided history. Sociologically speaking he brought a new culture to earth, centrally focusing our lives on the gospel. While originally called “The Way” it later became Christianity and it shifted peoples thinking so that works, or the law, no longer became the central focus of life, death or salvation. And although works is still a display of faith in that we so love God we do good works in his name, our central focus is now the gospel, so much so that it becomes our culture. Today we as the church need a paradigm shift back to this reality. Too many of Christians simply try to add religion to part of their current lifestyle (or culture) instead of letting it utterly change their lives by surrendering to it and letting the gospel direct every aspect of their lives.
First we must, ask what is “culture”? I think a commonly accepted definition would be, as Kim Ann Zimmerman said on LiveScience.com “Culture is the characteristics of a particular group of people, defined by everything from language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music and arts.” And also perhaps a more academic definition from the University of Minnesota’s Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition, which is “culture is defined as the shared patterns of behaviors and interactions, cognitive constructs, and affective understanding that are learned through a process of socialization. These shared patterns identify the members of a culture group while also distinguishing those of another group.”
With these definitions in mind who do you consider yourself to be culturally as first, a man? A woman? A citizen of America? Or citizen of your town? Or do you see yourself as a Christian first? Someone who solely belongs to God? What defines this culture of Christianity? How do we as Christians distinguish ourselves from other groups?
I think Tim Keller rightly points out in his book “Center Church” that we must contextualize the Gospel when presenting it to varying cultures, while at the same time not losing the heart of the Gospel. However once the Gospel has been accepted as truth, it has to become the center of our culture, it simply must affect our behaviors and interactions, cognitive constructs, and affecting understanding in ways that we would not otherwise know if we were not immersed in the culture of the Gospel.
What is Gospel immersion? It is the baptism into your rebirth as a Christian, not figuratively, but literally as you were immersed into water and raised out of the water a reborn person in Christ, you remain immersed in Christ; you remain fully engulfed in the Gospel. We are now culturally immersed into the Gospel, how do we now react and grow in this new culture? A good place to look is to see how the early Christians grew into the new culture that Jesus brought to them. Acts 2:44 “And all who believed were together and had all things in common”
This “new culture” calls us that in everything we as the church do; need to be asking "what would glorify God?" Not just in church, or in prayer, or mission or deeds; but in everything we do; from waking in the morning until we lay our heads on the pillow once more. In doing this we shift our focus from ourselves to God. Eventually our walk with Jesus through the gospel does not just become part of our culture, but defines our culture as Christians. Some may say that this sounds like legalism, and they'd be right if for two things. If we did these things hoping to be saved, or in order to make God indebted to us then yes it would be legalism, but if we do these things in love and because we know our God, then no this is not legalism, it is simply our grateful response to our Holy God.
How do we glorify God? Thankfully God sent His Word to us, literally, in that we have the Bible and the teachings, stories, examples and the Gospel of the Word, Jesus Christ. He teaches us the great commission, to love God with all your heart, and to love one another as you would love yourself. He teaches us to pray, he shows us grace filled love, and on the Cross he finishes his redemptive plan. God abandons himself on the cross, that He might not abandon us for eternity. This requires a response, one of humility and of thanks, of awe and gratitude and most importantly Holy worship of the Triune God.