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Righteousness by Faith #25: God and the Cultural Wars

For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”  Romans 1:17

Social media can be brutal, and reading comments from the multiple views of people engaged in cultural war can be draining. I find that my ‘brand’ of Christianity is unfit for political office, that we are ‘oppressing people’ by our beliefs and that we ‘hate’. I recognize that this is the way humans weaponize language in order to destroy opponents. Sadly, these comments are not just coming from those who have no faith. Within the body of Christ can come some of the most killing comments.

Before I sign off on the topic of cultural wars and pursue what else Romans says about righteousness by faith, I want to explore one critical issue. What about God’s righteousness? Where do we find it? And how does it inform our approach to the issues being fought out in the current cultural wars?

Paul’s next sentences give us a starting place. The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (vs. 18-20)

Paul’s assertion shares a common idea with verse 17. Something is being ‘revealed.’ Only this time, it is not God’s righteousness. It is His wrath.

Why wrath? Paul points out that God revealed His glory—divine nature and eternal power—when He made everything. We should be in awe of Him, but instead, we rejected His reign and even reduced Him to something less than ourselves. We have no excuse for this unrighteous behavior. This rejection brought us the penalty of death, aka wrath. Not just an ending of our earth life. It killed our relationship with Him. Ever since we have been busy reworking the meaning of life and rewriting the truth about God.

Our tendency to reject or reinvent God has provided us all with numerous ideas about what God’s righteousness is. We think it is whatever we want it to be! We can shape moral codes and laws to fit our current version of what is good or evil based on what we decide it is today. This is our depravity at work through us. Human history continually shows this to be true. It reminds us that cultural wars checker our past as well as mark our todays.

Where can we go to discover what God’s righteousness really means?

I remember an intense conversation I had with someone over same-sex marriage. I was asked to sort out whose interpretation of various Old and New Testament scriptures was correct. Instead of grappling with them one by one, like Paul I pointed to the creation account. What creative purposes did God disclose in Genesis 1? What kind of world did He intend? What did He desire for the first humans? What does His creation reveal about Himself?

Secondly, what does the Fall reveal about the human ability to reject and twist the creative purposes of God? Not just the obvious things like breaking the Ten Commandments, but themore subtle ways we displace God’s righteousness with our own version. Like when we believe our own press? When we reject love, joy, justice, kindness and so on? When we reduce others to objects instead of bearers of the image of God?

I continued by saying that believers’ inclination to judge and condemn others living lifestyles which do not reflect God’s creative purposes was wrong. I, too, am broken and unrighteous. We are all in need of God’s reign to restore righteousness in us. I am no better than any person who takes the opposite view in the cultural wars. We went on to other topics, but that conversation continues to remind me why I need God’s righteousness. It isn’t just a matter of warring over the culture mess. I am a contributing member of this mess.

This is why God promised a Redeemer in Genesis 3:15. It is here that is God reveals His righteousness again in creation—showing His glory. God alone is the one who can redeem us out of the mess our lives have made of our culture.

But in the meantime, we still live within the mess by faith.

-Steve Smith