When I was a young teenager, older teens I knew talked a lot about the “counter-culture.” They had rejected their parents’ values, and set out to create a new culture. Many of them dropped out of the “rat race” and focused on friendships, sex, and drugs. They were looking for some right things – love, peace, authentic reality – but they were looking for them in the wrong places. When they looked at the church, mostly they did not see the authentic, loving, counter-cultural community that Jesus spoke of and lived. Instead, they experienced a church that was much like the world. I heard church people say to my shaggy head, “Cut your hair! Get a job.” John Stott wrote, “No comment could be more hurtful to the church than to say, ‘You are no different from anybody else.'”
I’m leading a Bible study on the Sermon on the Mount on Sunday mornings. As I study these sayings of Jesus, it is striking how differently followers of Jesus are called to live. Jesus said, “Do not be like them.” (Matt. 6:8) We are to be different from both the nominal (in name only) church and the secular world. Every area of our lives is to be different – e.g., how we handle money; how we handle conflict; and where we find our identity. The Kingdom of God, the rule and reign of God, has been described as an “upside-down world.” For we find our meaning and purpose in the service of God, His people, and His Kingdom values.
Jesus said: “Love your enemies.” “Turn the other cheek, and let him hit it also.” “Anyone who looks at a woman with lust is guilty of adultery.” “Give to the needy, and do not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing.” That is authentic Christian counter-culture! The Sermon on the Mount has many directives in it that are very difficult to live.
Are these ideals unattainable? Without the New Birth and the Baptism in the Holy Spirit – yes, it’s impossible to live that way. However, when we are thoroughly converted and filled; our minds are renewed by the Word; and we have support from a fellowship of believing friends; I believe that it is attainable. Even so, it is very difficult to do, and we progress by fits and starts. Yet, we ought not despair. All things are possible with God. He gives us strength in every circumstance to do His will! He forgives us when we fall and fail. He picks us up and gives us what we need for the day. He fills us again and again with His power for living.
Eventually, I did cut my hair, and got a job. That was the easy part. Living the Sermon on the Mount in community is the hard part.
That’s authentic counter-culture.
When we live this way, we live differently from the world, and from the nominal church. We are counter-cultural. The world will notice our distinct fragrance, and wonder. That will open the door for our witness. And God will add to our number daily those who are being saved.+