CHRISTLIKE LIVING IN A CHRISTLESS SOCIETY
SERIES: DEVELOPING A CHRISTIAN LIFESTYLE IN A POST-CHRISTIAN
by Ron Ritchie
"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
And the earth was formless and void, and the darkness was over the surface
of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.
Then God said, 'Let there be light'; and there was light." (Genesis
This was possible because "God is light, and in Him there is no darkness
at all" (1 John 1:5); and he is "the Father of lights" (James
Light brings life and the truth of any present reality. Physical light is
but a symbol of the spiritual light necessary for life in a fallen humanity
that has rebelled against God. So God sent his Son Jesus into this darkened
world, for "In Him was life; and the life was the light of men. And
the light shines in the darkness; and the darkness did not comprehend it"
(John 1:4-5). Then Jesus, "the light of the world" (John 9:5),
challenged his disciples because of their relationship with him, "You
are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do
men light a lamp, and put it under a peck-measure [basket], but on the lamp
stand; and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine
before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify
your Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 5:14-16.)
Each new generation of Christians living as "new creatures" (2
Corinthians 5:17) needs to be reminded of this spiritual reality, because
we have three enemies that will never go away until Christ comes again as
Lord of lords and sets up his kingdom of righteousness on this earth: (1)
Satan comes into the Christian community disguised as an "angel of
light" (2 Corinthians 11:14). (2) Our flesh (the old sin nature) seeks
to dim the light of truth as it pulls on us through powerful memories to
follows its evil desires (see Galatians 5:16f). And finally (3) the current
world system on its course toward destruction seeks every day to interpret
our present reality without God's spiritual light (see Ephesians 2:1-3).
Fortunately, in every generation our risen Lord raises up godly men and
women who are able to help us remember the spiritual realities of our relationship
with Jesus Christ and our calling to be the light of the world. One of those
godly men today is Charles Colson, who founded Prison Fellowship Ministries,
after spending some time in prison himself (where he met Jesus Christ as
his Lord and Savior) for breaking the law when he served as an aid under
President Nixon. Colson's newest book, The Body: Being Light in Darkness,
is a thoughtful and challenging work about the meaning and ministry of the
body of Christ, the church in the post-Christian era (see in particular
pages 165-182). In this book he seeks to show us the current thinking of
the world and its definition of truth in contrast to the truth that is found
in Jesus Christ. He reminds us that current western thinking is based on
the foundation of relativism, the belief that there are no absolutes in
truth and morals (except the absolute that there can be no absolutes). Truth
is determined by a majority vote.
Colson writes, "Although the West is still called a 'Christian culture'
by some, it is not. It is a distinctly post-Christian, dominated by a relativistic
world-view." He then discusses five pillars our leaders are building
on the foundation of relativism.
(1) The current world-view is secular, of this world or this
present age; and it is best articulated, "If I want what I want when
I want it, why not take it? I want it all and I want it now!"
(2) The current world-view is antihistorical, which means that it is bringing
into question the truth of the past; whether in history, law, politics,
or religion. The key to the past is what we think of what the authors wrote
of it. The recent movie JFK took truth and changed it around to create
another whole story based somewhat on facts but more heavily on the imagination
of the author.
(3) The current world-view is naturalistic. Because there is nothing beyond
what we see and feel (there is no supernatural), the natural is supreme;
therefore all nature is equal and there is no longer a reason for humanity
to be considered the center of the universe. Thus Earth Day gets more press
and participation than Easter. And we find our western world more concerned
about the killing of white seals than about the abortion of millions of
fetuses this year.
(4) The current world-view is utopian. Men and women are born basically
good, and since we are our own gods we can create our own brave new world
through knowledge, education, and technology. This myth of man's goodness
blinds him to current world conditions in which evil reigns in brutal rulers,
civil wars, genocide, murder, greed, homeless children, teenage gangs, and
drugs, to mention but a few of its forms.
(5) The current world-view is pragmatic. Since there is no objective truth,
everyone determines reality by saying, "If it works, do it," in
contrast to truth that is found in Christ only. For instance, you might
be instructed in the work-place to be friendly to customers, not because
they have value or because it is the ethical thing to do, but simply because
it makes money---it works.
When the apostle Paul came into Europe for the first time in 52 AD, he was
aware of the spiritual warfare he would have to confront from the devil,
the flesh, and the world system, which was built on pagan Roman and Greek
philosophies (many of which are still stirring among us). As we begin our
study in 2 Corinthians 2:12-6:2 we will be looking at a most difficult time
in the life and ministry of the apostle Paul. But it is out of those most
difficult days, as he sought to remain a light in the darkness of his world,
that we will discover many spiritual truths that will help us to be light
in the darkness of our current world. Let's turn to 2 Corinthians 2:12-17,
where we will begin to be reminded of the principles that will enable us
to remain Christlike---with all the joy and suffering that involves---in
a world that is becoming more and more Christless.
Troubled in the human spirit
2 Corinthians 2:12-13
Now when I came to Troas for the gospel of Christ and when a
door was opened for me in the Lord, I had no rest for my spirit, not finding
Titus my brother; but taking my leave of them, I went on to Macedonia.
First, let's set the scene by looking at the background to this letter.
According to Acts 18, Paul and his disciples arrived in Corinth, Greece
in 52 AD and were soon able to establish a church. Paul stayed for about
eighteen months, left Corinth, and went east into the pagan city of Ephesus
and then on to Jerusalem. Later he returned to Ephesus, where he wrote the
letter to the Corinthians we now call 1 Corinthians. In 56 AD Paul received
word in Ephesus that some false prophets had infiltrated the church at Corinth
(see 2 Corinthians 11:15), confusing the believers by launching an attack
against Paul's apostleship, ministry and even his personality.
Paul responded by writing to them "with many tears" (2 Corinthians
2:4) a letter that he gave to his disciple Titus to hand-carry to the Corinthians.
In that letter he was looking forward to reconciliation with the Corinthians.
He waited for Titus in Troas for awhile, anxious to hear how it went in
Corinth. He was invited to minister there, but his struggle was so intense
that he declined; "having no rest for [his] spirit," he traveled
west into Europe and the city of Philippi, Greece and may have lodged in
the home of Lydia (whom he had introduced to Christ on his second missionary
While waiting in Philippi he had reason to write a thankful letter to the
Corinthians, which we now call 2 Corinthians. In this letter Paul shares
with them his feelings as he awaited their response to the previous painful
letter, and also how he learned to trust in his risen Lord Jesus for power,
protection, open doors, and adventure as he waited on the Lord.
Live in the presence of God
2 Corinthians 2:14-17
But thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph in
Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him
in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who
are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from
death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate
for these things? For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but
as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God.
We are going to find that this is a passage about making choices. It is
important as we go through it to keep in mind the role the Holy Spirit plays
in the choices we make. Now, before you and I placed our faith in Jesus
Christ as our Lord and Savior, we were our only lord and savior. And that
meant that each day of our lives we were slaves to our flesh, our sinful
Adamic nature. We were able to choose only those things that satisfied the
desires of our flesh, but all those choices were contrary to the will of
God. But at the moment you and I placed our faith in Jesus Christ as our
personal Lord and Savior, we were given eternal life, forgiven for our sins,
called his children, and given the wonderful gift of the person and power
of the Holy Spirit, who enabled us for the first time in our lives to be
Christlike in a Christless society (2 Corinthians 6:9-11). We were given
the choice between living under the control of the flesh or living under
the control of the Holy Spirit. Ray Stedman would always remind our staff
We have never been given the power to do, only the power to
choose. What we choose determines what we do. If we choose as Christians
to follow our own fleshly desires, the flesh takes over and produces death.
If we choose to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, He takes over our
lives and produces life. The indwelling Holy Spirit, then, is the one who
gives us the power to choose to make godly decisions, and once we make that
godly decision He provides the power necessary to carry out our godly desires.
As we look at 2 Corinthians 2:14-17 we should be greatly encouraged by Paul.
As he sought to make Christlike choices in his corrupt world, so we should
be seeking to make Christlike choices in our own corrupt and post-Christian
society, depending on the Holy Spirit to keep us walking as the light of
Christ in a darkened world. In this passage Paul tells us five choices we
need to make in order to remain Christlike in our Christless society.
1. Choose to thank God in our present circumstances
"But thanks be to God...." Paul challenges the current world-view
of naturalism, which does not believe in the supernatural, by breaking out
in thanksgiving to the one and only living God who is above and beyond his
creation. What has happened to Paul between verses 13 and 14 to make him
utter this cry of thankfulness? It's obvious he is not thankful that he
had had to write his painful letter to the Corinthians, or that Titus hadn't
met him in Troas, or that the church in Corinth was being subverted by false
apostles. Nor is he thankful for his conflict with the church there, for
the lost opportunity to preach the gospel at Troas, or for the stress he
experienced on his journey to Macedonia.
We discover the reason for Paul's thankfulness in 2 Corinthians 7:5-7: "For
even when we came into Macedonia our flesh had no rest, but we were afflicted
on every side: conflicts without, fears within. But God, who comforts the
depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus; and not only by his coming,
but also by the comfort with which he was comforted in you, as he reported
to us your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me; so that I rejoiced
even more." Paul was thankful that God was able to work above and beyond
his stressful circumstances, particularly in this situation in which all
he could do was pray; for he couldn't change the hearts of the Corinthians.
But Titus reported to him that the Corinthians had accepted the painful
letter. They had repented of their attitude toward him, and they were dealing
with the issue of sexual immorality in the church. Paul had had no peace
of mind in Troas while he waited for Titus, and he was harassed at every
turn on his way to Macedonia; but God was already at work changing the hearts
of the Corinthians. No wonder Paul is able to say, "Thanks be to God!"
God can work in a much greater way than we can ever ask or think.
I received a phone call last week from a young man who had recently become
a believer in Jesus Christ. He had spent his life as a slave to the current
secular world system and was in bondage to sexual immorality. When he became
a follower of Christ he found himself still struggling with his old life
in the area of sexual desires. This was compounded by the problem that he
had moved in with a woman who was a new Christian also. With some teaching
from the word of God, this couple prayed that the Lord would give them wisdom
and courage to live godly lives. They agreed together to ask the Lord to
give them the power to avoid becoming involved in sexual immorality. After
a few weeks he said he just had to call me to tell me that since he had
made that decision his heart had been filled with joy toward God and that
they had both experienced the courage to move out of their apartment and
find separate lodging, while remaining good friends. He also told me that
they both desire to grow in the knowledge of Jesus Christ. It was a most
encouraging phone call on a rainy day last week. "Thanks be to God!"
The foundational principle of Paul's life was thankfulness. He encouraged
the Thessalonian church, "...in everything give thanks; for this is
God's will for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Thessalonians 5:18). One of
the keys to having a Christlike lifestyle in a Christless society, then,
is to choose to be thankful to God that he is above and beyond his creation,
thus making him free to work out all our present circumstances to his honor
and glory. As a result of that conscious choice on our part, the Lord by
his Holy Spirit will fill our hearts with thankfulness toward him.
2. Choose to realize God's consistent triumph in Christ
"...who always leads us in His triumph in Christ...." In these
words, Paul illustrates the truth that no matter what the circumstances,
even those that look like utter defeat, Christians are always victorious
in their walk with Christ. They can't lose! He is comparing the Christian's
victory with the spectacle of the triumphal processions that were awarded
to victorious Roman army generals in that first century AD. These processions
were awarded to generals who (1) were supreme commanders in the field of
battle, (2) defeated and pacified the people, (3) brought their troops home
safely, (4) gained new territory, and (5) won a victory over a foreign power.
These processions were awe-inspiring. The whole populace of Rome flocked
to see the parade of standard-bearers carrying the flags of the various
military units; the reclining statue of Jupiter, the supreme god of Rome,
being carried along; carts containing the spoils of war; paintings and models
of the conquered territory; musicians playing pipes; white bulls (which
were to be sacrificed to the gods later); prisoners in chains marching to
their death; horn-blowers; priests swinging pots of incense; captured kings
and chieftains being carried in carts; other groups of prisoners; a golden
chariot drawn by four white horses and driven by the victorious general,
the wreath of Jupiter held over his head by a slave; the general's family;
the victorious army in full uniform, shouting, "Lo! Triumph!";
and finally the Roman senators, and magistrates.
The apostle uses the spectacle of a Roman triumphal procession to illustrate
the glory of the Christian's everyday experience in Christ; yet the victorious
generals of Rome might get one or perhaps two triumphal parades in their
lifetime, while Christians experience "Lo! Triumph!" day in and
day out as we trust our risen Lord to lead us. Every day, come what may,
even through what looks like utter and absolute defeat, our risen Lord always
leads us in his triumph as he wins spiritual battles over "spiritual
forces in the heavenly realm" and over the influences of our old nature
and the world system. When things seem to be falling apart, Christians can
cry, "Lo! Triumph!" no matter what the circumstances in the kitchen,
at work and play, at the grave of a friend or loved one, at the side of
an abandoned family, or when we find we've lost our jobs in this rapidly-changing
valley. We are in Christ; therefore, all through our lives we are part of
his continuing triumphal procession.
3. Choose to allow the perfume of Christ to flow out of us
Further, Paul says, "...and manifests through us the sweet aroma of
the knowledge of Him in every place." Here the apostle is thinking
of how the priests in the triumphal procession carried pots of incense from
which the fragrance floated over the whole procession. Paul compares Christians
to incense pots: they carry within them everywhere the aroma of Christ so
that those who come in contact with them experience the fragrance of the
person of Christ. Christians will take that aroma of Christ into all kinds
of situations. The fragrance will not disappear nor will it be restricted.
It will linger long after they have left any group, individual, or situation.
But that fragrance of the knowledge of Christ comes to the nostrils of two
very different groups, Paul says. It comes to "those who are being
saved." In his illustration these would have been healthy and useful
slaves---cooks, household servants, administrators, etc.---who were taken
to the slave markets to be sold and scattered throughout the populace, many
of them to be set free later. The second group Paul refers to are "those
who are perishing." These were the captured and humiliated kings and
chieftains along with the sick, rebellious, and aged. All of these were
taken to a tent following the parade and strangled. Thus the incense was
to them the smell of death.
When Paul and Barnabas were sent out by the church of Antioch on their first
missionary journey, they came to the city of Paphos on the island of Cyprus.
There they met the governor Sergius Paulus and the false prophet Bar-Jesus.
Paulus, who was in the process of being saved, wanted to hear the gospel,
while Bar-Jesus, a son of the devil who was in the process of perishing,
opposed them and sought to turn the governor away from the faith. However,
Paul, being filled with the Holy Spirit, caused him to become blind for
awhile, and Paulus responded to the truth of the gospel and placed his faith
in Jesus as his Lord because of the teaching of these disciples (see Acts
13:1-12). The gospel cuts both ways.
4. Choose to accept our relationship with God
There is another reason Paul says, "...we are a fragrance of Christ
to God," and that is that we are always acceptable in the sight of
God. We smell good to him! When God looks at the life of a Christian he
regards him or her as totally acceptable because he looks at us through
Christ. That's good news. I wouldn't want anybody to see the video tapes
of my life before I came to Christ. Each and every one of us who have placed
our faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior have had all our sins placed on
Christ at the cross, and we now stand in a forgiven state before the one
and only living and Holy God. That is why we are acceptable to God. Paul
would write to the Romans, "There is therefore now no condemnation
for those who are in Christ Jesus...For all who are being led by the Spirit
of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery
leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons
by which we cry out, 'Abba! Father!'" (Romans 8:1, 14-15). We are accepted
by God as his beloved children, and nothing can change that.
The prophet Isaiah wrote:
"I will rejoice greatly in the LORD,
"And who is adequate for these things?" At this point Paul reflects
on what he has just written, challenging his spiritual children as well
as himself with this question. That is, who is equal to such a task? For
he has just given them a key to living out their Christianity in a Christless
society. They were to consciously choose to be thankful to God regardless
of the surrounding circumstances, to see God's victories in the midst of
apparent defeats, to allow the perfume of Christ to be carried inside them,
and to accept their relationship with God their Father because of their
position in Jesus Christ.
My soul will exult in my God;
For He has clothed me with garments of salvation,
He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness..."
There is a two-part reason Paul asks the question, "Who is adequate
for these things? The first part is the bent of our human nature to look
at something like this list and say to ourselves, "I can keep that
list of requirements." The Jews said that when Moses handed them the
Law (see Exodus 24:3-8; Hebrews 9:19-22). So God instructed Moses to sprinkle
the people with the blood of their animal sacrifice as a symbol of forgiveness
for their sin of self-confidence.
The other part is the trial that Paul and his disciples had experienced
in Asia, which had prevented them from keeping their promise to come and
visit the Corinthians when they said they were going to (see 2 Corinthians
1:15-22). But it was out of this difficult trial that Paul unfolded the
mystery of Christlike living in a Christless society: "For we do not
want you be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia,
that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired
even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves in order
that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; who
delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on
whom we have set our hope" (2 Corinthians 1:8-10).
5. Choose to live with integrity
In contrast to the current world-view of pragmatism in which we are all
encouraged, "If it works, do it!" regardless of whether it violates
any known morality, Paul seeks to encourage the Corinthian Christian community:
"...we are not like many, peddling the word of God...." False
apostles had begun to peddle the word in the Corinthian church. They were
watering down the Scriptures (see 2 Corinthians 4:2), trying to make them
more palatable to the Corinthians. Here Paul contrasts his Christ-centered
ministry with their self-centered ministry. He lists four characteristics
of Christian integrity.
(1) Sincerity: In ancient times in Corinth there were potters
(and there still are today) who made wonderful clay pots and sold them in
the marketplace. But sometimes when a pot came out of the oven the potter
would discover that the fire had cause the pot to crack a bit. So he would
fill the crack with some hot wax, and then when the wax cooled he would
paint a picture over it and place the pot on the table outside his shop
in the morning. By noon, however, the wax would begin to melt, and soon
the customers would come to the realization that the pot had wax; it was
insincere. Paul says that he chooses to live his life by the power of God,
resulting in a life of sincerity, literally without wax. He was the genuine
(2) As from God, or called by God: Our goal is to proclaim the good news
of reconciliation between God and man through Christ Jesus.
(3) We speak in Christ: We are not self-appointed, but ambassadors of Christ
who speak his message with authority from him.
(4) Finally, we live in the sight of God: We seek to live transparent lives
(as we will later see, lives without veils) by his power. Paul is saying,
"You Corinthians know that our life and power come from the resurrected
Jesus working through us. We are always conscious that our lives and words
are seen and heard by God the Father, so we seek to live and speak in awareness
of his eternal power and presence."
In a society of shifting morals standards and a community given over to
"speaking with a forked tongue," I was reminded recently of an
event that occurred a few years ago when our staff was invited to a large
pastors meeting in Houston, Texas. One of the seminars was to be led by
Chuck Swindoll, but he seemed to be running late. Finally he appeared on
the platform before a large and admiring crowd. He looked awful---his suit
was all wrinkled, his eyes were bloodshot, his hair was not quite in place,
and he needed a shave. As he stood before that crowd I was sure he was tempted
to tell them that he had been involved in some kind of spiritual warfare
that lasted all night, but he had resisted the temptation and arrived victorious
to teach them the Scriptures. Instead he told them the truth: He had forgotten
the meeting, but as soon as his secretary reminded him of it he booked a
ticket from LA to Houston; unfortunately, it was the red-eye flight. Once
he arrived that morning he discovered that the airline had lost his luggage.
He arrived at his room and washed his face and then realized that his Bible
was in his luggage, so he borrowed a Gideon Bible from his hotel room. Then
he said with a big smile, "So opening our Gideon Bibles, let's look
at...." Here was a sincere man of God.
We are now living in what many knowledgeable Christian leaders call a post-Christian
age. There are many spiritual forces in the society of this age that are
seeking to include us in the shifting sands of their moral and spiritual
values while rejecting the firm foundation of absolute truth that is found
in Jesus Christ and his word.
We must also be aware of the fallacy of each of the five pillars that are
built on that relativistic foundation: Secularism: Who we are and what we
do has eternal value. Antihistoricalism: The God of history sent his "light
of the world" to invade this kingdom of darkness. Naturalism: The supernatural
God freely works outside of that which he has created. Utopianism: Man is
born a sinner and needs a savior, namely Jesus Christ. Pragmatism: We choose
to do only that which conforms to God's moral standards.
Be greatly encouraged---our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the one
who once declared to his disciples, "I am the light of the world,"
also told them, "You are the light of the world." You and I have
been called by our one and only living God to take the light of truth and
life into a darkened society. We are called to be Christlike in a Christless
society. To be Christlike is to choose by the power of the indwelling Holy
Spirit to be thankful to God; to realize that he is behind all our present
circumstances leading us in his triumph in Christ; to be conscious that
we are a perfume of Christ among those who are being saved and those who
are perishing; to believe that we are accepted by God; and to minister with
spiritual integrity by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Catalog No. 4335
2 Corinthians 2:12-17
February 28, 1993
Copyright © 1993 Discovery
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