Christian Living in a Hostile Environment

Nothing from Without Defiles Us

Our ability to follow God is not dependent on our environment.  Our work may be filled with hatred.  Our home may be dysfunctional and dark.  Many of our brother and sisters throughout history have come to Jesus in terrible circumstances.  Yet, when we follow Jesus, what is around us never defines our walk.  Nothing from without us defiles us according to Jesus.  It is the heart that determines how much Jesus shines through us, not our location.

Jesus demonstrated this out on a daily basis.  He is the perfect One choosing to live among His fallen creation.  Sinless God was born as a baby into a sinful earthly family.  Their humanity did not prevent Jesus from walking after His Father.  He ate and drank with people up to their eyeballs in filth every day.  The Israel of Jesus’ time was not a pleasant place to be a true follower of Yahweh.  The religious leaders were generally either crooks or filled with pride and hate.  The people warped the Law of Moses to make it about them.  The land was also occupied by a brutal foreign pagan army.   Yet, Jesus was not distracted by any of them.  Quite the opposite, His arrival and presence led them into holiness.  Nothing outside of Jesus, no matter how bad, brought Jesus down to their level.  He brought the sinful out of the darkness into the light.

A Very Sinful Woman Meets Jesus

One of my favorite interactions from the Bible demonstrates this truth wonderfully.  Jesus meets the Samaritan Woman in John 4.  It is a familiar passage but one filled with significance. It depicts Jesus on a rescue mission into the heart of enemy territory.

In the passage, Jesus and His disciples are passing through Samaria. It is land that was despised by the Jews as impure.  The people who lived there were not like the Jews and were therefore viewed by “righteous” Israelites as defiled.  Samaritans were a mixed people of sorts.  When the Assyrians conquered Israel, they took most of the Jewish people into exile.  They left behind the very poor and the humble.  They were too insignificant to worry about.  The Assyrians also imported pagans they had conquered to fill up the empty territory.  The Samaritans were a mixture of these two groups of people, the insignificant and pagans, and their religion and culture reflected this fact.  They practiced a twisted form of Judaism mixed with idolatry.  They even built their own temple.  It was land filled with compromise and sin.

The Jewish people viewed the Samaritans as outcasts, idolaters and the worst of the human race.  They were universally despised by the Jews.  We are familiar with Jesus’ sympathetic view of the Good Samaritans from the parable of that name.  This does not mean they were not in great darkness.  The people, the religion, and the culture were terribly lost.

Jesus Charges the Darkness

Jesus is not content to leave these idolaters to their sinful choices.  The Jewish people washed their hands of their brethren.  They prayed destruction upon the Samaritans.  They believed the Samaritans deserved judgment for choosing darkness.  The Jews also avoided them for fear of their idolatry and sinfulness defiling Israel.  Like the lepers of the time, Samaritans were given a wide berth for fear of a Jewish person’s holiness being taken away.  This is never the way with Jesus.  The Light of the World charges directly into the darkness to offer escape.  He has nothing to fear from what is around Him.  Jesus also sends a message to us in His choice.  He leads His sheep, the disciples into the heart of Samaria by choice.  The fire of His relationship with the Father is not disturbed by the impurity around Him.  There is nothing in even the worst pagan lands that could disturb that connection.

Samaria was a land of idolatry and rebellion before Jesus enters.  If we know the story, we know Jesus sits at the well with people who are part of a false idolatrous religious system.  Jesus engages in a conversation with a woman who is likely a serial adulterer and then living in sin.  Jesus even sends His disciples into a Samaritan town to buy food.  This is food grown, handled and prepared by the unclean hands of the “dirty pagans”.  Jesus interacts with sin in every way, even consuming bread made by people who worship false Gods.  Yet, nothing defiles Him.  He is still just as holy as when He sat on the throne on heaven.  He is not diminished by what is around Him because He and the Father are One – in deed, in word, in holiness, and in communion.  Nothing from the outside disturbs this connection.

Jesus is so holy, in fact, the contact between He and the world results in their redemption.  His holiness flows outward and makes clean even the most unclean.

His Cleansing Power Foretold

We see a picture of this amazing reality in Isaiah 6 when Isaiah encounters God.  Isaiah clearly sees God on His throne and an immediate and clear realization of own unworthiness follows:

I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
The whole earth is full of His glory!”

And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke.

So I said:

“Woe is me, for I am undone!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King,
The Lord of hosts.”

Isaiah is a prophet of God.  He is speaking God’s truth and appealing to God’s people to return to Him.  Overall, he is an awesome man of God.  Yet, when he sees God and His perfect holiness, Isaiah is struck with how awful he truly is.  He is unclean.  He is defiled by his own sinfulness and by life.  What could he possibly do to change this?

He is undone.

Thriving in a Hostile Environment Pastor Unlikely

This is where God steps in to do what Isaiah never could:

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth with it, and said:

“Behold, this has touched your lips;
Your iniquity is taken away,
And your sin purged.”

The live coal taken from the altar is holy.  It is pure.  It is directly from God.  It burns so hotly with God’s perfection the sin of Isaiah had no effect on it.  The holy coal in contact with the unclean Isaiah purges his sin with its sheer unbelievable power.  God’s holiness cannot be defiled by contact with the unholy.

Do Not Touch, Do Not Taste

During the time of Jesus, the Jewish people were all about avoiding.  They did not touch, taste, eat or go near all sorts of things because they did not want to be made impure through contact.  Their efforts at holiness did not survive the first contact.  The Pharisees were said to constantly walk into things because they closed their eyes rather than look upon women or unclean people.  The two Jewish men who pass by the injured person in the Good Samaritan parable are examples of this mindset.  They were supposed to be working for God but they were really serving their own sense of righteousness.

Jesus marching into Samaria to eat with, drink with and commune with the dreaded Samaritans repudiates these ideas.  He burned so brightly with righteousness, holiness, and perfection, no amount of contact with those in idolatry and sexual immorality defiled Him.  His holiness purged those around Him.  His environment was one in which no Jewish Rabbi would choose for God to do a great work.  It was unclean in every way and filled with evil.  Yet, Jesus does some of His best work in the midst of such darkness.

Thriving in a Hostile Environment Pastor Unlikely

As Christians, it is never our goal to have fellowship among the evil of this world.  We should want other dedicated believers for our friends, confidants and church mates.  Communion with other believers is so important for us and choosing to forsake fellowship invariably leads to trouble.  Christianity is a group sport.

But life may have us in a situation rife with uncleanness.  If we are saved out of a family that is dark and lost or live in an idolatrous land like the Samaritans, we need not despair.  Jesus’ holiness lives in us and He was never challenged by the darkness surrounding Him.  We should not be either.  Jesus shines all the brighter the darker it is.  Nothing from the outside defiles us.  If we seek His face in the midst of the evil and the lost, like the fire of the coal of Isaiah, His purity will continue to purify us through its unyielding power.  He will sustain us with His love no matter the opposition.

This applies if we are called to enter unfriendly territory in Jesus’ name as well.  The same God who walked boldly into a stronghold of the enemy in Samaria lives in us.  He will never leave us nor forsake us, no matter how dark the night seems.

“All authority has been given to me,” says Jesus in the Great Commission before ordering us to go forth and makes disciples.

Do we trust this sort of authority goes with us?

Thriving in a Hostile Environment Pastor Unlikely

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