How much or how little a Christian should engage in culture has been a widely debated issue for the last two thousand years. There are three possible ways that Christians can relate to the culture around them.
(1.) Ghetto themselves off and stay away from all culture.
(2.) Entrench themselves into culture to the point that they are indistinguishable from the culture.
(3.) To be salt and light in a dark world; to live as God’s people uniquely different, but also uniquely linked to the society and their neighbors in which they live.
In Acts 17:16-34 Paul is in Athens and demonstrates what being salt and light in a dark world would look like.
There are 7 lessons we can draw from Paul’s experience in Athens and put them into practice as we interact with culture today.
(1.) We should be moved and saddened by the idolatry in our city.
We see in verse 16 that Paul’s spirit was provoked. While this word “provoked” (paroxysm) can mean to have righteous anger – it can also mean to be moved with compassion. Sure, the sin in our cities should anger us – but our city’s sin should also move us to compassion for the lost people in our city.
(2.) We should use patient persuasion in order to reach people.
We see in verse 17 that Paul “reasoned” with the people. In verse 18 he “conversed” with them. He was so moved with compassion that he had to do something. He talked with them – patiently.
How often do we try and quickly give up? How often do we try and become impatient?
We should reason and converse with people to patiently persuade them to trust in Christ.
(3.) We should go the religious and the irreligious.
In verse 17 and 18 we see Paul going to both the synagogue and the marketplace. The synagogue is where the religious at the time were. The marketplace is where the Gentiles (irreligious) were. The Bible is clear that while he was there, he reasoned and conversed with both of them. This means that we need to be aware how to share the gospel with both religious people and irreligious people.
(4.) We should create intelligible points of contact with the gospel for people.
When Paul preached at the Areopagus (Hill of Ares or Mars Hill) he pointed to the “Unknown God.” This was an altar they had set up – among many other altars for gods – they had set up just in case they were missing (one they didn’t know about. Paul takes this and creates an intelligible point of contact to talk about Jesus. He brilliantly takes this altar and points to the one true God.
(5.) We should use apologetics often in our evangelism.
While Paul is preaching at Mars Hill he does a couple of things. He points out their logical problems with the beliefs about God and he explains how God has really acted in creation. The word apologetics comes from the Greek work apologia, which means to speak in defense. This is what Paul is doing as he shares the gospel. He is using apologetics, speaking in defense, to show the logical flaws the Athenians have in their belief system.
The logical problem they have is that they were leaving food for a god. Paul shows them that if he is God, he doesn’t need them to feed Him, He can feed Himself. In verses 24-27 Paul explains who God is. He tells them that God created the entire universe. This is particularly helpful for the Stoic Athenians that are there that have no doctrine of creation. All of this is apologetics, which is very useful for Christians in evangelism.
(6.) We should know the culture and quote their poets (when they are correct) to point them to God.
In verse 28 Paul shows his knowledge of the culture and their poets and artists in order to build rapport with them. This is the equivalent of a Christian today quoting a contemporary movie or a song from their culture with an unbeliever. First he quotes Epimenides speaking of Zeus saying, “In him we live and move and having our being.” Now Epimenides meant this about Zeus. Paul shows them that this is true – but only if we are speaking about God. Second he quotes Aratus saying, “for we are indeed his offspring.” Again, this is meant about Zeus, but only true about God. We are free to do this as well. When an artist or poet or song writer in our culture says something that is true, we can show them how it is true about God.
(7.) Present the gospel clearly and often. Call them to repentance and faith in Jesus.
Talking about Jesus with unbelievers is great! Evangelism means we share the gospel of Jesus with them and call them to repentance and faith. In verse 30 Paul tells them they need to repent of their sin and trust in Jesus only for forgiveness.
Do not ever neglect the duty that you have to speak on behalf of God to others and tell them that they must repent, and confess their sin and come to Christ. It is essential in evangelism. Entrance into culture is not just to be a participant in it, but to see it be redeemed by the Gospel!
The reactions will be mixed, like they were for Paul. Verse 32-34 tell us that some rejected Jesus, some wanted to investigate more and some chose to believe!
Let’s be faithful to share, and God will always be faithful to save!