When it comes to the critical cultural issues of our day, God’s Word should ground not only what we believe, but also how we respond. It’s this latter part that is often most difficult.
For instance, when the biblical position on marriage is thoughtlessly labeled as bigotry, it’s easy to get combative. Or when we think about the legalized killing of millions of unborn children, often in the name of convenience, it’s hard not to get angry. Even thinking about evil like human trafficking can be too much to stomach. On the other hand, some Christians get really fired up when it comes to social issues, believing that they can muster up enough energy on their own to put a dent in world hunger.
Ways the Final Judgment Frees Us
To correct these kinds of reactions, there’s a foundational biblical reality that we need to take hold of, though this reality may at first sound like an obstacle to cultural engagement. I’m talking about God’s judgment on the last day. Here’s how Paul describes it: “[God] will render to each one according to his works.” (Romans 2:6).
If we believe this, that God will punish every evil deed, that perfect justice will be carried out in the future, then we are in a much better position to engage culture. Not because we revel in the punishment of those who disagree with us–we pray for their salvation and work for their good–but because we’re reminded of where true justice comes from, and it’s not from us.
If all this still sounds like a de-motivator to engage cultural issues, consider below five different ways the doctrine of God’s final judgment should free us as we face a shifting and increasingly hostile culture:
1. It frees us from a vindictive spirit.
The fact that God will bring every sin to account means that we don’t have to. Judgment is God’s prerogative: “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19). While it’s true that we should hate evil (Romans 12:9), and that there is a place for righteous anger (John 2:13-17), it’s also true that our attempts at justice will always fall short. Our role is to love our neighbors, to seek their good, even while we speak with conviction and warn them about things that will ultimately harm them.
2. The final judgment frees us from overwhelming life.
Yes, the issues in our culture, not to mention those around the world, are too big for even an entire denomination of churches to handle. But we don’t have to be overwhelmed by the enormity of the evils in the world if we trust that God will ultimately make things right. We can simply play the part he has given us. That may mean adopting, for instance, without feeling like we have to solve the world’s orphan crisis. Or it may involve contacting your congressman about legislation concerning sex slavery, even if you can’t travel to the mountains of Nepal. Knowing the end of the story frees us to act in the present. We can expose the “unfruitful works of darkness” (Ephesians 5:11) instead of them paralyzing us.
3. It frees us from self-reliance.
The thought that we, in our own power and determination, can put an end to any sin, much fewer sins that seem to be woven into the fabric of some cultures, is flat-out arrogant. Yes, God has given us opportunities to speak about various issues and to act in ways that make a significant impact, but we cannot eradicate sin. We can’t rid people of lust, self-centeredness, and other heart problems; only the gospel can do that. But when we remember that ultimate justice is God’s work, that it comes by his power, we are forced to rely on him as we engage these issues. We’re reminded that our efforts will bear fruit in God’s timing and in God’s way.
4. The final judgment frees us from anxiety.
From a human standpoint, there’s plenty to worry about when we consider the issues of our day. Our freedoms, our families, and in some cases our economic livelihood seems to be in jeopardy. However, knowing that God is sovereign over all things should keep us from giving in to hopelessness. We don’t look to the daily headlines for hope; we look to Christ. After all, our future is not dependent on legislative and political trends. God will eventually bring the success of the wicked to a screeching halt (Psalm 37:9).
5. The final judgment frees us from self-righteousness.
The finality of God’s judgment and the horror of hell should inject all of our cultural engagement with a healthy dose of humility, particularly as we consider our own sin and the mercy God has shown us in the gospel. God accepts us. Not because we are on the right side of cultural issues. But because the One who has died for us and risen again hides us (Colossians 3:3). Christ himself paid the penalty that God’s inflexible justice requires.
In the end, relying on God’s final judgment to bring about perfect justice does not lead to apathy or inaction. Instead, it frees us to engage with cultural issues, even those that seem insurmountable. We know that God can use us to effect real change. Because we know that perfect justice will, one day, be carried out. In the meantime, we pray that those who now disagree with us will have their eyes opened to the truth. We want them to experience the future hope that we now look forward to. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:4).
David Burnette serves as the editor/writer for Radical. He lives with his wife and three kids in Birmingham, Alabama. He serves as an elder at Philadelphia Baptist Church.