Rethinking How to Represent Jesus in a Post-Christian Culture

How does a Christian live in and respond to a post-Christian culture? Let’s begin thinking about this by defining what a post-Christian culture is—I think we can all agree that it is a culture that has largely abandoned using Christianity as the primary basis for its norms, social values, and moral standards. In its place, other belief systems have gained prominence in shaping the cultural landscape. In such a context, the Christian worldview is pushed out of the public square of ideas and marginalized into the peripheral realm of the personal and the private.

To put it in military terms, it seems that Christian influence in the West seems to be losing the cultural high ground. What happens when we lose the high ground? Most often, whether militarily or culturally, when we lose the high ground, we fight to get it back.  And we see a lot of that among believers today.

But what if losing the cultural high ground is a gift in disguise? What if God’s purpose for the cultural shift we’re experiencing is to present us with the opportunity to strip away trappings of cultural Christianity in the church and reorient our lives not around regaining cultural high ground, but around our calling to reflect the heart of the Father to the world as children of God?

This is the opportunity presented by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Matthew 5:43-48

The Call to Love Enemies

Fighting back can certainly seem like the obvious solution to being on the losing end of a cultural war, but have you ever considered that the most powerful way to influence a post-Christian culture is to reflect the radical, counterintuitive love of the Father by loving our enemies?

However, our natural, human instincts resist everything about this counterintuitive approach to enemies.  Because, if we’re honest, we don’t love our enemies, we hate them. And our enemies feel our hatred, which only fuels the fire. These enemies may include former friends or even members of our family living under the same roof. They may be ideological opponents with conflicting moral, social, or political views. They may be workplace adversaries who undermine or mistreat us. They may be true persecutors who aim to tear us down because we’re followers of Jesus.

But, whatever the category of enemy, whomever it is you experience conflict with and feel contempt for—these are the folks Jesus is calling you to love.

An Ill-Defined Concept of Love

One reason we fail to reflect the heart of the Father by loving enemies may be an ill-defined concept of love. Conventional wisdom defines love as an emotion. Since it is not natural to feel love toward an enemy, the command to love them sounds as foolish as expecting a toddler to manage a household by cooking meals, cleaning clothes, and paying bills. It’s not going to happen. Neither is trying to feel warm and fuzzy about an enemy. But what if love is not primarily a feeling but an action? What if we were to define love as “a sacrificial, costly act that does good to someone who is unworthy of blessing.” If that is the root of biblical love, the fruit includes the warm feelings and emotions of love.

Jesus says if we only show love to those with whom we agree and those we think deserve love, we are not loving them, we are rewarding them. But gospel love is not reward. It is grace. It is always undeserved and can never be earned. If you’re wondering what this kind of love looks like in practice, we don’t have to look far.

The Message of the Cross

The cross of Jesus shows us what it looks like to reflect the love of the Father to one’s enemies. In Colossians, speaking of our natural condition, Paul writes,

“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.”

Colossians 1:21-22 (NIV)

Sin is simply a term for the acts of moral treason. It is the manifestation of enemy behavior that rebels against God’s wisdom and authority. This is the purpose of the cross, where Jesus died as a substitute for traitors of his kingship. He died for his enemies, embodying the very love he calls us to extend to our enemies.  As he hung crucified, beaten, and mocked, he did not retaliate or seek vengeance against his persecutors.  Instead, he prayed for their forgiveness. This is what v. 48 means when we’re called to be perfect, or complete.

It’s when we love like he loves that we are most like him and make the most significant impact upon the world. Not by gaining political power, but by extending the reconciling power of the gospel. Being the recipient of sacrificial, costly love is a powerful thing, isn’t it? Even the Roman guards entrusted with crucifying Jesus would say afterward, “Surely, this was the Son of God.”

A New Desire is Born

Being a recipient of such love, I can’t imagine anything I want more than to reflect the heart of the Father to a post-Christian culture. This is, after all, the secret to a believer’s true influence. Theology is important. What we believe is crucial. There is huge value in apologetics. But I believe the most powerful apologetic is reflecting the radical, counterintuitive love of the Father. And the only way to do this is to live continuously in view of the cross, where the moral ground is level—where we stand side-by-side with our enemies in need of the same shed blood of Jesus.

After all, a Christian’s testimony is not that we are reconciled to God by our goodness but by his grace alone through the sacrificial, costly love of Christ on a cross. That is the ultimate form of practical love. This is the love we reflect to the world.

Practical love may take on many forms.

  • It may require meeting a tangible, physical need. We might take them a meal, run an errand, send an encouraging text, or help in some other practical way.
  • It may mean taking time to listen without judgment to better understand and appreciate someone else’s perspective, background, and life experience.
  • It may mean refusing to speak negatively or condescendingly about the enemy.
  • If the enemy is someone who has the potential to do physical harm or who abused you in the past, your love may be best expressed in a prayerful desire they would come to a place of true repentance.

And just as a loving parent would never expect a toddler to cook dinner, clean clothes, and pay bills, our Father does not leave us to love our enemies in our own strength.

The Dynamic of Change

As we abide in the love of Christ, we’re filled with the Holy Spirit, who produces the fruit of love in and through us—even the new desire and ability to love our enemies as Jesus has loved us. So the primary call to action for the believer is not first to love our enemies. It is to be the recipient of God’s sacrificial, costly, redemptive love demonstrated in the shed blood of Jesus.

As that love flows to you, let it flow through you.

And little by little, like a mustard seed, the kingdom will have an impact, influencing our culture from the bottom up rather than from the top down. So, yes. It’s okay to lose the high ground. Because grace flows downhill, waters the seed, and enables the fruit of the gospel to grow in ways it never could from the high ground.

Galatians Cover

Galatians: Navigating Life in View of the Cross

In his Galatians Bible study, McKay Caston guides participants in keeping the gospel as the “true north” compass for their lives, allowing them to break free from religious rule-keeping and live with freedom and joy.  

About the author

McKay Caston

Dr. McKay Caston is professor of theology and homiletics, dean of the DMin program, and church planting residency director for Metro Atlanta Seminary. He and his wife, Kristy, have three adult children. He is the author of Galatians: Navigating Life in View of the Cross. For more, visit

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