CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Politics and Culture Wars: The Vital Spiritual Component

Oct 1, 2020

We must keep spiritual realities in place as we do politics:

A recent meme making the rounds on the social media says that the US election is not so much a matter of right versus left, or Republican versus Democrat, but of right versus wrong, of light versus darkness. That certainly gets to the heart of the matter. Like everything else, political and cultural battles clearly involve the spiritual dimension.

It is essential to understand this. Plenty of folks offer various assessments of current events and social issues. CultureWatch does this. It is all about presenting commentary on the political, economic, social, cultural and intellectual issues of the day. As such it differs little from plenty of other websites and various other forums.

But there is one main difference between what I do and what many others do: I write as a Christian, so the vitally important spiritual dimension is also covered in my work. Yes, that is my particular bias, but it is a crucial one. It helps us get the whole picture.

A person can go through life and experience and enjoy so much of it, even if born blind. But having physical sight raises all this to a whole different level. Having spiritual sight takes things even higher in terms of offering us a complete and holistic view of things. A spiritual perspective tells us truths about reality that a secular view can never do.

Christians believe that political and social and intellectual matters are important, but we also believe that there is a spiritual dimension behind all this which we must be aware of. To fail to get this is like arguing that one can fully understand and appreciate life even though being blind from birth.

So while I might share a number of points of view in common with any number of secular conservative commentators, be they an Andrew Bolt or a Rowan Dean or a Paul Murray in Australia, or a Jordan Peterson in North America, or a Brendan O’Neill in the UK, I also have a radically different perspective as well. And that comes from seeing the spiritual side of things which they don’t and cannot properly see.

Here I want to let another Christian voice speak to these realities. And I want to use one important book of his to do so. In volume 7 of his magisterial 14-volume set of expository sermons on the book of Romans, Martyn Lloyd-Jones speaks to these matters as he focuses on Romans 8:5-17. In the first few chapters of this book he looks at verses 5-9 in detail. Those verses say this:

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.

Lloyd-Jones offers some terrific insights concerning this passage. For starters, he notes that this is all about “comparing and contrasting not two types of Christians but the non-Christian with the Christian.” He disputes the notion held by some that Paul is speaking of two classes of Christians: the carnal and the spiritual.

And when Paul speaks of the non-Christian as having his mind on the flesh, it means

every aspect of life without God, everything in life from which God is excluded. It refers, in other words, to the life of this world only; it denotes a complete severance from all that is spiritual. It concentrates on the visible, the seen, and has nothing at all to do with the unseen. Or again, we can say that it means the temporal only, this world of time only; it has nothing to do with the eternal. Its reference is to life in this world only, to life bounded by the body and the various qualities and attributes of the fleshly mind, but to the exclusion of the spiritual element.

The tragedy of the matter is that many people think that this description – `they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh’ – applies only to open, obvious, profligate sinners, on the streets and in the public houses of great cities; the fact being that it includes also very highly intellectual people, very moral people, and people whom the world would describe as very noble. To `mind the things of the flesh’ includes political interests without God, social interests without God, cultural interests without God. That is what the expression means. Paul has in mind man’s highest pursuits, his philosophy, his art, his culture, his music, that never get beyond the flesh. God is outside it all, He is excluded from it; there is nothing spiritual about it. Men may write very cleverly, and in a very learned and interesting and entertaining manner about social conditions; they can tell us how to ameliorate bad conditions, how to improve them; they can write eloquently about forming some sort of Utopia, they can produce masterpieces of art and of literature and of music; but there is no soul there, there is no God there, no Spirit there. It is all ‘after the flesh’.

How important it is to realize the truth of this matter! That is why that list in Galatians 5 is so important. Paul does not stop at drunkenness and adultery and murder and things of that type. He goes to the realm of the inner man; and there you find that his list is all-inclusive. So what the Apostle is really saying about the non-Christian is that it does not matter where he fits in this gamut of possible interests and behaviour and conduct, he is still only minding `the things of the flesh.’ It is because the world does not understand this that it is not interested in the Gospel. The world’s good, moral people are admired so much today; and yet the Apostle’s words describe exactly where they stand. They are as much `after the flesh’ and they as much `mind the things of the flesh’ as does the man who falls into drunkenness or gives rein to his passions and lusts. It is purely a difference of degree. There is no essential difference at all.

The good, cultured well-spoken moral man is as devoid of the Spirit as the most obvious and profligate sinner; he is outside the life of God as much as the other….

The spiritual realm does not exist for him, he scoffs at it; spiritual realities mean nothing whatsoever to him; he is dead to them all. Ask him to read the New Testament, and he says that it is `nonsense’; draw his attention to spiritual things and he does not know what you are talking about.

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He goes on to make this point about how all this translates into the world of politics:

There is a well-known story which seems to me to supply a perfect illustration of this point. It concerns two great men, William Wilberforce the leader in the movement for the abolition of slavery, and William Pitt the Younger, one time Prime Minister of Britain. They were both brilliant men, they were both politicians, and they were very great friends. But William Wilberforce was converted and became a Christian, while William Pitt, like so many others, was but a formal Christian. William Wilberforce was very much concerned about his friend. He loved him as a man and was greatly concerned about his soul. He was most anxious therefore that Pitt should go with him to listen to a certain preacher, a London clergyman of the Church of England named Richard Cecil. Cecil was a great evangelical preacher, and Wilberforce delighted in his ministry, so he was ever trying to persuade Pitt to go with him to listen to Cecil. At long last Pitt agreed to do so. Wilberforce was delighted and they went together to a service. Richard Cecil was at his best, preaching in his most spiritual and elevated and exalted manner. Wilberforce was enjoying himself, and feeling lifted up into the very heavens. He could not imagine anything better, anything more enjoyable, anything more wonderful; and he was wondering what was happening to his friend William Pitt, the Prime Minister. Well, he was not left long in a state of uncertainty as to what had been happening, because, before they were even out of the building Pitt turned to Wilberforce and said, `You know, Wilberforce, I have not the slightest idea what that man has been talking about’. And he hadn’t, of course. As a man can be tone deaf to music, all who are not Christians are tone deaf to the spiritual. That which was ravishing the mind and the heart of Wilberforce conveyed nothing to Pitt. He was bored, he could not follow it, he could not understand it, he did not know what it was about. A man of great brilliance, a man of great culture, a man of great intellectual ability, but all that does not help! `The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned’ (1 Corinthians 2:14). Richard Cecil might as well have been preaching to a dead man. The dead cannot appreciate these things, neither could William Pitt. He himself confessed it. It is not what Wilberforce says about him; it is what he said about himself.

Lastly, he says this which is very important to keep in mind:

But I must add a further word. The Christian is not only interested in his own soul, he is also concerned about the whole state of the world. It is a libel on us to say that we are not interested in the state of the world. But we are not interested as the non-Christian man is interested. He is interested only politically, socially, and so on. We are interested as we see the world in the grip of the devil. We alone, as Christians, understand what is wrong with the world. We see `powers’ and `principalities’, `the rulers of the darkness of this world’, behind the visible and seen phenomena, and we see perplexed politicians trying to deal with the problems, and failing. We know they must fail because they do not see what is at the back of it all. We see it as the conflict between heaven and hell. So we have a concern about these things, we have a `mind’ for these things, a spiritual concern. We say, `This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith’. Nothing else will do so, nothing else can do so. There is no hope of improving the world apart from this, that individuals become Christian, and if large numbers do so, a Christian period or era in history ensues. So we have an insight and an understanding in that respect that the non-Christian cannot claim.

Yes, that awareness of the reality of the unseen realm, of the principalities and powers, is what distinguishes the Christian from the non-Christian. And that ties in with what I said at the outset. The various culture wars we are engaged in, and the various political battles taking place – including the US election – are not just social, cultural, ideological and political battles.

At bottom they are spiritual battles, and unless they are fought on all levels, our side will not be very successful. We must keep working and debating and lobbying and voting carefully. But we must not stop praying and doing spiritual warfare. Only by engaging fully at every level can we expect to turn things around and see some real victories here.

[2024 words]

8 Responses to Politics and Culture Wars: The Vital Spiritual Component

  • “The Christian is not only interested in his own soul, he is also concerned about the whole state of the world.”

    In line with this article emphasizing the spiritual aspect, there’s an interesting phrase in Numbers 16:22 (NIV-1984) which jumped out at me today. Moses and Aaron, in their concern for others, describe God as “God of the spirits of all mankind”.

    Hard to imagine the likes of Andrew Bolt and Paul Murray and other secularists ever describing God as being God of THEIR spirits. Yet it must be so eventually!

  • Thanks for another fantastic offering Bill. I love M L Jones. I need to continually bear these things in mind as I am actively engaged in letter writing and advocacy.

    In my own lifetime, I have never witnessed so much darkness at high levels. It has become more and more obvious to those who have been given eyes to see what is behind so many of the world events.

    We must fix our eyes on what is eternal whilst living in this temporal world.
    As a Christian, I am reminded today that I can only stand and fight in the strength Christ gives to me, with the weapons He provides – sufficient unto the day thereof.

    I am struggling, but abiding in Him still…….

    God bless you abundantly brother. K

  • A great illustration from ML Jones. Thanks Bill.
    No matter how long you have been a Christian, you can never teach anyone else more than you have learnt yourself and to read ML Jones input on Rom.8:5-9 certainly shows there is always something we can learn. As Paul says in Phil.3:7-12 (Paraphrased) “I haven’t learned all I should even yet, but I keep working toward that day when I will finally be all that Christ saved me for and wants me to be.”

  • Great article Bill. Been thinking on the spiritual dimension of the chaos in the world today but could never explain it as well as you! Thanks for the teaching and bless you.

  • Hi Bill
    Once again your article reinforces not only the dark days we live in where the “powers and principalities ” are trying to blind mankind from seeing the glorious light of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
    But we Christians are so blessed that your ministry of Culture Watch articulates so many topics that we are faced with daily, but always brings to the forefront of what God ‘s word has to say about these topics.
    May God continually keep you strong and alert Bill.
    Blessings; Terry

  • My husband and I are extremely grateful for your regular writings Bill.
    You encapsulate perfectly and confirm and expand what we are sensing God is saying to us through the current turbulent world events.
    It’s very interesting how difficult it’s become to even attempt starting a political discussion with our Christian friends. Most, if not all, believe politics are to be ignored as it is not our concern as Christians – yet we believe God is speaking to us loud and clear.
    A few months ago you made a request for your readers to uphold you in prayer, so please know we pray for you daily, for God’s strength and protection, that you would have ‘ears to hear what the Spirit is saying’ as you write to encourage God’s people.
    Reading your article today and the part depicting the story of Wilberforce and Pitt was a reminder that recently the Lord spoke to us regarding all the recent chaotic racial unrest. God clearly emphasised the spiritual dimension that black lives matter, ALL lives matter but most importantly ‘ETERNAL‘ lives matter!
    God bless you and your family Bill – we will continue to pray for you.

  • Many thanks everyone for the kind words – and for the prayers. So much appreciated. Bless you all.

  • Thank you Bill, you always seem to hit the nail on the head and I have no doubt that our Lord is using you to speak and teach wisdom into our lives. This is definitely a war that needs to be fought both in the spiritual and the natural. Thought I might pass this onto you. You may already know him. If you want to find out anything about what is happening over in USA with Trump, this man will keep you informed both in the spiritual and the natural. His name is Lance Wallnau. He is truly gifted in both prophesy and knowledge and speaks regularly on U Tube. I just received are CD of his called ENDTIME GAMES and it is so inspiring and challenges the churches.

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