What Is Real?

If truth be told, I scan Facebook a lot. Like everyone else on Facebook, I see all the debates raging back and forth—homosexual marriage, abortion, gun rights, political debates, and more—and in all the stuff that gets slung back and forth, I don’t know if there’s a single person who stops to recognize that the way their message will be received is in large part determined by the culture to which their audience belongs. Most likely, culture never entered their mind when they shared that meme or wrote that post because they assumed that the people who would read it share the same culture. Well, they are wrong.

So to help all of us out, here is an admittedly oversimplified definition of culture. Don’t let it sound boring to you, either, because the good stuff comes only when you understand this foundation; and trust me, it is good stuff. Okay, so here are four layers of culture based on what we would observe, in order, if we were to go into a different culture:

  1. Behavior—what is done?
  2. Values—what is good or best?
  3. Beliefs—what is true?
  4. Worldview—what is real?*

Each layer of culture is driven by the one below it, but to help us see how that works, let me give some examples so we don’t get lost in anthropological mumbo jumbo. We’ll consider a devout Hindu and someone whose culture has been influenced by the Christian worldview, walking through how they answer each question associated with the layers going in reverse order from what’s written above.

  1. What is real? Hindu: Karma is real. What you did in a previous life determines what you’re getting now. Christian-influenced: God is the creator of all things, including you and me as unique individuals.
  2. What is true? Hindu: You deserve your low status. Christian-influenced: God died to save sinners and adopt us as His sons.
  3. What is good or best? Hindu: That I treat you as your born position deserves so that we both gain good Karma for our next life. Christian-influenced: I treat you as God treated me, regardless of position or status.
  4. What is done? Hindu: Oppression or reverence, as position deserves. Christian-influenced: Equal and loving treatment for all mankind.

Or consider a more western-culture version:

  1. What is real? Atheist: Only what can be scientifically proven. Christian: God and His created universe.
  2. What is true? Atheist: People are only highly evolved animals. Christian: Humans are created in the image of God.
  3. What is good or best? Atheist: Potentially anything, whatever leads to the greatest expedient practical benefit. Christian: God’s will is the highest good.
  4. What is done? Atheist: Anything—abortion, euthanasia, divorce, promiscuity, etc. There’s no ultimate consequence for your choices, so choose to live however you want.  Christian: Following the example of Jesus.

What this shows us is that most of what we debate about is behavior, or perhaps the values behind them, but few of us recognize that disagreement at a deeper level of culture creates a gap that cannot be bridged by arguing at a shallower layer of culture.

What’s more, getting someone to agree with you about behavior is terribly superficial if their conversion didn’t touch what they believe to be real. For example, a Hindu might “believe in Jesus,” but in reality only be taking Him to be one more god among all the others that they worship because their worldview didn’t receive Him as the only God. Or, frighteningly, we might convince an atheist that an unborn child is a vital human life, but if they hold fully true to their worldview, that still does not produce morality or ethics because you cannot scientifically establish absolute rights or wrongs; that belongs purely to the realm of philosophy and religion, which science cannot explain. They could still logically reason within their worldview that it’s better for both you and that baby for it to die because it would detrimentally effect “quality of life” for both you and it.  In fact, this is the entire argument behind eugenics, which tries to control human population by “trimming off” what it perceives as negative to society through means of abortion, euthanasia, and in extreme cases like Hitler, genocide.

But while I can (and want to) get on a soapbox because of my horror at such practices, that does nothing if I only reach people at the level of their behavior, values, or even their belief system. What really has to change is peoples’ worldview, and our own as well, so how do we do this?

Well, because our worldview defines what we believe to be real, experience is the powerful dictator of this layer of culture. It’s very hard for us to deny the reality of what we experience. For this reason, when someone experiences God through His intervention in their lives—a healing, miraculous provision, a supernatural sense of His love or presence, etc.—they immediately realize that all they saw before was blindness compared to the reality that just opened before them.

Also, Hebrews 4:12-13 says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Certainly, if God’s word pierces between soul and spirit, then it gets as deep as our worldview. I believe that God sends out His word and it always bears fruit (Isaiah 55:10-11). I also believe that God sometimes takes His word—His scriptures—and makes something stand out to us in a particular moment for a particular reason. When we are able to “hear” what God is saying to a person in a given moment and say it to them, it opens them up like nothing else and paves the way for them to enter a new reality.

Once someone’s reality changes, so does their belief system, and then so do their values, and then so do their actions. But when we only aim at actions, we never change their reality. It’s like cutting the head off a dandelion, but not getting the roots.

But I said that we also need to do this in our own lives. Why? Because there are two different kinds of belief systems—operating and theoretical. Operating belief systems are what you truly believe that then influences your values and actions. Theoretical belief systems are like rote creeds that you can recite, but it doesn’t affect how you live.** For example, every Christian will tell you that they believe God loves them, yet, from my experience, the vast majority of them actually believe that they are broken, rejected, unloved, despised, ugly, unwanted, and so on. The former is only a theoretical belief system that has little to no power in their life, while the latter is the operating belief system that leads to genuine actions.

However, if we experience an aspect of God’s nature—His love, healing, provision, protection, etc.—then His reality becomes our reality and our theoretical belief displaces the former operating one. Now, suddenly, we truly believe that God loves us. We say that it went from head knowledge to heart knowledge and we experience freedom from doubt and confidence to minister that reality to others who need it.

Thankfully, God is the ultimate reality, which means that we have every reason for hope both for ourselves and for everyone around us. For as we pursue not just a soapbox regarding how people live, but instead pursue God’s reality within which we live, we can get under the surface issues to people’s hearts, as well as our own, and see God transform us all into everything He created us to be.


* Loyd E. Kwast, “Understanding Culture,” in Perspectives Exposure: Discovering God’s Heart for All Nations and Our Part in His Plan, ed. Meg Crossman (Seattle, WA: YWAM Publishing, 2003), 87-89.

** Loyd E. Kwast, “Understanding Culture,” in Perspectives Exposure: Discovering God’s Heart for All Nations and Our Part in His Plan, ed. Meg Crossman (Seattle, WA: YWAM Publishing, 2003), 88.

The Whole Truth

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

If you have spent much time in church, you know this verse. This is because we assume that people need to be convinced that they are sinners in need of a Savior, and that when they see that need, it’s simply a logical choice for them to turn to Jesus. This choice becomes even clearer when we tell them that “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

The options are now clear. You can a) ignore the reality of sin and its consequences by rejecting Jesus, or b) acknowledge your sinfulness and receive the only hope you have—salvation in Jesus.

This is the gospel of salvation and I believe every word of it. It is 100 percent truth. It’s just not the whole truth, and because it isn’t the whole truth, a lot of genuine believers who have responded to this message have continued living under the belief that they are still sinners falling short of God’s glory. This is because, while they finished the second verse to see that the free gift of God is eternal life, they didn’t finish the first verse to see that there was more good news to the Good News in which they believed for salvation.

The rest of the sentence begun in Romans 3:23 continues on to say, “…and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (24-25). This means that most of us were only told half the story when we first heard the gospel. We were told that all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory, but the other side of the coin says that all have also been justified, redeemed, and reconciled through Jesus’ blood. That simply needs to be received by faith, or in other words, you have to believe that what I just said is the truth.

Now maybe you’re sitting at your computer thinking, “I’m not sure I heard the difference there.” The difference is that, in the past, we’ve focused on the issue of sin. After all, the problem is that people have sin in their lives, right? Because the wages of sin is death, and that’s a big problem.

You’re right, sin is a big problem, and it does lead to death. But the whole truth is that sin isn’t the problem anymore because all have been justified. Have been. That was a past tense statement there. Everyone has already been justified by God’s grace as a gift. Period. How? Well, through the redemption that’s in Christ Jesus, by the propitiation (or reconciliation) that is found under Jesus’ blood.

Let me sum it up in less theological language: Everyone in the whole world throughout all time has now already been made right before God. Their sinful record has been wiped clean by the blood of Jesus, reconciling the relationship that used to be severed. Nothing now stands between them and God except their unbelief. As soon as they simply believe these words to be true, they are instantly restored to perfect, unblemished, unhindered relationship with God and nothing can ever interfere with that relationship except more unbelief.

And that, right there, is why this is so important. Because a lot of us still believe the issue is sin, not unbelief. So when we sin, we think that we’ve somehow turned from God and we have to repent and work our way back to Him. Nothing could be further from the truth. We’ve never been able to earn or qualify for a relationship with God. We were justified as a gift, remember? And that gift was never taken back; we just stopped believing that God is good enough to really restore us unconditionally so that all we have to do is believe it.

Which brings me to our second point: What is it that we fall short of? It’s God’s glory, right? Well, in Exodus 33:18-19, God declares that His glory is His goodness—the reality that He is gracious and merciful to whomever His chooses without any consideration for whether they deserve it or not.

So here’s the whole truth of the gospel: Everyone has sinned, and that means we’ve fallen short of how good God is. But because of His goodness, He has chosen to wipe the record clean for all of us, for everyone. And all it takes to be brought back into perfect relationship with Him is to believe the goodness He has shown us through the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf.

That’s it, just simply believe. Sin has never been an issue. Never. And it never will be, either, because Jesus made sure of that. That’s how good He is.

Is something standing between you and God? Is someone you love so lost that they’re beyond hope? Is this world so full of sin that God’s judgment is about to be poured out? We’ve answered all these questions today, and the answer is a resounding no. We just have to actually believe that this is true, and in so believing, start living in the reality of the goodness of God.

Loving Myself

Over the past several days, there has been one thing on my mind more than anything else. That thing is love.

I have been praying, asking God to increase my capacity to love others, but in praying this I have also been trying to figure out how to partner with God in that process. How can I help increase my capacity to love?

In meditating on this one thing, I have come to a conclusion: In order for my love capacity to increase, I must love myself more. If I do not love myself more, then I will not love others more.

To understand this, we must start at the beginning. We love because God first loved us. Our account of love is bankrupt until God makes a deposit from His heart into ours, and only then do we have the capacity to love. Curiously, this love most often does not come directly from Him, as He chooses to use couriers like you and me, parents, friends, family members, and even nature to express His love (why do you think we love our pets?).

Once we have received His love, then the most normal thing to do is to love others. If we were raised by caring parents, then chances are we will be caring as well. Or, conversely, if we were raised by abusive parents, then without loving help from another source, we will likely be abusive as well. The point is that we will repeat what we have received.

Eventually, though, love gets hard. Not everyone is lovable, after all, and even the closest of relationships can be trying. Here is where the question of self-sacrificing love comes into the picture. Religious duty would have us bite the bullet, humble ourselves, and serve the other person no matter how difficult, painful, or costly it might be. And let me be clear, nothing is wrong with these kinds of actions! It is the example Jesus gave us to follow.

However, the question is the condition of our heart when we take these actions. If we only repeat actions that were demonstrated towards us, or go beyond them in self-sacrifice out of religious duty, then we will bankrupt ourselves internally. Loving out of duty means loving because you know you are supposed to (the Bible or the pastor told you to), but not necessarily because the love is actually inside you of to give. And when you love others in this way, out of religious obligation yet without love in your heart, then you will begin to despise the sacrifices you feel forced to make.

On the other hand, if the first step you take when others love you is to recognize that you are loved, then you can’t help but feel good about yourself. This is not in an unhealthy way – the opposite of self-loathing and depression is not pride – rather it is in a way that actually fills the desire for love in your heart. Then, when you know that you are loved, and when you are able to love yourself because you now see yourself as lovable, then you will be able to love others out of the fullness of your heart. Then your love will be genuine. Then your love will be unselfish, expecting no return. Then you will know that you are accepted already, and you will not fear the rejection of those difficult people whom you are called to love.

Loving others begins with loving ourselves. After all, Jesus said, “Love others as you love yourselves,” and somehow, I don’t think He told us to do something that He wasn’t already doing Himself.

Jesus loved Himself, and so He loved us. We are merely doing the same.