“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for Him. Don’t become so well adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what He wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” Romans 12:1-2 (MSG)
Culture is an extremely vital and formative part of each of our lives. By definition, culture is “the customary beliefs, social forms and material traits of racial, religious or social group; also: the characteristic features of everyday existence (such as diversions or a way of life) shared by people in a place or time.” None of us exist in this life apart from culture. It has quite literally shaped each of us into the people that we are today. Because culture is so influential, it is important to examine the Word in light of it.
Paul opens Romans 12 by encouraging every believer to lay down their lives before the Lord as an offering. In the first two verses, he asks them to offer up every aspect of their lives or culture: their beliefs, social forms and the characteristics of their every day existence. To fully understand the counter-culture nature of this scripture, it is important for us to know that Paul is speaking to churches in Rome whose members were brought up in a Polytheistic culture; those whose culture was jam-packed with deities. As such, the Roman church was accustomed to frequently adding in new gods. It would have been easy for these believers to simply add Jesus Christ to their list of gods to worship, without changing any other aspect of their lives, but that is not what the Word commanded.
Paul told the Roman church to do something radical. He asked them to NO LONGER FIT INTO their culture; to STAND OUT by fixing their attention on God alone, to FORSAKE the other gods they grew up believing in. Paul told believers to ABANDON the holidays, celebrations and rituals associated with these other gods, thus changing the atmosphere of their lives. He went as far as to say that forsaking these things and focusing on the one, true God is what would bring the best out of them and develop maturity in them.
This message is not just for the Roman church. It is also for us today. Perhaps the example of polytheism in the text doesn’t translate well, but you can certainly understand the concept of laying down your life, especially when examined through the lens of relationships. If you are married, you can surely recall what it was like to blend your culture with your spouse’s in those first few years of marriage. You likely had to sacrifice your own desires, habits, favorite places and even the people you spent time with, in order to reach an agreement. In many respects, you laid down your culture in order to pick up your spouse’s. We are to do likewise when we come to Christ, only on a much grander scale. However, rather than lay down a certain aspect of our lives, we must lay down our entire lives- our beliefs, social forms and the characteristics of our every day existence- for Christ. We must lay down our culture. In doing so, we get to pick up the culture of His Kingdom.