Maintaining Your Faith in Hostile Territory

During the mid-1800s, the state of Tennessee divided over the issue of slavery. Most of Western Tennessee sided with the Confederacy and wanted to separate from the Union.

On the other hand, people from Eastern Tennessee didn’t depend on farming and agriculture, since they lived in a mountainous area. Therefore, they didn’t rely as much on slave labor. Therefore, they supported the Union.

Following the Union surrender of Fort Sumter in 1861, Tennessee broke away from the Union. Immediately after Tennessee split from the Union, Eastern Tennessee petitioned to break away from Tennessee. But the state legislature denied their request to break off from the state of Tennessee and sent Confederate troops into Eastern Tennessee to prevent them from splintering.

So the Union supporters in Eastern Tennessee went underground. Many Eastern Tennesseans engaged in guerrilla warfare, burning bridges, cutting telegraph wires, spying for the North and supplying soldiers for the Union army. Eventually, Union troops liberated Tennessee from Confederate control in 1863.

In a lot of ways, we’re like the citizens of Eastern Tennessee. We live in a world that’s in a state of rebellion against God. The world questions the legitimacy of God’s authority to rule.

Interestingly, the Confederacy didn’t have legal authority to break away from the United States. Later, the Supreme Court ruled that what the Southern states did was illegal. Thus, the United States was always legally sovereign over those states. They just didn’t know it. And so it is with us. Our world has staked its rebellion on illegitimate grounds. Though people in the world view themselves as having “to answer to no one.” The Bible tells a different story. According to the Bible, God created the world and everything in it. That means we owe our very existence to God. We owe him our lives.

Like the people of Eastern Tennessee, we’re outnumbered. We hold an unpopular view. And at times, we may feel tempted to give up the resistance. But unlike the people of Eastern Tennessee, we know the outcome of the war. Christ has won the war and will return to establish his rule on earth. [1]

How do we maintain our faith in a hostile culture?

We can run and hide.

We can isolate ourselves by creating our own Christian subculture, developing our own music, our own movies and lingo. Of course, we see extreme examples of this among Christian groups that refuse to assimilate into modern culture.

But some of us blend in too much. We’re afraid to tell people that we follow Christ. We act like we’re ashamed of following Christ when it comes up in conversation.

If we never emerge from the shadows and tell people about our faith, we’re bound to compromise it. We usually don’t value things that don’t cost us anything.

We can stand in open defiance and declare war on our culture.

I cringe whenever I encounter street preachers or see videos of Christian fundamentalists decrying the evils of our culture. Their words drip with self-righteousness. That’s why so many in our culture view Christians as anti-cultural.

Maybe there’s a third option. Something less obvious. Something more biblical.

We go underground and subvert the system.

We do what the Eastern Tennesseans did. We do what the prophet Daniel did. Instead of openly defying Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel undermined the king’s authority by refusing to eat from the king’s table (Daniel 1).

We blend in with our culture but we win people over to our cause. We become agents of change right where God called us. God has given us a mission. We try to persuade men and women to turn toward Christ and turn away from their life of rebellion (2 Cor. 5:11). God calls on us to aid him in rescuing as many people as we can before Christ returns.  

Moreover, we let our lives silence people’s accusations. The Apostle Peter states, “For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men” (1 Peter 2:15).

Some of us face mockery and even hostility at school or work due to our faith in Christ. But if we’re friendly toward people, if we work hard without complaining, if don’t participate in backbiting, people will notice something different about us. We will stand out as different from the sanctimonious, pharisaic caricature people envision when they think of a Christian.

Finally, we should avoid drawing unnecessary attention to ourselves. Scripture calls us to maintain a low-profile.

  1. 1 Timothy 2:1-4: I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

    1 Thessalonians 4:11-12: Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. 

We should aim to change quietly the world one person at a time. God intends to transform the world as he transform men and women into the image of his son.

[1] Ed Stetzer, Subversive Kingdom: Living as Agents of Gospel Transformation (Nashville TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2012), 3.