Cultural Commonality & Spiritual Antithesis

In our most recent sermon this past Sunday from Genesis 20:1-18, we observed how the Abimelech, the pagan king of Gerar had a healthy fear of God. Conversely – and ironically – Abraham, the blessing-bearer, did not fear God; he feared men. In the sermon, I sought to explain how Abraham and Abimelech were both different and similar to one another.

Cultural Commonality in Genesis 20

On the one hand, Abraham was justified by faith in the promises of God and thus was a citizen of the heavenly kingdom; however, Abimelech was a pagan king who did not worship the one true God. This is what I referred to as their “spiritual antithesis” – Abraham was redeemed while Abimelech was not. On the other hand, both Abraham and Abimelech lived under God’s common grace; both had a sense of natural law and divine justice, even if at times one or the other did not act on it. This is what I referred to as their “cultural commonality.” One of the main points that I sought to make in the sermon was that until Christ’s return, believers will always be living in a world that is made up of both believers and unbelievers. So, we must learn how to relate to, and sometimes cooperate with, those who do not share our Christian faith.

A book that has greatly helped me in understanding these biblical categories is Living in God’s Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture by David VanDrunen. Dr. VanDrunen is a professor at Westminster Seminary California and an ordained minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC). In explaining the difference between redeeming and preserving grace, near the beginning of that book, he writes:

“God is not redeeming the cultural activities and institutions of this world, but preserving them through the covenant he made with all living creatures through Noah in Genesis 8:20-9:17. God himself rules this ‘common kingdom,’ and thus it is not, as some writers describe it, the ‘kingdom of man.’ This kingdom is in no sense a realm of moral neutrality or autonomy. God makes institutions and activities honorable, though only for temporary and provisional purposes. Simultaneously, God is redeeming a people for himself, by virtue of the covenant made with Abraham and brought to glorious fulfillment in the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, who has completed Adam’s original task once and for all. These redeemed people are citizens of the ‘redemptive kingdom,’ whom God is gathering now in the church and will welcome into the new heaven and new earth at Christ’s glorious return. Until that day, Christians live as members of both kingdoms, discharging their proper duties in each. They rejoice to be citizens of heaven through membership in the church, but also recognize that for the time being they are living in Babylon, striving for justice and excellence in their cultural labors, out of love for Christ and their neighbor, as sojourners and exiles in a land that is not their lasting home.” (p 15)

There is a difference between the church and the world. And, there is a difference between the work of the church and the work of all other worldly institutions. Both are ruled by God and serve His purposes, but both have different purposes which work toward different ends. Of course, this has ramifications and specific applications for the work and worship of the church, as well as for the various vocations and cultural pursuits of individual Christians. VanDrunen helps in parsing these things out by speaking in terms of how Christians have a cultural commonality with unbelievers, but at the same time maintain a spiritual antithesis with unbelievers:

“[W]hile Christians are in fundamental conflict with unbelievers in regard to their basic presuppositions about God and the world (the antithesis), they find that they can often cooperate with them on a great many things when it comes to the narrower and technical aspects of their work.” (p 181)

Spiritual Antithesis in Genesis 21

Abraham’s interactions with Abimelech in Genesis 20 highlight for us the “cultural commonality” that believers share with unbelievers in this world. This passage also helps explain how it is that sometimes unbelievers may behave in a more appropriate and just manner than believers.

In our next two sermons from Genesis 21, we will see an emphasis on the “spiritual antithesis” between believers and unbelievers. Specifically, in Genesis 21:1-21 we will see how the children of promise (the redeemed of the Lord) are contrasted with the children of the flesh (those who do not belong to the Lord), as well as the rights and privileges which belong to those who are born of God. And, in Genesis 21:22-34, we will see how these rights and privileges of the children of promise extends to the inheritance of the Promised Land. In particular, we will see how the inheritance of the Promised Land of the old covenant is ultimately fulfilled in the new covenant through Christ, with our inheritance of the new heavens and new earth.

I look forward to continuing in the book of Genesis with you this Sunday!

The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch