Swimming Upstream

The journey of the salmon is an incredible natural phenomena. Born in a fresh water stream, they will swim to the ocean after a year of life. After spending 2-4 years in the salt water they are mature and ready for the final and most difficult journey of their lives.

Research indicates that salmon have a special sensory system that allows them to find their way in the ocean by sensing the earth’s magnetic field. There comes a time when their inner compass calls them home to the fresh water and stream in which they were born.

This return requires them to travel upstream reversing the swim they made years earlier. Upon returning to the stream of their birth, they lay eggs, fulfilling their destiny!

Here are some of the potential obstacles salmon face in fulfilling their purpose of swimming upstream: polluted water, raging currents, loss of cover and protection in shallow water, and predators like eagles and bears.

As followers of Jesus, we are called to swim upstream in a spiritual sense as we seek to fulfill the Great Commission. Following Jesus has always been counter-culture, for the believer has always been swimming upstream. Yet our current struggle today is not only the spiritual battle we face daily, it is the culture and context of our current 21st Century world.

I don’t know about you, but I often feel the impact of raging forces opposing my witness that are ever-present in our culture. And sometimes I get discouraged, wondering how I’m going to make an impact in a culture that is increasingly opposing my purpose of fulfilling my individual role in the Great Commission.

This submission is intended to briefly inform and encourage, for we all need encouragement to keep fighting the good fight of faith and run the course God has put before us.

Regarding our witness for Jesus, there are some unique cultural obstacles we face today in 2024 that are important to understand as we strive to be gospel witnesses. Here are three reasons evangelism is becoming more difficult in this 21st Century, along with responses that hopefully will encourage and inspire us to keep fighting the good fight of faith:

We proclaim absolute truth in a relativistic culture.

You’ve heard the line before, “You have your truth, I have my truth, and they have their truth.” This embodies much of the spirit of this age. It’s a statement that reflects the idea of relativism – the concept that points of view have no absolute truth or validity within themselves, but rather only relative, subjective value according to differences in perception and consideration.

In a general sense, truth may be defined simply as that which corresponds with fact or reality. For example, the law of gravity is an absolute truth, albeit a scientific one. Relativism, in part, is a raging attack upon moral absolutes and the Moral Lawgiver, who is The Truth. People don’t want to be held accountable to a moral standard, so there is a great conflict between we who proclaim absolute moral truths and a culture whose relativism wants to render those moral absolutes mute. We are keenly aware of this raging current of relativism.

Be encouraged. Jesus, who is the Truth, said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32). The reality is that the Holy Spirit, even as I pen these words and you read these words, is doing a mighty work in the hearts of men and women, bringing people into a saving knowledge of the truth. People are being set free by the truth, for the Spirit of God is convicting people of sin, judgment and righteousness (John 16:8), bearing witness of the truth (1 John 5:6), and bringing people into a saving relationship with Christ (Titus 3:5) – accomplishing these mighty works in and through our witness. Hallelujah.

We proclaim an exclusive way to God in an age of pluralism.

We’ve all seen the bumper sticker “Co-Exist,” characterized by the letters in the shape of various world religions. This reflects well the spirit of the age – can’t we all just get along!

Religious pluralism generally refers to the belief in two or more religious worldviews as being equally valid or acceptable. More than just tolerance, religious pluralism accepts multiple paths to God or gods as a possibility and is contrasted with “exclusivism” – the idea that there is only one true religion or way to know God.

Regarding our Christian witness, we are swimming upstream regarding exclusivity – for more and more people, even some professing ‘Christians’  are saying that there are many ways to heaven.

But Jesus Himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Peter, while testifying before the Jewish religious leadership in Acts 4:12, said, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Either Jesus is only the way to heaven or He is not.

Again, be encouraged! When discussing truth claims, help people understand that truth claims, by their very nature, exclude other truth claims. Or, in other words, every religion, by it’s very nature, is exclusive, and excludes other truth claims! Therefore, in the beauty of the gospel, while the truth claims about Jesus are exclusive, the gospel invitation is inclusive, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). As people sincerely and genuinely compare the truth claims of Christianity with other truth claims, God is revealing Himself, people are getting saved, and His Kingdom is expanding! Praise God!

We proclaim a supernatural message in an age of reason.

Many who oppose things of the Lord hold high the proverbial banner, “Science and Faith Don’t Mix!”

We are currently living in a culture that is increasingly wanting to separate science from faith. The new atheists and many intellectual elites are busily attempting to create a narrative where there is a great gulf fixed between science and the supernatural.

For example, in our public education system, the theory of evolution is taught as fact, while the idea of special, or supernatural creation is simply not presented at all.

Yet, the very definition of biblical faith is based upon substance and evidence: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). The fact is God has given us many reasons to believe. Let he who has ears, let him hear!

Finally, be encouraged! The apostle Paul wrote about the futility of those of the world opposing the message of the gospel: 

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe”
(1 Corinthians 1:18-21).

Even today, in the 21st Century, the Lord is continuing to expand His Kingdom, for Jesus said, “I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).

So brothers and sisters, keep fighting the good fight of faith! Run the race! Stay the course! Keep swimming upstream against the cultural currents opposing our faith, because we have the victory. I know how the story ends, I’ve read the book. We win!

“For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” (1 John 5:4).

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