Today Malaysia commemorates its 50th year of independence from British colonial rule. I was talking to some friends recently and we noted that there seems to be little reason to rejoice. The government of the day still takes an ethnic approach to running the country. Invariably it puts the different races in an adversarial relationship to each other. And ignores the really needy in all races.
Corruption and graft is still accepted at many levels of society. Everyone knows that if you are in difficulty, you just “rasuah” (bribe) your way through. Political power is still seen by many as a means to personal gain. And an entire race has no real freedom of religion. If you are from that race you can’t even get your religion on your identity card changed for heaven’s sake.
So yes, I can see why some of us see little reason to rejoice. After 50 years of independence, it seems that in some key areas of national life we have made little headway. And it doesn’t look as though there will be much progress in those areas anytime soon.
Still I remind myself that there is much to be thankful for. Things could have been much worse. Instead, the nation has made progress in many areas and for that we must be grateful and we must thank God. I was born in Penang in 1955 and have lived most of my adult life in Malaysia. It has been a good life though I realise that others may not have had it that easy.
Still there are many areas of serious concern facing the nation. And so I remember that in a fallen world, Christians are called to shine as lights in the darkness.
“Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’ Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.”
(Philippians 2:14-16a TNIV)
Paul tells us that we are not to be grumbling. Instead by our lives, lives transformed by the Word, we are to shine as stars in a “warped and crooked generation.”
In this regard the growing Malaysian evangelical voice in the public square is much welcomed. Jesus is the Lord of all of life and therefore His followers will want to speak up for His life giving values in every sphere of human existence including the sphere of politics.
As Charles Colson puts it in a recent article:
“Politics are important, of course: Christians have a duty to be the best of citizens, bringing concerns of justice and righteousness into public life.”
(“Promises, Promises,” Christianity Today, August 2007, p.64.)
But in the same article, Colson also warns Christians from falling into political illusion — the belief that society will be saved by politics. Politics, as he reminds us, “is, after all only an expression of culture. It cannot be the ultimate source of meaning and influence in any society if people wish to be free.” (p.64)
His warning is worth remembering in the Malaysian context. The ultimate salvation of Malaysia cannot come from politics. Neither the present Prime Minister nor another one will be the one to save the nation. Nor will the messiah come from some opposition party or some opposition leader.
Instead, we need to “reject the promises of political messiahs in favour of building up … our families, our churches, and our communities.”(Colson, p.64) And so Christians in Malaysia and elsewhere realise that true “reformasi” (reformation) of culture cannot happen without “transformasi,” the transformation of the human heart by the gospel of Jesus Christ.
A commitment to the gospel in a nation with a growing Islamic agenda is fraught with its own set of problems and dangers. Yet history has shown that the power of the gospel is seen most clearly against the backdrop of persecution and resistance.
And so as Malaysian evangelicals face the 50th anniversary of independence, we want to pause to thank God for His grace upon the nation. We also want to re-commit ourselves to pursuing the values of the Master in every aspect of Malaysian life.
But on the 50th anniversary of Malaysia, we also re-commit ourselves to the Great Commission realising that if we truly love our nation, we must bring to her our most precious gift — the gospel of Jesus Christ. We must learn to share the gospel with gentleness and love. But we must not be ashamed of the gospel. It is the ultimate hope for humankind and for the nation. As Paul said:
“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed-a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.'”
(Romans 1:16-17 TNIV)
There is a connection between our commitment to speak up for God’s values in the public square and our commitment to share the gospel. When we call upon people to follow Jesus, people will want to know what Jesus stands for. We need to live out the implications of the gospel even as we proclaim it. And so we pursue justice, righteousness and compassion wherever we can.
And so as we hear the yells of “Merdeka” (Independence) ring out once again, we remember that the most important independence is the independence from sin, death and Satan. And only the gospel has the power to make that happen.