The word "woke" is at the center of many of the most heated political and cultural arguments of our time. Some people use “woke” as an insult, while others use it to describe someone who is aware of what’s going on in the world.
The Oxford English Dictionary states that it originally meant: “well-informed and up-to-date.” Urban Dictionary says that “being woke” means “being aware” and “knowing what’s going on in the community (in terms of racism and social injustice)”.
The term seems to be ubiquitous in the social and mass media spheres. “Woke” has entered the cultural zeitgeist so that it is being used by "those who hate it, and those who hate it not," to quote an old hymn. So what's a Christian to do? How do we interpret and interact with those who claim to be "woke," and those who use the term as a pejorative?
First, we must start with God's Word. We must start by not simply opening the Bible, but actually listening to Jesus Christ and learning from the Holy Spirit what we need to be awoken to in this sinful, fallen world. According to Martin Luther's Small Catechism, in his explanation of the Third Article of the Apostles' Creed:
“I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way, He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church, He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day, He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.”
The first sentence keys us into everything that follows. We cannot believe in Jesus Christ or come to him, so the Holy Spirit calls us by the Gospel and thereby enlightens us with his gifts. In short, if the Holy Spirit doesn't send us a preacher we remain in the darkness of sin, death, and under the authority of the devil.
For Christians to see Jesus as God and Savior, to believe that the words of the preacher actually do what they say – bestowing forgiveness, new life, and eternal salvation to the hearer – the Holy Spirit must do all the work of creating faith, gathering sinners into a church, and keeping them in the faith with Christ, and ultimately raising them from the dead to eternal life at the Last Day.
Anything else, at least according to Dr. Luther's reading of Scripture, leaves us wandering in the dark, the blind leading the blind until we eventually stumble into our grave. Without the Holy Spirit, no one is awakened to the truth about God, the world, and themselves. The Holy Spirit even has to reveal our sin to us before we will believe it! So everything that we possess as Christians is given to us as a gift by the Holy Spirit when he sends us a preacher to declare and reveal the truth to us.
Therefore, we have already been awoken to the truth by the Holy Spirit:
...we have already made the charge that Jews and Greeks alike are all under sin. As it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one. There is no one who understands, no one who seeks God (Rom. 3:9b-11).
Is there racism, sexism, and bigotry in the world? Of course! They're the consequence of sin. Can we do anything as Christians to stop people from engaging in racist and sexist behavior? Yes, but we don't take the same tact as the world, which is ignorant of sin and the power of Satan. Instead, we engage prejudice with God's Word, whether it's real or assumed prejudice.
We preach Christ into the cultural zeitgeist. We respond to "woke" culture and those who oppose it with the same word:
“all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:23).
There is only one way people will be awakened to the truth about God, the world, and themselves, and it won't be by Christians affirming or avoiding conversations about politics, social movements, and personal prejudices based on skin color, gender, and financial status. Instead, it’s through telling the truth. The Church of Jesus Christ is awake, thanks to the Holy Spirit sending us preachers. And now there is only one way to see the truth, and that is by faith in Christ Jesus.
As the apostle writes: There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28).
In Christ, we are united, not divided. In Christ, we are unconcerned about ourselves and our differences. In Christ, the truth is revealed that we have been doing this since the beginning.
The man and woman ate the fruit, turned their backs to God's Word, and saw that they were naked, and so they were ashamed. When we turn our backs to God's Word we replay the original sin over and over. We take our eyes off God's Word, the Son, and looking at the other person we realize that we're naked and vulnerable, and from then on the differences become more and more pronounced. The divisions between us open up wider and wider. As a consequence, we formulate new ways (which are always the same old ways, just renamed) to wake ourselves up to the truth of our condition so we can correct all the evils of the world.
And whether we call it "woke" or "enlightenment" or any of the hundreds, if not thousands of names that have been invented to cover our shame over the millennia, it will always end up the same for us: more division, more conflict, more prejudice, more misery, and a complete lack of forgiveness and mercy for the other.
Only in Christ can we expect to be awakened to the truth about God, the world, and ourselves. Only by the Holy Spirit and his words opening our mouths to speak the truth can we unashamedly engage with those who are "woke" and those who oppose them. Only by faith in Christ are we truly awake.