Beyond Changing the World
Jesus never told believers to “change the world.”
The church in Acts never took on the mission of changing the world. Instead, we serve the world changer, Jesus. He impacted the world when He was born and will change it—dramatically—when He returns. But He never assigned that task to the church. It is His alone. In our craving to feel significant, we have misunderstood our role.
There is NO Bible verse that tells us that we are responsible for fixing the misery in the world. That’s not our job. It never was.
“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).
The world is a place we overcome, not change. There is something liberating about lifting the “world changing” burden off the church.
A discouraged pastor in Tennessee expressed his utter frustration with ministry. Ken Dovey, Vice President of Kidz Blitz, listened. The pastor talked about how hard it was to help people get their bills paid, fix their marriages, feed them, etc. He was beaten down by the responsibility of it all. “Why do you do all that?” asked Ken. “Because we are supposed to change the world,” replied the pastor. “Where does the Bible say that?” asked Ken. “The Bible does not call the church to fix all of the world’s problems.” The pastor looked stunned. He had never thought of that. He had heard that his job was to change the world and he had simply assumed that was what God wanted. His countenance changed as he began to realize he had taken on an unrealistic burden of fixing everyone’s problems and changing the world. For him, ministry became much more joyful that day.
So the question becomes, “Will the world ever change?” Will it change profoundly? Will it undergo drastic renovation? I’m not talking about adding a social program here or there, or solving a problem or two. I’m talking about a sweeping change over the entire world—one that takes your breath away. Will that ever happen?
Yes. The world will change. Oh, how it will change! The early church understood that one day Jesus was coming back and when He did, everything (as in EVERYTHING) would change.
“Then the seventh angel sounded; and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever’” (Revelation 11:15).
Every worldly kingdom will come under the control of the Lord when He returns.
The early church yearned for the return of Jesus. Today the church yawns over His return. We have lost the sense of excitement about Jesus one day coming back to earth and changing everything. In thinking too highly of ourselves, we have become convinced that we can change the world. So naturally, our anticipation of His return has diminished.
So how should we respond to the world now? What is our responsibility toward it? Should we just fatalistically shrug off the world? Should we retreat from the world into monasteries? No. But then what? What is our specific responsibility toward the world?
In Matthew, Jesus clearly defined our relationship with the world in two dimensions: salt and light. He told us to be both. Salt and light have specific functions. Let’s look.
“’You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how shall it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men’” (Matthew 5:13).
In Jesus’ day, salt did ONE thing: it kept meat from going bad. It slowed down the decay process. Salt doesn’t eliminate decay. It doesn’t change the meat.
Through the ages the church has rarely improved the whole world, but it has slowed the rate of decay. After 2000 years the church has not eliminated war, murder, rape, theft, dishonesty or even slavery. But it has periodically helped slow the rate of cultural decline here and around the world.
When we fight poverty or human trafficking, for instance, we slow it down. We reduce its size and scope. Do we really believe we will eliminate all poverty? Will we eradicate all human trafficking? No. We can—and should—have a profound impact. But it is a salt effect. It slows down evil, not sweeps it away.
We set ourselves up for failure when we make “changing the world” our purpose. We are not called to change the world, but to slow its decline.
“You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14).
Light does ONE thing. It shows us things we could not see in the dark. The good news of Jesus shows people that there is a loving God in Heaven who sent Jesus to offer us life as a free gift. When people realize that it is not about what we do for God but about what He did for us through Jesus, the light comes on.
One small light can chase away a lot of darkness.
Listen precisely to what Jesus said.
“He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation’” (Mark 16:15).
When we go into all the world, we go into enemy territory, not to change it but to rescue people from it. That is our main thing. Peter laid out the mission on the Day of Pentecost.
“’Be saved from this perverse generation’” (Acts 2:40).
Notice he did not tell them to “change this perverse generation” but to be saved from it.
Yes, we express God’s love by feeding the poor, working against human trafficking, visiting people in jail, praying for the sick, supplying kids with school supplies, etc. The church can do some really amazing stuff in the world, but let’s not call it “changing the world.”
If our purpose is to change the world, we doom ourselves to failure before we even get started. If our purpose is to go into the world and be salt and light, we have an exciting mission that will culminate in the return of Jesus. That goes beyond merely changing the world as we know it.
The bad news: you are not going to change the world. The good news: Jesus is. And His idea of changing the world will leave you speechless.