I both love and am sometimes thoroughly frustrated with the Christian call to “change the world.” Entrepreneurialism and social justice are incredibly popular these days, and especially among young college graduates. From start-up non-profits to young missionaries Christians too have become swept up in the plan to save the world. It is, of course a noble idea and I wrote last week about the necessity for Christian involvement in social justice. And yet there is a growing fear I have that this desire to “change the world” may at times be misleading Christians.
I help pastor a church plant full of young college age men and women. I can vouch for the popularity of this ideal. It has done some wonderful things for our fellowship. We have ambitious, dedicated, and passionate congregation members who work hard and are excited about impacting their community and world. But I often fear that we get so caught up in the idea of changing the world that we become more excited and passionate about it than we do Jesus. There is a danger in pursuing this idea, a danger that we will love what we do more than we love Jesus. There’s a sense in which we get more excitement out of feeding the poor and promoting KONY 2012 than we do loving Jesus and sharing his gospel message. The one is far more glamorous at times than the other and therefore it is easy for Christians to fall prey to a misguided love affair with social justice.
I also fear that this passionate drive to change the world will lead us to one of two emotional extremes: (1) Pride or (2) depression. The pursuit to make a difference in our world can easily lead some of us into arrogance. We can be so proud of all that we accomplish that we think little of the Spirit’s role. We can also become so focused on what we do to change the world that we actually begin to condemn and deride those who don’t do exactly what we do. We begin to see ourselves as better Christians because we work at the homeless shelter, we buy TOMS, we’ve been to Haiti. But those aren’t quite the standards of spiritual growth given in Scripture, and pride is definitely not a hallmark of growth.
It is possible too that our lack of impact can cause real depression for those consumed with this view. I see plenty of this in our small congregation. The world is a mess and try as hard as we might, be as passionate as we can, changing the world will always seem just out of reach. For many this becomes such a burden, an evidence of their inability or their seeming lack of effort. They could always do more, they could always give more, care more. It’s hard to accept that we are not able to change the world to the degree that our idealist imaginations desire, and this becomes devastating for some young Christians. When I think about all that we are told we are supposed to do I can’t help but agree with the sentiment. As a Christian we are supposed to:
Read our Bibles
Pray without ceasing
Fellowship with the church
Share the gospel
Participate in global missions
Have healthy marriages
Raise your children in the fear and admonition of the Lord
You must adopt
Care for the poor
Feed the hungry
Take care of the orphan and the widow
Fight against abortion
Fight against racism
You must be a good steward of Creation
The list could go on and on. There are so many things that Christians MUST do that I can’t help but feel overwhelmed. It’s easy to see how depressed a Christian could become as they realize they can’t change the whole world.
The most disconcerting issue, however, as it relates to this “we can change the world” idea is rooted in a misunderstanding of Scripture. I love that there exists within the church now a group who genuinely believes in all the commands of Scripture to care for the poor, love your neighbor, and impact the world for Christ. I love that there are so many who are passionate for God’s Kingdom that they fight against injustice, oppression, and poverty. I feel a part of that group, and continue to wrestle with my desire to do more. But I also realize that at times this desire misconstrues the Biblical teaching on the coming of the Kingdom into the world. There is an assumption, unfounded by Scripture, that Christians are responsible for bringing the Kingdom to earth. We must “build the Kingdom,” “bring the Kingdom,” “expand the Kingdom.” But the Scriptures don’t actually teach us this idea. We don’t “build the Kingdom,” Jesus does. The Kingdom of God is not our work and our creation, it is Christ’s work. Jesus builds the Kingdom and gives it to us as a gift.
In Scripture it is Jesus who says “I am going to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2). In Scripture it is Jesus who says, “Behold, I am making all things New” (Revelation 21:5). The New Kingdom is Jesus’ work. Anytime the church gets consumed by what we do and thinks that God somehow needs us we have gone a stray from Scripture. Anytime my fascination is wrapped up in my role and not in Christ’s I have gone astray. I cannot and will not finally and fully transform the world. This does not mean I should sit on the couch and wait for Jesus to return. I must be engaged, as I argued last week. But I must work to transform the world with humility. I must recognize my inability to do it perfectly and fully. I must work to transform the world with eyes on Christ, the only one who will bring full and lasting change.