Being a Christian – a “follower of the Way” (Acts 24:14) – centers around the Apostles’ witness of Jesus as God’s appointed Messiah. This means that Jesus is the everlasting king of Israel who would judge the world and restore blessing to all creation in accordance with God’s covenants. To Jew and Gentile alike, the Apostles’ proclamation of Jesus as Messiah corresponded with their exhortation to believe in Him for the forgiveness of sins, thus obtaining an immortal inclusion in God’s restored creation by means of resurrection from the dead (cf. Lk. 24:47; Acts 2:38, 3:19-21; 10:42-43; Phil. 3:9-11; 2 Tim. 1:10). A believer’s faith is to grow and bear the fruits of love, obedience, and good deeds, having its hope anchored in the promises of the gospel and fed from the teaching of the Apostles. These elements encapsulate the “Great Commission” Jesus gave His apostles- to “make disciples” (Mt. 28:19).
But there’s a different phrase I often hear repeated by Christians – “Change the world.”
It’s a popular phrase, but is it really what Christians are called to do? Well, that depends entirely on how you define the phrase. But because language shapes our reality, I think the use of this phrase does more harm than good. I think it distorts our mission and erodes our hope. Let me explain.
As believers in Jesus, our entire worldview is shaped (or should be shaped) by the promise that very soon, God Himself will change the world and usher in everlasting righteousness. Paul framed his exhortations with statements like this: “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here” (Rom. 13:12). In “the night” of “this present evil age” (Gal. 1:4), as we “eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness“ (Gal. 5:5), our responsibility is to believe and bear witness of “the day” (i.e. the age to come) with lives that reflect its righteousness. This is why Paul goes on to say, “Let us behave decently, as in the daytime” (Rom. 13:13). Peter likewise describes the same things as Paul, “According to His promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.“ (2 Pet. 3:13) Ponder this for a moment. The way things are now (i.e. evil) and the way things will be then (i.e. righteous) are as “night” and “day”. Both Paul and Peter identify Christians as those who “wait” for the day when Jesus will change the world.
It is this gospel narrative context (the promise of Jesus’ appearing to turn “this present evil age” to “daytime”) that frees us to live as sojourners who don’t need to fix a broken world, shift the political landscape, or even “bring the kingdom”- something Jesus rebuked people for attempting. Simply put, these are not the tasks Christ has laid upon His church. Instead of a powerful force to be reckoned with, conquering the spheres of society in Jesus’ name, Christianity was meant to look like the Cross. Like God’s own demonstration of love for His enemies, Christians care about those on the road to destruction, take up their cross, and lay down their lives that others would “not perish but have eternal life”. Like the Apostles before us, God has sent us out as loving witnesses (In Greek, “witness” is the same word as “martyr”) of God’s longsuffering kindness in this evil age before the day He judges and restores all things. We wait and we witness.
In this light, Paul tells believers, “Aspire to live quietly.” (1 Thess. 4:11)
Paul’s command doesn’t make for a good conference slogan or appeal to the narcissism of our generation but it reminds us of our sojourning identity and it empowers us to simply be Christians right where we are. Paul saw the quiet, working-with-your-own-hands life as a prime context for the carrying out of the Christian mission. You see, you don’t have to change the world. This doesn’t mean we can’t be used by God to effect significant change in society, but that is not our central goal as Christians. A cursory glance at the prayers of the Apostles reveals their inner drive, not for the transformation of the world, but for the building up of God’s church in faith and hope and love. They were focused on their God-given task of making disciples, not making history. They were fixated on loving people and caring for their salvation, not changing the world.
The reality is that most believers work hard to make a living, struggle to keep their marriage strong, nearly die raising kids, and then literally die. This all happens in relative obscurity. It’s normal and mundane. I would even argue that most people (even Presidents) do not achieve a significant or noticeable change in the world. Now, perhaps many of us will gain relative success in the campaign for societal justice. Maybe we can work together and elect the political candidates we believe will give us the preferred change. Maybe you will become the next William Wilberforce. But if not, that’s okay. As Christians, that’s not our calling. While there are indeed examples throughout history of God using individuals to turn many to Himself, Jesus and the Apostles never told us to “change the world” but to believe in Him, wait for His return, be His witnesses, and follow His example by laying down our lives for others in love.
“We do not just say what we believe — we end up believing what we say. That’s why I propose that we should consciously correct our vocabulary so it conforms to revealed biblical truth.” – Randy Alcorn, Heaven
I don’t think the call to be a “history-maker” or “world-changer” lines up with the general tenor of the Apostles. Yet today it seems like young people are not only encouraged to change the world, they are expected to change it. When drawn by the sensational language of turning the tide of history, changing the world, or being a part of a great and powerful movement, one’s dreams become fixated on this age and when incorporated in Charismatic circles, prophetic words compound the pressure of being “the chosen generation”, the best of the bloodlines, those destined to powerfully change society for the name of Jesus, etc. But inevitably, this road leads to disappointment and disillusionment. This is because societal change is not what God has called us to do. Only one Man has been chosen to change the world. Jesus will soon return and when He does, He will govern the world in righteousness. We are called to bear witness of Him as we wait for His return.
Consider the language used by the Apostle Paul. He reminded the Philippians how “we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20), saying, “in this way stand firm in the Lord” (Phil. 4:1). He taught Titus about “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ“ (Tit. 2:13). He prayed for the Corinthians to be “eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:7). He praised the Thessalonian believers for how they “wait for His (God’s) Son from heaven“ (1 Thess. 1:10). When was the last time you reminded someone to wait for the return of Jesus? When was the last time you were encouraged by how someone waits for the return of Jesus? To be honest, it’s just not the way we talk or think anymore. Why not?
I realize this may sound offensive to some. My heart is not to be abrasive or extreme, but to humbly speak about what I see from the Scriptures. I realize there is much nuance needed in a discussion like this. For whoever may be reading, my goal in this post is for you to ask the question, “Is my mission as a Christian really drawn from the words of Jesus and the Apostles or could I just be regurgitating ideas that are popular in the modern-day Christian culture?” Words are important. Words shape reality. As Alcorn writes, “We end up believing what we say”. I challenge you to think critically about the types of words and phrases you use and see used. Examine them in light of Scripture. Read the New Testament. Ask what it means to be Christian and let the words of Jesus and the Apostles shape that answer.