We want to help those who suffer from incurable diseases, we want to give a voice to the unborn, we hurt when we see anyone suffering political injustice. Many causes motivate good people everywhere to passionately fundraise to meet needs, boldly speak up against oppression and eagerly march to show solidarity with the oppressed.
Many churches encourage their members to support social issues through motivational talks and emotional appeals from the pulpit. It’s hard to get through a Sunday morning service without various announcements about activities vying for our attention and support. Some churches have lost their focus and have become campaign headquarters promoting “good or moral” causes in our society.
As our culture changes, we sadly see many churches changing in step with the culture. Soon enough, there is little difference between the world’s attempts and the church’s efforts to solve social problems. Distinctions are intentionally blurred to accommodate social activist trends that tug at our emotions and sense of justice. Regrettably, we Christians can let our activism to right the wrongs in our society take priority over the gospel.
If our building is not firmly grounded on the bedrock of truth, then contemporary psychology prompts us to achieve popular justice by whatever means the majority favors. Currently, “tolerance” is the guiding principle in any secular altruism, and Christians can be tempted to excuse their fear and weakness in standing for the truth as “tolerance.” A commitment to tolerance as the most noble virtue effectively undermines biblical authority, because it suggests that mixing the gospel with humanitarianism is unloving. Today, it is even considered unchristian to question a person’s beliefs because his or her “journey” is not to be challenged, especially as it relates to faith. The only belief subjected to intolerance (sadly even by some Christians) is the inerrancy and exclusivity of the Word of God. According to the world, those who believe the Bible is absolutely true are part of a fundamentalist conspiracy to destroy all social progress since the Dark Ages. Since no one wants to be seen as restricting human rights, we see Christians abandoning biblical standards and shrinking back from what they’re called to do.
Did Jesus and His followers pursue social justice in their ministries? Jesus did heal the sick and He did feed the multitudes on two occasions, but no effort went into creatively organizing events to draw people into a movement. Jesus’ message remained: “Repent and believe in Me!” He never changed His message to be more culturally relevant or to fit the perceived needs of the audience.
Jesus and His followers called people to repent of their sin and to believe in Him or to be condemned forever apart from God. His ministry goal was never to raise funds for the poor, call out volunteers to march against the Pharisees, go along with cultural doctrine for the sake of non-confrontation or challenge the justice of paying taxes to Rome. Jesus’ goal in life was to bring the good news of salvation to lost mankind. His goal in death was to provide that salvation. The only way back to God is faith in Him resulting in a changed life with the genuine desire to share the hope of heaven with others.
Jesus warned His followers that loyalty to Him could cost them everything. They might face persecution, loneliness, and even death for His sake: “Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division.For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three.Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law”(Luke 12:51-53). Christ calls for a changed heart that is totally committed to Him. A changed heart will be evidenced by changed behavior. Love for God and His Word and love for one’s neighbor replaces the natural selfish lifestyle that brings about social injustices. “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). Man’s greatest need is salvation in Christ, and each changed life brings about real social change.
There is a time and place for Christians to advocate change on behalf of social injustices. We live in a democratic republic and one of our duties as good citizens is to vote in elections. We also have the freedom to demonstrate for a cause and to use our time and money to effect social change that supports biblical principles. But we can’t expect our fastidious involvement with the world to change anyone’s heart. Taking action in a particular movement might show the compassion of the Church but it is less than what we are called to do. Our goal is not to manufacture a more “moral world.”
When the next call for social change goes forth, ask yourself, “to what end?” In my experience, it’s easy to get people excited for a rally to “change the world,” but few want to share the good news of the gospel with their next-door neighbor or family member. Are we being fooled into thinking a “social revolution” is more important than a “soul revolution” or regeneration? Has sharing the gospel become so awkward and socially inconvenient for us that we’d rather champion any cause or become complicit in anyone’s spiritual blindness than be ambassadors for Christ?
We deceive ourselves if we think that changing a law or donating to a cause can replace sharing the gospel. Even if we could carry the social gospel argument to its desired conclusion and succeed in eliminating poverty, racism, aggression and discrimination through our political activity, it wouldn’t redeem a single eternal soul from eternal damnation. Luke 9:25 reminds us: “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost?”
Truthfully, we are clay pots filled with treasure, as 2 Corinthians 4:7 reminds us: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” Let’s make sure our clay pots serve their purpose. Salvation is solely God’s work, from justification to glorification. We can’t save anyone, but we can be faithful witnesses and point the way to the narrow gate. The gospel is exclusive, yet it welcomes all sinners; it does condemn, yet it has the power to forgive. Only the gospel has the power to defeat death.
Despite the many problems we encounter during this life, we can be confident in Jesus’ promise: “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Our hope in His finished work on the cross is to be shared clearly and confidently. In many ways, our lives are the final argument for the truth of the gospel. A changed life proves our God is a saving God! May we, as the Church, stay pure and faithful to the end, resolute in sharing our message of hope and salvation with the lost.