As we have discussed some pressing social issues at church the past few weeks, we have had to think through the reality of being Christians in a world that is predominantly not Christian. Being believers in Jesus will mean that there will be many things we see around us that sadden us. We will see people following all kinds of things other than glorifying God, we will see sin and its effects pursued and inflicted on others, and we even see Christians sidelined as bigots and irrelevant.
We are not the first to feel that way. When the apostle Paul walked through the city of Athens in the first century, “his spirit was provoked within him as he saw the city was full of idols.” (Acts 17:16) It upset him that so few worshipped God and so many followed darkness. What did he do about it? He looked for all kinds of opportunities to tell people about the True God instead.
Or we can look to those in Jesus’ day who were bothered by the great injustice of their government. In Luke 13:1 we read of those who came to Jesus complaining about an atrocity that their ‘king’ Herod had committed: mingling the blood of some Galileans with their sacrifices. I expect they wanted Jesus to show outrage at the government and to fix it, or to petition Herod, or to take control himself. But Jesus’ answer is more personal and bigger than those options. He brings the issue onto them; if they don’t repent and come to Jesus, they will perish too. The key issue is repentance and faith, not the atrocities, however bad they are. Good government of unrepentant people only fixes a temporary problem; Jesus offers to fix an eternal problem.
I hope that when you watch the news and see injustice it stings you. And when you see others serving themselves or experience or money or whatever it is, that we are not satisfied with this. But the way God changes people is through the gospel of Jesus, not through fixing the temporal problems. Correcting their surface issues doesn’t necessarily bring them any closer to being saved.
We see a marvellous example of this in Ephesus in Acts 19. This was a city devoted to the worship of the goddess Artemis and the surrounding industry. Paul and others spread the gospel in this city, both in the synagogue with the Jews and later in a public hall. We are not told of any direct picketing of Artemis-related things. But the change that happened in that city was massive and due to the gospel. So many came to Jesus that a large pile of magic books was destroyed as people no longer wanted them (v19). And so many came to Jesus that the trade in silver images of Artemis was lowered to a point that the silversmiths revolted in the streets. The gospel impacted the economy!
Our world is a tough world for Christians. This is not our home. We are sojourners, travellers, here temporarily looking for a better city. There will be much that offends us. Maybe that is a good thing as we see that sin leads to more sin and death and it helps us long for heaven. But we should resist the temptation to strike back at the world mainly with protests or civil action; we should impact the world instead with the gospel.
It seems weak, I know. A message of a crucified man who rose from the dead. Really? Is that how we will change the world? Yes: it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Rom 1:16). Evangelism is more important than we often think. Our dying world needs the news of life.