Our world is filled with calls to action. Many people seem to have the perfect idea of how to solve all the world’s problems. We are called to change for social and racial injustice. We are called to change to prevent a climate catastrophe. What many of these calls have in common is they seek to generalize the problem in order to bring the problem into the lives of everyone. These problems are something we should all care about. Don’t think you are a part of the problem? Well, that is just because you don’t understand the real problems that exist beneath the surface of it all. It seems that only paid experts, politicians and bureaucrats are the only ones who can offer the solutions to these problems.
Regular people are often told they can’t understand the issues. We need courses, classes and professional agencies to study these problems at a deeper level and then these experts will come back to us with solutions that they will then recommend to countries and corporations to implement. There are many problems with this structure, but perhaps the greatest problem is many of those involved only have a job if the problems continue. When you have people who only get paid if the problem exists and/or their solution is the right one there is no incentive to ever come up with a true solution.
One example came recently when the Executive Director of the U.N. World Food Programme stated to CNN that billionaires such as Elon Musk could donate “$6 billion to help 42 million people that are literally going to die if we don’t reach them.” Elon Musk responded with a tweet that said, “If WFP can describe on this Twitter thread exactly how $6B will solve world hunger, I will sell Tesla stock right now and do it,” the billionaire posted to Twitter on Sunday. He later said in a reply that the proof “must be open source accounting, so the public sees precisely how the money is spent.”
Elon Musk is a capitalist and a pragmatist but he, like many other wealthy individuals, often give a great deal of money to help with humanitarian causes. I note this story not to promote the rich or to specifically criticize this one person or agency, but just to point out that implementing solutions to big picture problems on a large scale is complex and the bigger the solution provided by large organizations like the UN, the WHO, and federal governments, the more potential there is for abuse and waste. Activism can be a positive thing, but real change and real impact is always best carried out for the greatest impact on the local level.
There is a passage in James that has troubled some theologians who are trying to walk the balance beam of being saved by grace and living in obedience to what we have been taught. It is true that salvation is by faith alone. We are saved by grace through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, but we are not saved to be experts who now have a special status that is elevated above the rest of the world, but to make a difference in our world, first and foremost by proclaiming the truth of salvation through Jesus Christ alone, but also by being the kind of people who make a profound impact on our communities. James talked about this lifestyle in James 1:22-27.
22 But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. 23 For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. 24 You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. 25 But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.
26 If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. 27 Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.
We are different from the world in many profound ways and we are called to live according the difference of Christ living in us and through us and the transformation that this will bring as we live in the world. Historically, Biblical Christianity and in recent days specifically Protestant Christianity has brought about community transformation that has impacted those communities in ways far beyond the spiritual realm.
In a peer-reviewed article published in American Political Science Review, Robert Woodberry examines the impact of Protestant Missions on several areas of development. Some of the impact is summarized by the following:
“The influence of conversion for populations is significant, but Woodberry explains that missionaries tended to have a positive influence beyond evangelism.
Christianity is a religion of the book, therefore Christians tended to teach people to read and write. They often brought in printing presses so they could publish religious literature. In some cases they invented alphabets for previously unwritten languages. This led to societal advances that enabled more people to prosper.
Not only did they educate people, but missionaries brought in the concept of private property so traders wouldn’t take advantage of them. They taught new skills, like carpentry and advanced agricultural techniques. Missionaries introduced new crops to countries, which gave indigenous people opportunities to engage in trade with products that were desirable in Europe.”
Dr. Andrew Spencer in the summary linked to above explains this impact in the following way: “As we seek to live as God’s people in our world, we need to keep in mind that the gospel is not just good for our eternal destiny, but it has implications for the world around us. The gospel leads us to fight human trafficking, to seek healthy solutions to poverty, and to be good stewards of our physical environment. It also leads us to be honest in our dealings at work, kind to our coworkers, and diligent in our duties. These things bring about healthy competition and will lead to a better world around us. If the gospel is effective amid colonial imperialism, it can certainly have an impact in our lives today.”
As followers of Jesus Christ, most of us aren’t missionaries in the traditional sense, but we are missionaries who are called to have a Kingdom impact wherever we are found. You have a role to play in your community. Through your presence and the presence of your local Church, the Gospel should be proclaimed in word and in deed so that people might know the truth of its message. Here are 4 specific ways that we as local believers can practice “pure and genuine religion in the sight of God our Father”.
- Impacting your community through action, not just activism. Activists tell other people what to do and expect others to change their behavior. We must look for real needs in our community such as homelessness, helping refugees, adopting and fostering children, tutoring kids falling behind in schools, creating jobs that can support a family, and sponsoring/counseling those with drug addiction and mental health issues and be ready to step up and meet those needs. In this way, action will always trump activism.
- Impacting the environment through action, not just activism. Make lifestyle changes in your sphere of control that will help the environment and lead efforts to teach others about these practices. Buy less and buy local. Support local farmers. Use less disposable items. Practice recycling, repurposing, reusing things. Use less electricity and live a simpler lifestyle that is not defined by the stuff you have and the trips you take, but by the depth of your friendships and community. Real environmentalists act like it in their daily lives, they are not elites who fly to conferences on private jets or live in mansions with electric bills greater than some communities.
- Impact your government by being a moral people, not legislating morality. Immorality is a tax on society. Broken homes, marriages and families impact everyone. Living a life where you treat yourself and others with respect and conduct your daily life according to Biblical values is transformative. Some of the greatest challenges to the Christian faith in history has come when people mixed up their religion with their government. We should want our government to function in a moral fashion, but it starts with a moral people who are not hypocrites, but true followers of Christ.
- Impact your world by beginning with personal responsibility and standing up and leading versus calling for others to be forced to comply with your viewpoint. The Christian faith is based on free will and our greatest impact on society is our ability to make changes in our own life for the better and then lead others to do the same. People want to practice the “pursuit of happiness”, and will run towards those who demonstrate the joy that is found only in Christ. By taking responsibility for our own lives and beginning with our local community, we have the greatest impact. Christians of all people should recognize the blessing of following a God who gave us the option to say no to Him. Everyone should want the wonderful life that is available to a follower of Christ, but God destined it that we would each have a choice. We “lead others to Christ”, we don’t twist their arm and force them to our viewpoint.
I would encourage every Christian to a call to action. It is easy to advocate for a position or viewpoint online or with your vote, but that is not where real life is lived out. Instead, we are called to live as salt, which brings flavor to everything it touches and light that shines into the darkness. Be the city on a hill in your community, pointing people on to the one source of our only hope, Jesus Christ, while we live the transformative life that comes from following Him.