The world we now live in is going through a lot of changes. We’re seeing it economically, socially, politically, and even religiously, just to name a few. These changes are coming about as a result of political corruption and political agendas, various people groups claiming and demanding their rights at the expense of others, the overflow of violence and ideologies bleeding over into other cultures and societies that don’t share in their way of life, as well as the desire of various religious groups seeking ways to be more appealing and acceptable in the eyes of society. Much of what we are seeing is a reflection of the overall perceptions of people where what is evil is now considered good, and what is good is now considered evil.
When I think of world changers, I think of something written by a physician in the first century named Luke. In Acts 17:6, Luke quotes the statement made by some about the Apostle Paul and Silas, as well as other Christians, when they dragged Jason and others before the rulers of the city; “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too.” What a statement that is, validating the ministry and influence of the Apostles and Christians on the world at that time. They apparently had a tremendous impact on communities wherever they went, an impact that couldn’t be ignored.
Several years ago I had the privilege of sharing a message to graduating students, and the message I shared focused on the above passage. In the days we now live in, I believe many, especially youth and young adults, are looking for a cause not only to live for, but one that is worth dying for, and when they find it they will be effective in impacting the world around themselves for that cause. That is how we need to view and live our lives for Christ and the Gospel. Are we willing not only to live for Jesus, but are we also willing to die giving ourselves for Him and to Him?
So, how do we change and impact the world around us for Christ? While there are many different opinions out there on how Christians and churches are to accomplish that, I wonder what we can learn from Scripture and 2,000 years of history. Do you want, as I do, to impact and turn the world around you upside down for Jesus? Please know that as I write this I’m also talking to myself, looking at how I fall short in this area and what I need to do to change that in my life.
“These who have turned the world upside down have come here too.” What were these men doing to illicit such a charge against themselves? They were simply living a life blameless before God and man, boldly proclaiming whenever they could the good news of Jesus, manifesting signs and wonders to support and confirm the message they were proclaiming, all along with a strong conviction to give their lives for the furtherance of the gospel even if it meant death. That is all we really read about in the Book of Acts and the rest of the New Testament. Is this the model we must follow if we are to impact and transform our communities for Christ, or should we consider a different approach more in line with current culture and society?
While I couldn’t put a name on it until recently, I’ve seen over the past several years a push by some churches that have sought to impact and transform their communities through community involvement and works. Yes, one way of outreach to the community is through community involvement and works, but to seek to impact and transform a community in this manner is like “getting the cart before the horse”. Often times I’ve heard it said that the harvest field is outside the four walls of the church, but it seems like the majority of the time the community outreaches some employ are simply ways to entice people to come to church, and not so much pointing them to the cross where there is salvation, hope, and healing for them. It’s almost as if they are trying to move the harvest field they talk about back into the four walls of the church instead of reaching them where they are at. I’m reminded of a powerful movie that stars Gavin MacLeod, one that you should see if you haven’t already. In the movie, Time Changer, it takes a look at how the push for morality apart from the name of Jesus deteriorates over time, and that we can never leave Jesus out of the equation. In the same manner, community involvement without the proclaiming of Jesus and the good news of the gospel will become a community minded church with a very weak message of salvation to the very ones they seek to reach.
I mentioned the phrase “getting the cart before the horse”, and this is what I mean by that. The approach of some churches is to impact a community through community involvement and works, expecting people to come to church and receive salvation when they do. However, this is the opposite approach we see God used both in the Bible and the great revivals of the last 2,000 years. The approach we see God using is what I described a couple paragraphs earlier. When the early church took the approach as I described a couple paragraphs earlier, people were not only getting saved, but they were getting transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, and as a result the communities were being transformed and turned upside down for Christ. The transformation of the communities came as a result of lives being transformed by the Gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit, and not the other way around.
When we look at the great revivals of the past, we see the same thing happening. The focus was to reach the lost with the Gospel of Jesus, calling sinners to repentance with signs and wonders confirming the message, and where they experienced the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. It was then that bars and saloons were shut down, gambling halls closed their doors, and places of prostitution were put out of business. In one revival, the Welsh Revival, it was reported that the work animals had to be retrained in regards to the commands they were given, commands that were once made up of obscenities and profanities were replaced with more appropriate and wholesome commands.
The focus of the early church and the great revivals of the past was not to impact and transform a community, but instead to point sinners to the cross for salvation, which as a result impacted and transformed communities.
The approach by some in recent years is to use what is referred to as a “missional” approach. In this approach the idea is to be community minded, involved in community events and practical works. They seek to live and reach out to people in the way that they think Jesus did; through community involvement, practical works, not holding people accountable for sin that is clearly identified as such in the Bible, being tolerant of other people’s beliefs, and being as appealing and attractive as possible to society and culture. Several years ago a well-known pastor put together a guide for churches seeking to attract people to their church. In this guide he pointed out that churches needed to do away with anything that might deter people from coming to their church, or that might make people feel uncomfortable for being there. Some of the things he mentioned was to eliminate from the premises any crosses, to avoid any singing, preaching or teaching about the cross or the blood of Christ, and to definitely not mention or deal with sin or the repentance of it in any way. This approach has the form of godliness but denies the power of God as the Apostle Paul told Timothy would be present in the last days (2 Timothy 3:1-9)
In regards to Jesus, the apostles and the early church, I’m not sure how they come up with how they lived to support their approach. Where do we see in Scripture that their ministry was made up of community involvement and practical works? Yes, we read of Jesus’ illustrated sermon washing the disciple’s feet on one occasion, but that is the only time that we see or hear of Him doing anything practical, so to speak. And we can see from the disciple’s response that doing anything practical like this was not something they ever saw Him do before. What Jesus was trying to convey to them was a mindset like He had (Philippians 2:5-11), willing to do whatever the Father asked of them to do no matter how low or hard it was. If Jesus was wanting them to do practical works as a primary means of ministry and reaching the lost, then they apparently missed the point as we can see in Acts 6:1-7 they focused their attention on prayer and the ministry of the Word, giving to specially appointed disciples the responsibility of meeting the necessary practical works.
We also read in John 10:32 that Jesus did many good works that He had shown from the Father. And in Acts 10:38 we read how that Jesus was anointed by the Father with the Holy Spirit and with power, doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil. Yes, Jesus did many good works; healing the sick, raising the dead, opening blind eyes and deaf ears, casting out demons, feeding thousands, changing water to wine, calming the winds and the waves, walking on water, talking to the forbidden and forgiving the judged. To say that the good works mentioned in these passages were practical works ignores the context in which they were written, and it’s inconsistent with what we read regarding Jesus, the Apostles, and the early church. Not only that, but Jesus also tells us in John 14:12 that not only will we do the works that He did, but greater works we will also do because He will go to the Father. Each of these passages refers to the spiritual, signs and wonders, and not the practical works as some would like us to believe.
What am I trying to say? If we are to see a community impacted and transformed for Christ, then it needs to start with living lives blameless before God and man, boldly proclaiming the good news of the Gospel, manifesting signs and wonders to confirm the message being given, and a strong conviction to give our lives completely to Him and the furtherance of the Gospel, even if it means to our death. Community involvement and practical works, though good and a form of outreach to the lost, will never reach and transform a community if that is our mindset and focus apart from what we see in Jesus, the Apostles, the early church, and in the great revivals of the past.
If you want to be a world changer, to see your community impacted and transformed for Christ, then it has to start with prayer. While prayer for the needs of others is great and important, prayer for the lost and the manifesting of the power of His Holy Spirit in our lives to reach the lost needs to become our hearts cry. If we are to impact our community, then we need to make sure we are living blameless before God and man. If we are to see souls saved and lives transformed, then we need to have more boldness to proclaim Christ to those we come in contact with, seizing the opportunities that God gives us to this end. If we are to see lives reached and communities set ablaze for Christ, then we need to become instruments God uses to manifest the power of the Holy Spirit in signs and wonders to confirm the message. Jesus said for those that believe signs and wonders will follow (Mark 16:15-18), and again He said we would be baptized with the power to be witnesses to Him (Acts 1:8).
Be a world changer for Christ! I want to be a world changer for Jesus, and my prayer is that He will make me more of one for Him in my life. What about you????
John Johansson (Pastor John)