As every Christian will be very well aware, we live in a world that is full of all sorts of evils, injustices and avoidable human suffering. Sin has messed up our world in a big way, and no genuine believer would want to deny this.
As every Christian will be well aware too, there are a multitude of organisations and movements in the world that are trying to get rid of some evil or other. Wherever you look, there seems to be a governmental or non-governmental organisation that is working in this way.
Of course, some of the things that non-believers call good, God actually calls evil. So some organisations that claim to be making the world better are really making it worse.
Nevertheless, it should be recognised as a fact that there are many organisations, movements and campaigns in existence around the world that are trying to making the world a genuinely better place.
WHAT ATTITUDE SHOULD CHRISTIANS HAVE?
This raises a question. What attitude to this issue does the Lord want Christians to have? Does He expect us to support those who are trying to improve the world, and to get involved in this activity ourselves? Or is this a red herring? Are we called instead to put all our energy into specifically Christian things like proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ?
I am sure that on this issue, as on so many others, there is a balance to be struck. And I am also sure that many Christians fail to get the balance right. Some put too much emphasis on trying to make the world a better place. And others put too little emphasis on this.
Let’s take each of these mistakes in turn:
PUTTING TOO MUCH EMPHASIS ON MAKING THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE
Firstly, there are professing Christians who focus too much on trying to improve the world.
Some of these are more in the wrong than others.
The worst offenders are those who support the so-called “social gospel.” According to these people, the heart of the Christian faith is about bringing change to society by helping the poor, downtrodden and abused.
Those who follow this teaching have no time for the idea that people need to be saved from God’s judgment. In their view, although Jesus’ death on the cross served in some way to demonstrate God’s love, it wasn’t a sacrifice for sins. And they don’t believe that people in their natural state are on track for hell after death.
It is quite right for genuine Christians to vigorously oppose this movement. These views are far removed from the Christian faith of the Bible and are thoroughly heretical. In reality, the social gospel is not Christian at all.
There are many other Christians who would reject the extreme views of the social gospel, yet who still seem to be partly under its spell.
You will often meet professing believers – and I expect that many of them are genuinely born again – who just don’t seem to understand the urgency of proclaiming salvation by faith in Christ. They seem to be more interested in things like combating poverty and tackling climate change than they are in telling people they need to be saved.
I think unbelief is at the root of this problem. Despite what they may say, these Christians don’t properly believe what the Bible teaches about the reality of hell. Nor do they properly believe what it says about the need of people to trust Jesus in order to avoid ending up there.
As it happens, the Bible knows nothing whatsoever of any morally accountable person living in the Christian era, who will avoid going to hell without specifically having faith in Christ. If God does ever save anyone in this category, we can expect it to be at most a tiny proportion of people.
Many Christians just don’t seem to have understood this as they should. It’s as if this information has bounced off their minds and hearts. And the result is that they downplay the importance of evangelism and overplay the importance of making the world a better place.
PUTTING TOO LITTLE EMPHASIS ON MAKING THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE
There are also more than a few Christians who focus too little on trying to improve the world.
To be fair to these believers, they usually understand some major biblical principles very well. They rightly see the huge importance of people being saved from their sins through faith in Jesus. And they rightly understand too that before He returns, there will always be an enormous amount of evil and suffering in our world.
Nevertheless, they go too far by thinking that Christians are wasting their time if they try to make the world a better place.
There are a few points to make here:
Biblical passages that encourage us to try to improve the world
To begin with, although the Bible makes it clear that there will always be great evils in the world before Christ returns, it never says that we shouldn’t try to make any difference at all.
In fact, some passages seem to suggest that there is a place for Christians acting to improve the world.
For example, in Matthew 5:9 Jesus teaches His disciples, and by implication all later Christians too:
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”
Jesus doesn’t specify the kind of peacemaking that He has in mind here, but this is no doubt deliberate. He is surely referring to peacemaking in a variety of contexts, whether in personal relationships or in situations that involve large numbers of people. And some of this peacemaking would surely mean making the world a better place.
Another relevant passage is 1 Timothy 2:1-2, where Paul writes:
“1 First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all those in authority, so that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”
Here Paul encourages Timothy to instruct Christians to pray for secular rulers, so that we may be able to live in peace. To some extent, then, Paul clearly wants believers to pray for the world to be a better place than it might otherwise be.
Although Paul is talking about prayer here, it seems unlikely that we should separate what he says about praying for the improvement of the world from acting for its improvement. It would be very surprising if Paul, or God, wanted Christians to pray this for the world but not to act, where appropriate, towards the same goal.
Paul’s words in this passage therefore provide some biblical support for the view that Christians should sometimes try to improve the world.
Summing up, then, we can say that the idea that Christians should completely avoid trying to make the world a better place fits poorly with the Bible.
Biblical instructions to love and do good
Secondly, doing good to people will sometimes mean trying to improve the world.
Christians are, of course, under a huge obligation to love and do good to our fellow human beings, especially believing brothers and sisters, but also non-believers as well.
In Galatians 6:10, for example, Paul tells the churches in Galatia:
“So then, as we have the opportunity, let us do good to everyone, especially to those who belong to the family of faith.”
Along the same lines, James writes in James 1:27:
“Pure and undefiled religious worship in the sight of our God and Father is this: to take care of orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
Note in this verse how no less a thing than “religious worship” is summed up as the performance of just two kinds of act, one of which is to help people in need. Of course, this shouldn’t be taken to mean that helping people and keeping morally pure is all that is involved in the Christian faith. There is clearly hyperbole in James’s statement. Nevertheless, this verse strongly underlines the importance of giving help to those who need it.
A multitude of other Bible passages also teach us to love and do good to people.
Importantly, there are many ways in which people are treated badly that result from customs and habits of different cultures and societies around the world. So if we are to do good to people, this will inevitably at times involve trying to change these customs and habits. And this will mean trying to make the world a better place.
In a nutshell, it is not possible for Christians to love people wholeheartedly, without in some respects aiming to make the world a better place.
An aid to evangelism
Thirdly, in some ways trying to improve the world actually helps spread the good news of Christ.
Ironically, those Christians who downplay making the world a better place because they think we should be focusing exclusively on things like evangelism, are actually hindering evangelistic efforts.
As far as is possible without compromising on our values, Christians should aim to foster a good reputation among non-believers (e.g., 1 Corinthians -33; 2 Corinthians 6:3). Even Jesus can be found acting in this way at times (e.g., Matthew ).
When we don’t do this, it often puts non-Christians off the gospel. And that is exactly what we would expect.
For example, if a non-Christian is distressed about the problem of human trafficking, and then they see Christians who seem not to be interested in doing anything about it, they will probably be put off the Christian faith. Or if someone is enthusiastic about tackling climate change, and then they see Christians brushing aside the scientific consensus on this issue, it will probably push them further away from the salvation that is in Jesus.
We need not only to proclaim the good news to people but also to try, where reasonably possible, to attract them to the Christian faith.
Of course, we must never compromise on our values, and standing firm on these will inevitably mean that many non-Christians are offended by what we believe. However, in areas where no compromise is involved, we should go out of our way to make the Christian faith seem like something people want to be part of. And siding with those who are aiming to make the world better is an important aspect of this.
There is, then, a balance to be struck on how much emphasis Christians should put on trying to make the world a better place.
Too much of this, and the importance of salvation by faith in Christ can be eclipsed. Too little of it, and love and the effectiveness of evangelism are reduced.
We should all therefore do our best to get the balance right on this issue.
CHRISTIANS WILL BE CALLED TO DO DIFFERENT THINGS
Up to this point, I have been concentrating on the general attitude of Christians towards making the world a better place. Ideally, our attitudes on this topic should be in agreement.
When it comes to how we act, however, there will be great variety in what God wants individual Christians do.
Some will be called to spend a lot of time and effort trying to improve the world. For example, some Christians are led to get jobs with charities that aim to make a difference in one way or another.
Most of us, however, are not called to channel nearly so much time and effort into this. For the majority, it will be a case of doing our best to listen to the Lord’s voice, and then acting as and when we think it is appropriate.