Do you want to “change the world”? I sure do.
That’s part of the reason I’m interning with Compassion International this summer. Life is misty short; it’s not a cliché but divine truth (James 4:14). Scripture alerts us of our desperately short residence on earth. If this finite life is all we have, then to not leave an infinite impact would be an absolute travesty.
What is neat is that this impetus doesn’t seem to be exceptional within my generation, but more so, a healthy contagion.
It’s amazing how fascinated millennials are with this idea of “making a difference.” We all have that altruistic missionary friend in Thailand fighting sex trafficking. Or someone from our high school youth group who started a nonprofit to provide clean water in the Congo. And remember that one time we tried to make Joseph Kony famous? #Kony2012
These are all wonderful undertakings. Kindness creates ripple effects that persist for generations. Kindness is simple in its execution yet boundless in its ultimate effect.
But let us be careful. While humanitarianism is praiseworthy, I fear the prevalence of such activism may misconstrue the main thrust of our mission as believers.
Acts of service cannot replace the admonition to proclaim and exalt the Gospel, because goodwill isn’t necessarily the Gospel.
Remember, suffering is first and foremost a spiritual issue. Man is in essence a spiritual being. Without this acknowledgement, humanitarian aid is simply another coat of paint over a decaying infrastructure. We won’t really solve the problem; we will just make it more visually appealing.
Relieving children from poverty is not the same as releasing children from poverty; suffering is the fruit of an evermore so devastating cycle generated by sin — the deadliest pandemic this world has seen. And the Gospel is the only thing powerful enough to break this awful cycle. This ultimate remedy demands blood, sacrifice and most importantly, grace. It requires the cross.
Morality is not exclusive. All men know they ought to do good. Just read Ecclesiastes 3:11 and Romans 2:14-15. God has written moral law and eternity on the heart of every soul. So in the eyes of God, people do not distinguish themselves through altruistic endeavors. All people have an intuitive perception of what is right and what is wrong. But what sets the born-again soul apart is the inclination behind the act. We feed starving children, rescue girls from sex trafficking, and speak on behalf of the persecuted to make Jesus look glorious.
Let’s be honest with ourselves. Is it at all possible, maybe even probable, that much of our drive to do good could be motivated by pride? I have to fight this suicidal desire every day. I often have a greater desire to be known for changing the world, rather than to actually strive for it.
Several disclaimers need to be addressed. This is not a knock against certain nonprofit organizations. I’ve seen that every ministry has a distinct role in God’s kingdom work. Nevertheless, believers must recognize that all philanthropy is fundamentally subjective if the core issue of sin is not addressed.
Let us not neglect what we cannot afford to forget. We are nothing without the Gospel. Every good and perfect gift flows from the news that man’s depraved condition can be remedied. This must be central to all we do as believers.
You really do not have to know a lot of things to make an everlasting impact on this earth. Just know a few things. Be gripped by them. And lay down your life for them. Nowhere are these few, everlasting, unchanging things encapsulated better than in the Gospel.
Consider just how liberating this approach is.
Suffering can only be reconciled through the biblical lens. Catastrophes and calamities wrench our hearts to tears and beyond. But we know why it all happens. Our world is in a continual state of rebellion toward its Creator. And we have the cure! We have the all-encompassing answer to the conspicuous question, “Why does this happen?” “Why is there so much evil in the world?” We know.
I think it is fitting to conclude with a short reminder of the proper role of “good works” in the Christian life. They are the evidence of a saving faith. So, in a sense, good acts are very much necessary (Romans 2:6-10). That’s where Jesus comes in. Moral law and conscience reveals that we don’t meet God’s standard for good and that we desperately need His forgiveness. Subsequently, through the Holy Spirit’s regenerational work, we are empowered to shine God’s grace through our lives.
My hope is that this would be more of a reminder than a rebuke. My prayer is for a resurgent love for the Gospel to spread like wildfire among young people.
Because what ultimately distinguishes us is not good manners, trips to foreign countries, or internships with nonprofit organizations, but souls that are captivated by the pure, true, unchanging, objective, explicit Gospel of Jesus Christ — for all the world to see.
Derek Kim is a senior studying journalism at Michigan State University and the author of Four Years, Two Roads.
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