To Change the World

Leo Tolstoy is credited with saying, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” Similarly, Aldous Huxley once said, “I wanted to change the world. But I have found that the only thing one can be sure of changing is oneself.” The reality of these quotes rings true year after year, yet we far too often look outwardly for the genesis of change for the better, only occasionally taking a look in the mirror or examining our inner self. And, as we come to the beginning of each new year, it is then we start thinking, “This is the year I will really make a change for the better!”

      Actually, changing self for the better is an admirable goal; in fact, when it comes to spiritual matters, it is the best thing you can do. A ‘side benefit’ of changing for the good in spiritual matters is that it then positively affects every other part of your life; when one makes a genuine change for the better spiritually, it requires a change of every aspect of our earthly life and, what should not be surprising, for the better. The first step in becoming a better person in the spiritual sense is by:

      Becoming a Christian. The world often mocks the idea of anything religious or spiritual, and even the existence of God, but we must admit that much of the denial and mocking comes from the very ones whose lives are condemned by God’s word and God’s standard. Of course, one covered in filth will mock the idea of a man ever being able to be clean, and the one who has wallowed in filth all his life will think it impossible to avoid wallowing in the filth. To such ones, cleanliness is a fantasy — something beyond credibility, much less attainability.

      But every man must know that he — and every man who has ever lived [except one] — is spiritually filthy (Rom. 3:23), but can become truly clean. Paul, when writing to the disciples in Corinth, reminded them of the spiritually filthy conduct of the world and reminded them, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:9-11). Something had changed them from spiritually filthy to ones who had been “washed…sanctified” and “justified.” That change came about when these individuals became Christians!

      The decision to become spiritually clean must be ours; it is not going to come by some miraculous outpouring of the Holy Spirit that overwhelms us. As with every example of conversion found in God’s word, the decision to change began with those who had heard the gospel message and wanted to change for the better. They made that decision and they followed through on what they were told to do. [For example, when those on Pentecost asked, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Peter told them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:37, 38). Peter was merely telling them what Jesus had already told them to do: Preach the gospel, make disciples, and baptize them (Mark 16:15, 16; Matt. 28:19, 20).]

      It is in this act of obedience [baptism] we are told that the one doing so, with “faith in the working of God,” will be raised up with Christ and “made alive together with Him” because God has “forgiven you all trespasses” (Col. 2:11-13). You cannot cleanse yourself; you cannot join yourself to Christ; you cannot make yourself spiritually alive who were dead in your sins; but God can! And He will do the work of cleansing you from your sins when you decide you want to become clean, and when you do what God says you must do. In baptism, one is “baptized into His [Christ’s] death” and then “raised” to now “walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3, 4). That “newness of life” is a life that is now spiritually clean! It is by the powerful and cleansing blood of Jesus that we are forgiven (Eph. 1:7), and by the powerful work of God. It is a change needed by every man and woman on earth. This, friends, is where we begin our personal change for the better. Are you willing to allow God to make that change?

      Becoming a Better Christian. Let us not be deceived into thinking that once we become a Christian, we are clean forever and have no further need of cleansing. Christians will still sin! The difference is, when Christians sin, they may pray to God for forgiveness (Acts 8:22) and confess their sin before God that they might once again have God “forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Our goal, as Christians, is to become more like Christ every day, and that is why Christ established certain helpers within His church (Eph. 4:11-16). He wants us to be better than who we were before we became one of His disciples, but He also wants us to be a better disciple than we were yesterday, or last year.

      God’s word is one means to help us become more like Christ; it is when we faithfully follow His word that we avoid sin, and following the example of the psalmist will accomplish this best. It is he who wrote, “Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You” (Psa. 119:11). It is when God’s word is constantly in our minds that we will have no room for the worldly thought. Let us concentrate and meditate on the worthwhile things (Phil. 4:8), and let us diligently study God’s word that we are approved of Him (2 Tim. 2:15).

      But once a Christian, we cannot halt or even pause our aim for becoming better; no, this must be a constant and continuous endeavor. Paul noted how the brethren at Thessalonica were doing exactly what they should have been doing, but he then exhorted them to “excel still more” (1 Thess. 4:1, 8-10; NASB); though they were doing well, they still needed to get better! This will not come by the mere passage of time, however. To become a better Christian means making the effort to be better and do better.

      To this end, the apostle Peter admonished the early disciples, “giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love” (2 Pet. 1:5-7); he wanted them to be better disciples! He further noted that if you do this, and to the greatest degree, “you will never stumble” (2 Pet. 1:10), and the one “who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins” (2 Pet. 1:9). Let us never forget that!

      Being a disciple of Jesus means we are now serving the Lord instead of ourselves (2 Cor. 5:14), and we “do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but…as instruments of righteousness to God” (Rom. 6:13). That means we have “have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24) and now seek to please God in all we do (2 Cor. 5:9).

      But being a disciple also means we are constantly striving to be better than who we have been. That is not to say we are striving to somehow merit our salvation, for that is not possible. What we are doing and striving for is to be pleasing to our Lord and to our heavenly Father. In all we do, as Christians we are striving to “walk just as He walked” (1 John 2:6), and be like our Father in love, mercy, and holiness (Eph. 4:32; Luke 6:36; 1 Pet. 1:15, 16).

            As someone has said, “To change the world, one must change himself.” There is no better goal for the coming year than to do just that.            — Steven Harper