Real change does not begin with the left. Real change does not begin with the right. Real change does not begin from the top down. Real change does not begin from the bottom up. Real change begins from the inside out.
Real change in society is a result of real change in individuals, and real change in individuals occurs when they repent from sin and cry out for the Lord Jesus Christ. That being the case, I invite you to refresh your understanding and conviction about how a person can most effectively change a nation. Falling into the trap of thinking that politics is the source of ultimate cultural change is all too easy. As important as elections are, the believer should not forget what the Scriptures say about this subject.
What follows are the three most important priorities—per the Bible—for you to practice in order to effectively change a nation.
If believers are God’s agents of cultural change, then what must characterize believers—and especially believers holding public office—for God to use them powerfully and demonstrably to transform a nation?
Scripture reveals at least three specific criteria that must be evident in God’s people for them to effectuate positive, real change. I think you will be intrigued, and you yourself might be changed by what follows in this study.
II. A NATION IS CHANGED IN PROPORTION TO THE BELIEVER’S FUNCTIONALITY
The Scriptures repeatedly make a connection between the functionality (behavior) of the believer and the conversion of the sinner.
A. ILLUSTRATED BY THE APOSTLE PETER
Notice this connection in 1 Peter 2:9– 12:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.
In this passage, there is a direct connection between the behavior of the believer and the conversion of the Gentiles. If the believer’s lifestyle is excellent, i.e., commensurate with godliness, the unregenerate will take note and be influenced positively for Christ. This correlation is evidenced by Peter’s use of the term day of visitation, which is a reference or synonym to redemption in the New Testament (NT) (cf. Luke 1:68; 7:16; 19:44). Contextually, what Peter is stating in this passage is that when the grace of God stirs the heart of an unbeliever, he will respond to God’s saving faith and glorify God in the day of visitation in proportion to the credibility of the testimonies he has observed. Believers need to function like Christ to influence unbelievers. If our actions are truly good, they will foster credibility, having created a platform, basis, and ethos for changing the world from the inside out.
The words good deeds codify Peter’s emphasis regarding the critically important aspect of obtaining and maintaining the credibility of one’s testimony in ancient days. Followers of Christ were often slandered. States one commentator in this regard:
The early Christians were falsely accused of rebellion against the government with such false accusations as terrorism (burning Rome), atheism (no idols or emperor worship), cannibalism (rumors about the Lord’s Supper), immorality (because of their love for one another), damaging trade and social progress, and leading slaves into insurrection.1
Today is not very different. The routine maligning of believers by the secular media, tares in the church, and other negative situations have been my personal experience. I know deprecation has happened to many of you who are part of the Members Bible Study as well. So what is Peter’s solution per his epistle? What is the biblical remedy to offset routine defamation?
Your genuine good deeds are the overriding measuring factor whereby others ascertain your trustworthiness and credibility.
B. ILLUSTRATED BY JESUS
The relationship between good deeds and credibility runs the length of Scripture. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:13–16), Jesus Himself makes this clear association:
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (vv. 14–16).
What Peter labeled good deeds, Jesus labels good works in relation to achieving and maintaining personal credibility. In this passage, Jesus states the idea of others’ ensuing conversion via the synonym for good works, glorify[ing] your Father who is in heaven. Again, the relationship between the believer’s good deeds or good works and the sinner’s conversion is on display.
Functioning in holiness either buoys or breaks believability.
As a person who desires real change on the Hill and in the nation, the function of good works in your life is critically important and necessary to achieve and maintain effective outreach in the tightly knit capitol community. What are you doing in this regard? What follows are some additional illustrations of the correlation between good works and credibility.
C. ILLUSTRATED BY THE APOSTLE PAUL
Instructing Timothy (1 Timothy 5:14) in what he should teach widows in the church, Paul says, Therefore, I want younger widows to get married, bear children, keep house, and give the enemy no occasion for reproach. Here again is this same correlation. Later in the same letter (6:1), he informs Timothy as to how he should instruct those who were converted slaves in Roman culture.
All who are under the yoke as slaves are to regard their own masters as worthy of all honor so that the name of God and our doctrine will not be spoken against.
In Titus 2:5 the theme surfaces regarding how Titus should pastor women. Paul tells Titus to instruct older women to set good examples in their behavior so they in turn can urge younger women to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored. How believers function in various settings determines the credibility of their witness.
D. ILLUSTRATED BY THE APOSTLE JAMES
James underscores this same correlation and adds a vital additional element to the discussion: that good deeds or accompanying good works are always normative of true saving faith. He states in James 2:17 that faith, without accompanying good works, is illegitimate faith (my paraphrase).
If a believer habitually exhibits a lack of good deeds or lacks a desire to do good to his fellow man, then he should question if he is truly saved. The genuinely saved individual will desire to do good works or good deeds—the standard operating procedure of those who are genuinely saved.
E. THE OPPOSITE ILLUSTRATED
In the Old Testament (OT), the converse of this principle is illustrated in real-life examples.
The prophet Nathan rebuked King David in 2 Samuel 12:14 concerning his sin of adultery (behavior). “However, because by this deed you have given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme.…” King David’s bad deeds were cause for blasphemous behavior in unbelievers. Blasphemy (blasphemia) means “railing.” In the Scriptures, the word is confined to speech defamatory of the Divine Majesty, i.e., evil speaking, calumniating, and contumelious rhetoric toward God. Blasphemy is characterized by contempt for God or of sacred things.
2. The Nation Israel
In Ezekiel 20:39, 41b, the prophet declares in abandoning tones, “As for you, O house of Israel,” thus says the Lord God, “Go, serve everyone his idols; but later you will surely listen to Me, and My holy name you will profane no longer with your gifts and with your idols…and I will prove Myself holy among you in the sight of the nations.”
Israel’s idolatry had made the nation a poor witness. But in the eschatological future sense of this passage, God will regather Israel in the end times, and she will be an effective holy witness of Him and for Him to the remainder of the world. Whereas good deeds lead to conversion, bad deeds lead to blasphemy.
Does your behavior evoke belief or blasphemy in the heart of the unbeliever?
The degree to which the believer concerns himself with the determinate program of God as revealed in the Scriptures, the person of Jesus Christ, and the indwelling Holy Spirit is the degree to which God will use that believer for His purposes. Changing a nation has less to do with political involvement than it does with living a life in day-to-day functional obedience to Christ. Whereas politics reflects a culture, obedience to Jesus revolutionizes a nation. The bedrock of real change is the transformation of hearts from the inside out.
III. A NATION IS CHANGED IN PROPORTION TO THE BELIEVER’S FAITHFULNESS
Matthew 25:14–30 records Jesus’ Parable of the Talents. In this analogy, a master gives each of his three servants a sum of money (talents) to invest. To the two who were faithful and made a return on their master’s investment, the master exclaimed in verse 21:
“Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things.…”
This parable provides a keen insight into how we can expand our influence or, better, what criteria God uses in deciding whether to expand our influence.
Note that the two servants who were diligent to make the most out of their opportunities were deemed faithful in comparison to the one who did nothing with the gifts God had given him. The principle of the parable is that all who are faithful with what God assigns to them—even the smallest of things—will be rewarded with greater, increasingly influential opportunities and assignments.
If you are faithful with what God initially gives you to accomplish, He will add responsibilities to your job description, just like a good boss does in the business world. If you want to change a nation, begin by being faithful to your present calling. Remember this biblical principle: “If you are faithful with a few things, He will put you in charge of many.” In contrast, many are those who are looking for the once-in-a-lifetime home run at the expense of doing things God’s way—hitting singles every day. Work daily on your discipline of personal diligence.
To change a nation, you must be faithful to do your part.
Be diligent to accomplish with excellence what God has assigned you to do.
As a result, He promises to expand your horizons over time and eternally change lives via yours. If every believer prioritized being faithful with the small things, their increased influence would begin to change the culture in short order.
A nation is changed in proportion to the behavior and faithfulness of believers. One more aspect of the biblical formula for real change is as follows:
IV. A NATION IS CHANGED IN PROPORTION TO THE BELIEVER’S FOCUS
Believers who manifest actions commensurate with their testimony in Christ, who are also faithful and blessed with increasing influence as a result, need to be intently focused on God’s specific purpose(s) for their specific life in order to effectuate real change. Ephesians 5:15–17 states:
Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
The will of the Lord for our lives is already revealed in Scripture. For instance, Scripture tells us that God wants everyone to repent and trust in Christ for salvation. God’s will is that everyone follow His precepts. God’s revealed will is that everyone glorify Him. Living and not understanding the will of the Lord is foolish.
In addition, knowing God’s specific, personalized will for your life is in view here. Foolishness is also identified in this passage with the misuse of your time because of not knowing specifically what God wants you to accomplish. I can only make the most of [my] time by understanding what the personal will of the Lord is for my life. What then is God’s specific purpose or calling for your life as a public servant?
You had best figure it out!
Common congressional wisdom suggests that every member who ends up making a mark on America has focused specifically on one or two areas of policy related to his or her personal passions. What is the passion of your heart as you walk in close proximity to Christ? While in office, what is He specifically calling you to focus on?
Starting with seemingly nothing, a magnifying glass can light a fire! But effecting such a purpose requires a steady hand.
What is the specific area of policy, concern, discipline, or task that God wants you to nurture and conform to His ways in the days and years ahead? How long did it take William Wilberforce to overturn slavery in the British Empire? How steady is your hand?
The believer who would really change the world must be functional in good deeds, faithful with the small things, and focused on the use of his or her time with a view toward God’s purposes and priorities. Can that be said of you?