Can one person change the world?
Many Christians would say yes. Jesus came to us as God in human form and left an indelible legacy to us—salvation from our efforts, redemption from our sins, and hope in better things yet unseen. How could anyone deny Jesus changed the world?
I do. Jesus didn’t change the world. He defeated it and sowed its destruction. The Bible testifies to this.
The word we translate as “world” in Scripture is the Greek kosmos. It can mean the planet we live on, or the inhabitants of the earth. But I’m referring to its third meaning—what scholar Merrill Unger calls “the whole mass of unregenerate men alienated from God,” an unseen government that resides as much in our souls as it does in the physical realm. It is a culture, a viewpoint, a system with no regard for God. In the world’s eyes, the summation of a human being is her wealth, education, beauty, achievements, and degree of assent to the world’s opinions, for the world “love[s] its own” (John 15:19).
1 John 2 tells us that “the world is passing away” (v. 17 NKJV) and cautions us that loving the world means the love of God is absent from us (v. 15). Likewise, the great preacher A.W. Tozer declared in The Pursuit of God that “the world is perishing for lack of the knowledge of God.”
Even people following God are weak to the world’s mindset. In 1 Samuel, the famed prophet is called by God to anoint a son of Jesse as Israel’s king. When Jesse’s eldest son Eliab approaches him, Samuel thinks, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before him!” (16:6). A reader might guess from Samuel’s reaction that Eliab was handsome, tall, and strong. He was also the eldest son of his family. According to the world’s assumptions about how we look and who we are, Eliab was the obvious choice for royalty. But God responds that Samuel shouldn’t “look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (v. 17). What a thunderous statement of the chasm between God’s view and the world.
Usually the world influences us to exalt ourselves, believe we alone are sufficient for all things, and only follow our own desires. We hear Lady Antebellum singing on the radio that you should “let your heart…be your compass…and you should follow it wherever it may go.” But Proverbs 3:5-6 instructs us to ignore our own inclinations and trust in God for direction.
Commercials and movies tell us we can do anything if we just believe in ourselves. But the Bible reminds us that man is a “breath that passes away” (Psalm 78:39), but all things impossible with men are possible with God (Luke 18:27).
“Do not marvel, brethren, if the world hates you,” 1 John 3:13 says, echoing Jesus’s words in John 15:18 that the world hates him and those who follow him. Because the world loves self and nothing else, it cannot comprehend the depth of God’s other-centered love for us. What it can’t understand, it rejects; what it knows, it promotes. “They speak as of the world, and the world hears them” (1 John 4:5). The athlete or pop star who flaunts his gifts as if they originated with him will receive the world’s praise, but those who pass the glory to God are viewed with bewilderment and ridicule. This fact is a useful measure of who’s really right and wrong (v. 6).
No wisdom exists in people who draw their understanding from sources other than God’s words to us (Jeremiah 8:9). We know that we have defeated the world when we adopt Christ’s mind of love for God and service to people, just for the sake of obeying him. By refusing to submit to this shallow and decaying system, we model Jesus’s rebellion against self-glory and narcissism. Take courage for this fight, he tells us. “In the world you will have tribulation, but…I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Anthony Otten has published stories in The Jabberwock Review, Valparaiso Fiction Review, and Wind. He has been a finalist for the Hargrove Editors' Prize in Fiction. Still: The Journal has published an excerpt from his novel. He lives in Kentucky.
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