In recent days, our nation has been rife with calls for justice in light of the killing of George Floyd while in police custody. These calls are right because a great injustice was done to a helpless man, just as there have been many other unjust incidents involving African American men in recent years.
As a nation, we have a history of calls and I have been a witness to many. During my childhood, the civil rights movement swept the country calling, as is happening once more, for racial equality and justice. During my adolescent years, the call was to cease the war in Viet Nam. Many campuses were the scenes of massive protests by young people calling for love and peace rather than war. In the 1980’s and early 1990’s, there was a worldwide call for the government in my wife’s native South Africa to abolish apartheid. Around the same time, protests grew out of Wichita, Kansas calling for an end to the legal right to an abortion. And not long after moving to North Carolina, there was a statewide call to legally define marriage as between a man and a woman.
From my point of view, these were all legitimate and just calls, but such calls can be tricky and the devil never misses an opportunity to exploit them. There’s an old saying that close only counts in horseshoes. The essence of this modern proverb is that close is not good enough. It is the same with calls. Satan wants them to be just close enough to make us feel as though we are right and just in making them, but missing the target enough to play into his hands.
Take the prolife movement of the 1990’s. Christians were mobilized and people were flocking to Wichita to protest outside a notorious abortion clinic. The protests were peaceful; no physical violence was perpetrated. This carried over to the annual “March for Life” in January on the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1972 ruling on Roe vs. Wade. Hundreds of thousands gathered on the Mall in Washington, D.C. Yet, nearly 30 years later, the same political battle rages on. The same can be said of the pro-marriage movement of the early 2000’s. Calls for pro-marriage legislation were initially successful and then later totally reversed. And, with calls for justice for African Americans, the same holds true. There are a lot of protests calling for radical changes in laws and attitudes.
With all of these calls, there is righteous indignation and many Christians are eager to express it. And our enemy is fine with this because he knows he can exploit this to his advantage. First, there is the opportunity to plant a seed of pride in the hearts of those making the call. “Look at me! I’m on the side of justice and against all those terrible people who inflict injustice, while other Christians sit on their hands and turn a blind eye.” Or in today’s parlance, they are content in their privilege.
Second, and much more importantly, the devil knows the call itself can never change hearts; only Jesus can do that. But so often there is a consistent thread in these calls that focus solely on the call itself. Having worked on campus for more than three decades, I have encountered many campus pastors issuing these calls and bringing students along with them. Yet, so many remain solely focused on the injustice rather than the One who ultimately is just; on changing laws rather than changing hearts. As I wrote last week, we are very adept at trying to clean up society’s messes, but we are never successful. Do you see why the devil is so content with this? We can feel good about ourselves that we’ve done something when it most likely will accomplish very little if that is our sole focus. As I concluded last week: First things first.
We must realize that societal change will only take place when hearts are changed. There will be no justice for African Americans without the changing of hearts of those who continue to oppress them. The Civil Rights legislation of the mid-60’s was supposed to bring that justice; it did not. The end of apartheid in South Africa was believed to be the avenue to usher in a whole new era for blacks, but 25 years later, they still struggle, not only with whites but among themselves. Even if abortion or same-sex marriage are once again outlawed, the killing of unborn babies will not end, nor the open practice of homosexuality. Laws cannot change hearts. Paul’s words confirm this:
We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:14-25)
What we need to recognize is that only through Jesus can the world change. Our call, then, first and foremost, should be a call to humility, to embrace Jesus’ love and forgiveness, to repent of sin, and to follow him as Lord of our lives. Despite what some might say, this is not hiding behind our faith and avoiding hard truths. Rather, it is recognizing the truth: Only through Jesus can anyone truly be transformed, and thus the world be changed. And this call must be undergirded by the call to prayer. As Paul notes in his letter to the church at Ephesus: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12) So our worldly means to confront other human beings and institutions will only make us feel better, but will have little effect on our true enemies. Instead, we must fight with spiritual weapons to gain the desired effect.
In our efforts to see a fallen world transformed, it would be wise to remember the words of Jesus: “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
© Jim Musser 2020 All Scripture references from the New International Version, 2011.