In recent years Christians have stepped more boldly into the social arena and made their voices heard. Both Christians and non-Christians alike have taken another look at the Bible’s emphasis on helping the poor and speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves (Leviticus 25:35; Exodus 22:25; James 2:14–16). Whereas a few decades ago religion was thought to be best practiced behind church doors on Sundays, today’s Christians are realizing that was never Jesus’ intent.
One fact that is often overlooked in our post-Christian culture is that most major humanitarian efforts, such as hospitals, orphanages, and universities, were initiated by Christians seeking to make a difference in the world. The abolitionist movements in England and the United States were spearheaded by followers of Christ. Christians are one of the most socially active groups in existence because our Leader, Jesus Christ, taught us to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:39). Organizations such as Samaritan’s Purse, Compassion International, Focus on the Family, the A21 Campaign, Open Doors, and countless others exist because Christians saw a need and took action.
It’s when Christians use their influence to try to correct moral and ethical issues that the objections begin. Some argue that “separation of church and state” requires all religion to stay out of the public square. Although the idea of separation of church and state has been used to silence the timid, it appears nowhere in the Constitution of the United States, and Christians need not fear that by expressing a biblically based opinion that they are somehow violating a fundamental aspect of our nation’s freedom.
Despite His lifestyle of always doing good (Acts 10:38), Jesus did not come into the world to be a social reformer. His miracles, healing, and teachings were not efforts to right all wrongs or to permanently relieve suffering. If that had been His purpose in coming, why would He have waited until that period of history? There had been eons of suffering prior to the birth of Christ. If Jesus had come to address social issues, why spend only three years doing so? Why not start at age 12 when He realized He was to be about His Father’s business (Luke 2:49)? Why not avoid crucifixion at age 33 so that He could spend decades reforming?
Jesus’ kindness to the oppressed and ostracized was well-known, but He was clear that His purpose in coming to earth was not humanitarian; it was spiritual. Jesus said, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). He came to preach the good news of the kingdom (Mark 1:36–38). He came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17). He came “to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45; cf. John 12:27) and “to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8).
Jesus’ major objective in coming to earth was the salvation of mankind. He brought God to fallen Man (John 10:10; 14:9), and then He died for the sins of the world (Matthew 16:21; 20:28; Mark 8:31; John 10:18). After His resurrection, Jesus left the good news of salvation with a handful of followers who used it to change the world (see Acts 17:6). Earlier, Jesus had told them of the difference they would make in society: “You are the salt of the earth. . . . You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:13–16).
Salt brings out the flavor of any food. It also preserves, cleans, and helps heal infection. In order for Christians to be “salt” in the world, we must maintain those distinct properties that come from abiding in God’s Word. When we assimilate the world’s way of thinking and behaving, we lose our saltiness. Our presence on social issues adds balance to an otherwise out-of-control system controlled by Satan (see 2 Corinthians 4:4).
Light banishes darkness. But a light hidden under a basket cannot illuminate anything. When we hide inside our churches and refuse to bring that light into the community, we are spiritually useless. But when, with Holy Spirit boldness, we speak up, run for office, and illuminate social issues with the truth of God’s Word, we are letting His light shine through us. When we see culture praising the murder of unborn children, we must let God’s light shine brightly on the scene and speak His truth in contrast to the neutral words used to defend the indefensible (see Psalm 82:4; Proverbs 24:11). When we learn of poverty-stricken people, we must apply God’s truth to our lives and do what we can to help (Isaiah 58:6–7; James 2:15–17). When injustice rules, we must speak out on behalf of the oppressed, like the Lord Jesus did (Luke 20:46–47; Mark 7:9–13).
Christians should be socially active to the extent God would have them do so. The responsibility of every Christian is to know God’s Word and apply it. James 4:17 says, “If anyone . . . knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.” Social action will look different for different individuals because God has gifted us differently. For some, social action will mean holding political office and working to bring truth and justice to a broad arena. For others, social action means using the material wealth God has provided to eliminate hunger and other effects of poverty at home and around the world.
Social action for Christians means we live our faith 24/7 whether at home, at our jobs, or at our places of worship. There is no switch to flip off our “light” whenever we feel like it. As believers, we take the Holy Spirit with us wherever we go (1 Corinthians 6:19–20). And, because we live in communities and have connections available like never before, God expects us to be salt and light in those communities, flavoring, challenging, and illuminating everywhere we can.