When I was in college, I had a 1968 Mustang. It was a fun car to have, but as with all old cars, it had a lot of problems. This was back in the day when you could actually work on your car yourself with some patience, a little know-how, and a basic set of tools. I remember one time the car was having trouble starting. I replaced the battery. It was an easy job. I went to Sears, bought a new one, removed two brackets, installed it, and guess what? The car didn’t start. The problem wasn’t the battery. Then I replaced the alternator. This was a more difficult job. It was harder to reach, and I had to wrestle with the belt, but after losing both some skin off my knuckles and my patience at least once, I had successfully installed a new alternator. The car still didn’t start. Then I discovered the solenoid. Yep, that was it. If I had known from the get-go that this was the real problem I could have saved myself a lot of time, money, and aggravation. It was a learning experience. What did I learn? I learned that I did not want to be a mechanic.
Well, what’s the point? The point is, you can’t find a solution until you’ve correctly identified the problem. We live in a world that is broken. It is filled with people who are broken. When God made all things, he declared that it was good. When he made man, he declared that it was very good. But that is not the world we live in now. We live on this side of Genesis, chapter three. We live in a world that is not the way it ought to be, and we contribute to the state of that world. Cornelius Plantiga, in his book NOT the Way it’s Supposed to Be – a breviary of sin, takes 200 pages to describe what is sin, its nature, and its effects. He says that before the fall of man in Genesis three, the creation was in a state of shalom; that is, the creation was living and working as intended, and in harmony with its Creator. When sin entered into the world, that shalom was broken, things became what they were not supposed to be, and this is the reality we know today. When Christ came, he showed us how things are supposed to be, and through his work on the cross and his resurrection, he made it possible for us to enter into life the way it was supposed to be.
Everyone knows the world is broken–that things are not as they should be–but not everyone agrees as to what the problem is. Some say it is injustice or a lack of education or opportunity. Some say it is economic inequality, social and relational isolation, a lack of green space or public parks in urban neighborhoods, etc. The common thread in all these supposed problems (and the list is never-ending) is that the problem is perceived to be outside and not inside of us. There is a famous story about G.K. Chesterton once being asked by a London newspaper what he thought was wrong with the world. He very quickly and succinctly replied, “I am.” Now, the story may actually be legend, but it does catch the wit and attitude of Chesterton, and, more importantly, it gets it right. What is wrong with the world is found inside of us, not outside of us. Sin is the problem, and it’s universal, and it’s fatal. The Bible clearly teaches that all have sinned (Psalm 14:2-3; Romans 3:9-18) and all are deserving of God’s wrath (John 3:16-21, 36; Ephesians 2:1-3). But the good news of Jesus Christ declares that we do not need to bear the wrath of God ourselves. Jesus took our punishment upon himself, so that through him, we might have life (Ephesians 2:4-10; Acts 10:43; Acts 4:12).
Now, unbelievers are blind to the reality of sin. Therefore, unbelievers cannot supply the solution to the problems of the world. Only the church, as it looks to and obeys the Scripture, can do this. I don’t mean to say that unbelievers cannot do good things. Unbelievers can be generous, they can dig wells and build hospitals, but they cannot address the root issues that branch out in all the tragic ways we witness each day. The best a society can do is create laws which prohibit evil and then prosecute those who violate such laws. However, the worst society can do is create laws which condone and promote evil and then prosecute those who violate such laws. And let me further clarify that it is God alone who can bring about the change. He graciously uses his people through the guidance and power of his word and his Spirit, but God alone can deliver a darkened and dead soul into the kingdom of his beloved Son. God alone can convict and convince a person that he or she is a sinner in need of a Savior.
Here’s my concern. In spite of thousands of years of human history that would testify otherwise, I still hear people say that man is basically good. Often in the midst of a political pep talk, you will hear someone extol the virtues of the goodness of man and exhort the crowds that if only we could come together in mutual understanding, we could make the world a better place. Hooey! I can understand why unsaved people say and believe this, but this is not what really concerns me. What really concerns me is that Christians believe this as well. This lie of the devil has crept into the Church and has sapped us of power. We will never see lasting change in our own lives, in our own battles with sin, until we humbly confess it is our main problem. Further, we can offer our culture nothing if we only offer them solutions that they can come up with in their own. Plantinga says it this way: “In short, for the Christian church…to ignore, euphemize, or otherwise mute the lethal reality of sin is to cut the nerve of the gospel. For the sober truth is that without full disclosure on sin, the gospel of grace becomes impertinent, unnecessary, and finally uninteresting.”
We must not forget what the Apostle Paul reminded the Corinthian church: “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-4)