Did Jesus say, “Go, therefore, and change the world”?

No. Not only did He not say it, no one in Scripture says it or advocates it.

Then why are Christians exhorted to do that?

Well, there is truth in this change-the-world exhortation, but it’s misleading. Better said, it has the wrong focus, the wrong emphasis; and while that may not seem important, it is potentially destructive. Yes, admittedly, at first glance, it is an adventurous, positive call. “Give me the tools. Give me the rules. I’m off on the great adventure!” Can you hear the charismatic youth pastor challenge his kids saying, “Ignite your passion! Pray! Find your vision! You can change the world!”

And then they all leave, knowing how to pray, but having no clue about how to ignite their passion, find their vision, or change the world.

At first, it sounds great.

Religiously dream-inducing.

But worthless, deceptive.

Interesting, isn’t it, how Christians are told to do things that have the inspiring ring of truth but may be two degrees off course which cause them to arrive at a destination that isn’t biblical—or honoring to God.

Why such strong language to use in opposition to what sounds like such a positive message?

Here are the three reasons this admonition has a deceptively wrong focus and emphasis.

First, as mentioned above, it is not in Scripture. That should seal the deal, but because there is still some truth bouncing around in this “go-change-the-world” statement, further explanation is required, which leads us to the second reason this admonition is off-center.

This “change-the-world” admonition swings the emphasis from God to…us. That’s why it sounds so good to the ear. It’s a clarion call that appeals to our “we-can- get-it-done” minds.

Fortunately, you will not be able to change the world. That is beyond your ability, regardless of your passion, effort, or “vision.” Why do I use the word “fortunately”? Because if you really could change the world, it would lift you up so high that the Lord God of all that exists would have to rip you down to earth again. And that is very likely to be ugly and painful—but illuminating, if you cling to Jesus through it all. You will discover who you are and who God is—and you ain’t Him.

The dreamy believer, however, may say, “What do you mean?! Didn’t Paul tell Timothy to preach the word?” (2 Timothy 4:2).

Yes, he did. We are to preach the gospel. However, it is God who gives the increase, the growth, not you. (1 Corinthians 3:6). You were obedient and faithful. But you didn’t change anything. God did.

Aren’t we to pray for the sick? Yes, but—well, this one is obvious, don’t you think? It’s the same answer as above.

Aren’t we to help the poor, to feed them?

Yes, but Jesus said, “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:2–4).

Therefore, if you put out a sign when you feed the poor that says, Boom Boom Evangelical Church, or We Can Change the World Food Program, you will lose your reward, as Jesus said. Such people do these things to be praised by others. Jesus said it—not me.

This leads us to the third reason this you-can-change-the-world emphasis is deceptively wrong-headed.

Jesus didn’t come with the primary reason of changing the world—He came to save it through His death. We are to follow that example of self-denying sacrifice: “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’” (Matthew 16:24). He said it once more in Matthew 10:38–40: “And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Changing the world is difficult to do when your focus is dying to yourself. Dying, to our way of thinking, doesn’t accomplish anything—which, of course, is exactly what Jesus’ enemies thought when they mocked Him as He suffered on the cross. But if we go out to “change the world,” we go out with the mindset that we are accomplishing something. One can measure it and tally up the results of our efforts. One can count the people who made decisions. How many attend our meetings. How many were fed.

Dying for others like Jesus did, however, is a different matter entirely. Its primary focus is sacrificial love for God and for others. How does one put a metric on that?  It’s not dreamy and goal-centered, with proof of accomplishments. Giving one’s life for God and for others cannot be measured that way. Jesus’ death, as far as everyone around Him was concerned, was meaningless. Worthless. But the truth is, it changed everything. It will be the same way as we offer ourselves sacrificially. This is what the Lord Jesus calls His Church to do. It’s gritty, not dreamy. Its focus is on Him, not you. What happens to those around you because of your selfless death is entirely up to Him and may not be known until eternity. But it doesn’t matter. Your job is to be obedient and faithful to Him and His Word. Everything else is up to Him.

Not you.

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.