“Therefore just as through the trespass of ONE MAN came condemnation for all men, so through the righteous act of One came justification of life for all men.” (Romans 5:18 Modern English Version)
Can one man really change the world? I would argue that this verse alone testifies to the fact that, on at least two separate occasions, one man did change the world. God placed man in Paradise, and yet through Adam’s disobedience we were alienated from our Creator and exiled from peace and perfection. Since Adam was our representative in the Garden, he not only chose for himself, but for us as well. That one choice forever changed the world. I don’t know exactly what life would have been like today had the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and its forbidden fruit been left alone, but I do know that due to that one man’s disobedience, mankind was plunged into a world of cruelty, violence, and death through the fallen nature we inherited.
However, as we know, that is not the end of the story, for Christ came as the last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:19); one Man to represent us once again, this time on an old rugged cross on a Judean hillside, just outside of Jerusalem. There the sins of mankind were paid in full and the scales of divine justice balanced on our behalf. Now, instead of being driven from the presence of God, the temple veil that represented the separation between the holy and the sinful, the pure from the profane, was rent from the top to the bottom, showing that God had reopened our way to Him through Christ’s sacrifice. Again, one Man changed the world.
Of course, Jesus was different. His supernatural origin and virgin birth meant that He was not tainted with the sin into which each of us is born. He was God made flesh (John 1:14), and we are not. Only He could change the world in that way, and yet, there is no question that He has commissioned and empowered the Church to continue His work in the earth through the proclamation of the gospel. He said Himself that we would do His works and even greater (see John 14:12). Besides, I would argue that there are other men who have so singularly impacted the generation into which they were born that one could say they changed the world. The Apostle Paul, Martin Luther, William Wilberforce, and others we could name, left such an indelible mark on the world in which they lived that life for those born afterward was different; the course of human events altered by their contribution, and through it they still influence our lives today. However, others changed the world too. Karl Marx, Joseph Stalin, and Adolf Hitler likewise left their mark on history, and the world is still reeling from the horrors their names and deeds recall. Men, for good or ill, still change the world.
The verse above says that “one man” changed the lives of “all men.” Adam did it. Jesus did it. Others have done it to some extent. In fact, I would argue that the eleventh chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews is full of the names of men and women who changed the world in which they lived. Noah, Abraham, and Moses, just to name a few, are famous in the pantheon of biblical heroes who changed the world because they were driven, at any cost, by a heavenly vision. We too are called to run our race with endurance that the world in which we live might likewise experience the life, character, and power of God (see Hebrews 12:1). The fact is, all of us will leave our mark on the world in some way. Whether that change is good or evil will depend upon the people we choose to become and our willingness to be intentional about pursuing God’s purpose for our lives and the price we’re willing to pay to see it through. Our culture has become self-absorbed, and too few are looking for a larger, more worthy cause in which to invest themselves. Yet, our lives are like a seed. Planted in the right soil it has great potential. Left alone, it produces nothing.
“But Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.” (John 12:23-26)
Changing the world cost Jesus His life. I would imagine, if you could speak to Paul, Luther, or Wilberforce today, they would tell you that, in a very real way, serving God’s purpose in their respective lives cost them theirs as well. Their reward is both in heaven and in the return their investment produced in the world. And yet, these men should not to be unique in having made an impact on the world, but only in the style and manner in which they did so. God has called us all to be world-changers, and we will all contribute differently, and in varying degrees, according to the gifts God has given us and the opportunities we are given. To really change the world will cost us our lives as well. Jesus said as much when He said that if we would be His disciples, we must take up our cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24-25). He has called us to live lives of significance. Indeed, when our course is run, it should be said of us that the world is different because we lived in it.
It costs nothing to merely complain about the world’s problems. We are called not merely to diagnose but to be a part of the cure, serving as agents of change through the grace and power of God. Our highest duty, our greatest worship, is in living for Him, investing our time, energy, and gifts into the purpose for which we were created (Ephesians 2:10). In reality, it is still just the One man, Jesus Christ, who is changing the world, but He has called each of us to be a part of what He’s doing in the earth. We are His body, and it is through us that the life and love of God are revealed to a world still lost outside the Garden. Our mission is simple: whether locally or globally, whether through words spoken or service rendered, whether to many or to few, as occasion allows and God gives grace, go and change the world.