Mankind has been crying out for rescue from social evils for millennia, and in 1945 the United Nations offered its promise of salvation, declaring in its charter’s preamble that it was formed “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war [a type of social evil], which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind.” Since that time, our country alone has experienced the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the War in the Gulf, the War in Afghanistan, the War in Iraq, just to highlight a few, not to mention the Cold War and numerous other skirmishes and military engagements. In fact, since the formation of the United Nations, the U.S. has participated in 238 military conflicts around the world. Other countries have likewise engaged in numerous wars with one another. Hundreds of thousands of people have died from these conflicts.
Such human efforts to save mankind from social evil apart from God will always be so ineffective. However, that should not cause us to ignore the problem of social evil that the United Nations is concerned about, but it should cause us to look to the Word of God for Jesus Christ’s prescribed solution to this very real problem. Beyond war, we could add many other social evils, such as economic social evils, or social evils against liberty.
It is regrettable that far too often when preachers have communicated about the “salvation” of the Bible, it has only been spoken of in reference to salvation from hell, from eternal damnation. Some go a little further to address how salvation restores our relationship with God. But what is very rarely addressed in Christian circles nowadays is how the biblical salvation communicated in the Gospel is also a social salvation. The Lord’s salvation doesn’t just save us individually from a future spiritual punishment but it saves us from all of the effects of sin in the world. Including the effects sin has had on society. That means a salvation in this present world from community evil.
As with the progressive sanctification of the individual, so the sanctification of a society touched by the remedy of the Gospel is progressive. We Christians have really failed by allowing the statists to capture the term “progressive” as if our perspective was to merely maintain the status quo or even move backward! Christians are absolutely progressive in that, having been justified by the atonement, we are now pressing forward progressively in our personal sanctification, and as we do, that is having an affect on the “sanctification” (in a sense) of the society to which we are a part.
The Effects of Sin in the WorldWhen we look into Genesis at the account of the Fall of man into sin, we note that the repercussion of sin was at least five-fold. First, the sin of Adam caused God to have to separate man from Himself. (Isaiah 59:2.) He could no longer enjoy the same type of fellowship as before. Second, this separation meant that death entered the world. (Romans 5:12.) Adam and Eve were forced to leave the Garden of Eden and were no longer allowed to eat from the Tree of Life. (Genesis 3:22.) Third, man now had experiential knowledge (intimacy) with sin and his heart would be corrupted with a sinful nature. (Genesis 3:22.) Fourth, God had to punish the man by cursing the ground and the woman by increasing her pain in child bearing. (Genesis 3:16-19.) So even the created environment and biology were affected by sin. But if we stop there in analyzing the repercussions of sin entering the world, we will fall short.
The fifth impact of sin entering the world and the heart of man was that it meant man now was a danger to his fellow man. Before, when God had given the Dominion Mandate to Adam and Eve, the purpose was for mankind to work together for the common purpose of being fruitful, and multiplying, and replenishing the earth and subduing it (enhancing the capability of it) thereby bringing glory to God. (See Genesis 1:27-28.) The idea was that there would be a harmony of mankind in working together to accomplish this task. But sin entering the heart of man gave that task a significant obstruction.
The problem became more evident as the number of people living on earth began to increase. Before mankind had entered its third generation, Cain had already murdered his brother Abel. That murder demonstrated that man’s sin had community repercussions. Even society was cursed by sin.
This is in fact where sin becomes most unavoidable for mankind to acknowledge. Man may deny that he is a sinner, he may deny that creation was ever different than it is now (uniformitarianism), he may even delude himself to think that he will escape death, but when confronted by his fellow-man’s sin against him, he will be the first to affirm societal sin.
Because of this, through the centuries mankind has been particularly sensitive to societal sins (crimes), and has usually looked for salvation from these (and the other impacts of sin) through the collective power of society. Books like Hillary Clinton’s It Takes a Village are only one example. Karl Marx sought salvation by the power of the state (societal government) as did Rousseau, Hegel, Lenin, Hitler, etc. So did the Shinto Empire of the Sun. So did even the old feudalistic societies.
“World Peace Through Law”Dr. R.J. Rushdoony wrote extensively about how mankind has been striving to find salvation through state laws. Man thinks that if sins are simply outlawed, that will take care of them. In October of 1975 the World Peace Through Law Center in Washington, D.C. held the Seventh World Law Conference, and our country even recognized the event by issuing a commemorative postage stamp. The theme of that conference? “The Role of Law in World Cooperation.” This theme was based on the title of a book published only a few years earlier by Grenville Clark and Louis B. Sohn, World Peace Through World Law, an affirmation of the humanistic doctrine of salvation by law. Rushdoony writes:
“A belief in ‘World Peace Through Law’ is a truly amazing faith. First of all, no orthodox Christian has ever affirmed salvation by law. To believe that the redeemed of God will live in faithfulness to God’s law is to affirm salvation by Christ, not law, but sanctification by obedience to God’s law-word (Matt. 4:4). Thus, the faith expressed in the slogan ‘World Peace through Law’ represents a radical break with Christianity and all of Western civilization.It was precisely this kind of effort toward salvation that Jesus Christ was addressing when He told Pilate that His Kingdom “was not of this world” (John 18:36). Christ’s salvation did not originate in this world. It was not a political salvation. It was not a salvation to be brought about by capturing the civil supremacy of Caesar and making laws ordering all people to bow the knee to Christ. Thus, Christ communicated to Pilate that He was no threat to the throne of Caesar, as the Jews had falsely accused Him in His trial.
“Second, it is a denial of the doctrine of original sin. To believe that world peace is possible by the adoption of a common law for all nations is to believe that mankind’s problem is a bad arrangement of thing, or bad laws, not bad men. World law cannot abate wars, murders, thefts, adulteries, nor homosexuality, even if it sought to do so. The result of world law would not be world peace but world power for someone or some group.”
This does not mean, however, that the salvation of Jesus Christ would not extend to society, law, and politics. It does not mean that Christ’s redemption would not have salvific repercussions for society. The Word of God says that Jesus Christ came to save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). As says Barnes’ Notes on the Bible: “This was the great business of Jesus in coming and dying. It was not to save people in their sins, but from their sins. Sinners could not be happy in heaven. It would be a place of wretchedness to the guilty. The design of Jesus was, therefore, to save them from sin.” This means not merely saving them from the eternal penalty from their sin or the spiritual separation from God, but the very power of sin over the heart of man. “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14).
In writing that man was not “under law” the Apostle Paul was not saying in the book of Romans that man was not under the authority of God’s Law. That interpretation would not make sense because sin is the violation of the Law, as Paul even expresses in this text. (See Romans 7:7.) But Paul was writing that man had the ability to achieve freedom from sin in his life because his power to overcome sin was not coming from any support from law but from the support of grace. We are not “under the law” as an umbrella of protection to shield us from the power of sin; only the grace of God can do that. The Law, Paul is saying, creates an awareness, a recognition of sin, like your eyes enable you to see a fiery dart coming straight at you and alert you to the danger. But your eyes cannot shield you from the danger and power of that dart, and the Law cannot shield you from the danger and power of sin. To shield you from the power of sin, you must have the grace of God.
Grace referred to in Romans 6:14 is the desire and power God gives true believers to do His will. (See Philippians 2:13.) The Greek word translated “grace” is charis, which means “the merciful kindness by which God, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues.” This grace is literally the mechanism for enabling a Christian to walk in newness of life, filled with the Spirit of God.
God Makes Redeemed Man “a New Creature”When the Spirit of God takes over a person’s soul from inside, that person is a new creature. (See II Corinthians 5:17.) The Holy Spirit begins making that person completely redeemed from the effects of sin in every respect. The causal result of this transforming process is that he becomes a better a citizen, a better neighbor, a better community participant. He is not a terror to the people of his society but a blessing. In this way, we say that the Gospel brings about a social salvation. A salvation from the inside out.
This salvation of mankind resulting from the redemption of Christ and the grace of the Holy Spirit is the only real hope that we have of escaping the damage of sin found in our economy, our politics, our families, or any other aspect of society. We need to be equipped with knowledge of the truth of God’s Word, but we also must be filled with the Spirit of God so that we can live in obedience to the Law of God out of a genuine heart of love.
In the local church plant I have been helping with here in Georgia, we began to observe recently how this teaching even comes out in the opening of Paul’s letter to the Colossians. If you would like to hear that message, you can from the embedded audio recording from Sermon Audio at the top of this article.