To the majority of people in the world, Jesus is an honored historical figure who was the founder of Christianity—but that is about as far as it goes. Many have no idea that his most wonderful life had an unsurpassed effect on the history of man.
In fact, without the birth, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, life on planet earth would be incomprehensibly different from what it is today.
How different? Let’s do some deeper thinking about the impact of the life of Jesus Christ. Let’s look at twelve ways Jesus Christ changed the world over the past two thousand years. I’m not limiting Jesus’ impact to only a dozen areas, but these twelve were the first to come to mind. I welcome your thoughts as to other areas his life has wonderfully touched.
“Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).
The essence of Jesus’ mission was to save the individual life of every person who chooses to put his or her trust in him. He didn’t just point the way to a set of ideals or moral principles as many other teachers did. Rather, he promised when we were “born again by his Spirit” he would come to live inside of us, guiding and empowering us to live meaningful and godly lives. At the age of fifteen I put my trust in Christ to forgive my sins and come into my life. He did.
From the very beginning I experienced his presence, power, guidance, correction, and empowering, which changed everything in my world. I was no longer the “wretched man that I am!” (Romans 7:24), but was set “free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2). There was a new dynamite—a dynamic power—to live a productive life. Over the past two thousand years, it is the Spirit of Jesus Christ in millions, and now billions of people, that has altered the landscape of history through changing individual lives.
“There is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
No one altered the role of women in society more than Christ. Prior to New Testament times, women labored in harsh, subservient roles, and were often nothing more than slaves to men and their families. Loren Cunningham and David Hamilton point out in their liberating book Why Not Women? that the Greek philosopher Cicero likened women to “slaves, dogs, horses, and donkeys”—all possessions to be used and cast away.
Jesus’ teachings and example reconfirmed the truth that in every way, from the time of creation, women are of equal worth as men in God’s sight, including their complimentary roles in the marriage relationship. ALL of the women’s rights we enjoy, especially in the past two hundred years, were produced by the Christian faith. Even in Muslim societies today, women are second-class citizens, not like in the Christian West where women have all the same rights as men. If you’re a woman living in a Western nation, you can thank Jesus Christ for the freedoms you enjoy.
3. Family Life
“Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord…Husbands, love your wives just as Christ also loved the Church…Children, obey your parents in the Lord for this is right” (Ephesians 5:22, 25; 6:1).
The application of Jesus’ teachings also gave permanent strength and completeness to the world’s most important institution—the family. Wives were not slaves, husbands weren’t to be tyrants, and children possessed significance. The Christian truths of submission, equal worth, partnership, equality, and self-sacrificing love gave harmony and protection to family relationships that over hundreds of years became the foundation of Western civilization and culture. Are you thankful for the habits and practices of Christian families today? They were inspired by Jesus Christ.
4. The Church
“I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
Though the Church has not always properly applied the teachings of Christ, it is also true that no group of people have made a more positive impact on the history of the world than the Christian Church. The Church—the “called out ones” (Greek = ekklesia)—transformed the Roman Empire, rescued “learning” from the destruction of the Middle Ages, raised Europe out of barbarism, pioneered the New World, and sent Christian civilization to the ends of the earth. History would be drastically different without the acts of God’s people in every century. Even today, without the compassion, evangelism, humanitarianism, and social justice works of the Church in scores of nations, the lives of millions would be without hope.
5. Civil Government
“The authorities that exist are appointed by God…he is God’s minister to you for good…an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil” (Romans 13:1, 4).
One of the things we both criticize and take for granted in the 21st century is the positive role of human governments that were shaped by Christianity. Prior to the Christian faith being applied to civil government, people lived in perpetual fear of massacres and tyrants. Your town could be here one day and be burned to the ground the next. You could be alive one day and dead the next. Power and fear ruled human societies for much of human history.
But after the coming of Christ, the biblical role of civil government began to emerge through the Magna Carta, British common law, republican governments, democratic principles, and human rights. These things weren’t just the evolutionary march of history—they were incremental applications of Christ’s teachings to human governments. Do you appreciate armies and police that protect us? Do you value the right to vote and elect your representatives? Do you appreciate the relative tranquility of a just social order? All of these things, which are not enjoyed in many non-Christian nations in the world, are the fruit of faith in Jesus Christ.
“In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3).
Did you know that we would have lost much of the great literature of Greece and Rome (and other civilizations of the ancient world) if it weren’t for the Christian monks who preserved that knowledge through finding, preserving, and copying ancient writings during the Middle Ages? Are you aware that the first universities in Paris and London were started by believers who had a thirst for knowledge and wisdom?
Did you know that the printing of the Gutenberg Bible was considered by TIME magazine the most important event of the past five hundred years because it made truth and knowledge easily available to the masses? Have you heard that the first 120 universities in America, beginning with Harvard, were started by followers of Christ for the advancement of the Christian faith? Most of the major milestones in human education flow from one fountain: faith in Jesus Christ.
“Do your work heartily as unto the Lord, not to men. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve” (Colossians 3:23).
Even the development of human work, labor and industry, finds its zenith in the application of Christian truths. For most of history, and still in some parts of the world, there were only a few wealthy tyrants and then teeming masses of poor people. For thousands of years there was no middle class and no freedom for individual initiative. During the Christianizing of Europe, this all changed as believers applied biblical concepts of labor and industry, which eventually became free enterprise capitalism that led the world out of its mass poverty.
As Adam Smith wisely pointed out in his book Wealth of Nations, the large and growing middle classes, the endless business opportunities, the Protestant work ethic, extensive philanthropy, and the standard of living we share today is the fruit of the teachings of Christ applied to economics. When you purchase your next gizmo or wonder drug, thank God that the free enterprise system you currently enjoy is built on faith from start to finish.
“All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:3-4).
Rodney Stark in his marvelous book For the Glory of God rightly points out that modern science was born of the Christian faith and not in opposition to it. It was Christian civilization that proposed that “design points to a Designer” and that man was placed on the earth to discover God’s secrets in nature and use those discoveries to benefit people. From Galileo to Faraday, from Pascal to Einstein, many of the leading scientists of both the past and present have been people of faith who used their trust in God to reveal the mysteries of his creation. I recently visited the Kennedy Space Center and gazed in awe at the technology and scientific genius that put men on the moon. None of this would have been possible without believing in a God whose creation can be understood. That Creator is Jesus Christ.
9. The Arts
“Don’t be drunk with wine but be filled with the Holy Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:18-19).
Francis Shaeffer pointed out in his landmark book How Should We Then Live? that the coming of Christ greatly influenced the arts, and that prior to Christ’s birth music was played in minor chords, showing the incompleteness and lack of harmony in life. After Christ’s death and resurrection brought wholeness to individuals and nations, people began creating major chord music and realistic art—an expression of their reconciliation to God.
Picture the totem pole faces and primitive art forms of pagan peoples; they always look wild, menacing, and evil. But after Jesus brought healing, peace, and completeness to thousands and thousands of people, artists then began reflecting that wholeness in ever expanding art forms. It’s a long way from lewd and angry totem poles to the Sistine Chapel, but Christ produced the difference. When people are changed and brought into right relationship to God, they sing, paint, and give him glory in the arts. This is why more hymns and songs have been written about Jesus than any other person in history.
“that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Ephesians 3:17).
Jesus lived a life of complete faith in the Father and imparted that faith to his followers. If Abraham is the father of faith in the ancient world, then Jesus is the engine of faith in the modern one. Faith in him has led his followers through the centuries to care for the poor; minister to the sick; start hospitals and schools; share the Good News around the world; apply Christian principles to government, economics, and social issues; and to influence every other engine of progress.
Christians are the true progressives because they see life’s challenges and opportunities through the lens of faith in Jesus Christ. “All things are possible to those that believe.” Their faith makes them the best leaders, soldiers, caregivers, and husbands and wives. Wars against evil have been won through valiant faith; individual lives have been rescued through tender faith. It’s hard to imagine a world without faith in God and the Lord Jesus Christ. Over two billion people now share that faith worldwide.
“that you being rooted and grounded in love may . . . know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 3:17, 19).
The love of Jesus Christ has made the greatest mark upon the world. “God is love,” and Jesus’ horrific suffering on behalf of sinful people showed the world once and for all that God cares for each one of us and provided a way out of our guilt and self-destruction. For two thousand years, followers of the loving Christ have carried his compassion and care to peoples everywhere. Nations have been won through his love. The majority of hospitals and other ministries of compassion around the globe have been launched in his name. Where there has been devastation through natural disasters, wars, or famine, people filled with God’s love have run to alleviate human suffering via the Red Cross, World Vision, and thousands of other agencies. Where would our world be without the love of Christ as expressed through his people?
“Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).