Today has been designated “Martin Luther King Day” in commemoration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who fought for civil rights and on August 28, 1963, delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech before a quarter million people gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. Dr. King said: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” So, how are we doing? Has his dream been fulfilled? Is our country free from racial prejudice? How about in the areas of religion, social status, political beliefs? Have we finally arrived at that state of utopia where we are all united and get along “peachy keen”? Hardly!
And, Martin Luther King, Jr. was not the only one who has fought for civil rights and the abolishment of slavery. Don’t forget William Wilberforce in England, and President Abraham Lincoln and the horrifying “Civil War” that nearly tore our country apart. And it goes back much further than the problems in England and the United States. Happen to recall the story of Moses and the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt? What had they been doing there for more than 400 years–vacationing? They had been slaves of the Egyptians, abused and mistreated. Do you recall that a good percentage of the population in the Roman Empire during the time of Christ was slaves? In fact, the Apostle Paul, in writing to the Ephesians gave some guidelines in relation to slaves and masters (Eph. 6:5-9).
Sad to say, involuntary slavery was not abolished by Moses, by Wilberforce, by Lincoln, or even Martin Luther King! It is still thriving today, especially in certain Muslim and other non-Christian strongholds, but still exists in our own country in various forms of human trafficking. We have also unsuccessfully attempted to stop violent crime, spousal and child abuse, drug use and all related to it, corruption in government and business, and on and on. What’s the problem? Well, the problem is the heart of man. It is, as the prophet Jeremiah described it, “…more deceitful than all else and desperately (or incurably) sick…” (Jer. 17:9). From the time of the disobedience by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, man’s nature has been sinful, rebellious, corrupt, deceitful. The Bible refers to the bent toward evil that we inherited from Adam as our flesh. Paul wrote: “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh…for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die…” (Ro. 7:18; 8:13). When we trust Christ as Savior and are born again (Jn. 3:3), and made new creations in Christ (II Cor. 5:17) we have a new nature which cannot sin. Christ now lives in us through the Holy Spirit who comes to dwell in us (I Cor. 3:16; 6:19,20). We have “…become partakers of the divine nature…” (II Pet. 1:4). But, the old, Adamic, sinful nature–our flesh–has not yet been abolished.
So, as Christians, we have an ongoing battle for control raging within us between our old and new natures. Paul’s challenge to us is: “…walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh, for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please” (Gal. 5:16,17). Then Paul goes on to list the deeds of the flesh versus the fruit of the Spirit. By checking our life at any given moment, we can tell whom we are allowing control, the Spirit or the flesh. In another letter to believers, Paul wrote: “…in reference to your former manner of life, lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph. 4: 22-24).
When society tries to abolish symptoms of the sinful nature such as slavery, civil injustices, crime, immoral behavior, etc, it is like attempting to hold ping pong balls under the water with your hands (try it sometime)! It is not wrong to fight as did Wilberforce and Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. against the wrongs in our society and to stand up for our biblical convictions on the sanctity of life, marriage, etc, but ultimately the only way to change a society is for the heart of man to be transformed by the regenerating power of the Gospel and the indwelling presence of God. Even then, sin will not be eradicated because we still have to choose to be controlled by the Holy Spirit rather than by our fleshly, sinful nature.
It is interesting to note what it will be like during the final period of earth’s history before Christ comes to reign. We have a rather detailed description of that period in John’s revelation while living as an exile on the Isle of Patmos. In Revelation 17 he writes about the destruction of the final apostate religious system (the empire of the antichrist and false prophet, referred to as “Babylon the Great” (17:8) and then in chapter 18, John speaks of commercial and political “Babylon the Great” and its fall. In Rev. 18:5 it says, “her sins have piled up as high as heaven and God has remembered her iniquities…and she will be burned up with fire; for the Lord God who judges her is strong.” And what are those sins? They are listed for us. Babylon harbors many forms of wickedness hated by God–fornications, sorceries, bloodshed, etc. But the chief characteristic of its wickedness is its devotion to commercialism above all else: “…the merchants of the earth have committed immorality with her, and they have become rich by the wealth of her sensuality” (v. 3). Note especially the verses which describe the weeping over her fall: “…And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn over her, because no one buys their cargoes any more” (v. 11). Then note that merchandise (v. 12,13)! Not only “gold and silver and precious stones” but also “slaves and human lives.” In the last days, when this awful judgment falls, the merchants will still be involved in human trafficking. But, Praise God, all this will end when Christ returns and “the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be among them, and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain (or human injustice); the first things have passed away. And He who sits on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ …There shall no longer be any curse (of sin); and the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His bond-servants shall serve Him forever” (Rev. 21:3-5; 22:3).
While we commemorate those like Wilberforce and Lincoln and M.L. King, Jr. who have taken bold stands against human injustices, we too need to do our part. We can look forward with full assurance to the future when the “Prince of Peace” comes to make all things right (I Cor. 4:5). Then the “dreams” of all who fight for the truth and for justice will be fulfilled. “Even so come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20).