I watched with keen interest, the events leading up to the 2011 general elections in Nigeria. The TV jingles, the political rallies as aired on TV, and especially the debates. The presidential debates were particularly interesting. The president, who was also a presidential candidate was absent at the first debate, where other contenders were present. He eventually appeared on a solo debate organized by the Federal Government owned Television station—Nigeria Television Authority—because other candidates refused to come. Perhaps in protest to the president’s absence in the first debate organized by a private television station.
In one of the debates where only three candidates representing their respective political parties were present, a question came up which was of particular interest to me. I’ll just paraphrase thus: Which one problem do you think that if solved in Nigeria, all other things in Nigeria will fall in place? In order to better understand this question, one might need a proper introduction of the country Nigeria.
Nigeria is Africa’s largest producer of oil and the sixth largest producer of oil in the world[i]. Nigeria has gold, rubber, tin and many other natural resources which a simple Google search would help you find. This means that the resources are not lacking. Nigeria is the most populous black nation on earth. With more than 150 million locally present in the country and millions of others in many other countries of the world. Nigerians are smart, talented, brilliant and hardworking. This means that manpower is abundant. In some parts of Nigeria, you can count 200 places of worship within 5 kilometre of travel, and that’s being modest. Nigerians are religious.
Despite all these, many Nigerians live in abject poverty. With 70% living below the poverty line.[ii] A bad transportation system with bad roads and bad railway. No constant power supply. Poor funding for education, agriculture and science and technology, thereby having poor results in these areas too. And as you can guess, the chances for an average graduate to get a job are slim. No adequate provision for health care. There is high level of insecurity, corruption and crime. A consumer nation as it were, with less exportation and massive importation. Nigeria has more than 250 ethnic groups who are sometimes intolerant of one another, so there is also ethnic violence. Corruption is as normal as a simple conversation in Nigeria. A headline that tells us that a politician or a civil servant or a bank chief has stolen 100 million dollars will not shock Nigerians so much. It’s just an everyday affair. The people are corrupt and the system enables it.
With this myriad of problems, can you honestly say on which one of them hinges all the other problems. Or what one thing can you deal with which will make all these problems a thing of the past in my dear country Nigeria. That was the question posed to these presidential candidates. And rightly so.
One of them, who was formerly the head of an anti-graft agency, said it was corruption. That was expected of him. He means that if we deal with corruption that is deeply entrenched in the system, everything will be fine. But then, a co-debater, who is an entrepreneur, made popular by a magazine he produces, was of a different opinion. He said it was education. This means that if we make sure that everyone is educated, every other thing will be fine. The third debater had something else in mind. Having been a governor of one of the states for eight years, he said it was leadership. He says if we get leadership right, all these things are a piece of cake. We’ll solve them.
Knotty indeed is the Nigeria situation.
Even though their opinions about how to solve the Nigeria problem vary, they were unified on one point. They all agree that Nigeria has problems. And trust me, only a brief stay or visit to the country would win you to their side. That means every single Nigerian agrees with them. Nigeria has problems. But what is the root of the Nigeria problem. Find it and let’s deal with it was their task.
One may ask the same about Africa. Is there one thing we can deal with in Africa which will help solve every other problem on the continent? Perhaps, that may mean that one is simplifying a complex problem. How can the solution to one single problem lead to the solution of the myriad of problems that Africa has.
Let’s stretch it a little further. Let’s look at the world. Our world has problems. Naming them all could take a lot of space. Talk of terrorism, poverty, sicknesses and diseases, natural disasters, crime, corruption, oppression and a host of them. One may sound over-simplistic concerning these problems if he asks: what one problem can we solve that’ll help put an end to all these problems?
But interestingly, that is the position which biblical Christianity takes. The Bible presents a perfect world in its first two chapters, until the third chapter when sin came in and the world started experiencing disasters, and death and murders and natural disasters started happening in the world. In the midst of all these, we see a God who is calling people to return to Him and repent from their sins and return unto Him. This is in order that they might be in the new world which is presented before us in the last two chapters of the Bible. A perfect world which the Apostle Peter describes as “new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” (2 Pet. 3:13).
This means that the Bible sees the whole problem of the world as resulting from sin, and God would deal with this problem by destroying sin and establishing a world where only its opposite—righteousness—dwells. A world where “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” (Rev. 21:4).
But sin is not a free agent. It is rather better described as a living thing that cannot exist on its own except it lives on or in another. God knows that when He will destroy sin, he must destroy the host being as well. Therefore, God is “longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Pet. 3:9). This narrows our problem. Changing it from an outward look at the world to an inward look at oneself. Hence the question: what is wrong with me?
What is wrong with me that made God say that he wants me to come to repentance—turning away from sin? What is wrong with me that I would need Christ’s righteousness in order to be just before God? On the answer to this question hinges the eternal salvation of every soul. This is because it either gets a reaction of humble soul searching which would lead to the only solution or that of instant resistance which would ultimately lead to self destruction.
Some would stubbornly answer “nothing” to this question, in order that they might live in open rebellion against God. “Men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath showed it unto them.” (Rom. 1:18, 19); God has made Himself to every man “so that they are without excuse” (vs 20). When they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools. (vs 21, 22).
Men, and women, who know God, and know that glorifying God means self denial. And are not ready to deny some or all of their passions and desires because God said so. And instead of this, claim not to know. While some openly claim not to believe that God exists and some claim not to care. Some believe that He exists while they misrepresent His character in order to indulge in their passions and desires. And because of this, their foolish heart was darkened and God “gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts” (vs 24), simply because of their refusal to admit that “something is wrong with me” and in effect saying that something is wrong with God’s word.
The Apostle Paul would admit that something was wrong with him as well as every human being in saying that “I am carnal and sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it but sin that dwells in me.” (Rom. 7:14-17). He says, I agree that God’s word is good. But for one reason or the other, I can’t seem to live by its principles even though I want to. One’s reaction to this reality determines whether he/she continues on the path which leads to hardening of the heart or whether one seeks for help like Paul in asking: “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
If there is one thing that one can deal with in order to solve a myriad of problems, it also means that the problem can be likened to a tree that produces bad fruits. The problem cannot be solved by destroying the fruits, because if one fruit is expunged, the tree will produce another bad one. Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. (Matt. 7:17). Paul identified the root cause of the human problem as the sinful human nature in saying “For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Rom. 8:5-8). He refers to the sinful human nature as “the flesh”. And where is the problem with this flesh? He identifies it as the mind: For to be carnally minded is death. And because the mind of the sinful nature does not naturally focus on the things of God it cannot please God, and therefore is destined to die. But “thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God”. (Rom. 7:25).
Only a renewing of the mind by the indwelling Christ can solve the problem of mankind.
So, what is wrong with me? Now I know. I have a mind problem; also known as a heart problem.
And so does everyone. It’s best for you to admit that you do. A denial gives it a better chance to get a hold on you. That was Paul’s point in Romans 7. Paul might be dealing with certain recognized sins, but then he realizes that the problem was deeper than those sins. It was a heart problem which only Jesus can solve.
So the next time you are made uncomfortable by a loud mouthed sister with an uncontrolled tongue, the problem is not with her mouth, neither is it her tongue; the sister needs a mind transformation. If a brother’s greedy for power and loves money, and as such can do anything to get it, which Paul once noted as the root of all evils (see 1 Tim. 6:10), his problem is not greed still, it’s a heart problem. The expression “love of money” gives it away, as love, whether positive or negative, proceeds from the heart. And think of it; these people described earlier might just be you. The same principle applies anyhow. The condition of the human heart is the source of all human problems.
For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. (Matt. 15:19). This truth, made clearer by Jesus was not new to His time. It is a fact which God identified as the root cause of all the evils of the antediluvian world (the time before the biblical Flood). God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Gen. 6:5). The evils which they did were not itemised, instead, God just mentioned the cause of all their problems. And He dealt with it.
Even today, it is obvious that the wickedness of mankind is great in the earth, and every imagination of the thought of her heart is evil continually. Sitting in front of a 30-minute BBC or CNN news broadcast proves this fact.
God has always sought to deal with this root cause of the human problem—the heart. The Bible reveals that he will do this in one of two ways. He will either cleanse it or destroy it. He says “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.” (Eze. 36:25-27). God promises cleansing and gives humanity enough time to accept it, because, He does not will “that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Pet. 3:9). But on the other hand, when the time elapses, He will deal with this problem in the second way. He will utterly destroy sin and sinners. The fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death. (Rev. 21:8).
Until this time, on almost every page of the Bible, God calls mankind to come for heart cleansing. We have an example of a life whose heart is cleansed in Christ Jesus. That’s why you are challenged to “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5). White writes concerning John:
“The lessons of Christ, setting forth meekness and humility and love as essential to growth in grace and a fitness for His work, were of the highest value to John. He treasured every lesson and constantly sought to bring his life into harmony with the divine pattern. John had begun to discern the glory of Christ–not the worldly pomp and power for which he had been taught to hope, but “the glory as of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14.”[iii]
The mind of Christ is the cure for the human problem. And it is not a transplant which one gets overnight. It comes from daily learning and unlearning until He takes you to glory. Learning from Christ through His Word and staying connected to Him through prayer, while reflecting His character in daily living.
Therefore, the call comes, which says: “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Rom. 12:2). In order to have the heart cleansed, one must be committed to a daily continuous renewing which comes by staying attached to the true vine—Christ Jesus—in order that you may cleanse the heart and bear much fruit.
What is wrong with me? I discovered that I have a heart condition. Therefore, I like to say a copy King David’s prayer daily. The one which says: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow…Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.” (Ps. 51:7,10).
[iii] Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles, pg. 544