Education is often taken for granted. For many, the memories of schoolwork and exams are unhappy ones, and to state that education is a world-changing weapon may seem a somewhat startling claim.
For Nelson Mandela, the first black president of South Africa, education was something to be treasured. During apartheid, the Bantu Education Act required black children to attend government schools where they were trained for manual labour and menial jobs that the government deemed suitable for their race. These schools received only a fraction of the income the white schools received and suffered from shortages of qualified teachers.1
When Nelson Mandela made the above statement, he no doubt had many examples of education’s power in mind. For example, the Renaissance, a period of time in which learning and philosophy blossomed, had such an impact on society that it moved Europe from the Dark Ages into the modern era. Mandela also knew the division and suffering his own country had experienced because of a racially segregated education system. He had seen how education could change an innocent child into a racist, but believed education could reverse this process too. Indeed, in his own life it was education that had given him the opportunity to become the country’s first black president.
In his book, Long Walk to Freedom, he states, “It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mine worker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farm workers can become the president of a great nation.”2 Nelson Mandela knew that the only way to change people’s actions was to change their thinking and beliefs, and he was sure that this would also transform their lives.
The need to change the world
We all have to admit that the daily headlines continually bring news of death and crime. Most will know that life can be difficult and painful. Many have felt the sting of harsh words, or the hurt of being taken for granted. How often we have had our hopes dashed as a result of our own shortcomings or because of some injustice in society. Suffering, greed and division continue to plague our world despite all of humanity’s best endeavours. The world is not in a good condition – it needs to be changed.
The need to change our hearts
The reason the world continues to be so broken and seemingly unfixable is because of the nature of the human heart. It has been this way since mankind’s fall in the garden of Eden at the beginning of time. The ancient Hebrew prophet Jeremiah put it like this: “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9). Our proud, self-seeking hearts are the source of the harsh words and thoughtless actions we so despise. The Lord Jesus went further and said, “out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matthew 15:19).
In short, we all have the potential to commit the most appalling sins for we all have the same sinful hearts. We are all guilty of doing what we know to be wrong, offending both our fellow citizens and our Creator God. Not one of us lives up to what God wants us to be. “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:22,23). In the light of this, if we were aiming to transform the world through education, we would need to be able to change man’s heart as well as his mind.
There is no doubt that education can have an enormous impact on an individual’s life and on society in general. It can provide opportunities for better employment and therefore a higher standard of living. Education can also open the mind to new ideas and introduce learners to different points of view they would otherwise never consider. Through learning, many young people have been able to change the destructive course of their lives.
The issue with education is that, although it can tell us how we can live well, it cannot in itself give us the power to do what is right. It can help resolve some of the difficulties of our day, but it offers no solution for the root of the world’s troubles. Education can change minds, but it cannot change sinful hearts. Our sin is a problem for us now, but more importantly for eternity. Although education can help our current circumstances, it is of no advantage once we die. The Bible says that, just as we brought nothing into this world, “it is certain we can carry nothing out” (2 Timothy 6:7). Education has no influence on where we will spend eternity. It cannot earn us a place in Heaven.
"Education has no influence on where we will spend eternity."
Of course, education is not the only way humanity has tried to change the human heart. Numerous religions and philosophies have sought to mend broken lives and heal our sinful nature. Yet, seeking to follow moral codes or religious principles leaves us with the same problem – we are powerless in ourselves to always do what we ought. Our sin remains.
In the Bible, the apostle Paul writes about the inward struggle we all face with our sinful hearts:
“For in my inner self I joyfully agree with God’s law. But I see a different law in the parts of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and taking me prisoner to the law of sin in the parts of my body. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this dying body? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:22-25, HCSB)
Attempting to keep God’s law in our own strength will only end in failure. What we need is someone to rescue us from sin’s grip on our lives.
Christ alone can change our hearts
The Bible is clear that the only One who can save us from our sin is the risen Lord Jesus Christ. “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4.12). The Lord Jesus offers to give us a new heart and the ability to live a righteous life. What’s more, He wants to rescue us from the eternal judgment our sinful actions deserve and promises eternal life with Him beyond death.
Such huge claims may seem difficult to swallow, but they are made by One who was unique. His entire life was spotless, full of marvelous works, incomparable teachings and immeasurable compassion. He loved to such an extent that, on a wooden cross outside Jerusalem, He voluntarily gave His life for the sin of humanity. Peter, one of Jesus’s disciples, writing to believers, said this about His death: “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that, having died to sin, we might live for righteousness – you have been healed by his wounds” (1 Peter 2:24, HCSB). He rose three days later, a fact attested by numerous witnesses on many different occasions.
The Bible states that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). All who repent of their sin and place their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ are indwelt with the Holy Spirit and gradually begin to produce what the Bible describes as the fruit of the Spirit: “Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22,23). They will have different desires and, with the Lord’s help, can know freedom from the lusts of their hearts. This is not something that can be learned through books or the Internet. It is a complete change brought about by God Himself when we place our trust in Christ.
The apostle Paul sums it up well in his letter to the Christians in Rome:
“What the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1-4).
God’s indwelling Spirit enables us to live the righteous and good life we had previously sought to live in vain.
You may have known the value of education in changing your life for the better, or perhaps you want to see your life transformed through the opportunities education brings. However, it is wise to make sure that, as you go about broadening your mind, you don’t neglect your heart. While education may tell you in theory how you can help improve the world, it can never give you the power to change yourself or others for the better. Only the Lord Jesus can meet your sinful heart’s need, free you from lust and pride, and make you a new person. It is only through trusting and following Him that you will see your life and eternal destiny transformed.
- Encyclopaedia Britannica, (2018), Bantu Education Act [online]. Encyclopaedia Britannica [Viewed 6th November 2018]. Available from: https://www.britannica.com/event/Bantu-Education-Act
- Mandela, N., (1994). Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela, Ch 20. London: Little, Brown & Company.