We ended our last post with this big question: How is God seeking to bring His salvation through the Church’s missional living? In order to answer this question, we must ask the much more fundamental question: What exactly is God up to? What exactly is God’s Mission?
Most Christians, whether they know it or not, have an answer to this question. All we have to do is look at the loudest examples of faith around us, and we begin to formulate an opinion. These opinions are usually based on what we see, not how God sees. Because 99% of people will soak in the Church before they begin to soak in God.
For all of us, our answer to “What is the Mission of God” usually depends as much on our experience with the Church as on our experience with scripture. In fact, our deepest ideas about God are shaped largely by how see the Church living and breathing. Practice often informs theology more than theology informs practice. This is why a community that shares generously, loves unconditionally, and lives joyfully can speak more truth than 1,000 sermons. What we do and how we do it matters.
There are many “versions” of God’s Mission out there. Unfortunately, many of these versions are severely truncated.
Some hone in on fragments of scripture, divorce them from the biblical narrative and elevate them to levels and meanings never intended. Others piece God’s Mission together in a way of our own choosing, making God in our own image. Many search the scriptures diligently, but fail to see Jesus. The Pharisees were guilty of all of these things, as am I. This is how we end up with Christians that picket the funerals of gays, missionaries that turn Africans into good Westerners, and churches that lock themselves away from the world.
When Christians and non-Christians are regularly fed amputated versions of God’s mission, everything that follows is distorted.
Why is it important that we get the Mission of God right? Because how we imagine the Mission of God determines how we live and act in our world.
How we understand God’s Mission depends a lot on where we start the story.
For example, we often interpret God’s Mission by starting at Jesus’ death. From there, we must work backwards to prove our need to be saved. Once we finally trace our original sin back to Genesis 3, the entire Old Testament becomes a tragic tale of humanity’s wickedness and our utter failure to live up to God’s expectations. Jesus’ life becomes little more than an opportunity for his sinlessness to be put on display and to teach us to be better (why else would he walk this dirty earth?). In this version of the story, sin is the driving force behind God’s mission.
In this version, Jesus came to make bad people good.
But when we read the Bible from Genesis forward, we hear a different story. It’s one that’s driven by love, not fear, and it carries all creation in its scope, not just our disembodied souls. We see God coming nearer and nearer to us. And as people made in God’s image, we are moving toward increasing union with God. When we start understanding God’s story from Genesis 1, sin is no longer the driving force behind God’s Mission. In this grand narrative, God’s glory (and His insatiable desire to share himself and unite all things with him) drives God’s Mission.
In this version, Jesus came to bring dead people back to life.
Which is a lot different. We’re not just bad–we’re dead. And God’s Mission isn’t just to make us good–it’s to make us new.
Our starting place determines how we understand what God is doing in the world.
Although I was raised in the Christian faith, it was not until later that I first began to see the cosmic scope of God’s mission. Like others, I had known fragments of it, but now the unity of God’s story began to unfold. For the first time, Jesus wasn’t God’s “plan B”. Jesus was everything. The more I took it in, the more I fell in love with God all over again.
In light of the biblical narrative, Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection became richer.
Jesus’ life was more than proof of his sinlessness. It was the pursuit of an alternative kingdom here and now–in the ways he sought peace and cared for the poor, brought healing in physical and spiritual dimensions, and commanded everyone to reorient their allegiances from the economic and political systems of this world.
Jesus’ life reveals God’s mission.
Jesus’ death was more than an act of ransom. It was the essence of love. It established a new standard for the use of power. It proclaimed the truth that had always been–God is infinitely generous. It brought us near to God once again by tearing down the wall, graciously forgiving our selfish desires that separated us from him in the first place.
Jesus’ death reveals God’s mission.
Jesus’ resurrection was more than exit from a tomb. It was the conquering of the old order of things. It was a vision of our future. It was a rebirth of humanity by the defeat of death once and for all. In the resurrection we witness God weaving our decaying nature together with himself, beginning now.
Jesus’ resurrection reveals God’s mission.
When we see Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection in context of the grand narrative, we get a glimpse of what God is up to. And all things come together in Christ.
Clarifying the Mission of God is important because everything we believe and practice flows from it… and the world sees an image of God through us.
In light of this, next week we will consider what God’s Mission looks like through us, his Church.
For this week, consider these questions:
- How has your understanding of God’s Mission changed over your lifetime?
- Where have you seen a misappropriated version of God’s Mission damage God’s image?
Where have you seen a healthy understanding of God’s Mission glorify God?