|God wants us to reach this ^ with the Good News. Ready?|
(Picture credit: http://www.philmeadowsmusic.co.uk)
Warning: do not read this article if you are happy with your current level of productivity for God's kingdom. After you read it, you will be responsible for the exciting task of carrying out God's mission for humanity here on earth. This will involve stepping up your game to the next level of kingdom impact. As Jesus said, "Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required..." (Luke 12:48). You have now been warned.
Why were we chosen?What is the purpose of Christianity? Are we "religious" because of the social benefits we get from church membership? Are we Christians because of the warm fuzzies we receive from seeing our friends on Sunday mornings, or because of the approval we must surely be getting from God because of our faithful involvement in various ministries and programs? Is it even about the peace we feel when we read the Bible and spend time in prayer?
Or does the life of a Christian have a purpose more fundamental, more meaningful, more real than merely what we receive from the whole process? If you have committed your life to Jesus Christ, then you know that God chose you long before you ever chose to follow him (cf. Ephesians 1:3-14). So, we have to ask ourselves, why?
Why did God choose us? Moreover, why did God choose us and then leave us here on earth? Why not just call us right up to the Heavens to be with him immediately? Why are we here? The answer is found in Saint Paul's second letter to the church in the ancient Italian city of Corinth, recorded for us in the biblical book of "2 Corinthians." Let us look at 2 Corinthians 5:14-20, and see what Paul has to say about the Christian's life, , status with God, and mission. As we dig into this powerful passage of Scripture, remember, don't forget to think!
We have new lifeThe first step in discerning our mission is to recognize what it means to actually be a Christian. We must realize that being a Christian has nothing to do with church attendance or in what programs we participate, and it certainly has very little to do with our political positions. Being a Christian is about receiving new life from God. This is where Paul takes us first.
In Christ, all died"For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died..." (2 Corinthians 5:14).
Before we can start our new life, we have to die in our old life. Paul is not speaking of physical death here, but rather spiritual death. When we live our lives without focusing on God's plan, separated from his purpose, we walk on a path of self-destruction and dysfunction. This is why human society is so obviously deranged (despite flashes of greatness and brilliance)--humanity is bent and backwards as a result of forgetting about God. People are only living for themselves; their devotion is turned inward rather than outward (toward other people) and upward (toward their loving Creator).
Jesus came--God "enfleshed" in a human life, and died. He died as humanity's representative. When Jesus Christ died, he did so on behalf of all men and women. Anyone trusting Jesus with his or her life--at the moment of commitment, has "died" to the old, unspiritual way of living. The old, dysfunctional life is dead. This does not mean that all problems are immediately solved, but the first step has now been taken in a life characterized by reconciliation with God.
We now live for Christ"...and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised" (2 Corinthians 5:15).
As a result of Jesus' death, which represented every human being, those who "live"--who have been given new life by God--no longer live for themselves. Everyone given new life (viz., Christians) are meant to live their lives for Christ.
When Jesus died a brutal, painful death on the cross, he did not do so in order that you and I could enjoy warm fuzzies. He did it to give us new life. This new life is orientated toward the one who died to purchase it for us. After all, as Tim Keller has pointed out, the only acceptable way to respond to someone who gave everything for us, is to give everything to him.
We have new eyes"From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer" (2 Corinthians 5:16)
Our new life comes with new vision.
This means we see others differently. We no longer look at other people as a means to an end. Our friendships are not to be characterized by what we can get out of them. That selfish thinking is the way of the old life; we have been given new life, and now we recognize the intrinsic value in other people. We can respect others and love them as people, not as means to further our own ends.
We also see Christ differently. If, earlier in our lives, we looked at Christ according to the way of the old life, we have since turned our backs on that way of thinking. Jesus is not a means to an end for us. We are not Christians because of what we get out of our religion. We view Christ as our Lord and leader, our savior and best friend, our brother and our king. We happily call him Master. Again: he gave everything on our behalf in order to give us new life and new eyes.
So Paul teaches us that we have new life, and next he conveys the holistic nature of this life. We are actually a new type of creature.
We are new creationsWe are no longer what we used to be. This is a good thing, because sin diminishes us; it makes us less than what God intends for us to be--less than fully human.
What we are now"...He is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come" (2 Corinthians 5:17b).
Christians living the new life from God are new. Re-fashioned. God remakes every individual who trusts in Jesus. The old things are gone. All the self-destructive habits and choices, all the guilt, regret, addictions and paralyzing fears are dead. Not dying. Not on their way out. Not slated for demolition. Dead.
These old things have been replaced by new things. New disciplines. New perspectives. New strength. New peace. A new way of living in the world which is characterized by hope. If it seems like Paul is repeating himself, it is surely because of how easy it can be for us to miss this important truth: Christians are new creations.
Who can become new?"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ..." (2 Corinthians 5:17a).
The opportunity to be remade is offered to anyone and everyone who will come to Jesus. You do not have to have grown up in the Church. You do not need to consider yourself an "Evangelical" or anything that comes along with that label. Or, you could be an Evangelical! This is for everyone. Jesus Christ is for everybody.
If you are reading this, and you want this kind of new life for yourself, you can get it right now. Tell God you no longer want to live the old way. Tell him you are giving your life to Jesus. Then go talk to a Christian, and get connected into community of others who are living as new creations. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me about it. I would like nothing better than talking about this with you (though biting into a Portillo's combo sandwich, piled with hot peppers would come close right about now. It must be getting close to dinner time).
It is necessary for us to become new creations, so that we can start carrying out our new missions. Let us turn to the next couple of verses and wrap this up.
We have a new missionWe have new life, lived for Christ with new vision; we are new creatures, and all this has a point. God did not choose us to leave us floundering without a purpose. Rather, God has placed us here in the world to carry out his purpose. This is the exciting part.
In the next three verses, Paul outlines five steps God takes in saving the world. That is right, there are just five steps in finding and carrying out God's mission for the Church in the world.
Step 1: God reconciles us"All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself..." (2 Corinthians 5:18a).
That we might not get over-inflated egos, Paul reminds us that we first need to be reconciled. Remember: before meeting Jesus Christ, we were living the dysfunctional, godless life that characterizes humanity at large. First, God reconnects us by his grace, received by our faith in Christ (cf. Ephesians 2:8-9).
Step 2: God commissions us"...and gave us the ministry of reconciliation..." (2 Corinthians 5:18b).
There it is. We have a ministry. We are priests in a new, spiritual deal (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:5-6), and our temple is the whole world.
Our mission, then, is to tell the whole world about the reconciliation that comes through faith in Jesus. Think about the people you know from work, your children's school, and on your street. These are the people God has entrusted to you with the ministry of reconciliation. As a Christian, you are commissioned by God, to bring them the new life.
Step 3: God prepared the way"...that is, God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation" (2 Corinthians 5:19).
You might be starting to notice a trend. This whole process depends on God. He is the one who causes us to die along with Christ. He gives us new life and new vision. He re-creates us and commissions us with a purpose. And so that we would have a model to follow, God paved the road ahead of us by Jesus' life on earth.
Jesus walked and talked among people living the old life. He brought people into God's family, showing them reconciliation rather than wrath. So many people like to point out the "angry God" in the Bible. And yes, sin does make God angry. But what characterizes the Lord is his overwhelming wish that human beings be brought back to him (cf. 2 Peter 3:9). There was no more shocking way he could have conveyed his powerful love for us than that which he used: surrendering his own son to be betrayed, beaten and murdered by sinners.
In Jesus, God chose to save us, rather than hold our violations against us. This offer is open to anyone who will trust in him. This is astounding. Further, he has entrusted those who have trusted in him with the very message that saves the world. As a Christian, your mission is to bring to others the same reconciliation you have received.
This is how...
Step 4: God uses us"Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us" (2 Corinthians 5:20a).
God could have reached the world directly, through dreams and visions. Yet his method of reconciling the world bestows on us incredible value: he has appointed us as his ambassadors. God summons the world through Christians. This is a privilege and a responsibility. As people fully devoted to God's will (remember, this is the only fitting response in light of what God has done for us), this is how we are meant to be spending our time.
Through my pastoral training program I have learned to ask myself two questions during my workday are, "Is it worth doing?" and "Is it working?" Emulating the religious orders of centuries past, my fellow pastors-in-training check in with ourselves twice daily. The point is to regularly assess whether how we have been spending our time has been efficient and aimed at our ultimate goal. As Christians, Paul tells us, our goal is to bring God's reconciliation to others, starting with our spheres of influence, and eventually reaching the world.
Step 5: God reaches the worldThe impact of a Christian discharging his or her mission is global in scope. This is the method God has ordained with which to reach the world: you and me. As many have said, God has no "plan B."
Now that we know, we are responsible for doing this. The great news is that God does the heavy lifting for us. He regenerates us. He gives us his vision. He reconciles us, refreshes us, and sends us out into the world with a purpose and a plan. He has cleared the way for us and given us his Holy Spirit--the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead--and told us to go and reconcile the world. This is our mission, should we choose to accept it or not.