– Mark Raja
When I made my decision to put off my old ways and follow Jesus I was 15 years old. Though I was not sure if I could remain faithful to my decision but, trusted God and made my commitment. I am glad I did. I was also happy that when I die I will go to heaven.
Soon, my purpose in life was defined by one quote of a well known American evangelist “The purpose of my life is to go to heaven, and take as many people as possible with me.” All that I was taught about faith and gospel then, aligned with this statement.
I was super excited. Missions have a very special place in my heart, even today. I was captivated by many missionary stories I have heard from my childhood. So logically after I completed my 10th grade I was in favor of joining a mission organization instead of continuing my education.
Why did I think so? Because education, job, etc., did not make any sense to the purpose I stated before. Since “going to heaven and winning souls” is the only purpose of a follower of Jesus, why not do only that. It is written in the Bible, “After the Gospel is preached in all the world, then the end will come.” (Mark 13:10) Right? So why not just preach and hasten our Lord’s coming?
I did not find any eternal value in education, work, marriage, family, business, etc. If I was asked why marriage, I would have responded like ‘to not fall to sexual temptation’. Why education? To get a job. Why job? To feed me or my family. Why family or children? Oh no, that is a tough question, right? Yes, why bring new children into this world, then put extra effort to preach the gospel to them, send them to youth meetings, etc., and at the end who knows if they will believe, right? None of these seemed aligned to the mission I knew. In fact, they were distracting to some extent.
I did believe that God created everything and made man in his image and likeness to have dominion over his creation and care for it. (Gen 1:28) But, I also believed that when man sinned, this initial plan for his creation failed, so God came up with a plan B of rescue to save us from hell, and take us to heaven after we die. This plan B is more or less the ‘gospel’. That is why when this ‘gospel is preached’ many ask this question, “do you know where you will go if you die tonight?”
Since our mission is to ‘save souls’ then the meaning of discipleship is to make the new convert also win souls, right? Thankfully in some circles, discipleship is emphasized on purity also. But sadly this emphasis is understood either as religiosity or a condition to keep your salvation. So, win souls and be good until you die. Tell me, theoretically am I not faithful to the mission of — “winning souls and going to heaven” so far?
So, with this mission, a minimalistic, reductionistic gospel, majority of the evangelical church and others over the past 15 or so decades preached sermons, wrote books, wrote songs, started organizations, etc. But did not give answers about marriage, family, work, justice, politics, governance, education, arts, science, economics, etc., that is truthful. Nor did we even ask the question “What is my salvation for?”
This mission of saving souls made ‘full-time ministry’ or ‘professional ministry’ a higher calling because full-time ministers like bishops, pastors and evangelists are concerned about heavenly matters and not worldly matters like education, farming, business, etc. They are considered as God’s servants and what they do is only God’s work.
Now my question is, is all this the truth? Yes, there are definitely few elements of truth here and there, but to me, this is a myopic view of the gospel as I see it.
It is Renewal, not Escape
Tim Keller writes: “Some conservative Christians think of the story of salvation as the fall, redemption, and heaven. In this narrative, the purpose of redemption is an escape from this world… If, however, the story of salvation is creation, fall, redemption, restoration, then things look different… the purpose of redemption is not to escape the world but to renew it …It is about the coming of God’s kingdom to renew all things.” It is renewal which is both internal and external at the heart of God’s mission, not a plan B escape.
Paul in most of his letters repeatedly writes about “the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Eph 1:9,10)
“… to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Col 1:20).
This is God’s grand mission which he has called us to. It began with God’s covenant to Noah, then to Abram, later to Israel at Sinai, then to David and finally through Jesus.
If God’s mission is to renew all things in heaven and on earth in Jesus but if you want to only win souls. There is a problem. The problem is, we really don’t understand salvation.
Renewal by the Spirit
Renewal begins here. When I responded to God’s voice by faith in my heart, I was born into a new being by the Holy Spirit. “you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable…”(1 Pet 1:23) That very moment, I became a child of God though I may not fully understand it. That is what Jesus meant, “unless one is born again …” (John 3:3)
In Genesis, God made man from the dust “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature”. This living creature was made in the image of God to have dominion over God’s creation. But, when the man wanted to become his own god, that separation killed us spiritually and we lost God’s image and his call. But God out of his love became this fallen man, and through his death and resurrection began a new creation.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Cor 5:17) Jesus, though born as a perishable man, became impressionable. “it is written,‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.” (1 Cor 15:45) “The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.” (1 Cor 15:47) This is the renewed reality Jesus inaugurated through his resurrection.
Though I have my perishable body today, it will put on the imperishable on the last day, (1 Cor 15:51–54) yet I already have the imperishable inner-man which is being renewed. (2 Cor 4:16)
“put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph 4:22–24). Through “washing of regeneration and renewal”(Titus 3: 5,6) God is restoring me back into his image in Jesus Christ the new Adam which was lost in old Adam, (Gal 4:19).
This inner man who is from heaven is who I am in Christ. As a citizen of heaven and a child of God, I now live all my life in the order of the kingdom of heaven, not after I die. My spiritual, physical, emotional, intellectual, imaginative, sexual, creative, relational, financial aspects of life are now lived in the order of the kingdom of heaven, stewarding righteousness and justice (Gen 18:19) in the midst of the kingdom of darkness.
“Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true)”. (Eph 5:8,9)
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Mat 5:16)
Now my education, work, marriage or anything becomes part of God’s mission of renewal. Evangelism becomes a demonstration of the kingdom of light to the people in darkness, persuading them to be renewed and journey with us in the light as citizens. (Eph 5:13,14)
Renewal through the body
By restoring God’s image in us, God is restoring our calling that was lost in Adam. God placed the first Adam in the garden, now he has placed us through the second Adam — Christ, in the city, the New Jerusalem. We are the ecclesia (church) of this New Jerusalem.
In my previous article, I mentioned that in the Graeco-Roman context ecclesia is a function of a city by its citizens to manage its affairs. When Jesus said, “I will build my ecclesia” he meant that in terms of its responsibility of his kingdom.
“And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” (Eph 1:22,23)
“Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet…” (1Cor 15: 24–46)
“When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.” (1 Cor 15:28)
Jesus is the head of his body, the ecclesia. He is the King of the New Jerusalem, and through his ecclesia, he is putting all his enemies under his feet and also give life to the world.
“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” (Rev 11:15)
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:51)
That is why we pray “your kingdom come, you will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
We are called to this mission of God stewarding God’s righteousness and justice in our families, communities, marketplaces, schools, etc., renewing governance, education, business, etc. Excelling in all knowledge like science, arts, mathematics, economics, theology, ecology, etc., bringing all things under the lordship of Christ.
That means, God doesn’t just love a politician but he loves good governance too. He doesn’t just love a janitor but he loves cleanliness too. So, in the same way, God calls his people to usher in his kingdom in the fields of education, justice, economics, politics, health care, technology, etc., to redeem what the enemy has destroyed.
Now the local covenanted community (ecclesia/church) are the true priests, stewards of the kingdom for that particular place. (From the Indian city context I would say three km radius from where you live and gather.) Living life in common and become the salt and light, a city on a hill for the local community. God calls us to account for this responsibility. All our gatherings and gifts are to equip the body of Christ for the works of service for the kingdom in that locality first and beyond. (Eph 4:12)
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1Pet 2:9)
“…and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (Rev 5:10)
“Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.”(Eph 5:11)
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Eph 2:10)
“… We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.” (2 Cor 10:3–6)
This is not just a theory. Early church demonstrated it. Will Durant in his book ‘The Story of Civilization’ writes “There is no greater drama in human record than the sight of a few Christians, scorned or oppressed by a succession of emperors, bearing all trials with a fierce tenacity, multiplying quietly, building order while their enemies generated chaos, fighting the sword with the word, brutality with hope, and at last defeating the strongest state that history has known. Caesar and Christ had met in the arena, and Christ had won.”Vishal Mangalwadi in his book ‘This Book Changed Everything’ argues how biblical ideas like justice, law & liberty, science, economics, democracy, etc., have shaped our world.
This is the renewal God is talking about. How tragic it is that we have reduced it to a ticket to heaven?
Renewal in Love
God is Love in the community of Godhead from everlasting to everlasting. This love is radical, self-sacrificing, gracious, unmerited, etc., which we may not completely understand in our present lifetime to describe it well. God created everything out of this love for his glory with a purpose. (Isaiah 43:7) Even though we rebelled against God and died, even though God’s beautiful creation as turned into chaos, God is still Love. He did not abandon his creation but because of his love, he wants his dead creation to be made alive and united with Him again.
Renewal is rooted in his love. There is no renewal outside of this love. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1John 4:7,8)
Jesus triumphed over everything by laying down himself on the cross. This is paradoxical and foolishness to the world. No king does that. Even though Jesus said “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” (Mat 28:18,19) he also said, “if you want to become my disciple, deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me”.(Mat 16:24)
By his Spirit, in his love, through his body (ecclesia) God is renewing all things in heaven and on earth. “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” (Eph 3:10) God’s mission is what matters, nothing else. Let us seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb 12:1)