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In Search of the Tireless Witness

June 23, 2013

I deem it necessary to open with a disclaimer.  The following is a further working through my own salvation with fear and trembling.  I do not claim what I write to be right or wrong, although I have intended it to be correct in what it says.  I do not intend it to be dogmatic, but rather a reflection of my personal viewpoint, some of it arrived at through a slightly different approach to scripture:  I endeavour to put out of my mind what I “know” and read as though I were doing so for the first time, trying not to let the echoes of my past interpretations drown out what the pneuma, the life-giving Spirit, the one who writes in men’s hearts the truth to which scripture bears witness,is trying to say to me now.  Then, as Richard Rohr put it, I “hold on for a while until I get to the real meaning, which is far more than the literal meaning”, always mindful that God’s thoughts are not my thoughts, and neither are my ways His ways (Isaiah 55:8), and that for now I see through a glass, darkly (1 Corinthians 13:12).

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Somewhere along the line, perhaps as a result of the individualistic culture that has developed in North America, the gospel message has been narrowed to personal salvation, deliverance from sin and its consequences made available through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, and the promise of eternal life in heaven.  This narrowing of the gospel has made it commonplace for Christians to congratulate themselves on their own salvation while ignoring the clear admonitions of the Bible to care for the world and all its people, resulting in churches that are more committed to self preservation and meeting the needs of members than to mission. The gospel message I find in Scripture, what the Spirit of God has been whispering to me, reveals something far more sweeping—reconciliation.

Consulting my dictionaries, I find  “to reconcile” derives from two Latin words (re + conciliare) that together render the meaning “to unite”.  Reconciliation is further defined as the re-establishing of cordial relations; the process of making consistent or compatible; the process of making two opposite beliefs, ideas, or situations agree.

According to what Paul wrote to the Colossians, the gospel is the message of reconciliation and “has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven”, not just to mankind.  Fellowship with all of his creation was broken through sin, and he means to restore that fellowship.

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.  Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.  But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.  (Colossians 1:19-23, NIV)

The theme of reconciliation is also featured in his letter to the Corinthians.

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.  Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:  that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.  And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.  We implore you on Christ’s behalf:  Be reconciled to God.  God mad him who had no sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.  (2 Corinthians 5:17-21, NIV)

This passage is clear.  God reconciled himself to us through Christ, restoring sanctifying grace in our souls, and has assigned us a mission.  I like the simple way The Message puts it: 

God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you.”

I believe it also noteworthy that again Paul says that God is reconciling the world to himself, not just mankind.  Jesus himself said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”  (Mark 16:15, NIV)

I understand God’s plan as restoration of all to the unity that existed before the loss and tragedy, both to God and to mankind, that was the Fall.  As Edwin Louis Cole, founder of the Christian Men’s Network, wrote, “The pattern of the prodigal is:  rebellion, ruin, repentance, reconciliation, restoration”.  We have lived the rebellion and the ruin.  We have been called to repentance, a change in our thinking.  Now God calls us to reconciliation, a change in our heart and our spirit, the necessary prerequisite for the restoration of the kingdom of God.  Since God is not constrained by space and time as we are, it can be difficult to understand what the Bible has to say about the kingdom.  In order to “bring God down to our level” and understand his kingdom in human terms, it becomes necessary to describe it as a duality—both on earth and in heaven, both now and in the future.  But I believe that on God’s level no such duality exists.

With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.  (Ephesians 1:8-10)

Although I have long been familiar with 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” in light of what Paul wrote I have perhaps given short shrift to the verse that follows, “so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work”.  Here the ultimate purpose of Scripture is voiced—to thoroughly equip me as a believer to participate in every good work with God whom the Scriptures say works for and longs for the redemption of all things. 

I have learned that the key to this participation is making myself available.  I know by personal experience, if I am available, God will use me.  The Spirit will show me where and how.  God is not looking for the qualified; he is looking for the willing.  He uses Scripture to equip us, and as Jesus promised, he sent God’s own power in the person of the Spirit, enabling us to successfully do God’s work on earth.

Like Jesus, we are not only to proclaim the good news, but also to enact it.  We are to live it out in our daily lives. We must speak of God’s reconciliation and live as agents of reconciliation, as peacemakers in our combative world.  As we tell people that God loves them so much that he sent his Son to save them, we must also love them with a divinely inspired love. Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.  (Ephesians 5:1-2, NIV)

Living as a missional Christian is not simply a matter of taking on new ministries. It is also seeing every part of life as an opportunity for ministry.  There is opportunity to live out the reality of God’s kingdom in everything we do. 

 

The Kingdom of God exists as a radical alternative to the systems of the world, challenging the status quos of oppression and injustice. It includes the calls to love and to serve and to seek a better way of living that cares for those around us. The outworkings of these endeavours are our commitment to care for God’s creation, our celebration of the good, our passion to treat people fairly and with dignity and respect, and our desire to bond together in responsible communities that seek to live on earth as it is in heaven. It is a call to a life that isn’t merely “convenient” or rubber-stamped by the dominant paradigms of the world, but one that takes deliberate effort and committed passion to maintain. Being witnesses of the Kingdom requires lifestyle choices that are often seen as odd. But oddity and difficulty don’t impede the committed. In seeking God’s Kingdom we are never mere consumers of the way things are, but witnesses proclaiming the good news of a different way. 

— Julie Clawson, The Kingdom of God

 

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