For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:17)
I have been reflecting on John 3:17 for an upcoming sermon at New Hope. The contrast of Jesus' mission of salvation (saving the world) over condemning the world is refreshingly inspiring. It allows the Church, which according to Christian Scripture is literally the bodily extension of Jesus, to understand its role and mission. The Church is to also "seek and save that which is lost" (Luke 19:10), and bring light in darkness (John 8:12).
It seems that there is a tension between the Church's mission (inspired and centered on the person and mission of Jesus), and its practice. We much too easily settle on a condemnation ministry instead of a saving one. There are a number of reasons for this:
1. Saving ministry requires a true love for the other. Remember that John 3:17 follows John 3:16. It is God's love for humanity that drives His mission of salvation. We rarely teach or equip the saints of the church to truly love people in the way that Jesus loved. Without a loving foundation, attempts at salvation become a practice in dehumanizing, paternalistic manipulation.
2. Typically the Church's sense of the gospel is too narrow, incomplete, and self-serving. The gospel, or good news is God's plan for bringing all of creation into the Kingdom of God, so to fulfill our created purposes to reflect God in everything we do and everything we are. Jesus is the plan. However, instead of inviting people into this huge plan, we reduce the plan to an individual "get out of Hell" plan that focuses on simply "not dying" as opposed to truly living.
3. The church confuses conviction with condemnation. Jesus himself, was called a drunkard and glutton, a friend of prostitutes, corrupt politicians, and "sinners" (Luke 7:34). While Jesus never was never one to ignore the morality of the people he loved, his goal was to cure their thirst with the only thing that was designed to do so, living water. He was the living water and spent very little time focusing on their living water substitutes, but simply offered them the thing that would give them life. People were convicted that they needed Jesus in order to be whole, healed, and holy. The Church often misunderstands that offering life is superior to simply pointing out death.
4. The Church forgets that it is the Holy Spirit who convicts and converts. The church is defined by the presence of God's spirit.(Romans 8:9). It is the Holy Spirit working through us that gives a sense of the need for God. This is often demonstrated in our lives, not just in our words. A Spirit surrendered life shows the presence of God in tangible ways (Galatians 5:22-23)
5. The Church's expression of the gospel is a reflection of its experience. Although the Bible clearly has many different metaphors for the salvation experience, our primary metaphor in the Western European - North American model has been that of atonement, or Christ's death for our sins. Although, that is clearly a biblical concept, it is incomplete in describing what happens when we put our faith in Jesus. Its not just that our sins are taken away, but that we have new life, a new spirit, a new mission, a new purpose, and a new identity. This newness is united with Jesus' mission (called a co-mission or joint mission). We are set on an adventure of love to that results in the salvation of others. When we are set on fire by Jesus' love, we will naturally develop a saving ministry instead of a condemning ministry.
I want to challenge you take time today and ask yourself, "Do I know Jesus as saving or condeming?" Is my motivation based upon love or duty?? Blessings or burdens? I am so excited to be called to be part of God's movement to love people for the changing of the world and hope that Jesus love captivates you and gives you life today.
May God bless you,
Pastor M Traylor