Publication: One-to-One, Autumn 2011
WHAT IS OUR MISSION, AND HOW CAN WE CARRY IT FAR BEYOND THE CHURCH WALLS?
Jesus Christ is the Lord of all nations, and He has a purpose for “every kindred and every tribe”. I am grateful for the heritage that I have- and to live in the United States of America. In so many ways, despite challenges, we are a very blessed nation; in many ways, the most blessed in all of history. In spite of our faults, we are heirs of great foundations and principles that reflect the deep, spiritual truths held to be “self-evident” by our founders. For these truths, they gave their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor.
I was recently reflecting upon our Pledge of Allegiance to the flag and these words: “One nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.” Those words are rich with meaning: “with liberty” speaks of free choice and the right to possess; “justice” speaks of righteousness without partiality; and “for all” speaks of our mission.
What do those principles mean for all of us and how do they relate to God’s purpose?
Patrick Henry famously said, “Give me liberty, or give me death.” Those words could have been said by anyone of those thousands who did give their lives and then, and in the following years. Why was liberty as important as life itself? And where does liberty come from? To be sure it is not cheap or trivial. Since we have not lived under tyranny, it is difficult for us to understand its importance.
The idea of liberty does not come from government, politics, economics, or educations; it is a God idea. It part of our creation nature. From the very beginning the ability to choose and the desire to do so was in our hearts. Later, Moses told Israel, “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land…” (see Leviticus 25:10). Isaiah declared that the acceptable fast was to set the captives free (see Isaiah 58:6). Later, Jeremiah recorded that Israel would lose its kingdom because many refused to release the captives (see Jeremiah 34).
The idea of freedom is as old as humanity and is founded in the very image of God, who gave us a free will to be exercised from the love of God and neighbor. His law was the great social framework that would provide the foundation and boundaries of freedom.
Our spiritual enemy, on the other hand, seeks to enslave us by using our freedom against us. He uses our own desires to destroy us; freedom becomes license when we lose relationship to God. That kind of freedom becomes slavery to our own appetites and destroys both ourselves and others in the process (see John 8:34; John 10:10).
Jesus and Liberty
Jesus is the Father’s nature and will made flesh. He demonstrates the purpose of God. In John 8, He said that the truth would set us free. If He makes us free, we are free indeed (see John 8:23 – 36). The truth first sets us free from ourselves. It brings us repentance from self, and we receive the One who is true and the Spirit of truth who guides into truth (see John 14-16). Truth is impartial. Progress begins when we face the brutal reality of our own sin nature and turn to Jesus who frees us from it. While we cannot liberate nations politically, we can liberate people individually with the Gospel of liberation from self and entrance into His Kingdom. If we do that, political and economic freedom follow.
I’ll offer an example: Zimbabwe was once prosperous and was the “bread basket” of Africa. Then, they began to accept a “liberation” based upon Marxist dogma-no God. Now, Zimbabwe is in chaos and must import food. There are other examples of nations who sought freedom without God, based upon some utopian, humanistic ideal. It has always failed. Why? Without God, there is no justice.
Liberty is the ability to make our own choices and have possessions. This was called “the pursuit of happiness”. Justice is to do right without partiality. Often it is referred to as “righteousness”. Justice is vital for many reasons, but primarily it preserves freedom. Once we use our liberty to act unjustly, we began to lose our liberty. Our form of government especially depends upon a moral people (other forms do as well). Our founders understood that and encouraged religion. Religious services were actually conducted in the United States Capitol and other government buildings.
History’s Great Awakenings have been motivated by facing justice and judgment.
Where does justice come from? Justice is God’s own nature operating in humanity-God is just (see Deuteronomy 32:4; Isaiah 30:18; Daniel 4:34-37). Without God, man is not just; we are depraved and selfish. Isaiah 9:6-7 says that the Kingdom will be established with justice (truth without partiality). History and the Word of God tell us that corruption and injustice destroy a nation, but righteousness establishes and exalts a nation (see Proverbs 14:34).
God is not partial (see Acts 10:34-35). His blessings are available to all things through faith in Him. Noah was just (see Genesis 6:9). Simeon the priest was just (see Luke 2:25). Mary’s husband Joseph was just (see Matthew 1:19). God takes note of the just and the unjust. There are consequences to both.
Justice comes before mercy (see Micah 6:8). The just have received justification by faith in God’s mercy. Therefore, the truly just show mercy. The unjust do not. James 2:1-9 tells us not to show partiality or simply act upon our own self-interest, but to do what is right regardless of appearance or station. If we do, then we receive mercy and mercy overcomes judgment (see James 2:13). Jesus said simply, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.” If we comprehend the true meaning of justice and mercy, we will love justice and give mercy. Justice is good, for social reasons and it pleases God.
Understanding God’s just nature will cause us to cry out for mercy. We deserve justice and judgment, but God offers mercy when we realize that. All of history’s Great Awakenings were motivated by facing justice and judgment.
Jonathan Edwards and others in the Great Awakening spoke of the awful consequence of facing the justice of God. People literally called out for mercy through Christ. Justice motivated mercy. When justice and judgment are removed from the message, there are no standards, no consequences, no Hell, no mercy, and no Gospel. In Psalm 51, David acknowledged that his sin was against God and God only. He realized that what He had done was not only a violation against Bathsheba and her husband, Uriah, but God Himself and His justice. In that realization and confession, he found mercy. When we remove the consequence from the message-fail to warn against misuse of our liberty-we promote destruction. Love without truth results in enabling disaster. We are stewards of both love and justice, and they are given to us-for all.
Israel’s great error was in forgetting that the blessing of Abraham was for all nations (see Isaiah 42:6). They were chosen to be a light to the Gentiles. In the end, they tried to proselytize instead of evangelize. What they kept to themselves, they lost. This is the error of many Christians. The Gospel of liberty and justice is for all. Jesus made this clear in His Commission to the apostles-the “sent forth ones” (see Matthew 28:18-20).
God created the world and has always had the entire world in mind-“whosoever believes” (see John 3:16). That was not a new thought in the New Covenant, but dates all the way back to creation (see Genesis 1:28; 12:1-3; 18:17, 18; 22:16-18). The prophets spoke the same message (see Psalm 2:7; Isaiah 42:1-4; Isaiah 60; Joel 2:28, and so many more). Jesus often referred to His purpose for the world. The angels announced it at His birth, “To all people” (see Matthew 8:11; 24:14; 28:18-20; Acts 1:5, 8). When the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, Peter announced that the promise was for all (see Acts 2:39; 8:4-8; 9:15). The Gospel quickly spread because the early Church took the “for all” seriously. Acts 19 is another chapter that tells us to preach the Gospel to all people, everywhere. They used their liberty to liberate in the face of fierce persecution from idolators.
Ask those who live in tyranny: Do all roads lead to liberty and justice?
If you visit those areas in the Middle East now, you will find the tyranny of either Islam or secularism. Why7 How did a once “for all” liberty and justice become contained and culturally impotent? How did the spreading kingdom of God become the cloistered church? That is a relevant set of questions because it is now happening in the Western world.
My answer may be overly simple, but here it is: it came to be about “our church” instead of His Kingdom. We developed a professional clergy upon whom more and more responsibility was placed.
It became about us instead of the world. The sacraments become the provence of the clergy. The Great Commission was no longer a personal responsibility. We exchanged justice for affirmation and self-esteem. The missional Church became the fortress Church. The world was left in a vacuum of darkness-which the enemy filled.
Once the “for all” Church becomes the “for us” Church, we are like the Israel of Jesus’ day. Power and purpose are gone. Do the message of God, liberty in Christ, and His justice really matter? Ask those who founded our nation and gave their lives! Ask those who live in tyranny. Do all roads lead to liberty and justice? Do all roads lead to Heaven? A casual look around the globe will answer that question. Are all ideologies of equal value and consequence? That notion is foolish, a deception, and destructive.
Is the Church in the West and in the US in danger of following the path that was walked by the Church of the Mediterranean and Europe?
I believe that it certainly is. Why? We seem to have more believers, more churches, and more of most everything …except understanding the personal responsibility to bring liberty in Jesus to others. Many believers still leave that to the staff and the Sunday meeting. Churches function more and more like a business; less and less like disciples on a mission. And, we are having little impact on our culture.
Meanwhile, there is an enemy committed to erode liberty and justice and to enslave the uncommitted in self-serving, deceptive philosophies, and mere creedal faith. Too many Christians are embroiled in relational disputes, sectarian squabbles, and petty preferences while the personal mission to bring liberty and justice to all suffers. Those who hear what the Spirit is saying will be blessed with a great harvest. Those who do not will lose what they “seem” to have.
I have great confidence in God’s earth purpose and His power to perform it. What I long for is to see His people rise to His calling-on a personal level. Let’s move beyond “surrogate evangelism” and the focus on good meetings and good preaching that tickles our ears. Let us move on to a mission in the power of the Holy Spirit.
God will work with us to liberate others and establish our lives with justice if we keep the “For All” in mind.
Scripture Reference: Leviticus 25:10; Isaiah 58:6; Jeremiah 34; John 8:34; John 10:10; John 8:23-36; John 14-16; Deuteronomy 32:4; Isaiah 30:18; Daniel 4:34-37; Isaiah 9:6-7; Proverbs 14:34; Acts 10:34-35; Genesis 6:9; Luke 2:25; Matthew 1:19; Micah 6:8; James 2:1-9; James 2:13; Psalm 51; Isaiah 42:6; Matthew 28:18-20; John 3:16; Genesis 1:28; 12:1-3; 18:17-18; 22:16-18; Psalm 2:7; Isaiah 42:1-4; Isaiah 60; Joel 2:28; Matthew 8:11; 24:14; 28:18-20; Acts 1:5, 8; 2:39; 8:4-8; 9:15; 19