Taking Forgiveness For Granted

By Scott Armstrong

“Come, let us return to the LordHe has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds” (Hosea 6:1).

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(Read Hosea 5:15 – 6:6)

This passage records a conversation between God and his people.  The Lord starts in 5:15 by longing that his rebellious children will seek him.  Israel responds in 6:1-3 in what seems like genuine repentance.  And then God seemingly goes berserk in 6:4-6.  Why does he respond by “cutting them in pieces,” “killing them,” and “flashing lightning upon them” (v.5)? Does any of that make sense?

Let’s look closer.  Israel is treating forgiveness as a given.  God was always so forgiving before; why wouldn’t he be now? “Sure, we’ve sinned, but he’ll still heal us” (v.1).  “Two or three days of good sacrifices and he’ll come around” (v.2).  They take his forgiveness for granted so much that they actually act like they can sin during the night, ask forgiveness, and as surely as the sun will come up the next day (v.3), God will forgive them.

Be careful here.  That kind of attitude is fake and God knows it.  Their love is like the morning dew on the grass that disappears by noon on a hot day (v.4).  The point is clear.  Fake repentance is sickening to God.  He will not forgive those hearts.

In fact, God does not have to forgive anybody.  He longs to; he desires to (Hosea 11:8-9).  But sin is serious.  I think nothing makes God madder than when his own people sin and then ask forgiveness only to cover their bases.  My old youth pastor used to call it “fire insurance”—just lifting up a quick prayer to make sure you’re still going to heaven and not hell.  There is no changed heart and certainly no changed life.  “God will forgive me; I’m going to do what I want and get forgiven later.”

Read these verses again.  Then read 1 John 1:9. The messages are not contradictory.  If we genuinely confess our sins with all our heart, he will forgive us.  Bank on it.  But true confession does not include mouthing a prayer without any plans to change our actions.    

Is there sin in your life and, if so, how do you view it? According to our Lord, it is physically sickening (Rev. 3:16).  He calls us to be holy—a work that only he can do.  What he needs from us is a heart completely turned toward him.  Examine yourself.  Is today the day for genuine repentance?

Towards Missional Effectiveness: The Mark of Sentness – Part 5 of 7

By Ed Stetzer

God’s mission involves sending. But what does God send His people to do? 

I’m in a blog series covering the topic missional effectiveness. In the previous post, I started to explain the marks of God’s mission, beginning with the missional mark of community.

Today, I’ll cover the missional mark of sentness.

The Missional Mark of Sentness Explained and Exemplified

God’s mission has a dual movement—it moves centripetally and centrifugally. Thus, God’s mission isn’t static—it’s active.

One of the active characteristics of God’s mission is the notion of sentness. God establishes this pattern early in redemptive history. He goes to Adam and Eve, sends Abraham to the Promised Land, Moses to Egypt, Jonah to the Ninevites, Israel to Babylon, Jesus to the world, the Spirit to the Church, and the Church to the nations.

Clearly, God’s mission involves sending. But what does God send His people to do? Taking into account passages such as Genesis 1–2, Genesis 12:1–3, Jeremiah 29:1–7, Matthew 5:13–16, and Jesus’ sentness, the missional community of God is sent in the world to do at least two things.

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  1. God’s missional community is sent to be faithful in all areas of life.

This point dives deeper into the community’s obedience to the word of God in all areas of life. While I don’t have space to look at all of the verses above, let me note Jeremiah 29:1–7 to explain this idea.

Some may wonder, why use this passage?

Wasn’t Israel taken into captivity because of their sin? Yes, Israel finds themselves in Babylon because of their sin. However, we read in Jeremiah 29:4, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon….”

So, God has intentionally sent them into Babylonian exile. And in the proceeding verses we learn why He sent them.

God sent them to live in Babylon as if they were living in Jerusalem. Israel was to build houses, have families, plant gardens, and to multiply in exile. In other words, they were to live in Babylon as if they were living in Jerusalem. Since faithfulness was to be a mark of the people of God in the Promised Land, faithfulness was also to be a mark of the people of God in the foreign land.

Israel’s faithfulness would display a life that revolved around the glory and life of God. Greg Forster identifies this aspect as the joy of God being displayed through the life of a believer. As a result, Forster writes,

That embedded joy will not consist simply of a changed attitude. Our actions will change. In our families, we will act differently as sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, fathers, or mothers. In our workplaces and other economic relationships we will act differently as employees, employers, managers, co-workers, students, teachers, clients, customers, or vendors. In our communities, we will act differently as friends, neighbors, members, or participants.

In addition, Israel’s faithfulness would lead them to operate as the city of God within the city of man. I love what Tim Keller says to this point. He writes,

Every city has two cities, the city of God and the city of man. Every city contains a smaller city, the city of God. The city of God is the people of God who forms an alternative city. What does that city look like? The Sermon on the Mount tells us. Christians are to take sex, money, [work], and power and instead of using them the way the city of man uses them, they are to use them the way God intended.

This leads me to my second point.

  1. God’s missional community is sent to bless the city spiritually, socially, and culturally.

As God’s people demonstrated the life of God and lived as the city of God, they were to seek the blessing and flourishing of the city of man.Interestingly, God doesn’t tell them to assimilate, withdraw, or seek the total transformation of the Babylonian culture (the city of man); he simply tells them, in their faithfulness, to seek the prosperity and shalom (human flourishing) of the city and to pray for it to thrive.

Essentially, God sent Israel to Babylon for the sake of His glory and for the good of the city. Keller puts it this way,

[God sends his people] to be used in life giving ways. The way you bear witness of God’s city is to go into the city for the city’s sake. The citizens of the city of God are the very best citizens of the city of man because they do not move in to assimilate, to use the city for their gains, or to move in for their own tribe, but they move in for the sake of the city.

As a reminder, the Babylonians were a polytheistic, pagan, ruthless, and violent people. In other words, they were dead in their trespasses and sins. Yet, God tells His people to live and pray towards their flourishing and peace. But what does that look like? Once again, without being exhaustive,

I believe people like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego function as examples of what it means to live faithfully and bless the city.

These men served the empire civilly. In their service, they demonstrated the tension of living faithfully for the city of God while striving to serve the city of man. From their service, they exhibited at least three ways God’s people can bless the city of man.

First, they blessed the city spiritually by maintaining spiritual fidelity to God in the face of temptation.

In other words, they loved God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. All of these men faced the temptation to bow down to a cultural idol, yet they chose to be faithful to the supremacy of God. As a result, many people were convinced of the truth of YHWH.

God’s people cannot bless the city spiritually by living unfaithful lives. When our words and witness line up, we exhibit an alternative plausibility reality for which the world needs to see.

Second, they blessed the city socially by having a humble and gracious disposition towards those in authority and in the larger culture.

They did not complain, grumble, or react unkindly towards those whom either had spied them out or who had treated them unfairly. Another way to look at it is that they loved others. When we exhibit grace and mercy towards others, we once again put the city of God on display for the world to see.

Third, they blessed the city culturally by doing their job with integrity, excellence, and skill.

They worked vocationally as if they were working for the Lord. The king recognizes their faith, character, integrity, and skill and honors their God and gives them a promotion. As the people of God work in a manner that reflects the glory of God, they exhibit a work ethic that surpasses (or should surpass), the work ethic of the city of man.

By embedding themselves in the larger culture and living faithful lives for the glory of God, they inevitably bless the city in spiritual, social, and cultural ways. As a result of the presence of God’s people and their participation in the culture, the city was better off. This reminds me of the question which many church leaders and churches ask themselves: If they were to one day cease to exist, would their community take notice and miss them?

In sum, the missional mode of sentness speaks of the church (and individuals) having a missional posture. Thus, missional effectiveness requires churches to teach, train, and equip believers towards a faithful presence where planted so that they may be used as God’s temple to reflect His radiant glory in all areas of life as He works through them to bless others spiritually, socially, and culturally.

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In the next post, I’ll talk about the missional mark of multiplication.

 

This article was originally posted at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2017/january/towards-missional-effectiveness-mark-of-sentness-part-5.html

Towards Missional Effectiveness: The Message of God’s Mission – Part 2 of 7

By Ed Stetzer

God is on mission to glorify Himself. 

In the first post I explained that missional effectiveness is embracing the totality of the missio Dei—including its message, movement, and marks—and enacting it in the life of a local church.

I don’t know about you, but I have been on many honey-do runs in the course of my marriage. A honey-do run is simply a time when your wife sends you out (or because you are already out) to get some things for her. The mission is doing something for your honey, which is important in its own right.

However, the effectiveness of the mission will also be based upon your understanding of what she wants you to get. In other words, the message is a vital component of missional effectiveness. If you misunderstand or forget what it is your wife sent you to get, the effectiveness of the mission will falter.

With regard to the missio Dei, the message of mission is a vital component of missional effectiveness. If we misunderstand the message, or get the message wrong, the mission will be either off, or wrong altogether. Therefore, it is essential that we understand the message of God’s mission.

Simply put, the message of the missio Dei is that God is on mission to glorify Himself by means of advancing His kingdom on earth through the means of His people, empowered by His Spirit, who share and show the gospel of God’s kingdom in Jesus Christ.

There are at least five themes that serve as the elements of the message of God’s mission.

Element 1: God’s Glory

The message of God’s mission is that it’s all about Him! His glory is the ultimate goal and point of mission. We were created in His image to reflect His glory in all areas of our lives, but we rebelled and distorting the image of God. Thus, God is on mission to redeem and restore our damaged image in order that we may reflect His glory once again.

Element 2: God’s Kingdom

The message of God’s mission includes the establishment of His kingdom. Richard Bauckham expresses, “The Bible is a kind of project aimed at the kingdom of God, that is, toward the achievement of God’s purposes for good in the whole of God’s creation…” Because the nucleus of His mission includes both His glory and His kingdom, God has always had a pattern of creating a place for His people (us) and calls us to live life under His rule and reign.

From the beginning, God desired humanity to extend His rule and reign throughout the entire created order. G.K. Beale argues that as Adam and Eve were faithful to God in the Garden, living out His commands, enjoying perfect communion with Him, they inevitably would extend the geographical boundaries of Eden (i.e., His kingdom) until Eden covered the entire earth. As a result of living under God’s rule and reign, we experience blessing.

Element 3: God’s King

The message of God’s mission revolves around His king, King Jesus. The first Adam failed at imaging God and effectively ruling as God’s vice-regent over the created order. As a result of the fall of humanity (Gen. 3), we are incapable of glorifying God. Moreover, we aren’t only incapable of glorifying God, but we have been severed and separated from a relationship and connection with Him.

However, because of God’s great love for His glory, kingdom, and creation (and especially His image-bearers), He sent the second and better Adam, King Jesus, to redeem sinners (not to mention the entire cosmos).

Because of Christ’s obedient life, sacrificial death, temporary burial, victorious resurrection, and glorious ascension to the throne, God has highly exalted Christ giving

…Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow—of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth—and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:9–11)

Jesus is the center of God’s kingdom (and His mission), for it is in Jesus that God is reconciling the world to Himself (Col. 1:20).

Element 4: God’s Spirit (Power)

The message of God’s mission involves the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit for effective mission to ensue. While the Spirit is definitely present in the Old Testament (under the Old Covenant), the Spirit under the New Covenant will indwell all believers, empowering them for kingdom living and mission advancement (Jer. 31:31–34; Ezek. 36:22–32; Matt. 28:18–20; John 20:21–22; Acts 1:8).

The two major roles of the Holy Spirit are to convict the world of sin (John 16:8) and conform God’s people into a worldwide worshipping missional community (Acts 1:8) who are sent out on mission. Thus, prior to his ascension, Jesus tells His disciples to wait in Jerusalem to receive the Holy Spirit. Alvin Reid asserts:

When Jesus declared that His followers would receive power after the Holy Spirit had come upon them and that they would be witnesses, He meant that we could be effective witnesses—but not in our own strength. Effectiveness comes through the power of the Holy Spirit. 

In short, the Spirit of God is the power source for the embracement, embodiment, and enactment of God’s mission.

Element 5: God’s People

The message of God’s mission includes His people’s participation. Essentially, God’s mission creates the instrument of His mission, namely His people. That’s us. From Adam to Israel and from Jesus to the Church, God’s people are called to participate in His kingdom mission. In Jesus, the Church was created as the redeemed saints of God to be His worldwide witnessing agents. Thus, as Emil Brunner once pointedly penned, “The church exists by mission, just as fire exists by burning.” 

In order to fulfill God’s mission, His people (the Church, us) are to verbally share and demonstrably show the good news of God’s kingdom in King Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. In doing so, we proclaim the good news that Jesus is making all things new (Rev. 21:5), while demonstrating that reality as we enact God’s kingdom ethics in all areas of our lives—personal, marital, familial, social, relational, cultural, vocational, etc.

Next time, I will talk about the movements of God’s mission.

 

This article was originally posted at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2016/december/towards-missional-effectiveness-message-of-gods-mission-par.html