“Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart. They have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. That is not the way you learned Christ! For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus. You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Ephesians 4:17-24
I am a practical person. If something doesn’t work, why use it. They say the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing again and again, expecting a different result. If I did not believe that God was able to bring change in me for the better, I wouldn’t be a Christian. If I didn’t think that my faith could help me change, what good would that faith be? How powerful would my God be? If we didn’t believe that we could be more than just a sum of those gathered here, why are we here this morning? Why do we do church?
Let’s answer this question by starting with a couple definitions. The first definition is “church” – what is the church. The simplest definition is that the “church” is the community of people who have made a commitment to follow Jesus. It is more than just the teachings of Jesus, because we believe it is an actual relationship with Jesus, with God; that Jesus can be and is part of our day to day life, that He is not just relegated to rituals. This definition encompasses the universal church, or better, the church around the world. This is the church where no matter where you are in the world you can go and belong. It also includes the local church, the community of people that meets on a regular basis to celebrate their common faith, to celebrate God.
Misseo Dei: The mission of God, or better, “the sending of God”. This phrase refers to the understanding that “mission is an attribute of God, rather than something added to the divine from without. Missio Dei says that God the Father sent the Son into the world, and the Father and Son sent the Holy Spirit into the world; and at Pentecost the Trinity sent us, the church, into the world. Speaking on behalf of The Gospel and Our Culture Network, Darrell Guder writes, “We have come to see that mission is not merely an activity of the church. Rather, mission is the result of God’s initiative, rooted in God’s purposes to restore and heal creation. ‘Mission’ means ‘sending,’ and it is the central biblical theme describing the purpose of God’s action in human history…. We have begun to learn that the biblical message is more radical, more inclusive, more transforming than we have allowed it to be. In particular, we have begun to see that the church of Jesus Christ is not the purpose or goal of the gospel, but rather its instrument and witness…. God’s mission is calling and sending us, the church of Jesus Christ, to be a missionary church in our own societies, in the cultures in which we find ourselves.”
So we this community of believers, the church; and we have the call to mission. But what is this mission? What is it that God is doing? What is it that God calls us to do?
Revelation: The mission we have as a church is to reveal God – the reality of God, the character of God, the desire of God. The world is filled with people who think that God is not real. They give reasons for this belief but the main reason is that they have never met or experienced God in their life. At best they are indifferent about the question, “Is there something beyond this life? Is there something more to this life?” At worst they become antagonistic and work hard to justify their decision. This mission – revealing the reality, character, and purpose of God – is what God is doing in this world. He wants people to see His reality, He wants people to see His character, and His desire is that people, in seeing those two things, would by faith, seek Him, pursue Him, follow Him. His mission of revelation is the church’s mission. This community is called to reveal the reality of God. This is what God has called us to do -to take the truth that we have found -God is real – and reveal it to the people around us.
Transformation: So we have the church, people who have made a commitment to follow Jesus. We follow Jesus on this mission or revealing God. How do we reveal God? Simply put, we reveal the reality of God by allowing God to change us, to allow his character to be remade in us. If I tell my neighbour, who does not think there is a God, that God is real, but live my life with no real difference from my neighbour, I have told him nothing. My faith is powerless. He has not seen any evidence of God in me. But if I tell that same neighbour that God is real, and then allow God to change me from the inside out, I have a pretty strong argument. There is no stronger witness than transformation, than a changed life.
How are we transformed? It is a work of God – grace – that changes us. We love, because God has showed us what love is – the incarnation. God died for us while we were sinners, while we were far away from Him. Would we do the same for those around us? My dad was a firefighter. At one point in his career the asked for a volunteer to help with a potential bomb. My dad stepped forward right away because he knew that death was not the end and that his place in eternity was secured. He did not want one of his colleagues who did not know Jesus to enter eternity unprepared.
We help with this transformation by dropping the stuff that slows us down, that trips us up spiritually. There are sins that drag us down away from the work of God, that prevent God’s character from being part of our life. The pursuit and love of stuff and money will take us away from God for those things eventually become our master. Focusing on just what WE want quenches the work of the God who calls us to humility and put the needs of others above our own.
We can’t will transformation. We are not strong enough, smart enough. Transformation is the work of God in us. Who can add one minute to their life by the force of sheer will? Who can get someone to change their attitude just by arguing them into right thinking? Who can control their son or daughter through life so they escape all the things we think bad and always do the safe thing? Who can add a millimeter of height or a week of maturity just by willing it? For the stuff that counts, we are pretty helpless. But God invites us to a journey, an adventure that will transform us. God said the secret to transformation is to focus on Him, to allow our mind to center on Him. He says that if we focus on the things that are good, that are honorable and right, things that are His character, we will be changed. This is the journey of transformation, the journey that leads to eternal life. our neighbour doesn’t need to be told that he is lost with God – deep down he knows it. He needs to see that we have been found. He needs to see that we have a hope that comes from knowing Jesus; a peace that passes comprehension; a joy unspeakable; a foundation immovable by the storms of life. The church is to be the place where this transformation happens.