Did you ever play the whisper game as a child? It goes by many different names, but the concept is the same. You get a line of people, and the person at the front of the line whispers a sentence or phrase to the next person. The next person whispers what they heard the first person say to the third person, and the process continues down the line until the last person receives the message. Usually, the phrase has been so taken out of context from its original wording by the time the last person hears that it sounds nothing like it did at the start.
Now imagine for a moment that the original message happened to be instructions on how to assemble a car. And by the time it reached the last person, it had become totally different. The person at the end of the line would receive the instructions, but would fail in their efforts to assemble the car, because the original instructions had become all jumbled as they traveled down the line.
I wrote a blog earlier this week regarding our backwards approach to missions in contemporary Christianity. Particularly, in our programmatic approach to missions. Jesus sent the original disciples out on mission. The original message was simply to go and make disciples. How did they know how to do this? Because they had been walking with Jesus for three years and had witnessed Him on mission. The original method for living on mission was lived out in front of Jesus disciples daily. Making disciples was never about numbers to Jesus. He was never trying to get a higher head count so he could boast about what a huge following He had.
Living on mission was greatly personal to Jesus. Living on mission and making disciples centered around building relationship with people who didn’t know Him.
We live in a world where many Christians with good intentions actually think that being missional is for them to invite their friends and neighbors to church. And as I pointed out in yesterday’s blog, inviting people to church is a wonderful thing to do. But it is not missions, at least as defined by Jesus. Sadly, many churches think that the invite is missions. And we think this way because the message of what Jesus meant when He said to go has been greatly misconstrued down the generational line. Inviting someone to church accompanies missions, but by itself it is not missions.
Missions is about loving people and forming personal relationships.
Jesus predominantly went not to His friends and neighbors, but to those people who didn’t know Him. People outside of what we would call a comfort zone. People outside of the church. Here is something else to think about. Ask yourself, “Why did Jesus go to the outsiders? The answer seems obvious. But let me show you where I’m going with this.
In many churches today we have a thing called visitation. That is, to go to visit someone at their house on a specific day of the week that has been penciled into the church calendar. If you would ask some churches why they do visitation, their answer would be, “So the people we visit will come to church!”
Although that sounds good, if we look at the missional model Jesus gave us, that is the wrong motivation for mission, and the wrong answer.
If you were to ask Jesus why He reached out to the disciples, or visited the house of Zaccheaus, He would not respond by tell you that He did it so they would add to the increase in the number of people following Him. Again, it was never about numbers. Jesus pursued intimate relationships with people because He genuinely cared for them, and wanted to know them.
People will not desire to know Jesus because we tell them they need to be saved. Their desire to know Him will come from being witness to the supernatural love of Christ flowing through His disciples and to them.
So looking at the modern-day church, our motivations for missions should never come with a price tag of growing our churches. So how do we do Biblical missions? The answer has been in front of us all along.
By loving God first, and then your neighbor.
“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31.
Notice something in this verse. Loving your neighbor is not so much a command as it is an overflow of who you now are in Christ. When you truly love God, you are given a new heart and a new nature (Ezekiel 36:26). Therefore, the true Christian never looks at building relationships with others as a duty or burden. A true believer would never make the comment, “Well I better go and share Christ with this person because the Bible says I should.”
In Christ, you are given His spirit and nature! According to scripture, one of the marks of a true believer is that they want to seek out other people, not in order to check off Christian duties, but because they genuinely love people and want them to know Jesus through them! I fear that we have forgotten how it is we as believers are justified before God.
“But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” 1 Corinthians 6:11.
We all agree that all Christians have been justified before God. Justification is a legal term, meaning to be seen as having right and pure standing before the judge. So the question we must ask ourselves is, “How do we receive this justification?” In other words, how are we made right with God?
“..so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Titus 3:7.
“So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. “Romans 11:5-6.
In Titus, we see that the believer is justified by the grace of God. And in Romans, we see that by no means do our works have anything to do with our justification. Again, what does the grace of God do to sinners like us? It radically changes our hearts. So we can easily conclude that if you do missions with your motives being to grow the people who attend Sunday morning church, you have totally bypassed the Biblical example of loving people and building relationships.
And if you don’t love people and desire to reach out to the lost world around you, it could be that you know a lot about Jesus, but have yet to know Him in a personal relationship.
The declaration of righteous is not based on the good works you’ve done but who you are in Christ. Righteousness is an outward overflow of the power of the Gospel within you.
Jesus will declare us righteous standing before God, not by telling God to look over our track record of good deeds. No, Christ will go much deeper for evidence of our Justification. Jesus will put our hearts on trial before God. Justification will not be, “Charlie did good deeds because I told Him too.” Rather it will be, “Charlie did good works not because he had to, but because his works were an overflow of His new nature in Christ.”
Reaching out to the poor, visitation, and witnessing to the world around us are as easy as breathing for the regenerate believer in Christ. Because those works are merely a natural overflow of our new nature in Christ. You don’t have to teach a fish how to swim, because its their nature. In the same way, you don’t have to teach a Christian how to love people, because once they meet Jesus, loving people just becomes part of who they are in Him.
Good works are not requirements for Salvation. They are evidence of salvation.
Newly elect president of the International Mission Board David Platt said;
“Making disciples is the supernatural overflow of being a disciple. Proclaiming the love of Christ is the overflow of sharing in the life of Christ. And I’m convinced many people in our churches are simply missing the life of Christ.”
I saw a television show the other day about people who’d been rescued from deadly situations. In one segment, a life guard had rescued a young man from almost drowning in the ocean. The lifeguard pull the man to shore and began doing CPR on him immediately. Finally, the young man began to spit up the ocean water he had swallowed. The lifeguard reminded the young man to breathe deep breaths. This wasn’t necessarily a command from the lifeguard so much as it was him reminding the victim how it is he has life. Breathing is natural for a person. But one that has been in a near death experience sometimes must be reminded and coaxed to do what comes naturally to them.
In the same way, when Jesus says for His followers to build relationships, love thy neighbor, and make disciples, it is not only an order, but a reminder of who they are as a new creation in Jesus. The lifeguard would say to the victim, “You were practically dead, but then I breathed life into you. You are a human being so breath!!”
Jesus too, through Paul, reminds us that we were dead, but He did CPR on our soul and made us new.
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous, sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.
Do you see the reminder? Paul so much as says, “And such were some of you…spiritually dead. But remember who you now are!” Christ breathed new life into us, and now a mark of our new nature is that we’ve been justified. We no longer walk the same way we once did. It’s not that we have to live on mission. It’s not that we have to try to love people. These characteristics are the overflow of Biblical justification.
Adding numbers to our churches should never be the immediate goal. Reaching out to people in hopes that our efforts will pull them into the church building is the wrong motive. The church of Christ grows through His mission to love others well. Disciples are made by loving people enough to invest in their lives with no motives other than to be like our Heavenly Father, and live out the natural passion to serve them we now have in our justification. Discipleship and mission cannot be something we guilt people into from a Sunday school class or pulpit.
God declares us justified based on our new identity and the new fruit in our lives.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Galatians 5:22-24.
If these are the fruits, the nature of a regenerate person as given by God, then they will not be able to help loving others. It will merely be a spilling over of who they are!
Consider the below passage in James regarding our faith and works.
“What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. Evaluate your motives for doing ministry. Do you do it out of Christian duty, or out of a transformed heart for people? Mission begins and only happens when we truly love God first. And when the love of God penetrates and breaks our hearts, our works will be an overflow of our new nature. It is not a burden for the Christian to serve Christ, it is what we desire to do. It’s our God-given passion and a mark of genuine salvation. It is who we are.” James 2:14-17.
Do you see his point? If we say we have faith but do not have a heart to do good works, then our faith is dead? Why? Because the mark of genuine faith is a regenerated heart that mimics Christ, and now begins to desire to do the will of the Father! If we say we are Christians, yet feel as if it is a duty or inconvenience to care and serve for others, then our hearts testify against us that we dont really know Jesus! We do not witness to others in hopes of increasing our Sunday morning attendance. We witness to others because we have a new heart in Jesus that truly desires to love them and share about our Heavenly Father!
“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” Galatians 5:6.
Notice the last line of the above verse. Nothing matters but only faith working THROUGH love! How is our faith shown? Through the love the overflows out of our new heart in Christ! Living on mission for Christ is not something that the true believer feels obligated to do or guilted into. Living missionally is a symptom of being a child of God! The goal is not to fatten the role at our churches! The goal of a disciple of Christ is to seek out people to love daily. The poor, the sick, those that are outcast. Jesus did not commission us to merely be the invite committee. He commissioned us to invest our lives in people, and to point them to Him.
“But if I say I’ll never mention the LORD or speak in his name, his word burns in my heart like a fire. It’s like a fire in my bones! I am worn out trying to hold it in! I can’t do it!” Jeremiah 20:9.
What if you were told that you could never tell people about the love of Christ? What if you were told that you couldn’t live your life on mission for Him? Sadly for many professing Christians, this would be no different than how they are currently living. They profess Jesus, yet have no concern to reach others for the Kingdom. They are content to just come and sit on Sunday mornings and live a moral life. But the scripture gives a different example of what a true believer looks like.
Are you as Jeremiah was in the verse above? Where if you were told not to live pursuing people for Christ, that it would be impossible for you to hold inside? Jeremiah had a passion to proclaim the Gospel that He could not stifle. And this passion was again, just a side effect of the Lord changing heart! It is not a burden to want to proclaim the Gospel. It is an indicative of this unquenchable fire that is the love of God within us
“For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.”1 John 5:3.
Our motives for mission should be birthed out of a changed heart and genuine love for people.