For over two decades we have been committed in our church mission and organizational culture to narrow the Sunday to Monday gap so perilously prevalent in the American church. In the power of the Spirit and with biblical wisdom we have increasingly become a local church congregation with Monday in mind. As a church family we have never been more intentional or more committed to the primacy of vocational discipleship and vocational mission. Yet, I believe two of the most compelling realities for us to keep close to our hearts in narrowing the Sunday to Monday gap are gospel plausibility and proclamation, both of which are more important than ever in our increasingly secular age.
Seeing is Believing
The goodness of the gospel so often needs to be seen by others around us before it is truly heard from us. Taking the time to look back at church history reinforces this timeless truth. A particularly insightful church historian is scholar Alan Krieder. Like fellow early church historian Rodney Stark, the question of what enabled the early church to grow as it did against fierce cultural headwinds and formidable odds is one that captures their intellectual curiosity and disciplined research focus. In his excellent book, The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, Krieder puts it this way; “Why did this minor mystery religion from the eastern Mediterranean—marginal, despised, discriminated against—grow substantially, eventually supplanting the well-endowed, respectable cults that were supported by the empire and aristocracy? What enabled Christianity to be so successful that by the fifth century it was the established religion of the empire?”
Kreider answers this question by pointing to several factors we are wise to emulate. First, he describes what he calls habitus, that is, the very down-to-earth reflexive bodily behavior exhibited in the mysterious mundane of daily life where the early Christians lived, worked, and played. Kreider writes, “Their behavior said what they believed; it was an enactment of their message. And the sources indicate that it was their habitus more than their ideas that appealed to the majority of the non-Christians who came to join them.” The early church theologianCypriansummarizes Christian habitus as a non-compartmentalized, comprehensive, and distinct way of life. What we might describe as an integral and coherent life embraced not only on Sunday, but also lived on Monday. Cyprian wrote, “we do not speak great things, we live them.” It was the early Christians’ distinct lives forged and formed in a highly relational community that spoke volumes of plausibility to a curious and watching world.
A Curious Lifestyle
Kreider points particularly to the virtue of patience. At first blush this may be a bit surprising, but the early Christians viewed God’s sovereign mission as “unhurried and unstoppable.” The result was they placed less emphasis on bold strategies and more emphasis on morally and virtuously distinct lifestyles that would be organically and relationally influential over time. The early Christians were known and at times scorned and ostracized for their sexual purity ethic, sanctity of life ethic–particularly for the unborn and newborn, their diligent work ethic, their sacrificial caring for the poor, and for a lifestyle of non-violence.
The gospel and its transformational influence was primarily spread in the context of the marketplace. Ordinary Christians, not clergy, were the missional key. Kreider notes, “Christians followed their business opportunities.” Pointing out the witness of Christians, Kreider notes that non-Christians observed distinct Christian differences in the marketplace. Non-Christians “experienced the way they (Christians) did business with them, the patient way the Christians operate their businesses.” Kreider summarized the profound impact of vocational discipleship and vocational mission. “What happened was this. Non-Christians and Christians worked together and lived near each other. They became friends.”
A Distinct Lifestyle
While the early church was far from perfect, their pluralistic cultural context is in many ways remarkably similar to our 21st century western world. There is much for us to learn from the remarkable legacy they left behind in shaping the Christian church. Kreider’s helpful insights on the early church’s long-term impact resonate deeply with our church for Monday strategic emphasis. It is our hope that vocational discipleship will bring increased spiritual formation and with it a distinct lifestyle and bold verbal witness to our local, national, and global marketplace.
While we desire to employ our best creativity and strategic thinking moving forward, we are wise to remember the early church’s patient ferment, knowing that in redemptive history as it unfolds in front of our eyes, God’s mission is unhurried and unstoppable. With a tenacious trust, an unhurried pace, and a patient posture, may we not only speak great things, but also live them before a curious and watching world.
“I have loved watching my heart soften toward the individuals that I have been praying for, and how often I’ve been thinking of them and noticing things about them. Much more intentional interactions!” – Linda
Spending 90 days praying for others to come to know Jesus was an amazing time together as a church. Over the course of these 13 weeks, close to 400 different people across all five campuses texted me about their experiences witnessing and praying for others. I was blessed to hear so many people, just like Linda, share how praying each day for the same people shifted their perspective toward them. It is surprising (though it really shouldn’t be) how many opportunities for greater connection with others arise when you intentionally and regularly pray for them. I was even more deeply encouraged when I heard about perseverance through the challenges people faced in their witnessing.
A handful of people let me know that one of their nine made a decision to follow Jesus during these 90 days. Beyond these, so many more had their nine make significant movement toward God. Some of their nine reached out with spiritual questions for the first time. Others reached out while facing significant life difficulties and asked for prayer. Some of their nine decided to visit church with them. Others saw their relationship with their nine deepen in new ways. There are so many more powerful stories that you can read about on theformed.life/e90
But if you’re like me, as soon as these 90 days finished, you wondered what’s next.
Was this just a cool 90 day challenge? One more project to mark ‘done’ and move on? No, from the beginning of our team’s planning process, we hoped e90 would be a catalyst for continued growth in prayer and personal evangelism for our church. Though this initiative is done, we continue to be a caring family of multiplying disciples, influencing our community and world for Jesus Christ. Here are four ways you can continue to grow in this even after e90.
Just because the 90 days are over does not mean you need to stop praying intentionally and specifically for others to come to know Jesus! This season hopefully started a habit that remains with you well after it officially finishes. Consider how you can keep praying regularly for others. Think about how much movement you’ve seen in yourself and in them over 90 days. How much more could happen through the rest of the year? Maybe your list of nine grew to fifteen. Keep praying for your fifteen! Perhaps there are just two people from your nine God has highlighted to you these past few months. Keep praying for those two!
One of the best parts of e90 was that this was something we did together as a whole church. It reminded me that I’m not alone in witnessing to others. This doesn’t have to end either! What if your community group decided to keep praying for others specifically to come to faith as a part of your regular prayer time? What if you and just one other person committed to praying together for your lists? You could do a short phone call once a week and pray together. Or you could exchange names and pray for their list in addition to yours. This would encourage you to stay consistent in praying for others.
Another awesome part of e90 was how praying and witnessing motivated greater learning about the gospel and how to practically share it with others. This doesn’t have to end either! What if your community group, or just you and one friend picked a book about evangelism to read together? In addition to discussing what you’re learning from reading, you can also debrief how you’re practicing those things as well. If you don’t know where to start, two of my favorite books on evangelism are The Sacrament of Evangelism by Jerry Root, and Questioning Evangelism by Randy Newman.
Lastly, we can continue to grow in personal evangelism beyond e90 by continuing to invite others. Continue to invite them to hang out with you in a relaxed setting with other believers, to read one of the gospels from the Bible together, to come to church with you, to hear your story of what God has done in your life, to consider what following Jesus might look like. Not every invitation will be responded to with an enthusiastic “Yes!” but that does not mean we’ve failed. Even small invitations and planting seeds over time can be used by God to draw others to Him.
I encourage you to keep praying, keep learning, keep inviting, and do all these together with other believers. And I hope I continue hearing how God is working through it all to reach others with His love for His glory.
It is unfortunate that St. Patrick has become synonymous with wearing green to avoid being pinched, dyeing rivers green, and consuming large quantities of beer while pretending to be Irish. Little is widely known about the tremendous influence that this man had on the nation of Ireland and western Christianity. Patrick is easily one of the most successful Christian missionaries of all time. The indigenous Christian movement he started took root where missionaries had failed. Patrick’s influence grew to even re-evangelize much of western Europe in the centuries following the chaos of the Dark Ages and the decline of the institutional Roman church. His success is especially remarkable considering this was all done without any aid from other institutions of political or cultural power. As the current American church declines and we are in an increasingly post-Christendom world, we would do well to listen to voices like his.
The Life of Patrick
Patrick was born in roughly 389 AD to upper-middle-class parents in the British part of the Roman Empire. This was only a few years after Emperor Theodosius made Christianity the official religion of the Empire and Christendom was established. Patrick’s father was a Christian deacon and a member of the city council, both highly respected roles. His grandfather was a priest, so it would be fitting to characterize his family as a pious one with high social standing. Despite this, Patrick described his own Christian upbringing as nominal at best.
A drastic change to this life of privilege happened when Patrick was 16. A band of Irish warriors raided his town, and he was taken away to Ireland, outside of the Empire, in captivity. He worked as a slave herding pigs for six years. Finally, apart from his complacent life where he tacitly accepted nominal Christianity, Patrick was forced to consider the ramifications of his faith. In his own words, “the Lord opened the sense of my unbelief.” He began to pray daily and call out to God to sustain and deliver him. His interaction with the religious beliefs of the Irish also strengthened his faith. Their belief in multiple gods and spirits that roamed throughout the land needing to be appeased aroused a deep sense of peace from the security he had in Christ.
After spending six years in Ireland, he received a vision that encouraged him to escape. While sleeping, he heard a voice tell him to rise and find a ship to take him home. He awoke, ran down to a nearby port, and found a ship that took him away from Ireland. He went to Gaul (modern day France) and spent some time learning and living at a monastery in Lerins. Although he felt called to live a life with common men, during this time he developed a strong appreciation for the monastic rule of life. When he left the monastery he returned to Britain to be reunited with his relatives. Later, at the age of 48, he received his version of the ‘Macedonian call’ (Acts 16:6-10). In a dream an angel brought him letters from his former captors in Ireland, and he heard their voices cry out “we appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.” After consulting with the bishops of the British Church, he was ordained a bishop and sent out to Ireland in a missionary band.
His method differed greatly from other Roman missionaries of his time. Instead of forcing conquered “barbarians’’ to convert or waiting for them to come to him as spiritual inquirers, Patrick and his companions would set up a community of faith in each village they visited. They would practice a monastic life of prayer and work, not in a cloister far from society but in the midst of the Irish. As they looked for receptive villagers, the band would pray for the sick, exorcize demons, and mediate conflicts. They were interested in the felt needs of the communities, even regularly praying for fish in the village river. In open-air settings, Patrick would speak about the gospel, using his vast knowledge of Irish culture to communicate the gospel in a way that would connect with them. Parables, symbols, drama, and other visuals were used because of the Irish people’s vivid imagination. Responsive villagers would join the monastic community and partake in their practices.
After a few months, a church would be officially born and the new converts would be baptized. Patrick’s group would leave behind a priest and a few others to continue instruction in Christian doctrine, but take some of the converted villagers with them as they moved on to the next village. It is estimated that Patrick started 700 churches, commissioned 1000 priests, and reached 40 out of the 150 tribes in Ireland, during his 28 year ministry.
Four Lessons for Us
1. The gospel is central.
Patrick’s ministry was rooted in a profound belief that humanity’s only hope was God’s intervention of grace through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. His personal experience of liberation from slavery by divine intervention no doubt made this truth a vivid reality for him. Each of his surviving writings begins with the words: “I, Patrick, a sinner.” This humility was not from self-loathing, but from an honest recognition of his need for a savior. Patrick was zealous to maintain that salvation is a result of God’s work of grace, in opposition to his contemporary fellow British monk, Pelagius, who taught human effort alone was enough to be saved. Patrick’s strong conviction that the unconverted would suffer damnation and had no hope apart from Christ motivated him to return to his former captors to share the good news with them.
The Church today should never grow weary of proclaiming the gospel and trusting in God’s grace. We should take care and not water down the biblical gospel. We must also be zealous like Patrick so that the good news does not become old hat.
2. The gospel changes everything.
Patrick’s missionary bands differed significantly from Roman missionary models by doing their Christian life in the midst of pagan communities. Patrick himself was deeply influenced by the Irish reverence for nature and so developed a sacramental vision of all of life, where the line between the natural and spiritual was paper-thin. Work was an integral part of their monastic life and not a distraction from it. Their concern for the economic realities of their Irish neighbors bolstered their witness.
One of the greatest dangers facing the church today is the unbiblical distortion that creates a sharp sacred-secular divide. This can lead us to believe our Monday work does not matter to a Sunday-focused God. As our culture becomes increasingly post-Christian and the influence of the institutional church wanes, we need to be faithful disciples of Jesus in the particular places He has us the majority of our week.
3. The gospel demands justice and reconciliation.
Similar to the previous lesson, the gospel Patrick preached did not only restore sinners to God but also led them to love one another and pursue justice and peace. In his writing, Epistola, he writes a letter rebuking a nominal-Christian warlord named Coroticus. He had raided some of Patrick’s converts and taken recently baptized women off as slaves. Patrick commands him to release them because he is compelled by “the zeal of God, the truth of Christ… (and) the love of (his) nearest neighbors.” His concern for justice and the flourishing of the Irish was also evident in how he ended the slave trade in that region. Patrick earned the respect of various Irish tribes by acting as a broker for peace to end conflict between clans. His evangelistic effectiveness was integral to his concern for the whole-life flourishing of the Irish.
The American Church would do well to follow Patrick’s footsteps. As we allow the gospel to speak to all of life, it will inevitably move us to work toward a society that is ordered by God’s justice and enables the flourishing of all.
4. The gospel is lived out together.
Though Patrick gets all the recognition and a holiday all to himself, we must never forget that he did not evangelize the Irish by himself. He was not a lone ranger, solo-climber, or solitary pioneer that set out on his own. Patrick owes much of its success to the many unknown members of his missionary bands that evangelized together. They demonstrated a different way of being in community among the Irish that became a compelling witness. Rather than requiring a profession of belief from ‘barbarians’ before partaking in Christian community like the Roman church, they recognized that belonging often precedes belief. Irish inquirers could join their monastic community, “tasting and seeing that the Lord is good” by experiencing the care of His people before making intellectual assent to Christian doctrine.
In a similar way, the American church will go nowhere relying on its celebrity leaders. It takes communities of extra-ordinary believers doing life together so that others can be drawn in to experience the reality that the gospel changes everything.
Let us take time this St. Patty’s day, in addition to any other celebration, to thank God for the work He did through St. Patrick and his friends. Let us also consider how we might emulate him by being a faithful, gospel-centered presence in our communities.
A few years ago, I was attending a church plant that failed. After several years of stagnant growth and little evangelistic fruit, the leaders decided to close the doors. I felt like a failure. I thought, “If only I was a better evangelist, then more people would have come to faith, joined our church, and it would still be open today. Here I am, in school learning to be a pastor, and the first church I am a part of goes up in flames!” I wondered if this evangelism thing was just something I was not cut out for. But that would be okay, right? Not every Christian needs to be a ‘super-soul winner’, right?
For many Christians, evangelism can be guilt and shame inducing. We know that we should share our faith, but so few of us do. Even as some of us try, a lack of fruit feels like failure. Seeking to alleviate the guilt from these experiences can lead to questioning the need for all Christians to share the gospel. You may have had this exact reaction when our church announced our plan to grow in evangelism through e90 (the practice of praying for 9 people for 90 seconds a day, for 90 days).
From “Do I have to?” to “Wow! I get to!”
Perhaps our perspective needs to shift. Instead of only sharing out of a sense of duty, what if we viewed the practice of evangelism as something that was good for us? While sharing our faith is certainly a command Jesus gives, it is something He commands for our own benefit! I want to encourage you to sign up for theFormed.life as we go through e90 so that your faith can grow as you seek to share it with others.
We should keep in mind that one does not need to convert others to Jesus to be a mature Christian. We are to tell others about Jesus, but we are not responsible for their response. Even Jesus had many reject Him and His message. We should focus on being faithful in the process, not on the end product.
How is this faithfulness in evangelism something that is for our own good?
How Sharing Our Faith Matures Us
Not only is evangelism a mark of Christian maturity, but it is also a pathway to Christian maturity in other areas.
Evangelism grows our trust in God. As we step out of our comfort zone, our faith is strengthened by our need to rely on God. If you feel inadequate and unprepared to share the gospel, what a great opportunity to trust in God, who is the only one who can draw people to Himself. As you pray each day for your nine, you are developing the habit of inviting God into this area of need.
It builds our love for others. Our broader postmodern culture implicitly defines love as merely tolerating another’s preferences. In this mindset, evangelism is a hateful enterprise. However, if you think of love as seeking the best for another person, what better way to love someone than to introduce them to the One who can lead them to fullness of life! Atheist magician and comedian Penn Jillette once remarked how loved he felt when a fan gave him a Bible and shared the gospel with him even though he still completely disbelieves in God. He said, “How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate someone to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?” Seeking to have those around us come to know Jesus, if done with their best in mind, is a loving act that develops a greater love for them within us. We hope praying for your nine will be used by God to give you His heart for them that “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).
Sharing our faith transforms our lifestyle to be more missional. If we seek to make evangelism an integral part of our lives, we will develop habits that allow us to consistently partner with God in His mission of redeeming creation. This is why every Friday, theFormed.Life invites you to take a small step in developing missional habits. Telling others about Jesus invites us to critically examine our own lives. Do we live as though the gospel is true? The fear of hypocrisy that paralyzes us from sharing our faith can be an invitation to go deeper in our own discipleship.
Practicing evangelism enables growth in our theological knowledge. The year I gained the most theological knowledge was not while in seminary, but rather when I went to community college and was actively sharing my faith with classmates. Getting hard questions from others motivated me to read theology more rigorously than any systematic theology test could. This is why in theFormed.life we reflect deeply and biblically on the gospel twice a week. On Thursdays we look at a single passage that articulates the good news. On Saturdays we focus on one chapter of the Four Chapter Story, reading one passage explaining that and reflecting how we are living that story today. As we share the gospel, we will have greater motivation to understand the good news more fully.
Not only does evangelism develop our theoretical knowledge but it also grows our practical knowledge of God. As a pastor, I am better able to understand a congregant after visiting their workplace. By seeing where they work, how they invest their energy, and knowing more about what their labor produces, our relationship deepens. Similarly, seeing God at work in His mission of wooing people to Himself allows us to experience the truth that God loves everyone in a deeper way.
The practice of evangelism enables us to praise God and thank Him for how He is at work. This is why every Tuesday theFormed.life shares a short story about how God is working in someone’s life through their witness to Jesus. We want to hear more of these moments from you so that we can join you in praise and thanksgiving! Let us know how God is at work in this practice for you. You can sign up for that by texting “e90” to 913-379-4440.
Not only does this practice increase our intimacy with God, but evangelism also can lead us to greater intimacy with one another. So many Christians can feel isolated as they share the good news in contexts where they might be the only believer. However, focusing on evangelism should lead us to treasure the hope we share in common as believers. We desire that doing this together as a church reminds us we are not alone in our witness. We encourage you to press into community even as you reach out to others individually. Make gathering on Sunday mornings a priority. Discuss the joys and challenges of this practice with others in your community group. Let’s grow together in this.
When my church closed its doors, God reminded me that it’s not the end product He cares about but rather being with me in the process. He does not need me to evangelize to save people. Salvation is His job, not mine. He wants me to develop deeper intimacy with Him and others by sharing my faith. Evangelism is not something He wants from me, but for me and for my good.
I pray that this would be true for you, that “the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ” (Philemon 1:6). I encourage you to join us in theFormed.life as we engage the discipline of evangelism together.
For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost. (Luke 19:10)
Few words come with as much comfort as Jesus’ clarity here as to why He came to us. Some scholars even believe this is the central statement of the Gospel account of Luke and Jesus’ mission.
As comforting as that statement is, a crucial question hangs in the air: what does it mean to be saved by Jesus?
The answer to such a question informs what kind of King Jesus is, the kind of Gospel (Luke 8:1) He came bringing and proclaiming, and the kind of implications His Kingdom reign mediates. The answer to this question impacts how we see every bit of our new life now because of Jesus and our promised everlasting life into eternity with Jesus. Ultimately the answer does not inform what it means to be a mature Christian, an elder or a leader in the faith. Rather, the answer informs what it does mean to be a Christian.
Because of the weight of such a question, this is where we may be tempted to do a bit of textual hopscotch jumping around the New Testament everywhere the word “saved” appears in a concordance. In so doing we seek to string together a series of one verse statements to come up with a broader answer to our question.
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for this central statement of Jesus in Luke 19 to be taken out of its context, and as theologian, Dr. D.A. Carson would often remind me and my fellow seminarians in class: “A text without a context is a pretext for a proof text.” Dr. Carson’s wordplay highlights how we can take a text out of its context and then easily import our own meaning. This is how one can support various ideologies whether completely heretical or theologically incomplete.
Therefore, the best way to navigate what any text means is to look first at its context. So first, one must ask “what does salvation mean here?”
What does salvation mean here?
Luke’s Gospel Account. In the context of holy Scripture, we find ourselves firmly situated in the Gospel of Luke, wherein Luke has sought to bring an orderly and reliable account of who Jesus is and what He came to do (Luke 1:3) .
In chapter 1, Luke sets out that this Jesus is not merely an astounding leader popping up disconnected from history. Rather, this Jesus is the promised Son of David, the Messiah (Hebrew), the Christ (Greek). He is the King who God promised years before would sit on a throne in a Kingdom that would know no end (Luke 1:32-33).
Therefore it’s no surprise that when we find Jesus declaring the Gospel (translated “good news” in many translations) He both proclaims and brings the gospel of the Kingdom. Throughout the whole of Luke we are asking what kind of King is Jesus and what kind of Kingdom is He bringing to save us from the oppression and brokenness of our world.
The title, “Son of Man,”thatJesus uses to signify His identity both here in Luke 19:10, and throughout Luke’s account,is another one of those many messianic titles (Daniel 7:13-14) that sparks interest in Jesus’ royal identity while simultaneously not allowing the listener to place their messianic ideology on Him. A lot of expectations were swirling in the first century as to what kind of messiah would finally deliver Israel.
When Jesus engages people in the narratives, these are not isolated incidents. He is ushering in His salvation and defining His reign one story at a time. One such space where this happens is with the chief tax collector, Zacchaeus.
Zacchaeus’ Encounter. In Luke 19, we find an interesting dynamic in which Zacchaeus is clearly on the lookout for Jesus, but surprisingly Jesus is also looking for Zacchaeus. It is surprising because Zacchaeus’ status is that of an internal oppressor and betrayer of his own people. Then in a strange turn of events, when a “house” was more than just a home, Jesus invites himself over for dinner.
One’s house in the ancient Near East was an economic center, a place that situated one’s honor (or shame), and might actually be made of various homes of various families and servants. Jesus was the highly honored Messiah and Zacchaeus the scorn of Israel, and yet Jesus bestows honor on Zacchaeus that he did not deserve.
In many ways, the story of the rich ruler earlier in Luke 18 looms over this story. When the rich ruler engages Jesus he’s unwilling to give Jesus the final word over every aspect of his life including family and wealth. Will Zacchaeus be like the rich ruler? Will he be more tethered to his wealth or to Jesus? The tension is thick.
Then — without clear directive from Jesus — Zacchaeus offers to give half of his wealth to the poor and provide above and beyond reparations to those he’s swindled. What we may miss is how Jesus not dictating the response of Zacchaeus is important for his standing in the community.
King Jesus extends honor graciously. It therefore allows space for Zacchaeus to respond on his own initiative to the gracious honor bestowed upon him by Jesus, which in turn sets the stage for Zacchaeus’ reconciliation to the community.
It is only then that Jesus says (and the order of the narrative is important), “Today, salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham” (Luke 19:9).
There’s that word “house” again. Salvation has not just come to Zacchaeus otherwise that is what Luke would have recorded. But that is not what Jesus sought to communicate. As we follow the text we read that salvation came to Zacchaeus’ house. It has impacted his person, his economics, the community’s economics (those who experienced theft were restored), and even his communal belonging. Within a contextual reading of Luke 19:10, we quickly come to understand that Jesus’ salvation involves more than just our ethereal souls.
For King Jesus, when His salvation breaks in He not only saves us from our broken past, He also saves us for new life which encompasses our personal, spiritual, communal and financial outworkings of everyday life both now and into eternity.
This is a deeply biblical framework for salvation by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone. But is that how we often think of salvation?
If when we say “I’m saved” we only mean our souls and not the radically reoriented whole life of repentance and reconciliation, then we’ve left Jesus’ thought of salvation incomplete.
Someone then may say, “But in Romans 10:9, I read, ‘…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.’” Of course we must detail out what “heart” means in Scripture, what belief means in Scripture, which is more than just mental assent, and how the declaration that “Jesus is Lord” has lordship implications. For what is Jesus not Lord over? What was the overall argument Paul was making in Romans? Once again: context, context, context.
If this robust nature of salvation is in view here and has implications across Scripture, how is it that this view of salvation is foreign to so many of us?
Salvation as a Bridge
As I grew up in the church, I often saw an illustration that was meant to communicate how Jesus came to save me. It is both helpful, but also incomplete.
I grew up hearing that I am on one side of a great canyon too large to cross on my own. The reason I stood on one side of the canyon was due to my sin. On the other side of this impassable canyon was God. He stood there because of his holiness and perfection. No matter how many good things I did, I could not cross the canyon.
So — as the illustration displays — when Jesus died to save me from my sins on the cross, if I trust in Him and His sufficient work on the cross, I am able to be saved. My sins were forgiven because of Jesus’ death in my place, and Jesus’ work on the cross on my behalf was the bridge to reconciliation with God.
The result of my salvation is that I get to spend eternity with God in heaven. Period.
Growing up if someone asked me, “Are you saved?” They meant this kind of salvation.
Now, that is good news, and it is a crucial part of the good news. But, as we saw with Zacchaeus, that is not all the salvation that Jesus came to bring.
Saved from Other… Saved Folk.
For starters, Jesus came not only to save “me” but to save “us.” The image above shows a picture of an individual and God, which can easily (even if not intentionally) communicate that the salvation Jesus has come to bring is now a “me and Jesus” life and community is “optional.”
As the old saying goes, “What you win people with, you win them to.” In the midst of our individualizing salvation, is it any wonder that Christians on a massive scale erroneously believe they can plumb the depths of their salvation in isolation from a church community and actually be closer to Christ?
This is a serious concern because we have made a crucial component of salvation the exclusive summary of salvation, and the outcome is a salvation without a church. Maybe a more snarky way to put it is a misunderstanding of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone through an individualized lens has led some to be all alone.
We need a more biblical picture of salvation.
A Better Picture of Salvation
In Amy Sherman’s Kingdom Calling she offers a more biblical illustration to mine the depths of the salvation Jesus came to bring in His Kingdom. She shares this graph from Intervarsity leader James Choung to guide us in a better way.
First, we see we are damaged by evil and sin (upper right circles). Sin we have committed and sin that has been committed against us. We see it, feel it, and long for it to be made right. (Which if you are talking with someone who is not a follower of Jesus, this as a starting point builds common ground to share the gospel). But the difference is in how this image communicates the broader breakdown of God’s world. Our sin and evil not only separates us from God, but also from each other, creates fragmentation within ourselves, and cultivates a distortion of creation and our call to care for God’s world.
When Jesus came (bottom right circles), He came to restore the good we were designed for in the beginning (upper left circles) which encompasses all aspects of life. Is there reconciliation with God on a personal level? Yes! But there is also reconciliation with others, with broader creation, and yes, even within ourselves.
And that isn’t the end. We are not just saved from evil but for good (bottom left circles)! We have been saved as a community of believers to be agents of reconciliation this world over. The church is a redemptive community on mission together.
In the words of James Choung, “Jesus enticed people into a kingdom mission from the outset.”
This is what salvation in Jesus means. This is the salvation Jesus came to bring. This is King Jesus’ Kingdom agenda to reconcile all things to Himself (Colossians 1:20). This is what Jesus means when He says salvation came to Zacchaeus’ house.
And rather than robbing us of our personal relationship with Christ, it adds another level of comfort to the astounding claim of Jesus that He came to seek and save the lost in a robust way.
Are we willing to be saved like this?
Now the question becomes frankly a question that is posed to people who approach Jesus in the gospels again and again: are we willing to be saved like this? Will we let Jesus’ grace reorient everything, or nothing? Will we embrace this kind of Kingdom and this kind of King?
Because Jesus wants all of us to be saved, not just parts of us. He wants all the broken, mangled, and messed up areas of our lives both personally and corporately as a church, and He longs to save.
And He will take any of us as long as He can have every part of us. That’s the beauty of Zacchaeus’ story too. Jesus sought the worst and His grace led to whole-life repentance and salvation.
Will we let Him save us like that?
If we do, we won’t just be waiting for heaven to come one day, but will experience the reign of Christ in the everyday. We won’t just know a deeper joy within ourselves in our personal private disciplines, but also experience a greater depth of joy with one another. We will see the reconciliation that Paul was zealous about within the church, the poor and vulnerable who James was concerned for would be cared for within the church, and those with great power, wealth and status, like Zacchaeus, would go to great lengths to leverage their power to make their communities more whole.
On top of all that, we will see a whole host of people who don’t know Jesus and are uninterested in a salvation of disembodied souls, finally hear and see all that Jesus has come to bring and proclaim in His Kingdom. We will finally see more Zacchaeuses’ come to know and trust Jesus and more Jerichos (Luke 19:1, 8) experience restoration through repentance.
Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good by Amy Shermon. The chapter of note above is How the Gospel of the Kingdom Nurtures the Tsaddiqim. Also within this chapter, James Choung talks of how sharing the gospel with unbelievers using the circles paradigm has been catalytic in their gospel conversations.
I can be such an indecisive person. I struggle with choosing the best dish detergent, buying the most reliable tile saw, selecting the perfect song for a workout, even ordering the right tacos. Actually, no taco order is ever wrong. But seriously, making decisions can be hard for me. Because saying yes to one thing feels like I have to say no to everything else.
But this need not be the case. I think my indecisiveness is due in part to a false dichotomy regarding choices. It is actually not necessary to hold this either/or mindset that says choosing option A means that you are opposed to options B-Z. I believe we have settled for this reductionistic binary as our modus operandi for so much of life. And it contributes greatly to the polarizing and divisive state of our culture today.
Here is a very real and relevant example of how this plays out regularly in the current environment. If you hear someone say that “black lives matter” then you might be tempted to think that they hate police officers. Or conversely, if you hear someone say that we should be praying for our law enforcement then you might think that they are not concerned about the cries for justice among the black community. If you hear someone speak out against the violent riots then you might conclude that they are dismissive of matters of racism. Or if you see someone participating in a peaceful protest you might be led to believe that they condone looting. This is lazy or ignorant at best, and divisive or demonizing at worst.
When we settle for an either/or approach to complex issues, we are showing how very little we have humbly sought to view these issues. The either/or arguments in our culture need both/and responses.
In Joshua 5 there is this moment where the people of Israel are about to enter the land of Canaan under the leadership of Joshua. As they near the land they are confronted by the angel of the Lord. Joshua responds to this unfamiliar figure by asking an either/or question.
“Are you for us, or for our adversaries?”
We see Joshua falling into the trap of the either/or binary. There is no middle ground, no third option, no imaginative nuance within Joshua’s mental framework that would enable him to view this character as anything other than an ally or an enemy. Those are the only two categories he possesses.
So how does the angel of the Lord respond?
“No…but I am the commander of the army of the LORD.”
Isn’t that great? Joshua enters into the proverbial ring of simplistic either/or reasoning and the angel of the Lord refuses to follow after him. Joshua is operating under the assumption that what is most important is if God is on his side. He has failed to see that the paramount matter is if he is on God’s side.
Our job is not to get our opponents to align with us. And it is definitely not our job to get God to align with us. Our job is to make sure we are aligned with God and invite others to do the same.
When we fail to align our wills, desires, perspectives, and solutions with God’s agenda then we will easily find ourselves holding a myopic view that places people in one of two categories. For or Against. This is what Joshua did and this is what we are seeing played out in our culture, churches, and communities on a large scale today.
“Are you for my political party or are you for my political adversaries?”
“Are you for divine justice or are you for social justice?”
“Are you against the evils of racism or are you against the violence of rioting?”
“Are you for law enforcement or are you for the black community?”
“Are you for the rights of the unborn or are you for the rights of the underserved?”
“Are you for personal responsibility or are you against systemic oppression?”
Statements like these are being hoisted upon many people that we have unnecessarily made out to be our opponents, when in reality these things need not be mutually exclusive. We lack nuance in our ability to converse and thoughtfully consider how to respond to matters that are ripping our nation apart. And I am the first to admit my own failings in contributing to this divide.
Christian hip-hop artist, author, and pastor Shai Linne wrote a powerful article that in part speaks to the need for the church to offer both/and solutions to our culture’s either/or arguments. He pens these much-needed words:
“Just because I’ve made an intentional decision to focus on that which is ‘of first importance’ (1 Corinthians 15:3) doesn’t mean there aren’t other important things that need to be addressed in the church. It also doesn’t mean that being a Christian has exempted me from the reality of being a black man in America and all the stigma that comes with it.”
He goes on to share the tension he feels in having “genuine fellowship with my white brothers and sisters who share the same Reformed theology—until I mention racism, injustice, or police brutality, at which point I’m looked at skeptically as if I embrace a ‘social gospel’ or am some kind of ‘liberal’ or ‘social justice warrior.’”
Friends, we will not make progress nor will we establish any kind of meaningful unity around matters of justice and reconciliation in the church, in our community, in our homes, in our city, and in our country until we see the futility of either/or arguments and the need for both/and solutions.
For our hope is in a both/and King who is fully divine AND fully human. This both/and King proclaimed a both/and message about spiritual AND material restoration (Matthew 4:23, Romans 8:18-23, Colossians 1:15-20), word AND deed (1 John 3:16-18, Titus 2:11-14, James 2:14-26), divine justice AND social justice (John 3:16-18, Luke 4:16-21, Psalm 146:5-10), personal repentance AND corporate repentance (Matthew 4:17, Daniel 9).
May we be a both/and people who embrace the both/and mission of God by declaring and displaying the both/and message of the gospel.