He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" - Romans 8:32

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Sunday, May 02, 2010 

Missions: You as Jesus? How Dreadfully Awful!

I will argue that the heart of the gospel is the doctrine of justification, which answers the question, “How can a sinful human being be made right in the sight of holy God?” In speaking about the atonement, the missionary announces a number of truths (Christ as victor over the forces of evil, the eventual redemption of the whole creation, etc.). Ultimately, however, he will address this question, and the answer given will be essentially a judicial answer. If Tom Schreiner is correct, and I believe he is, the penal aspect of Jesus’ work is primary for understanding the gospel. Believers are made right before God because their sins – “not in part, but the whole” – have been laid on Christ, nailed to the cross, and they bear them no more. In turn, Christ’s righteousness has been given to those same believers, an imputed righteousness that is full and complete, so that as believers we stand before the Judge of heaven with no charge laid against us.

The doctrine of the incarnation tells us that Jesus came in the flesh. This biblical teaching, however, signifies much more, i.e., we understand that Jesus was God come in the flesh. In it’s own way, the incarnation addresses the uniqueness of Jesus. Of course, not all who claim the name of Jesus affirm the reality or the necessity of the incarnation.

However, in thinking about missions, a number of problematic understandings about Jesus’ birth and incarnation come to mind (my list is by no means exhaustive): Jesus is merely human. Jesus is one manifestation of God among many. Edward Schroeder explains the pluralistic position: “Jesus is one way up the mountain; there are many other ways going up there, and they get you to the top, too.”

Some will emphasize “incarnational missions.” We often hear that, as his disciples, we are “Jesus’ hands and feet.” Indeed, we are his ambassadors, his messengers, his preachers, his witnesses, and yes, in a certain sense, his hands and feet. But, we must proceed cautiously here. In the April 1988 World Council of Churches consultation at Neapolis, Greece, Bishop Anastasios stated, “The most crucial point in mission is not what one announces, but what one lives, what one is.”

Actually, we need to think a bit about this statement. We can lose the real significance of the incarnation if, with extreme subjectivity, we so personalize it simply to refer to the fact that we represent another, or that we demonstrate the love of another, or that we carry out the ministry of another.

“The only Jesus someone might see is you. . . .” How dreadfully awful! Imagine that the only Jesus people see is George Martin with all his flaws, faults, and sins! How hopeless they will be because they do not see Jesus as he truly is in all his perfections. In him alone “all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Col 2:9).

- Dr. George Martin (still more tomorrow)

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