2 Corinthians 5:17–21

Thesis :: Mission is not something the church does, but it is something the church is. It is not what we do but who we are. 

Introduction

For the past 4 weeks we have had guest speakers and special presentations bent specifically towards mission, missions, and missionaries. This morning I have the privilege of wrapping up the entire month. I guess you can say I’m the closer. I would like to close this month with a look at how mission is not something that happens somewhere out there but right here in our zip code. The thrust or thesis of this closing message is this: “Mission is not something the church does, but it is something the church is. It is not what we do but who we are.”

 

Now this might seem obvious to some, but to be plainly honest, it is not for most folks. Part of that is the fault of our terminology, which creates false paradigms, and unfortunately led to bad practices that don’t even come close to what we actually believe theologically. The way we talk about missions (adding an “s”) is something like talking about the sciences which doesn’t necessarily mean we are talking about science, or the arts which doesn’t necessarily mean we are talking about art. We talk about missions, and by that we mean the kind of thing that Hudson Taylor, William Carey, or Jim Elliot did in China, India and South America, and for some reason we have compartmentalized missions in our minds as not being the thing that we are.

 

Fortunately, over the past 20 years or so, leaders have tried to correct the way we speak about mission (or missions) by using terminology that better reflects a correct theological paradigm about mission. You might have noticed that the term missional has become a sort of buzz word in evangelical circles today. If missions (with an s) and missionaries are nouns, then missional is an adjective. It describes a thing.

 

We now are seeing missional movements, missional churches, and missional communities and in each case the term missional is an adjective that describes the movement, church or community. Again, it is not something we do, but it is who we are. I believe this terminology is extremely helpful and powerful. We now have terminology that accurately expresses biblical mission. So what does missional mean. Here is a practical definition.

 

“Missional means adopting the posture of a missionary, learning and adapting to the culture around you while remaining biblically sound…It means being a missionary without ever leaving your zip code.” (Stetzer)

 

Good missionaries always study the culture in order to develop a strategy towards evangelism. So, we must also ask ourselves, ‘How can the church relate to contemporary culture and contextualize the gospel in our setting?’

 

“Today North America needs to be treated as a mission field in the same way that we in the West have approached much of the rest of the world for the past several centuries.” Craig Van Gelder, Confident Witness – Changing World.

 

For most of us, this seems painfully obvious. Being a Christian means sharing your faith, leading others to Christ and making disciples, however, we would also agree that somewhere along the way, something happened and many Christians in America are simply not on mission. How is it possible that we could be about Jesus and about church but not about mission? Theologically it makes little since, but I am confident that, for the most part, this is the state of the church in America.

 

Only two countries have more nonbelievers than the US: India and China. The US is the third largest mission Field in the world. Unfortunately, our efforts at the evangelizing the unchurched have all the pace of a southern summer. Few believers have relationships much less friendships with nonbelievers.  Leonard Sweet. 

 

Today, as we dig deep into this text I want us to see 3 overarching themes in this passage: Christ, Church and Culture. In this passage we learn that we are saved and changed by Christ, we are then set apart as a redeemed people, or the church, who are entrusted with a specific mission to the world, culture, or as Paul so effectually refers, “them”.

 

Our existence is about those three things. Christ, Church and Culture. We are saved, sanctified and sent. We are a born again, priesthood of resident aliens.  We are saved through one faith, into one body, to be about one mission.

 

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:17–21 ESV)

 

Christ

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself… 

 

It all begins with Christ. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ…he is a new creation. The Christian is a new creature (a new man, Rom. 6). “Before conversion we did not possess the Holy Spirit who now lives within us (Rom. 8:9). We had only our sinful human nature. Now we have both our sinful human nature and the indwelling Holy Spirit.”

The early church fathers would say that we have been divinized. Which is the opposite of being demonized. We are possessed by the divine spirit of God and this has made us into an entirely different creature.

 

Paul adds, all of this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself. There is a ton of theology packed into this little line. But I want us to notice that it is all from God. All of it. Our salvation, our sanctification, our calling and purpose. It is all from God. God was able to give this to us through the sacrifice of the second person of the Trinity. It is through Christ that we have been reconciled.

 

The term reconciled is huge. It describes the new creature. It means that we were once separated from God, but now we are intimately connected to him. We were once sinful and damned, but now we are sinful and yet made righteous.  The reformers would say in latin,

 

simul iustus et peccator: 

simultaneously just and sinful

 

“That is me – simultaneously righteous and sinful. That is my contribution to salvation — my sin! At the same time that I am a sinner, God sees me as righteous because of the blood of Jesus Christ.”

 

And I want you to hear this. We have done nothing. ALL OF IT is from God who through Christ reconciles us to himself and makes us into a totally new creature. If you are a believer – then you are something other worldly. You a completely different kind of creature. Lewis Sperry Chafer, the founder of Dallas Theological Seminary lists 33 “stupendous works of God” or “riches of grace” that are given to us as this new creature. I want you to here them. (see appendixes)

 

….And all this from God who through Christ reconciled us to himself. Please know this –  you are a new creature who has been given so very very very much in Christ. If you are not a born again believer here today, We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 

Church

Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 

 

Once we have been made into this new creature Paul can refer to those who are in Christ as “us”. We are a community of believers. We are the household of God. We are those who have been called out (or ekklessia) as redeemed people. We are the Church. Paul says, Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.

 

“Paul is not speaking as a pastor to say that God has given to us (the pastors) the ministry of reconciliation. Paul is not speaking as an evangelist to say that to us (the evangelists) God has given the ministry of reconciliation. In the first part of this passage, Paul said that God “has reconciled us to himself through Christ” (v. 18). How many of you have been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ? All of you who have trusted him as your Savior have been reconciled. It is to you, the reconciled people, that God has given the ministry of reconciliation.”

 

The Church has been given a purpose and that purpose is the ministry of reconciliation. Well, what is the ministry of reconciliation. He defines that for us, “that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”

 

God gave us, the Church, the ministry of reconciliation and the message of reconciliation. In greek it is diakonia and logos. Diakonia is a service to others on God’s behalflogos is obviously the message or the proclamation. We have been given the service of reconciling and we have been entrusted with the message of reconciliation. Another way of putting it is like this, we have been given a purpose to serve others, or to minister to others the gospel and we have been entrusted with the precious words of the Gospel. We have been entrusted to proclaim the Gospel. So catch this – the Gospel is both preached (logos) and it is served. It is compassionately giving and serving and ministering to the lost this ministry (diakonia) of reconciliation

 

By the way, this is exactly how Jesus did it. He did not simply preach. He served and commanded us to do the same. He ministered the gospel. That is why Paul goes onto say that we are ambassadors of Christ.

 

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. “An ambassador is an official representative who serves in the absence of a dignitary. When a dignitary is gone, an ambassador steps in as an official representative. Christ is now seated at the right hand of the Father. He is seated because his work is accomplished, and we are here in the world as ambassadors in his absence. We are the official representatives of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world. Each of us is an ambassador. The word for “ambassador” occurs only twice in the New Testament. Paul used the word here in 2 Corinthians 5, and also in Ephesians 6. In Eph 6:20 Paul says, “… I am an ambassador in chains.” In both cases in which the word is used, the context concerns the gospel. Each time, the word is related to evangelism — telling a lost and dying world about the Messiah, serving as Christ’s official representatives in his absence.”

 

In Christ, the Christian has been made into a new creature, endowed with many blessings, and the Church has been given and entrusted with the ministry and message of reconciliation. We have been given a purpose and our purpose is to make his appeal to the world. Please don’t miss this, we have been entrusted – that’s a powerful term. God is trusting us, to make his appeal for him to them.

Culture

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 

 

Paul ends this very powerful section with a perfect example of how we should make this appeal. He makes the appeal himself when he says,  “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  He is preaching the gospel? But who is he preaching it to? The Corinthian Church? No, this is his 3rd letter to the Corinthians, and we know that they were saved, they are the ‘us’ in this text, the are the Church. Paul is preaching to you and to me. He is preaching to the lost who have not yet heard. And he is exemplifying for the Corinthians how desperate that plea should be made.

 

In very emotional terms Paul pours out his heart and begs the lost. “We implore you – be reconciled to God!” We, the church, implore you, the lost, the world, our neighbors, our coworkers, our kid’s soccer coach, we are begging you – please – for God’s sake – be saved! 

 

I believe Paul is emotional because he knows that he is Christ’s Ambassador. He is conveying the motivations behind the ministry of reconciliation. Is Christ passionate about the ministry and message of reconciliation? I would say that he is. He gave his very life. He begged and pleaded and wept for the lost. Is God the Father emotionally passionate about the ministry and message of reconciliation? I would say that he is. For God so loved the world that he gave up his son to die.

 

Does God beg? I love how Charles Spurgeon answers that question.

The text goes on to say that we are to beseech men as though God did beseech them. Now how does God beseech them? Read one of the Lord’s beseechings in the the 55th of Isaiah, “Ho, everyone that thirsts, come you to the waters, and he that has no money; come you, buy, and eat; yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” Oh, think of God’s talking like this to His creatures, and arguing with them—“Why do you spend money for that which is not bread? And your labor for that which satisfies not? Hearken diligently unto Me, and eat you that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.” Oh what freeness is there, what concern for their welfare, what regret at their mistakes! What gentle upbraiding, as though it were not for His sake but for theirs! “Why do you spend money for that which is not bread?” Why disappoint yourselves and waste your strength? It is after this fashion that we are to beseech men to be reconciled to God.

 

 

It seems that God has reconciled us through Christ and set us apart as the Church with the purpose and mission to enter into what ever Culture he has placed us and plead as an ambassador of Christ for the lost to be saved.

 

 

Conclusion 

That leads us back to this idea of being missional. Now, when we talk about mission it seems impossible not to mention the great commission found in Matthew 28.

 

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19–20)

 

If you’ve grown up in the church then you’re probably already aware that this verse is structured with three participles: going, baptizing, and teaching. So, in Greek the sentence sounds something more like.

Make disciples 

  • going into all the world
  • baptizing them and
  • teaching them all that I commanded you.

And you probably have been told that the term going is the kind of participle that sounds more like “as you are going”. So – as you are going, as you were doing the things that you are doing already, baptize and teach.

 

So, mission does not mean going to Africa or India or China, but it means being an ambassador of Christ wherever God has placed you. God has placed you in your cultural context. He has put you in this culture. Jesus said,  “As the Father sent me into this culture I am now sending you into your culture.”  Wherever you are, wherever you go, that is where God wants you and that is where God is sending you.

 

And… as you go, be an ambassador of Christ and remember that you are a minister of reconciliation and you where entrusted with the message of reconciliation. No one can say, “ Well I don’t have the gift of evangelism?” That’s perfectly fine – you’re not an evangelist, but you are an ambassador and you are a minister of reconciliation. All of us who are Christians have been called to this purpose to be missional.

Now, let me try to describe how I think this looks. We have defined the term missional as:

So, lets say I wanted to be a missionary to Japan. I would probably start raising money and I would start studying the culture of Japan. I would begin figuring out what clothes I should wear, and what clothes I shouldn’t wear; what things I should do, and what things I should not do; what words I should and should not say.  I would learn the culture so that when I arrived I would not be an offensive and obnoxious American but instead I would try to fit in. I would get a job because I would want to rub shoulders with the culture. I don’t want to sit in my room and write Bible studies. I want to be in the culture reaching the culture. So I might teach English as a second language or work at Starbucks where I can meet hundreds and thousands of people on any given day. And, I can tell you, as a missionary in Japan I’m not going to be preaching the gospel at work. If I did that I would  probably get fired and I would certainly ostracize myself from making any friends.  Instead I’m going to talk to people. Im going to be friendly. I’m going to be a minister. I’m going to love them. I’m going  to study them to find out what they like and if they like to sing karaoke then I’m going to invite them to karaoke with me. And if they like sushi, then I’m going to learn to like sushi and I’ll say, Hey I’d love it if you would take to some of the best sushi places around here.” I’m going to be a minister to them and love them and let them know that I love them and earn their trust.  Then, I am going to pray daily that one day God will give an opportunity to share the message (logos) of reconciliation.

I see the same thing happening here in our own context. We need to study our neighbors and we need to understand the culture in which we live. If my neighbor likes to watch movies then I should go watch movies with him. If he likes baseball, I should invite him to the Cardinals game. And as I go, I will serve him. I will minister to, encourage, and love him.  And I would pray, every day, that one day God would open the door for the gospel message.

You see, I think that what happened in America is that we never adopted that posture in our own context. Instead, we treat the world as the enemy. We have separated ourself from culture in order to create our own subculture that would not be tainted by the world. We have retreated in fear. But, in fear of what? Is it possible that we are afraid that instead of influencing the world we might be influenced by it?

Well that is exactly why we have been made into a new creature. That is why we have the Holy Spirit. If we are more than conquerers in Christ, then what could we be afraid of.

Christians are not “mere humans.” They are “spiritual humans.” God resides in them. They have new supernatural life flowing through them. They live with power that is not merely their own. There is no way we can be the church without this experience. It is only possible supernaturally.  John Piper. 

So why do we act and think like culture is evil, or secular, and that our subculture is sacred and pure? Can I just say, the church is not a subculture, we are resident aliens. We are foreigners in a foreign land. We are people sent on a mission to the world. We are a sacred priesthood but we have been given a ministry to reconcile lost sinners.

So the argument that I’m making today from this text is that every believer needs to be saturated in Christ, Church and Culture. We need to be saved, sanctified, and sent.

If we are lacking any one of these three, then there is bound to be serious problems. In fact, the world is old enough to illustrate for us some of those problems. For instance:

Gospel + Culture – Church = Parachurch

Culture + Church – Gospel = Liberalism

Church + Gospel – Culture  = Fundamentalism

So in closing, allow me one last summary. It is important to me that we catch all three thrusts. First, in Christ you are a new creature. You have been given the powerful Holy Spirit and blessed with the riches of grace. You have much to be confident in and nothing to be afraid of.  Secondly, the church has been given the gift of the Holy Spirit in order that we might be Christ’s Ambassadors. We have been given a propose and a mission to whatever cultural context God has placed us because God is making his appeal to them, through us. Mission is not something the church does, but it is something the church is. It is not what we do but who we are.

 

 

Chafer’s 33 Riches of Grace

  1. In the eternal plan of God
  2. Redeemed
  3. Reconciled
  4. Related to God through propitiation
  5. Forgive ALL trespasses
  6. Vitally Conjoined to Christ
  7. Free from the Law
  8. Children of God
  9. Adopted
  10. Acceptable to God
  11. Justified
  12. Made Nigh {we were once far from God but brought near)
  13. Delivered from the power of darkness
  14. Translated into the Kingdom of his Son
  15. On the Rock of Christ Jesus
  16. A gift from God the Father to Christ
  17. Circumcised in Christ
  18. Holy and Royal priesthood
  19. Chosen Generation, Holy Nation, peculiar people
  20. Heavenly Citizens
  21. Of the family and household of God
  22. In the fellowship of the Saints
  23. A heavenly Association (ie in the heavenly places)
  24. Partners with Christ (ie…raised and seated with, in suffering etc.)
  25. Within the much more care of God
  26. We are His inheritance
  27. We are given an inheritance in heaven
  28. Light (we are given light, we are the light)
  29. Vitally united to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit
  30. Blessed with the First fruits of the Spirit
  31. Glorified
  32. Complete in Christ
  33. Possessing Every Spiritual Blessing