THE CHURCH’S MISSION (Ephesians 3:2-12; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21)
“What on earth are here for?” No seriously, why were you born? Do you know? Do you have any idea of your purpose or the meaning of your life?
It is sad to think that many people are born, live, and die without any sense of purpose, or of why they were born in the first place. People live without any idea why they are alive, or that they were purposefully created by God to fulfill his design for them and creation. We, as Christian, often live our lives without conscious reflection or consideration of why we are here or what our role might be in the church or God’s wider purposes for creation. The saddest thing in the world is for people to live their whole lives, and not ever to know that God purposefully made them and that their lives have meaning. There is a reason you were born! Do you know what it is?
In the passages we read, we discover that the church was purposefully created by God out of Jews and Gentile brought together under one foundational act of redemption through Christ, who gave himself in death on the cross to effect redemption and reconciliation to God (Eph. 3:6, 8-12). God intended through the church by preaching the good news of the gospel to bring people together, Jews and Gentiles, as a single body of believers, reconciled to God and saved from their sins ( Eph. 2:2-5). Paul calls this a mystery because at first God’s overarching purpose of reconciling Jews and Gentles to himself based on the same sacrifice, although hinted at and prophesied about in the Old Testament, was not clearly revealed until Jesus came, died and rose from the dead (Eph. 3:5). Through the Holy Spirit, the scope of God’s purpose has been revealed, and its slow but sure unfolding in human history, and especially Israel’s history is now fully revealed in the new covenant, which God promised would follow the law (Jer. 31:31-34).
The body of believers that constitute the church, made up of Jews and Gentiles reveal to the spiritual forces and powers of wickedness the incredible and multifaceted wisdom of God (Eph. 3:10). The wisdom of God that devised and put into place this plan, utilizing Israel, despite their rebellion and sin, is a clear example of divine ingenuity, persistence, grace, and tenacity. God’s knowledge and wisdom are beyond comprehension when you think of all he had to bring about to accomplish what he did through Christ on the cross, and to do it in order to offer a sacrifice that would atone for sin, while at the same time providing for a resurrection that would lead to Christ fulfilling God’s purpose to have man as his representative assume the throne to rule with him and on his behalf (Dan. 7:13-14). This Jesus did when he came, died and rose from the dead, to be exalted to the throne at the right hand of God (Phil . 2:8-11). God intended, after the sin event, to vindicate himself and his purpose for humanity, in the face of Satan’s cynical opposition to God rule, when he imagined he could overcome the purpose of God by enlisting God’s human agents against him (cf. Gen. 3). The plan was doomed to failure from the outset (Gen. 3:15; Gal. 4:4). And God established a body of believers to represent him in this world and to vindicate his purpose by serving him in this world, even under the present circumstances where opposition to the rule of God exists.
God’s purpose in the church was to reveal through the gospel what was previously hidden in the prophecy of the Old Testament and under the old covenant. That God planned to make this revelation is plainly attested to in scripture where he promises Israel a new covenant operating under a new dynamic power by which righteousness will be written in the hearts of God people and not on stone tablets (Jer. 31:31-34; 2 Cor. 3:7-18). Ezekiel described it even more poignantly when he records that God will sprinkle his people with clean water, to bring cleaning and moral transformation, and he would give them a new spirit and a new heart, replacing the old dynamic of the fleshly heart and carnal life with the new dynamic of a transformed life and power of the Holy Spirit (Ezk. 36:22-32). It was this mystery that was revealed to Paul, the inclusion of Gentiles and Jews in one church, under one redemptive scheme, a morally and spiritually transformative salvation through the sacrificial death of Christ and the gift of the indwelling Spirit to perfect and workout holiness in the lives of God redeemed people. These are the things that Paul endlessly explains in his gospel and his epistles, along with their eschatological implications in terms of God fulfilling his original purposes (cf. Rom. 6-8; 9-11; Gal. 5; Eph. 2:11-22; 3-4; Col. 1-3; Phil. 2:8-11; 1 Thess. 4:13-17; 2 Thess. 2; et al.).
God’s purpose in the church was to restore all things to himself, that had been lost because of sin occurring early on. This restoration Paul calls reconciliation in 2 Corinthians. He says that all this time, God has been at work reconciling the world to himself (2 Cor. 5:19). Paul states that as believers in Christ, who have been reconciled to God, whose sins are pardoned, who are justified by grace and who are morally transformed through an operation of the Spirit, we no longer look at things the way the once did, but rather see them through new eyes, the eyes of those who know and belong to Christ (2 Cor. 5:16a). Once, before we met Christ, we saw everything through the eyes of our flesh, that is our fallen nature, bent on self-fulfillment regardless of moral and ethical consequences or standards (2 Cor. 5:16b). But that is not how we see things now, because we have become new creations in Christ. Everyone who has come to know Christ has been re-positioned with respect to God into Christ, and therefore gaining a new standing with God. Once alienated from God through sin, we are reconciled to God and brought into fellowship with him through Christ and his death on the cross, so that sin is atoned for and its power to keep us from God broken (Col. 1:21-22, cf. 1 Cor. 1:9; 2 Cor. 13:14; Eph. 2:19-22; 1 John 1:3-7). It is by God’s grace we are justified from our sins and reconciled to God when faith is exercised in Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1). The privilege of this reconciliation to God is that God now embraces us in communion and fellowship with him and in the company of his people in the church. One might easily say that the purpose of salvation, and all that Christ did, was to restore us to fellowship with God, and this is God foundational purpose for salvation. In this, the purpose of God for creation overlaps his purpose for redemption, that the world through Christ might be fully restored to God following the final destruction of the power of sin. For that reason, we no longer regard or think about the world or Christ in the same way we once did, but our thinking has changed, it has been renewed by the saving and reconciling experience we have had through Christ and the Spirit (2 Cor. 5:18).
The mission of the church is to accept the assignment God has given to us to become ambassadors of this good news, this gospel of reconciliation to God, of transformation and salvation and redemption, of new life and hope (2 Cor. 5:20a). God is making his appeal through us to the world in which we live, to the people in this world who as yet do not know Christ (2 Cor. 5:20b). The appeal we make to the world is “We implore you to be reconciled to God!” (2 Cor. 5:20c). The church’s purpose and mission overlap the cross where Jesus died, in that it is the place where sin was defeated, and sins are forgiven, and where creation is restored to God and people are reconciled to him. God’s goal is to take us who were sinners, and through Jesus who knew no sin and whom God made a sin offering for us, make us into the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). The divine exchange was that Jesus who had no sin and was perfectly pure, morally and in holiness, was to become the sin offering for us who were sinners, thoroughly steep in sin so that through his sacrifice God might pardon and justify us. The transformation taking place in us is through his sacrifice, and we are to take the message of this reconciling and transforming grace to a lost and dying race. It is the church’s mission.