In his fascinating new book, Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel, Russell Moore suggests that Christians alarmed over the “moral decline” of our country stand to miss a real opportunity to demonstrate what the love of Christ really looks like. For decades, Moore argues, Judeo-Christian principles appeared to provide the moral framework for America, which meant Christians didn’t need to articulate why we believe what we believe. But the times, they are a-changin’:
The church now has the opportunity to bear witness in a culture that often does not even pretend to share our “values.” That is not a tragedy since we were never given the mission to promote “values” in the first place, but instead to speak of sin and of righteousness and judgment, of Christ and his kingdom. We will now have to articulate concepts we previously assumed- concepts such as “marriage” and “family” and “faith” and “religion.” So much the better, since Jesus and the apostles do the same thing, defining these in terms of the creation and of the gospel. We should have been doing so all along….* (emphasis mine)
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is NOT to save the world. Jesus already did that. Nor is it to convince other people to share your values, think like you think, or make the choices you make. (Talk about a mission impossible.) Your mission is to love people with the love of Jesus, to seek first the kingdom of God. This is how we make disciples.
When Jesus left the church with the Great Commission, “Therefore go, and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19), He’s just telling us to follow His footsteps. A disciple is someone who looks to Jesus and “learns from Him how to live like Him.”** And that’s how Jesus made disciples: He lived with people. Often, He talked to those people about why He lived the way He did, but first He befriended them and ate dinner with them, went to their weddings and rode in their boats. He washed their feet and played with their kids and worshiped alongside them. He was both really normal and radically different. The really normal part of His life meant that people knew Him well enough to trust Him, but it also meant they were close enough to realize how radically different He was, different in ways that were intriguing and winsome and threatening all at the same time.
This is the life we are called to lead now. In order to make disciples, we have to BE disciples. To the extent that I know Jesus as He is, I will represent Him faithfully. As we draw closer to Jesus, He will begin to take us places and show us people we can introduce Him to. This generally means we will be out of our comfort zones. Get ready to feel awkward; get ready to be thrilled, exhilarated and alive like never before.***
A word about the wording: Matthew 28:19 has been translated most often as “make disciples,” but the original language implies teaching disciples rather than coercion. We can’t do that anyway; Jesus tells us: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” (John 6:44) Don’t go charging in to convert the heathens. You don’t have all the answers, but Jesus does. “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…” (1 Peter 3:16) After all,
Our end goal is not a Christian America… our end goal is the kingdom of God, made up of every tribe, tongue, nation, and language… (We are) free to stand and to speak, not because we are a majority, moral or otherwise, but because we are an embassy of the future, addressing consciences designed to long for good news.*
Father, give me a heart like Daniel, who found himself an ambassador in an alien and hostile culture, “But they could find no charge nor fault, because he was faithful…” May the same be said of me, Lord, that I am faithful to You as You have been faithful to me. Daniel 6:4
Lord, help me to remember I am a sojourner and a pilgrim in this world. Give me the strength to abstain from fleshly lusts which war against my soul. May my conduct honorable among unbelievers... so they may observe my good works and glorify You. For this is Your will, Father, that by doing good I may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. 2 Peter 2:11, 15
Father, help me to be the salt of the earth. Help me to be the light of the world, and let Your light so shine before men, that they see my good works and glorify You in heaven. Matthew 5:13, 14, 16
Jesus, as the Father sent You to the world, now You send me and my brothers and sisters to the world. You give us Your peace, Your truth, and Your Spirit, which sanctify us to go where You send us. John 17:18-19, 20:21
Lord, I pray You will help me realize I cannot force anyone to believe in You, because the natural man does not receive the things of Your Spirit, for they are foolishness to him… anyway, it is You who establishes me and all other believers in Christ… Each of us is responsible to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is You Who works in us both to will and to do for Your good pleasure. It is my responsibility to walk worthy of You and the calling to which I have been called. 1 Corinthians 2:14, 2 Corinthians 1:21, Philippians 2:13, Ephesians 4:1
Father, I ask that You give me a heart to share the good news of the gospel with those who have not heard it. For how can they call on You if they don’t believe in You? And how can they believe in You if they have never heard about You? And how can they hear about You unless someone like me tells them? This is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!”
But not everyone is ready for this, to see and hear and act. Isaiah asked what we all ask at one time or another, ‘Does anyone care, God? Is anyone listening and believing a word of it?” The point is this: before anyone is going to trust You, he or she has to listen. But unless Your Word is preached, there’s nothing to listen to. Give me the discernment, strength, wisdom and desire to share the gospel, Father. Romans 10:14-17 ESV, MSG
*Russell Moore, Onward, Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel, p.9
**Jonathan Parnell, http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-is-a-disciple
*** for my pastor Jim, who challenges us to be awkward! I always have been, so maybe it’s time to put that awkwardness to good use.