The fact that after our salvation Jesus sends us into the world to make disciples and to be the salt and the light of the world, shows that He does not just save us FROM the world, but FOR the world. Being the spiritual descendants of Abraham and recipients of the blessings of salvation, we are to be a blessing to the world . It was never His intention that we enclose our faith within the cocoons of our meetinghouses.
It should come as no surprise to us that if Jesus was sent from heaven into this world that those who believe in Him might be saved, His disciples would also be sent into the world as partners with Him in the same great work. No, we certainly cannot be the sacrifice for sin that satisfies the demand that all sin be punished, but at the same time, we should not expect that when we have benefited from Jesus’ sacrifice we should have no obligation to Him. Of course we cannot repay Him for all He has done for us, but we should be, like the apostle Paul said of himself, “I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish.” (Romans 1:14).
How are we to discharge this obligation? We have, for the most part answered, “By preaching the gospel to the lost.” While this is essentially true, do we understand what all is involved in carrying this out?
Christians have not seen themselves as being a community of people who exist for the world. To often we see ourselves as an enclave of isolation. This has been interpreted at times in terms of monasticism or isolated, insulated communes. Sometimes we see ourselves as standing against society – a counterculture largely confined to church and church related activities and aloof from the surrounding world. We see ourselves as being saved from the world and not for the world.
Christians live in this world but hold citizenship in another realm. Paul wrote in Philippians 3:20-21…
“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”
The allusion Paul uses here would have been understood by the Philippian Christians. Philippi was an outpost of the Roman Empire. It was populated by Roman citizens sent to live there to represent Rome and Roman culture. They were there to model the ideals of Roman citizenship.
Christians – the church – is an outpost of heaven. That means that we are to be representatives to the world of the kind of society God is seeking to create. Paul wrote…
“Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…” (Philippians 2:14-15).
Life in an outpost or frontier community is not what most of us picture as the ideal life. It is not a life of ease and comfort and peace. We are here to represent the heavenly realm and that realm and the earthly are often in harsh conflict. Again Paul wrote to the Philippians…
“For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.” (Philippians 1:29-30).
Part of the “job-description” of the Christian requires suffering “for the sake of Christ.” His suffering was for the world of lost sinners – a world that was in rebellion against heaven’s authority. We have been put into this world as a separate community, but also to be in the world as representatives of the One who rules over all things in heaven and on earth. Obviously there are going to be conflicts between Christians and the world. There was between our Lord and the world. And we are going to suffer as He suffered. In fact, Paul prayed that he might share in Christ’s sufferings. His desire was…
“…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10-11).
If we share in the life of Christ we will also share in His work. If we share in His work, we will also share in His sufferings.
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:12-13).
Jesus told His disciples that…
“…A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. (John 15:20).
Suffering and persecution come to the Christian because he has, in offering himself in service to the world, made himself vulnerable to rejection and all that goes with it. There are so many who do not want what we offer just as people in Jesus’ day did not want what He offered them. There simply is no “safe way” to be a servant to others and not be vulnerable. Those who devote themselves to the service of the Lord’s people face the same kind of thing, perhaps to a lesser degree, yet with greater pain when brethren prove to be false.
We should always remember that the reason we live to serve others – even those who hate us – is that God may be glorified. Peter reminds Christians of this;
“Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” (1 Peter 2:12).
Three verses earlier he had reminded them why they had been chosen as God’s special people…
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9).
The greatest service we can offer the world is to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you.” That is what we have been called to do. To proclaim is to declare, herald, announce, publish the good news of God and of the Savior. To proclaim is to announce one’s message loudly and proudly, publicly and insistently, solemnly and even defiantly. We have a message for the world. We have benefited from what we have to tell them and should want the whole world to know what we know. It is so important that nothing and no one could prevent us from proclaiming it.
But we also have the responsibility of modeling the message before the world as well. A message announced and not backed up by practice of the things we preach is a sham. The failure of professed Christians to live up to their message will be held up as an excuse for not accepting the message. No one has lived without fault before the world. That should not be an excuse for not trying any longer. Rather, we should let it be known that we are flawed reflectors of divine purity – a people who are not perfect, but who are being perfected. Honesty and openness will be appreciated by honest people. But always let the focus be on the Lord who alone is perfect and whose goal is to perfect us in His likeness.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10).