Theology. Gospel. Mission. Let’s be honest. These words have not only been heard by many, but also defined by many. Trying to get 10 people in a room to agree to a definition of these would be like trying to get Obama and Bush to throw a birthday party for Ralph Nader. That’s right, I figured out a way to mention Ralph Nader in a post on theology, gospel, and mission.
I am not going to try and negate other definitions of these things but, rather, give insight on how I work these three terms out in my life on a daily basis.
When we think of these terms, it might be helpful to see them in this light:
- Theology: Who is God?
- Gospel: What has he done? Who are we?
- Mission: What do we do?
When we can break these terms out in this way, it creates for us an umbrella that is easier to work out the understandings and intertwining of each with the other.
Theology: Who is God?
To work out the understanding of the gospel or mission, we need to first understand the character of God and who he is. God isn’t who he is because of what he does, but he just is who he is and out of his being comes his doing. This is exactly what he told Moses: “Tell the Egyptians, I am who I am.”
We learn who God is by the story he has written for us. We see over and over again in the story how he is defined. He is defined as love, a provider, a shield, a rock, wisdom, infinite, powerful, etc.
Many people like to overcomplicate theology and make it far more difficult than needed. I am not saying that there will not be some great debates in theology, but if more and more people immersed themselves in the overall story of God shown to us in the Bible, it gets far less complicated.
The more and more we understand who God is, the more and more we can see those things that are consistent with what he does.
I was recently talking to a young man who is my intern. He asked why something in his life was not working out how that he wanted. He didn’t know why God was allowing this trial to happen. I directed him back to the understanding of who God is. We know he is trustworthy, we know he is infinite, we know he is loving, we know he is our Dad, we know he is in control of all things. If this is true, can we trust that even though we are going through a trial, that God has it handled and he is one whom we can trust and submit to? He agreed, and went back to his Dad to pray that his faith would be increased.
If you don’t understand who God is first and jump right into what he does/has done, it won’t make sense. Plus, you can then attribute things to him that are outside of his character and blame God instead of trust him. If this young man didn’t understand who God is, or I didn’t point him to those facts, then we can just come to the conclusion that God is mean and vindictive because we base God’s character on what we see… not what he’s told us.
The Gospel: What has God done?
If we understand who God is, then we can see clearly what he’s done. The big mistake for most “evangelists” is they hand out the Gospel of John, without any reference to the reality of who God is (the entirety of the Scriptures… specifically the Old Testament).
If we know that God is love, wise, perfect, infinite, trustworthy, all powerful, etc. then we can move on to what he does out of his character. When we keep reading in the Scriptures that because God is love he is always pursuing his people (even though they are continually sinning), forgiving his people, disciplining his people and in a relationship with his people, we can then understand even further the good news, called the gospel.
When we learn that we are sinners, separated from God in need of a Savior to live a life on our behalf, die on our behalf, and raise to new life so we can be given the Spirit, it comes as no surprise when we learn that God sent his Son on our behalf. (I know there is a lot more to this story, but we want to be brief)
Why are we not surprised? Because it is completely consistent with his character and how he has always operated. Not only that, but we can see how our Savior Jesus is the fulfillment of the shadows given in the stories previous to his coming. Again… consistent.
It is paramount that we know the story, and continually rehearse the story to ourselves and others in our community. Because the fact is, the gospel isn’t something that merely happens to us when we check a box, walk the aisle, and get dunked in tub with cheers and photographs. It happens the next day when we fall into sin and again, needing a Savior constantly.
When we realize who God is and the fact of what he’s done, we can see that our God is going to keep pursuing us, forgiving us, disciplining us and desires to have a relationship with us… because that’s how he has always operated.
The Gospel: Who are we?
We can’t skip over this important understanding. If God is who he is because of who he is and out of that is what he does, and we are made in his image, we need to realize we are the same way.
Out of our being, comes our doing.
Like my friend Caesar Kalinowski says, “We are human beings, not human doings.”
The fact is, that because of who God is and what he has done, we are now made new. We are now children of God, heirs to the throne. This has nothing to do with what we’ve done, but entirely of what God has done on our behalf. God gives us a new identity. Now we are not enemies of God, but his disciples.
If this is true, then it cannot be taken and our worth will never be gauged by our activities. We will never be told who we are because of our failures or successes. We have to realize that we are already God’s children and accepted by him.
What is great about this is that we don’t even have to muster up on our own the belief in these truths, but God has sent his Spirit to comfort us, to confirm us, and to give us his power as the down payment for the glorified time to come when we join our God in Heaven.
Sure, fruit will flow from this, but we are never proven by our efforts, they are just an outflow of who God has now made us through his power, love, pursuit, and wisdom.
This is why it is so easy for Paul to say that he is the chief of all sinners, yet an adopted son of God. To live is Christ, to die is gain.
The Mission: What do we do?
After realizing who we are – changed, renewed, and made a child of God by his power – our first question in light of this is, “What should we now do?”
It’s quite obvious if one looks to what we have deemed “The Great Commission”:
Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted!
Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Notice some things before we get into the commission. First, they worshiped, but some still doubted! This gives me great comfort. Even though they had just seen with their eyes the risen Jesus, they still doubted. This did not remove them from God’s love, forgiveness, family, or mission though… Jesus just continues to tell them in the midst of their doubts that HE has been given all authority, NOT us. Not only this, but in Acts 1:8 Jesus repeats himself that the Spirit will give us power to be his witnesses to make disciples, not us.
So, not only is our identity all based on the works of Jesus, but so is our mission. This means that if we “fail” or we “succeed” (I put these terms in quotes because we all have our definition of these terms in everyday life, that might be defined different by an infinite God) God still accepts us and sends us out again for the mission.
What is the mission? This isn’t hard. Our mission is to make disciples of Jesus who then make disciples of Jesus. Everything the church does should always be asking, “How does this make disciples and are we doing it in the most effective way that is making disciples of Jesus, not us?”
We need to be asking ourselves how we can show people who Jesus is through our/their head, heart, and hands. Meaning, how can we teach them how to understand with their mind, change their hearts to know him, and then go and do likewise with their feet to all nations?
We should always be looking at the life of the church and simply ask:
- What are we doing to make disciples of Jesus?
- What are we doing that is not making disciples of Jesus? Get rid of it
- What should we be doing to make disciples of Jesus? Add this to our lives
Are we doing things that are transferable so that disciples can then make more disciples? If it’s not easily transferable to “non-pastors” then we need to simplify it or rework it so that it becomes transferable.
So, one can see that as you look at theology, gospel, and mission they are very intertwined and cannot be separated. When one lacks, the family of God lacks.
We need to consistently be in a community that will always be evaluating if we:
- Know who God is
- Know what God has done and know who we now are
- Know what we must do
And we must always be putting to the forefront the understanding that these are all by grace, by the power of God for his glory… and his glory alone.