Over the next few weeks, I’m leading a short-term group called “A People With A Mission.” It’s about what God has said about us as his people—who we are and what our mission is. I believe it is vital that we understand our identity and our mission as members of the Body of Christ (the Church).
We cannot be faithful followers of Christ without this.
In preparing for the group, I came across this line by N.T. Wright, a pastor/scholar from Great Britain:
“Jesus of Nazareth was the very climax of the long story of Israel. Trying to understand Jesus without understanding what that story was, how it worked, and what it meant is like trying to understand why someone is hitting a ball with a stick without knowing what baseball, or indeed cricket, is all about” (Simply Christian, p. 71).
That’s really well put. And I wonder sometimes if our disagreements within the Church about what we should be doing (e.g., caring for the poor, evangelism, justice, morality) might be settled, or at least informed, if we understood our own background a bit more.
I’ll put it this way: I believe we need Israel’s story to understand who we are and what our mission is—sometimes by comparison and sometimes by contrast.
Here’s what I mean. When we look at Israel’s story—especially God’s promises to Abraham and the way he responded—we learn that sometimes our mission is the same. We are called to carry on what ancient Israel was doing or (more often) to be faithful where they failed. At other times, we see clear differences between us and Israel.
So whenever we read the story of Jesus or any of the New Testament, as we seek to become the Church God has called us to be, there are a few main points I believe we must be clear on. If we miss these, we will struggle as I have for years to understand who we are and what we’re supposed to be doing as the Body of Christ.
(I’ll cover one point here and the other three in part 2 tomorrow.)
God’s Promises to Abraham
In a world filled with wickedness, arrogance, division, and confusion, God called Abraham to step out in faith, start a new nation, and walk obediently in His ways (Genesis 12.1-3; 18.19). God promised to bless him and make his name great. And mostly importantly for us, God promised to bless the entire world through this man and his family. What kind of blessing would that be?
Well, according to the Apostle Paul, this promise was an announcement of the Gospel of Jesus Christ:
“Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’ So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith…He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit” (Galatians 3.8-9, 14).
Condensing about 2200 years of history into one statement, here’s what God promised Abraham and sealed with a covenant:
One day, I will bless all nations by redeeming them through one of your descendents, Jesus of Nazareth, and by indwelling them with my Spirit.
Let this soak in: Through faith in Jesus Christ, you and I are members of Abraham’s family called to be a blessing to all nations. We are the unique people of God who transcend ethnic, political, economic, and social dividing lines. Through his Spirit, God is reversing the division and confusion that started at the Tower of Babel.
This new family tasked with a mission in the world should shape our identities and the purpose of our lives. Unity, peace, Abraham-style faith, and obedience are center to who we are and what we should be doing.
When I try to figure out my place in the world, I need to start here:
I am part of God’s family tasked with a mission to change the world through Christ in the power of the Spirit. No other identity or mission I come up with is more important than that.
If you’re a follower of Jesus, your identity and mission start here too.
Are you open to this?
(NOTE: This is just the beginning of Israel’s story. In my next post, I want to describe how the rest of the story further shapes our identity and mission.)