Is Your View of Christ’s Mission for You Fuzzy?

Is Your View of Christ’s Mission for You Fuzzy?

This past week, while studying George Barna’s Millennials in America report, I read “One of the most attention-grabbing attributes revealed in this research regarding the Millennial way of life is their widespread desire to identify a purpose for living. Three out of four Millennials are still searching for their purpose in life.” This evidence that Millennials want a life of purpose reminds me of the popularity of Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Life, which has been translated into 137 languages and sold more than 50 million copies. There is weighty evidence that human beings are designed to want a purpose for living. This episode series is designed to help the men listening accomplish exactly what so many Millennials—and so many humans in general want: experiencing the satisfaction and joy of knowing that they are accomplishing the purpose for which they were created. Our goal for this episode is to frame a biblical, one-sentence description of the mission that Christ assigned us—so that we can stay focused upon it.

So far in this series, Don’t Waste Your Life: Rule It for Jesus, we saw that the foundational commitment required to overcome a disordered way of life is the conviction that our inner private world of the spiritual must govern the outer physical world of activity. Then we observed that the only way to connect our everyday lives to God’s mission for us is intentionality. We observed Jesus demonstrating this intentionality by shutting out his outer world and retreating to a quiet place to discuss his mission with his CO, as a regular part of his life. Today we examine a third requirement for staying focused on our mission: mission clarity. A clear target on the wall to aim for is essential for living according to our mission. Fuzziness about our calling is a major cause of inaction. Competing internal drives take us down paths that consume our time and energy. I am reminded of the conversation in Lewis Carroll’s, Alice in Wonderland, between a disoriented Alice and the Cheshire cat. The cat’s sage wisdom is summarized in the famous quote, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.”

Let’s return to football for an analogy. The more I enjoy a son who coaches high school football, the more complicated I realize the offensive and defensive game plans have to be—and that’s just at the high school level! Nevertheless, as complicated as forming a game plan is, at least the mission is clear and simple. In fact, you could state the mission in one sentence. We need to move the football into the opponent’s endzone more times than they move the football into our endzone. Yes, there are extra points, safeties, field goals, and touchdowns. But at least the mission is clear: move the ball downfield on offense and stop them from moving downfield on defense.

What about our mission from Jesus? Is there some way to bring crisp clarity to our target on the wall by stating our mission in one sentence? After all, there are 7957 verses in the NT alone that relate to our mission. No wonder our understanding of it is so fuzzy! I believe Jesus has given us a one-sentence summary of our mission. It is just nine words: SEEK FIRST THE KINGDOM OF GOD AND HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS (Mt 6:33). I believe this rich sentence is as accurate a description of the Christian’s mission as saying “The object of football is to get the ball into the opponent’s endzone more times than they get the ball into ours” is of the game of football. But Christians today often miss the simplicity and power of this mission summary. Why? Here are three reasons.

A. Many Christians today come from traditions that misunderstand the term kingdom of God. The Bible-believing Christians of the twentieth century in America were significantly shaped by a movement called Dispensationalism, which believed in inerrancy but denied the significance of the created material world, promoted an overly spiritualized Christianity, denied God’s command to Adam and Eve to shape culture (the cultural mandate), and instead urged separation from the “evil” world. Its view of the end times (called Premillennialism) deemphasized the present rule of Christ’s kingdom, teaching instead that Christ’s kingdom does not come until the return of Christ. This view ignored the command to seek the kingdom, because it saw the kingdom as primarily future. It mistakenly understood the words of the Lord’s prayer, “May your kingdom come. May your will be done” to be a request for Jesus to return soon, instead of a request for Christ’s present kingdom of righteousness to spread over the earth. Tim Keller explains:

Some conservative Christians think of the story of salvation as the fall, redemption, heaven. In this narrative, the purpose of redemption is escape from this word; only saved people have anything of value, while unbelieving people in the world are seen as blind and bad. If, however, the story of salvation is creation, fall, redemption, restoration, then things look different. In this narrative, non-Christians are seen as created in the image of God and given much wisdom and greatness within them (cf. Ps. 8), even though the image is defaced and fallen. Moreover, the purpose of redemption is not to escape the world but to renew it…it is about the coming of God’s kingdom to renew all things (“Our New Global Culture: Ministry in Urban Centers” article).

B. The second reason some believers miss the Matt 6:33 summary of our mission is that when they hear seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, they hear this command primarily as the evangelistic call to be saved. Good theology teaches us that the only way any of us is truly righteous is to be “declared righteous,” i.e. justified by God the judge through our faith. We default to thinking that seeking righteousness any other way means pursuing self-righteousness. To seek righteousness feels like moralism to us.

However, and it is a big however, IT IS THE LORD JESUS CHRIST HIMSELF WHO COMMANDS US TO SEEK FIRST HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS. Righteousness (DIKAIOSUNE) in the NT is not just a term to describe our being declared legally righteous by God the judge; it is also the term that describes our sanctification—our character growth into holiness. DIKAIOSUNE is whatever conforms to the moral will of God. It describes right living. It describes what is just, what is wholesome. To pursue righteousness is to pursue wholeness, the restoration of everything on earth broken by sin. It is to make life the way it was supposed to be before Adam and Eve brought sin’s destruction into the world. It is to restore shalom—complete flourishing over every inch of the earth through restored harmony with God, within ourselves, with other humans, and with the material world. Jesus’ mission was not only to justify (declare righteous) the elect; it was also to transform their character and restore wholeness (“rightness”) to his entire, good creation. Seeking righteousness is not moralism; it is our mission!

C. There is a third reason why many Christians miss our calling to spread Christ’s righteous kingdom over the earth, instead remaining silent in critical discussions today about gender, sexuality, marriage, what is best for children, the sanctity of life. They mistakenly believe that voicing opinions about the issues of our day is being too political, and that Christians should not impose their religious values on others. This mistaken thinking is at the heart of a false, sacred-secular divide being promoted by many in the social media. It is based on a misunderstanding of Thomas Jefferson’s “wall of separation” between church and state. Jefferson never intended to cancel religious views from public debate. John Stonestreet explains:

“No statement about religious liberty has generated more controversy than when Thomas Jefferson, in his letter to the Danbury Baptists, prescribed “a wall of separation between church and state.” The key question is what the wall was meant to keep out. Many assume Jefferson wanted to keep religion out of politics, but a new video from the First Liberty Institute explains the letter’s context. Feeling pressure from Connecticut’s established Congregationalist church, the Danbury Baptists (and Jefferson) wished to keep the government out of religion. Although not a Christian in any orthodox sense, Jefferson did not want religion abolished from public life. Just two days after writing the Danbury letter, for example, he began holding church services in the House of Representatives. This, as a recent Library of Congress exhibit made clear, was a deliberate way of supporting religion as an aspect of republican government. And of course, Jefferson argued that “Nature and Nature’s God” is what endows people with inalienable rights, including the right to religious expression” (Breakpoint 1/9/23). 

For a Christian to think that he should not bring his moral values into civic discussions about the laws that govern our world is to misunderstand the concept of “the separation of church and state” and deny Gods original command to Adam and Eve to subdue, rule the earth according to God’s laws of righteousness.

A FULLER DISCUSSION OF MATTHEW 6:33: SEEK FIRST THE KINGDOM OF GOD

In this verse, Jesus hearkens back to the Genesis 1 calling of Adam and Eve to impact the world around them, shaping it according to God’s agenda of righteousness. Indeed, it is assigned to us by our Lord as our top priority. Seek FIRST the kingdom of God and his righteousness. By definition, the word, seek requires intentionality. It means to pursue, to go after, to follow. It means deciding to move towards a goal, whether it is seeking a gold medal or more customers through advertising. The context surrounding this command to seek first God’s kingdom suggests that a good translation of this word, (ZETEO), might be, to be pre-occupied with. Here is what I mean.  In the rest of Matthew 6, Jesus is saying:

1. Don’t be preoccupied with: What Others Think of You

When you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others (vs 2) …and when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others (vs 5)…  And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others (vs 16).

2. Don’t be preoccupied with: Piling Up Earthly Treasure

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (vs 19-21).

3. Don’t be preoccupied with: Worry

I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. (vs 25-26).

4. Instead, DO be preoccupied with the Kingdom of God--Your First Priority

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (vs 33). Those who put their faith in Christ are not called to a life of haphazard spontaneity; they are called to put their energy into pursuing something. In fact, says Jesus, we are to avoid three distractions which can easily push kingdom pursuit into the background 1) fear of what others think of us, 2) preoccupation with building a nest egg of material security, 3) and obsession with worry. Instead, what is to preoccupy us is advancing the kingdom of God.

One reason we fail to keep our call to seek God’s kingdom of righteousness in the forefront of our minds is that it is nearly impossible to strive towards reaching a goal that is nebulous and out of focus. We must have a concrete picture of the kingdom of God, or we can’t stay focused upon it. Fortunately, Matthew, the author of this gospel, understood much of the confusion surrounding the concept of God’s kingdom. As a Jew who celebrated the Psalms, he knew that God’s people often sang of God’s kingship over the whole earth meaning his universal sovereign rule over all the affairs of men. But Matthew knew that could NOT be what Jesus was commanding his followers to pursue; God is already sovereign! Being one of the twelve, Mathew had heard Jesus use the term, kingdom of God, in many seemingly different ways. The kingdom of God is a community in which the king exercises dominion with his followers on his left and right (Mt 20:21), in which the righteous shine and from which the wicked are cast out (Mt 13:43), is a gift from the Heavenly Father (Lk 12:32), is being prepared by God for his people (Mt 25:34) to mention just a few. So, what ASPECT of the Kingdom of God are Jesus’ followers to seek as the highest priority of their lives?  Matthew makes it quite clear which aspect of the kingdom of God Jesus was referring to—by continuing the Matthew 6:33 command, Seek first the kingdom of God with the words AND HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS. Matthew uses a grammatical structure called a hendiadys to show that kingdom of God and righteousness are being used synonymously. Seeking first the kingdom of God is seeking the righteous rule of Christ over every sphere of human life. The kingdom of God is the kingdom of righteousness.

THE CASE FOR MATT 6:33 AS A SUMMARY OF OUR MISSION

To say that our entire mission from Christ can be reduced to pursing the spread of rightness over earth is, in my view, invaluable for staying focused on it. You decide if the following makes my case.

  • As God’s image bearers, Adam and Eve were given a kingdom, earth to rule righteously for the High King.
  • Adam and Eve rebelled, enslaving their kingdom to Satan, sin, and death.
  • A second Adam, called the Messiah, was promised who would one day set Adam’s kingdom free from its slavery and destruction brought by the kingdom of darkness. He would reestablish righteousness over the earth.
  • The bondage of the OT saints to military powers who conquered them were the sanctions brought upon them for breaking their covenant with Yahweh. The root need, therefore, was never the overthrow of Amorites or Assyrians, but the overthrow of sin. Satan, sin, and death were always the true tyrants.
  • The Second Adam overthrows the corruption of the fallen order caused by Adam’s sin and demonstrates the arrival of the new order. By his healing power, he shows that the kingdom of God reverses the curse on Adam’s kingdom brought about by their sin. The deaf hear, the blind see, the lame walk. Broken human bodies are made whole. Even destructive forces of nature are overpowered. The curse upon them, because of Adam’s sin, is temporarily overcome by the command of earth’s rightful king.
  • Jesus empowers his disciples to heal and to explain that such restored bodies demonstrate that the kingdom of God is near (Lk 10:11).
  • The ultimate vanquishing of the destructive effects of sin’s reign over the earth is Jesus’ overthrow of death. He raises Jairus’ daughter from the dead, the widow’s son, and his friend Lazarus. In so doing, Jesus demonstrates more than his divine power. He is showing that he has come to overthrow the brokenness and havoc spread through all of creation by sin.
  • The arrival of King Jesus’ new order is further manifest by his power over Satan’s kingdom. In Matthew 12:26-29 Jesus interprets his own mission to be the invasion of Satan’s kingdom. Paul explains Jesus’ victory over the kingdom of darkness. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them at the cross” (Col 2:13-15).
  • Satan, sin, and death have been disarmed and dethroned from ruling earth, but not destroyed. They remain to conduct guerilla warfare as Christians seek to spread Christ’s kingdom over the earth. That is why Jesus begins the great commission, ALL AUTHORITY IN HEAVEN AND ON EARTH HAS BEEN GIVEN TO ME, THERFORE GO AND MAKE DESICIOPKES OF THE NATIONS.
  • God the Son already had all authority in heaven and on earth; he created them. So, what can Jesus mean? Jesus in his role as the Second Adam is the victor who booted Satan, sin, and death off of earth’s throne, taking it over.
  • The Great Commission text reads Go and make disciples OF THE NATIONS. This statement of our mission does not read, “Go make individual disciples from every nation.” The Greek says, “disciple all the nations." Discipleship begins with responding to the gospel by faith. It continues by coming into the body of Christ to be taught Jesus’ commands, and then being sent out--just as Adam and Eve were—to use their influence to shape culture, i.e. to disciple the nations.

The mission of Christ followers can be stated succinctly. It is to seek “rightness” over the earth. Here are some questions you might contemplate this week:

  • Rightness in my relationship with God: How am I doing at loving my Lord?  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (Lk 10:27).
  • Rightness in my heart attitudes: How am I doing with Peter’s exhortation? For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.
  • Rightness in the world around me. What areas of brokenness around me has God put on my heart? Individuals? Worldview issues? What opportunities do I have to speak truth into such brokenness? What opportunity do I have to exercise compassion towards the broken? How might I become better equipped to winsomely articulate the biblical worldview? (I highly recommend the Colson Center’s What Would You Say short videos).

So, mathematically, how many goals can occupy the position of first in your life? Only one. “If you stay focused on one mission—seeking first Christ’s agenda of righteousness every sphere of your life and world—then,” says Jesus, “everything else will take care of itself.”