OUR GOSPEL MISSION
In John 3 we read about a conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. Nicodemus is troubled, concerned, and dissatisfied with his life. He’s wondering about the foundation he’s built his life upon and if there is something he just might be missing. Nicodemus has built his life on a certain way of thinking about God and how one rightly comes to know and live for God. He believed, like so many people do today, that we can make ourselves right with God by living the right sort of religious life: by doing the right things, by not doing the wrong things, by being good enough.
Jesus responds to Nicodemus’ concerns and questions with a line that has become cliché to so many of us. It was so unusual and strange at the time that at first, it went right over Nicodemus’s head. “You must be born again.” You can just imagine Nicodemus’s reaction: “Sure. Wait. What?” Jesus repeats it: “You must be born again.” You must forsake what you were born into, what is familiar and comfortable, and be born into something new.
Nicodemus has lived his entire life in what he was born into, what all of us are born into. Pastors Bill Hull and Brandon Cook call this the “human paradigm,” the idea that if we do something, we get something. This is the “eat what you kill” mindset that has been reinforced to us over and over. “Be a good boy, and Santa will bring you lots of toys.” “Be a good girl, and Mommy will give you this cookie.” It’s this promise that if you do the right things, in the right way, you’ll get what you want. Whether it’s toys or cookies, love, or a certain job. Whatever it is, it’s in our power to earn it. We just have to follow the right steps, work hard enough, try hard enough, and make it happen.
Obviously, there is a lot about this human paradigm that works. If you want to become a really good athlete or musician, you have to work hard, sacrifice time, and practice so you’ll improve. If you want to lose weight, you have to eat better and exercise. The problem occurs when we bring this mindset into our relationship with Jesus Christ and how we try to follow and grow closer to him. We think we will get more of Jesus in our lives, more of God’s blessing and favor if we just do the right things we are supposed to do.
But if our relationship with Jesus is only about what we are doing or not doing and whether our performance is pleasing him or not, we are only going to end up frustrated. The problem with the human paradigm and why we need to be born again not only to go to heaven but to live life here and now for God, is that if you know God in Christ you are already as close to Jesus as you will ever be. You have already received as much salvation as you will ever receive; you have already been given as much as the Holy Spirit as it is possible for you to ever have. God has brought you close, so there is nothing you can do to earn more favor with God. With Jesus, you don’t come to God by doing the right things. You only come by admitting your inability to do the right things. And when you admit that, every spiritual blessing that Jesus Christ accomplished in his life, his death, and his resurrection, becomes yours.
This means we can stop worrying so much about whether or not God is pleased with us, or how close we are to him, and start focusing on God’s overwhelming goodness and grace so that we can become the kind of people who live and love like Jesus, knowing God and making him known. We still have to work hard at that. We still have work to become aware of who God is, of what it means to follow Jesus, of repenting, forgiving, and believing. But our whole focus is different: we don’t work to earn or please, we work to surrender and love.
If we’re already close to Jesus and have his blessing and authority, we can start living for him and following him. We can stop being so concerned with ourselves and start focusing on the welfare of others. We can love them as we have been loved. We can start asking “God, how can you be so good?” “God, how can I share that goodness with others by loving them in your name?” This is living in the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ; this is the life the gospel saves us to live.
In the upcoming months, we are going to walk through the Gospel of Mark, which is all about what it means to follow Jesus. Our mission as believers and as a church is to know God and make him known. Our vision must be to follow Jesus, individually and together, by explicitly letting the gospel inform everything we do. This leads us to focus on three key aspects of the Christian life: “How can I honor Jesus in every area of my life (worship)? How can I love others in Jesus’ name (service)? How can I help others know and love him (mission)?” Jesus came in fulfillment of God’s plan to give us this kind of life, and this is the life we are enabled to live when we embrace his gospel.