The Missionary Nature of God
Our world is a mess, and as humans we are the big reason it is such a mess. And that’s because we are sinners, fallen creatures whose nature, at the core, is evil. However much we like to think of ourselves as advancing, as improving, the history of the past century isn’t too encouraging. And here we are, not even a quarter of the way into this century, and things don’t look that bright from here, either. If the past is a precursor to the future, all we can expect, to quote a former British politician, is “blood, toil, tears, and sweat.”
All is not lost, though. On the contrary, Jesus Christ has died for our sins, and through His death we have the promise of salvation, of restoration, of all things being made new. “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” (Rev. 21:1, NKJV).
We have not been left alone, abandoned in the infinite expanse of a cold and apparently uncaring cosmos to fend for ourselves. We could never do it; the forces arrayed against us are so much greater than we are. That’s why God had the plan of salvation in order to do for us what we could never do for ourselves.
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, July 4.
One of the perennial questions humans have asked is, Where do I come from? In the first two chapters of the Bible (in fact, all through the Bible), we have been given the answer to what many would consider the most important question a person can ask. After all, only by knowing where we came from are we off to a good start in knowing who we are, why we exist, how we are to live, and where we are ultimately going.
1. Man and woman were created last of all the creatures. They had the whole visible Creation in front of them to study and care for.
2. God’s mode for creating man and woman differed from that of the other creatures. Up to this point, the divine command had been, “Let there be” (light, firmament, water, fish and birds, animals, etc.). Now the command was turned into consultation: “Let us make man . . .” The Three Persons of the Godhead—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit— consulted about it. Though these two chapters deal with the creation of the earth and the creatures on it, there’s no question that the main focus is on the creation of humanity itself.
3. Man and woman were created in God’s image and likeness, something not said about anything else that was created at that time. Though the text doesn’t say what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God, it must mean that humans in some way reflect the character of their Creator. Because humans have a moral capacity not seen in other creatures (butterflies might be beautiful, but they don’t struggle with questions of right and wrong), to be made in the likeness and image of God surely means that to some degree humans must reflect His moral character.
4. Man and woman were to have dominion, to represent God on earth, and rule over the rest of Creation. This calling entails responsibility.
Embedded in the Creation account is the warning God gave about not eating from “the tree of knowledge of good and evil” (Gen. 2:9). So, right from the start, we can see the moral element granted humanity, something not seen in any of the other living creatures. As we said yesterday, the capacity for moral judgment is one way that humans reveal the image and likeness of God.
God could have created humans so that they automatically do His will. That is the way the other created things, such as light, sun, moon, and stars, were made. They obey God without any element of choice. They fulfill the will of God automatically through the natural laws that guide their actions.
But the creation of man and woman was special. God created them for Himself. God wanted them to make their own choices, to choose to worship Him voluntarily without being forced to. Otherwise, they could not love Him, because love, to be true love, must be freely given.
Because of its divine origin, human free will is protected and respected by God. The Creator does not interfere with the deepest, persistent choices of men and women. Wrong choices have consequences, sometimes very terrible ones, too, but it is against the character of our Sovereign Lord to force compliance or obedience.
The principle of human free will has three important implications:
For religion: an omnipotent God does not unilaterally direct individual will and choices.
For ethics: individuals will be held morally accountable for their actions.
For science: the actions of body and brain are not wholly determined by cause and effect. Physical laws are involved in our actions, but free will means that we do have a choice regarding our actions, especially moral ones.
Eating a little fruit was not a sinful act in itself. However, we have to consider the circumstances in which it was carried out. Adam and Eve were agents with a free will, made by God in His image. This included the freedom—but also the duty—to comply with God’s expressed will. They ate the fruit, not out of any stern necessity but rather by choice. It was an act of Adam’s and Eve’s own free will in defiance of God’s clear and specific instructions.
Likewise, we must choose for ourselves whether or not to follow God and whether to cherish or to defy the Word of God. God will not force anyone to believe His Word. He will never force us to obey Him, and He can’t force us to love Him. God allows each of us to choose for ourselves which path we will follow. But, in the end, we must be prepared to live with the consequences of our choices.
By eating the fruit, Adam and Eve, in effect, told God that He was not the perfect ruler. His sovereignty was challenged. They proved disobedient, and as a result, they brought sin and death to the human race.
“So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life” (Gen. 3:23, 24, NIV).
Adam and Eve had to leave Paradise. It was a necessary yet merciful consequence. The Lord would not allow rebellious humanity access to the tree of life. With loving care, He kept Adam and Eve away from the fruit that would make them immortal and thus perpetuate the terrible condition into which sin had brought them. (Imagine what eternal life would be like in a world filled with such pain and suffering and evil as ours is!) Adam and Eve were driven out from the lovely Garden to work the less friendly ground outside (vss. 23, 24).
The Bible shows that after the Fall of our first parents, it was God who came looking for them, not vice versa. On the contrary, the man and woman tried to hide themselves from the presence of the Lord. What a powerful metaphor for so much of the fallen human race: they flee the One who comes looking for them, the only One who could save them. Adam and Eve did it in Eden, and unless surrendered to the wooing of the Holy Spirit, people are still doing the same thing today.
Fortunately, God did not cast aside our first parents, nor does He cast us aside either. From the time that God first called out, “ ‘Where are you?’ ” to Adam and Eve in Eden (Gen. 3:9, NKJV), until today, He is still calling us.
“In the matchless gift of His Son, God has encircled the whole world with an atmosphere of grace as real as the air which circulates around the globe. All who choose to breathe this life-giving atmosphere will live and grow up to the stature of men and women in Christ Jesus.” —Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ, p. 68.
Of course, the greatest revelation of God’s missionary activity can be seen in the incarnation and ministry of Jesus. Though Jesus came to this earth to do many things—to destroy Satan, to reveal the true character of the Father, to prove Satan’s accusations wrong, to show that God’s law can be kept—the crucial reason was to die on the cross in the place of humanity, in order to save us from the ultimate result of sin, which is eternal death.
John 3:14, 15
2 Cor. 5:21
God “made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us” (2 Cor. 5:21, NKJV). That is what it took in order for us to be made “the righteousness of God in Him” (NKJV). This idea has been called the “great exchange,” Jesus taking on our sins and suffering as a sinner so that we, though sinners, can be counted as righteous before God as Jesus Himself.
Mission is God’s initiative to save lost humanity. God’s saving mission is motivated by His love for each one of us. There is no deeper reason for it. God sent Christ on a mission to bring salvation for the whole world. John’s Gospel alone contains more than forty declarations of the cosmic dimension of Jesus’ mission. (See, for example, John 3:17, 12:47.) As Christ was sent by the Father to save the world, He in turn sends His disciples with the words “ ‘as the Father has sent me, I am sending you’ ” (John 20:21, NIV).
The metaphors of salt and light express core functions of Christian influence on humanity. While salt operates internally, joining the mass with which it comes in contact, light operates externally, illuminating all that it reaches. The term “earth” in the salt metaphor refers to men and women with whom Christians are expected to mix, while the phrase “light of the world” refers to a world of people in darkness and in need of illumination.
The children of Israel were encouraged to live up to the moral principles and health rules that God had given them. They were to be a light, illuminating and attracting—you are “a light for the Gentiles” (Isa. 49:6, NIV). Their collective existence in a state of health, prosperity, and loyalty to God’s Sabbath and other commandments would proclaim to the surrounding nations God’s mighty acts of Creation and Redemption. The nations, observing their prosperity, would approach them and learn to be taught of the Lord. (That was the idea anyway.)
When Christ came, He also talked about salt, another way to witness. By their influence in the world, Christians are to curb the world’s corruption. Unbelievers are often kept from evil deeds because of a moral consciousness traceable to Christian influence. Christians not only have a good influence on the corrupted world by virtue of their presence in it, they also mingle with people in order to share the Christian message of salvation.
Further Study: We have dealt with some aspects of the missionary nature of God. Mission is an enterprise of the triune God. Mission is predominantly related to Jesus Christ, whose Incarnation is central to Christian faith and mission. By His life and death, Jesus has paved the way for the salvation of all the human race. We, as His followers, His missionaries, have to let people know the good news of just what Jesus has done for them.
“The church of Christ on earth was organized for missionary purposes, and the Lord desires to see the entire church devising ways and means whereby high and low, rich and poor, may hear the message of truth. Not all are called to personal labor in foreign fields, but all can do something by their prayers and their gifts to aid the missionary work.”—Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6, p. 29.