During my final semester of college, I had a theology professor who was really excited about something. Every day he was just so excited! No one in the class had any idea what the guy was talking about, and the book we were assigned was so awful that it didn’t help. About midway through the term, one guy caught on, and the two of them would get so animated as they marveled about something to do with the Bible being God’s story. Like, duh, but something else was going on because they were really passionate about it, while the rest of us just tried to pass the class while completely in the dark as to what it was.
Fast forward twenty years and a few months into my deconstructing journey in pursuit of understanding what a disciple is and I finally got it. It was like one of those weird moments at the of an M. Night Shyamalan movie when all of the sudden there’s a little clue that changes everything. It was my conversion moment.
The Bible, Christianity, all of it, is about God’s mission. This is what Dr. Wright was so excited about in that theology class. At the time, though, I couldn’t get past the idea that it’s not about accepting Jesus so I would go to heaven when I die (or getting other people to do that), either! I think this is a challenge for more people than just me. Our faith was built on this idea; we made “being saved” the foundation of Christianity. But building an entire religion on personal salvation was like building a house on sand, and that’s why it’s falling apart.
Personal salvation is good but it’s not the main thing; Jesus came to bring heaven to earth, not earth to heaven. When we build our whole system on personal salvation, we make our relationship with God shallow, self-centered, and transactional. This kind of foundation is not strong enough to withstand our doubts and questions.
Accepting Jesus means accepting that he is the Messiah, the Anointed One, sent by God to reveal God’s mission to us. To accept Jesus is to agree to carry on his mission. The mission that got him killed – and not just him – but many of his followers, too. Jesus didn’t become the Messiah after he was crucified; he was killed because he was the Messiah.
Recognizing Jesus as Messiah is the little clue that changes the entire biblical narrative. If Jesus was the Messiah, then accepting his mission is to love the world as God loved the world, to go out and offer forgiveness and grace in the world. The mission is to love, not to condemn.
The Old Testament tells of how God sought to carry out his mission through a single family/tribe/nation and how they failed. Jesus shed light on the mission when he spoke in the synagogue early in his ministry:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)
Jesus then spent the rest of his time on earth carrying out this mission. Your mission, God’s “plan for your life,” should you to choose to accept it, is to be an instrument of God’s blessing in the world.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
– The Peace Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi
Read Part 4: Have You Been Saved? Saved from What?
Next Week: The Journey of Reconstructing Faith Begins