By Gary Bergel
“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. And do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander…. For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” — 1 Peter 3:15-18
The Christian faith is incarnational. To incarnate means to enflesh or to embody in human form. In Jesus Christ, God in His eternal fullness appeared after the flesh in space and time.
J. I. Packer in Knowing God describes Christ’s Incarnation as the “supreme mystery” associated with the gospel. In it, somehow, a holy God and sinful humanity are joined, yet without the presence of sin. “Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the Incarnation,” Packer declares. C. S. Lewis called it “the grand miracle.” In their recent book, Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe (Crossway, 2010), authors Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears sum it up in a chapter simply titled: “Incarnation: God Comes.”
All the religions of the world are filled with human initiative – man searching and reaching for God. In the gospel we have God’s search and God’s reach for man. In and through Christ, God took the initiative to redeem us. “We love Him because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
The word “gospel” is a derivation from the Old English god-spel, “good story.” The Greek word euangelion, Latinized evangelium, “good message,” is the source of our terms evangelist and evangelism. At the time of Jesus the Greek word evangel meant revolutionary “good news.” An evangel announced the defeat of an enemy and an end to war. It brought declaration that a ruthless ruler had died. It legally carried liberty to captives and freedom for the oppressed. It announced a new king assuming a throne and initiating a new reign and rule. An evangel brought immediate change and often joy. An evangel did not speak only of the past and point to the future, it impacted and transformed the present.
It was the Evangel of the eternal Kingdom of God that Jesus actuated, preached and demonstrated. (Matthew 10:7, 12:28, 16:28) Christ boldly declared that He was “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion.” He proclaimed Himself ruler over the kings of the earth, and that He was Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. He predicted that the Kingdom rule and reign He was ushering in would eclipse and redemptively subsume all the kingdoms of the world. (1 Corinthians 15: 24-28; Ephesians 1:15-23; Revelation 1:5, 11:15) This awesome Evangel, this cosmic gospel of Christ, the conquering Lamb, has been entrusted to us.
We are not only to give intellectual assent to the gospel, we are to incarnate it. We are to live it, demonstrate it, and proclaim it. It is obvious that not all followers of Christ are called to be formal evangelists, but all are to treasure and share the Evangel of Christ. All Christians are to function as living witnesses. Witnesses present testimony and “bear witness” to truth and reality. Witnesses are questioned and carry legal clout as they testify. As the apostle Peter exhorted, we are to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks [us] to give the reason for the hope that [we] have.” Our answer is stunning: “Christ in us, He is our hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27,28)
As Christ took on flesh in the Incarnation, we now carry Christ and His Evangel in our flesh. Yes, we might often feel like broken or marred vessels, weak and fragile. “We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:6-7)
Jesus is our incarnational missional model. Emerging from his father’s carpentry shop, Jesus of Nazareth went forth as the ultimate “living witness.” While regularly drawing off and spending time in solitude and prayerful fellowship with His Father, He did not separate and isolate as an acetic. Jesus walked forth and mingled in the mess of human history. He entered the communities of pharisaical Judaism and pagan mystery religions, oppressive Roman politics, and a mangled, decadent culture.
In it, but not of it, Jesus embodied and demonstrated integrity, mercy, unconditional love and blessing, truth and justice, healing virtue and good humor. He celebrated the fullness of Life. He went forth and visited. He ate and socialized, encouraged and comforted. He fed the hungry, healed the sick, and taught through nature stories and parables. But He also pointedly proclaimed, testified, and pressed the claims of His Father. Nearly 40 times in his gospel account, John notes Jesus declaring that the Father had sent Him.
Jesus puzzled the rich and successful. He provoked the proud, the pretenders, and the self-righteously religious. Yup, these reviled Him and tried to stone Him. Yet, they were part of His crucifixion, redemption plan. Unknowingly, they played their roles.
The authentic, non-gutted biblical gospel is all about all of Life. It is a liberating Evangel, a whole gospel for the whole person. It is an integrated redeeming “glad tiding” for the whole world and the whole of creation. By carrying Christ and His Evangel forth in our daily lives, we are indeed living witnesses, carrying forth hope, redemption and healing for the human family and for an abused and degraded planet.
Everyone, everywhere desperately needs Jesus. Let us go forth. Let us fulfill our Lord’s prophetic declaration: “You will be My witnesses…. to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)