What is the Mission of God? And what do we humans have to do with it?
I agree with Christopher Wright in his book The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission, that the missio Dei is
“The story of how God in his sovereign love has purposed to bring the sinful world of his fallen creation to the redeemed world of his new creation…It is a vast, comprehensive project of cosmic salvation.”
The mission of God is to redeem the entirety of his created cosmos. The evangelical church lost the biblical vision of this huge mission somewhere along the line, truncating the gospel from its cosmic significance to instead focusing just on the salvation of human souls. But we are seeing a sea-change in evangelical theology that is reigniting the theology of creation and new creation, and rediscovering an eschatology that is more than humans in heaven but rather God redeeming all things, as we look forward to the new heavens and new earth.
The story that the Bible tells is a grand metanarrative:
- beginning with God’s good intentions for everything in the creation;
- which then moves into the fall, the breaking of that goodness by human rebellion against God’s purposes;
- after which most of the Bible tells the story of God’s purposes for redemption as it plays out in human history with a new creation initiated in Jesus and God’s kingdom;
- which will finish with the eschatological hope of that redemption coming to its consummation.
As the image-bearers go, so goes the rest of the creation.
But… In this cosmic story, the key to it all is still human salvation!
In our enthusiasm for the cosmic redemption, we must not forget that God’s redemption of all things begins with his redemption of humanity.
The reason is that humanity is God’s most precious creation – the only part of creation that is the imago Dei – placed in charge of the rest of the creation, we are the pinnacle and lynchpin of the creation. If we mess up our duties as the ones with dominion over the earth, then the whole thing would get totally messed up. And that’s what has happened. Instead of submitting to God’s good plan for creation, humanity rebelled. And as the image-bearers go, so goes the rest of the creation.
Therefore, in order to redeem the entire creation, it must start with the redemption of humanity. The creation is in bondage to the consequences of our sin, and awaits its freedom to be what it was always meant to be.
“The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed…” (Romans 8:19)
…The creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).
The redemption of the human race, therefore, is the key to the redemption of everything else. The image of God must be redeemed if the creation is to be renewed.
Jesus, the Perfect Image of God – So We Can be Restored
While Jesus is absolutely worthy of our worship as a member of the Trinity, fully God, we must remember that it is his incarnation as a human that saves, that redeems the image of God in us. Jesus Christ is the perfect image-bearer.
As you read these passages, realize that what the Bible is focusing on is not the divine nature of Jesus, but the human nature of Jesus. The first one is from Colossians.
He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God.” (Colossians 1:15)
We can too easily skip along as we read this verse, thinking, “Duh! Of course Jesus is the image of the invisible God, because he is God!” But I submit it is saying something very different. Jesus is the image of God because he is the perfect human, fulfilling what it means for you and me to be what we are meant to be.
This next verse teaches that we are image-bearers like Adam, the first man, but now with redemption in Christ, we are brought into the fullness of what it means to be the imago Dei.
“Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.” (1 Corinthians 15:49)
But we have an enemy that does not want humans to see the good news that Jesus is the image of God.
“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:4)
But for those who are given the grace to be re-created by God, we are transformed through the process of sanctification! The promise of the Scriptures is that God is restoring our capability to be the image of God as we are moved toward ever-increasing glory.
“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
An important note about human “glory:” Humans cannot become divine. We are not God and we shall never be God! (Sorry Mormons, but this is not what the Bible teaches). Humans are glorious only when we reflect the glory of God as his image-bearers. This is the glory that is promised for us: To become fully human again!
Your Destiny and the Destiny of the Entire Creation
Our destiny as full-blown image-bearers is assured by the decree of God; everything we experience in this life is used by God for that purpose!
In that very important chapter where I started this post, Romans 8, we remember that “the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed…” (v. 19) because “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God” (v. 21) for “we know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (v. 22).
But how do the children of God become “revealed” and experience “freedom and glory” so that the rest of the creation can experience its own liberation?
That is explained just a few verses down in Romans 8:28-30. Be sure to see this magnificent connection!
Romans 8:28 is a verse that many Christians cherish, a promise that God is in control even amidst life’s good times and hard times.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
What an assurance! But let’s ask some questions of this text: What is the “good” that God is working for? What is the “calling” and “purpose” that God has for us?
Those things are in the very next verses:
“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8:29)
The destiny of every Christian is to be conformed to the likeness or image of Jesus Christ, who (remember) is the perfect image and likeness of God.
God is using everything that happens in our lives to mold us into becoming fully human again – made in the image and likeness of God.
And it is only when humans are made fully human again (in other words, when we are restored to being the image of God) will humanity experience being glorified.
“And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” (Romans 8:30)
Only then will God, through his sovereign love, finish his mission of vast, comprehensive, cosmic salvation.