I’m not entirely sure when I became a Christian. But I know for certain when I wanted to live like one.
I grew up in a faithful home, however, my early childhood faith did not reach too far beyond Sunday school. I was not a student of the Bible, and my understanding of being a good Christian was largely synonymous with being a good citizen. I believed that Jesus died on the cross for my sins, yet I also thought I needed to earn my way into heaven.
This all changed in November 1981 during my sophomore year in high school. I was watching late night TV and televangelist Pat Robertson was at a blackboard presenting the gospel in a way I had never heard before. It was then that I realized I was incapable of securing salvation on my own.
To learn more about God’s nature and my new life, I read the Bible two chapters per night from Genesis to Revelation. Through this first full reading of the Bible, I learned of the “big gospel.” My Sunday school version featured God the Creator and Jesus the Savior. But then I also realized the significance of man’s part in the deal. Adam and Eve’s sin jeopardized God’s perfect plan for humans, causing pain and dysfunction to enter into our human experience. Then God’s grace is manifested in Jesus’ sacrifice and by His empowering call for us to do “on earth as it is in heaven.”
Contemporary scholars such as LifeWay Research President Ed Stetzer have offered a succinct phrase to capture the fullness of God’s mission on earth: Creation – Fall – Redemption – Restoration. A proper understanding of Creation – Fall – Redemption should motivate every Christian to discover and deploy their gifts in the Restoration project. Think about Eph. 2:10: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” As this verse tells us, God made us for a purpose, His purpose to restore the world and to prepare us for the next one.
Indeed, He calls us to great works, but He calls us first to a proper relationship with Him. As I sought to work this out in my own life, I often found myself dwelling on the Greatest Commandment passages in Matthew, Mark and Luke along with the Old Testament corollaries in Deuteronomy and Leviticus. These verses each speak to the simultaneous action required for Christians to live lives pleasing to God. In other words, to love Him and to love His people.
With such importance attached to pursuing these two great loves, I envision a journey toward loving God and loving neighbor as the straightest route to joining Him in His Great mission to restore the world to Himself.
The Micah Mandate
Throughout the New Testament, we see the “Micah Mandate” (to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God) fulfilled in Jesus’ life, which laid tracks for the early church to follow—guidance that resulted in the Christians becoming known for their compassion and generosity. My colleague at Baylor University, Rodney Stark, writes that during the early-century plagues, Christians would rush in to care for the sick and dying while even family members fled.
To live lives “full of grace and truth” requires us to live with Heaven in mind. No modern writer has offered more insight into this faith-filled action than Randy Alcorn. His writing on eternity gives us the heavenly mindset, convincing Christians that we are living in shadows here. His book, The Treasure Principle, has been a leading investment guide on how to steward resources here for eternal significance. And then his book on grace and truth, The Grace and Truth Paradox, gives us a wonderful set of handles to steer our lives toward loving God and others well.
In his 10th chapter of Mere Christianity entitled “Hope,” C.S. Lewis famously wrote that we should, “Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’; aim at earth and you will get neither.” Citing the apostles, the builders of the Middle Ages and the British evangelicals who abolished slavery as examples, Lewis advocates hope as a means for the Christian to live with eager anticipation of God’s perfect world to come (heaven) while making this one better en route. He further states that Christians who think less of the next world are among the least effective in this one.
We were made for Eden and while we lost our membership privileges there, we are still made in God’s image with eternal longings that the natural world cannot satisfy. This should make us uneasy travelers through this world’s passages. Yet, thanks to Jesus’ redeeming work on the cross and the gift of the Holy Spirit, we can participate in God’s plan to restore His kingdom.
Scripture is clear that we do so when we care about what He cares about: the lost and broken places of the world. Living in today’s world with Heaven in mind is the only sure way to fulfill the Great Commission and the Greatest Commandment at the same time, thereby glorifying God and making our lives matter most.
Faith and love require action. So the essential question that Christians from the pulpit to the pew must ask is, “How active is my faith?”
This article is adapted from the FREE eBook The Greater Good: Finding Justice in Grace and Peace by Jay F. Hein. Download it here.