For the Sake of the World
Spiritual formation is never for our own sake. It is always for the sake of someone else–especially the other person who does not yet know Christ. We may attend Bible studies and classes but if what we learn does not result in mission alongside God, then we are not truly like Christ.
I can’t prove this, but I’ve seen it. The person who is new in Christ, fresh in church attendance, with little knowledge of Scripture, is the person likeliest to grasp this concept. They may have questions about how to relate to a non-Christian spouse or friends, but their first thought is never, “I’ve got to get away from all those people in order to focus on my relationship with Jesus.” They are trying to figure out how their new life in Christ gels with what they’re used to. It is this attitude that we all ought to embrace: How does our life with Christ gel with the people, places, and cultural norms that are indifferent to or opposed to Christ?
Dr. Jim Lo at IWU once stated something like, “Worship fuels mission.” Others have said that the greatest gift we can give the world is our intimacy with God (David Robertson of KBM is one). This is what we’re getting at here.
In the New Testament, “world” (Gk. kosmos) is used in three ways.
1. It is the material creation of God, the locus of God’s redemptive activity. God is actively involved in this physical world. Christians are not deists who think God has removed Himself from His created order.
2. It is the place we live in. Simple enough.
3. It stands for humanity living in sin, antagonistic or apathetic toward God. John’s writings in the NT often speak this way.
This threefold usage of the word makes sense and ought to impact how we view our spiritual formation.
1. We are being formed for the sake of the world, God’s material creation. Creation care matters. The things we do to provide clean water for people, for example, are an outcropping of our spiritual formation.
2. We are being formed for the sake of the world, the place we live in. Maybe not so simple. Could it be that this place, cursed though it was at the Fall, is anticipating its own redemption. This is part of Paul’s point in Romans 8–the groaning of the creation that waits for its liberation from bondage to decay is intricately tied to our hope, the redemption of our bodies. When God brings the final resurrection to pass, He will also recreate and renew this world. We grow in spiritual formation, therefore, so that we might play our roles as stewards of creation one day.
3. We are being formed for the sake of the world, those who are living in sin. This “world” desperately needs to see Christ’s body in action. Those who take seriously Christ’s call to radical discipleship, to love God and love neighbor with all they are. Relationships with these kind of men and women are what make the biggest difference in the world around us. Not church programs, not the four spiritual laws, not my blog–but relationships with those who are being conformed into the image of Jesus Christ.