Eric Zeller is a very close friend and a very like-minded brother in Christ. We roomed together in college, drove cross-country together, studied biblical languages together, went to seminary together, and discussed being missionaries together. I know his entire family, I know his missional heart, and I know his foreign destination if the Lord wills. I respect him greatly. Formally, “Eric is a graduate of The Master’s College (B.A. in Biblical Languages) and The Master’s Seminary (M.Div.). He is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in Bible Exposition at Dallas Theological Seminary as he prepares for a ministry of training pastors and church leaders internationally. His wife and best friend is Heather and they have three children, Caroline, Emmett, and Randall. Eric has also worked in the technology industry as a software developer. You can find his ministry updates at www.ewz.com. Eric has served as Associate Pastor [at Grace Bible Church in Grapevine, Texas] since spring 2005.”
GUEST POST BY ERIC ZELLER
If there are any two truths I’ve been taught again and again, they are that (1) salvation is not of myself — it is a gift of God, and (2) the faith that saves is a faith that sanctifies — genuine conversion bears fruit. What hasn’t received the same emphasis in the churches and schools I’ve attended is a third concept, which I’ve come to see as the goal (and unifying factor) of the first two.
Think of the way God relates to humanity as a baseball game. When you get up to bat in baseball, what are you trying to do? Score runs! What is God’s purpose in relation to humanity? Scripture answers: “to bring glory to himself” (cf. Eph. 1). Think of God’s glory as home plate. That’s the ultimate goal. But just as in baseball you have to circle three other bases to get home, God has planned that he desires to be glorified in this world in a particular way, and that there will be specific steps on the way to that ultimate goal.
One passage where you can see this is Genesis 18:19. Right before God destroys Sodom and Gomorrah there is this little parentheses where God speaks of his covenant relationship with Abraham:
“For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him” (Gen. 18:19).
So right away, here’s First Base: God’s Choice. God says “I have chosen him.” God had established a special relationship with this man and made a covenant with him. Sure, as church-age believers we are in a different time and situation than Abraham, but we have this in common: God’s choice. Any discussion of mission, or salvation, or glorifying God, needs to start with the initiative of God. However, though God’s choice is of immense importance, it is just first base. It is supposed to lead to something, which is:
Second Base: God’s Ethic. In the verse, Abraham is chosen “that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice.” This “walking in the way of the LORD” is a favorite metaphor of the OT for talking about the conduct God requires of his people. There is a contrast implied. Walking in God’s way is different than walking in the way of some other god, or walking in your own way, or, in this passage, walking in the way of Sodom. It is a general statement that invites you to explore the rest of scripture to see more specifically what walking in God’s way means. So obeying God and walking in his way is second base. But God doesn’t stop there, either. What’s next?
Third Base: God’s Mission. The ethical portion of Genesis 18:19 has a purpose of its own: “so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” What has God promised to Abraham? In the previous verse (18:18), God restates his promise that “all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in (Abraham).” In Galatians 3:8, Paul explains this promise as scripture “foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith” and “preach(ing) the gospel beforehand to Abraham.” The promise to “bless all nations,” then, is the promise of the gospel — that God will one day send his Son to die on the cross as a substitute for sinners, and that salvation will come to people from every tribe and tongue and nation (cf. Rev. 7:9-10). This is “the mission of God” as we see in the Bible.
The purpose of getting to first base is to go to second, the purpose of getting to second is to go to third, and the purpose of getting to third is to come home. These two purpose clauses of Genesis 18:19 teach in such clear and concise language what you can see throughout scripture: God chooses people to make them like himself to use them in his mission. If you want to glorify God, none of the three components are optional.
If you’re the sort that loves to study theology — remember that election is not just soteriological, but missional. It is not an end in itself but a means to the greater end of bringing blessing to the nations. If you’re the sort that is excited about sanctification — about the “put off/put on” parts of the Bible — remember not to substitute your purposes for God’s. He has put you on second base for the purpose of getting to third. If you’re one of these guys that is all about being “missional” — don’t forget that if we’re going to talk about God’s mission we also have to talk about God’s ethic and God’s choice. It may be that your theology of mission needs to put more emphasis on those elements that God thinks are so important in his theology of mission. If you’re from the same theological tradition I am — don’t just see the sovereignty of God and obedience to God as important in their own right, but see them as the foundation for God’s mission.
Next time: how this relates to Jesus’ Strategy for Mission.