GUEST POST BY ERIC ZELLER
I believe Jesus’ strategy for mission is summarized in Matthew 5:16: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.“
The ultimate goal is seeing people bring glory to the Father. And the strategy for seeing it accomplished can be summarized in four words: intentional holiness intentionally visible.
In Matthew 5:14, Jesus tells his followers, “you are the light of the world.” In its OT background (especially Isaiah) the phrase “light of the world” refers to the glory of God (in the sense of God’s attributes, his nature, who he is) “shining,” as it were, in a dark and sinful world. So when Jesus says “you are the light of the world,” he is saying, in a sense, “you are the visible manifestation of God’s glory in the world.” You are those who will show the world who God is and what he is like.
That’s why in 5:16, Jesus says people will “bring glory to the Father” when they see your “good works.” The “good works” are key. What kind of “good works” does Jesus have in mind? Remember that Matthew 5-7 is Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount.” 5:16 is part of the introduction to that sermon. As it turns out, the rest of the sermon describes the kind of good works Jesus wants to see in his followers. He challenges his followers to move away from what is natural to their sinful hearts and towards his different way in at least thirteen key areas:
- From Loving Law to Loving Instruction (5:17-20).
- From anger to reconciliation (5:21-26).
- From lusting to fighting (5:27-30).
- From self-serving pragmatism to self-sacrificing commitment (5:31-37).
- From personal rights to joyful service (5:38-42).
- From reciprocal love to sacrificial love (5:43-48).
- From seeking praise to seeking God’s reward (6:1-6).
- From religious prayer to kingdom prayer (6:7-18).
- From earthly treasure to heavenly treasure (6:19-24).
- From anxiety to faith (6:25-34).
- From judging others to evaluating yourself (7:1-6).
- From self-reliance to asking your father (7:7-11).
- From using others to the golden rule (7:12).
Pursuing these transitions is “intentional holiness.” You are becoming like God; your life is more and more reflecting his character. But for all of your life to be effective in God’s mission, Jesus calls you not only to intentional holiness, but for that holiness to be:
Jesus doesn’t tell you to be a light — he commands you to let the light that you already are “shine before others” (5:16). Your God-reflecting holiness must be visible to others. My previous post didn’t answer the question: “How does God use a people committed to his ethic to accomplish his mission?” But here is the answer. When God’s ethic is displayed before the world, others will see and come to understand God through that — how he can change a heart and bring mercy and grace and forgiveness into a life — and eventually come to know him and glorify him themselves. I think the key is the contrasts of Matthew 5-7. When people see you moving towards holiness and away what they have come to expect from themselves and everyone they know, and when you are displaying your holiness not in a self-righteous way but with the attitude of the beatitudes (poor in spirit, meek, etc.), they will over time realize that they don’t have a human category to put you in, that something is going on that they can’t explain, and that this something is something that they want for themselves.
Most Christians agree that it is important to have contrasts with the world, but they’ve come up with the wrong contrasts. This may be a geographic contrast: we live in a different area; a social contrast: we only hang out with other Christians; an economic contrast: we buy different products; a cultural contrast: we wear different clothes or listen to different music; or whatever else. But what these wrong contrasts have done is they have distanced us from the people God would have us to reach and removed the visibility Jesus calls us to have. We need to move away from the world (and our own nature) in the areas in which God specifically calls us to cross-cultural holiness, yet move toward the world in all other areas.
I think a typical American Christian conceives of life and mission something like this:
You have all of the various components of your life, and evangelism is at least on the radar screen. But it is thought of as something you do, in the sense of “I’m going to the mall for a couple hours this weekend to do some evangelism.” But this makes a distinction between “mission” and everything else you do, a distinction that Jesus does not make. You are not saved for the sake of twenty categories of good work, of which mission is one, but you are saved for the purpose of good works, for the purpose of mission. Picture it like this:
You might call this a “missional” model — you have the same person and same parts of life as the previous model, but in this model mission is not one of the dimensions but the goal of all of them.
In the typical American model (Fig. A), evangelism happens if I get around to it, and since it is so awkward and intimidating, chances are I won’t. In a missional model, mission is happening one way or another, and your need is not necessarily to be trained in tactics but to deliberately reflect God’s nature in all that you do.
I’ve got news for you. The “missional” model is the reality whether you acknowledge it or not. The minute anybody heard that you were a “Christian,” you became a little illustration of what God is like for everyone you come into contact with. You know the song about “this little light of mine” that has the line “don’t let Satan ffffff it out?” That’s based on the assumption that while you should be out reaching people, you could be ffffffd out and live in a neutral position. But that’s false. Satan does not fffff out. What Satan does tempt you to do is to make your little light show something different than the holiness of God to the world. He tempts you to communicate by your behavior that God only cares about good people, that he doesn’t want to get himself dirty by being with them, that it is OK if you come to him but he’s not going to come to you, or that he is not powerful to transform a life. But the only way you can faithfully be God’s light in this world is if you model the same seeking of the non-seeker, serving of the ungrateful, and love for the unlovable that God demonstrates throughout scripture; in short, if you interact with the world the way God has interacted with you.
That’s Jesus’ strategy. In another place, he said “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21). We are to be intentionally holy — to become like God in our character — and to be intentionally visible – to show the world what God is like. In most cases, this is not a quick-results strategy. It is not something we can put on for a couple hours on the weekend. It only works as we grasp God’s mission as the purpose God has given to us, and taste the exhilaration that comes in pursuing that which we were born again to pursue.