Here is a question I have for every believer. What is the purpose of our missional work if God cares for people and will work to reach them with or without us? Do we really make a difference if the work God calls us to will be accomplished with or without our involvement? Here is the reality. If God is truly all powerful and truly all good, then He is working to reach the world with or without our prayer, our work, our thoughts, our beliefs, our deeds, our love, our worship, our institutions or our money. If God is truly doing this sort of work, why is it so important that men and women commit to evangelism and discipleship in this current world? Let us look to scripture.

 

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’”[1]

 

God’s image and man’s fall

Before humanity even existed, God decided within Himself to create a being in His own image: representing His own holiness, sovereignty, love and glory. Mankind was commanded to rule over God’s creation and to fill the earth with God’s own image. There was one moment, though, when mankind failed to represent God’s holiness, sovereignty, love or glory. Mankind broke the one command[2] God gave him to obey.[3] In partaking of the forbidden fruit, mankind failed to represent God’s holiness because he subjected himself to the affects of nature rather than staying set apart from it. In the same way, mankind subjected himself to nature’s authority and so misrepresented God’s sovereignty. Mankind failed to represent God’s perfect love in that Adam allowed his wife to corrupt God’s image and Eve caused her husband also to corrupt that image. God’s glory was misrepresented insomuch as both the man and the woman cast blame onto another for the misdeed and accepted shame for themselves.[4] Mankind no longer represented God’s image, and God began a process of returning humanity to that image, the image of Himself.

 

God’s mission

“The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them. Then the Lord God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever’— therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.”[5]

 

Notice, here that God provided garments, made of skins, to cover the nakedness (shame) of the man and the woman. This action, in its entirety is reconciliatory in nature. So, from the very beginning of man’s rebellion, we witness that God’s goal is reconciliation. God desires, and has always desired to return humanity to Himself. For those who accuse God of ever being hateful or malicious, recognize that God, yes even the God of the Old Testament, acted from the very beginning in love: reconciling mankind to Himself over and over again.

God, in His monologue, pointed out the fact that mankind had become like Himself. Now this likeness not only expressed God’s character but also God’s knowledge of good and evil. So, mankind gains a godlike knowledge at the expense of marring the image of God’s character. Mankind comes to know evil by partaking in that evil and separating himself from God in character. In a sense, mankind became more like God. He now beheld a type of knowledge that God also beheld. To restrict mankind from living forever in this imperfect state, though, God restricted mankind from partaking of the tree of life; He separated man from eternal life which is found only in God’s character and which mankind abandoned in his sin.

Why did God allow mankind to rebel in the Garden? Man’s rebellion seems to be the only way in which mankind could become like God in knowledge. Of course, in becoming like God in knowledge, mankind became unlike God in holiness, sovereignty, love and glory. If God’s goal is, as it has always been, to have a people in his own image and likeness, knowledge must also be a part of that likeness. Thus, God facilitates the gaining of that knowledge and, from the beginning, plans to restore His people to His own character. This is why God offers a substitute for our transgressions.[6] This seems to be one reason God desires to reconcile all of humanity to Himself.[7] God’s mission, according to the creation account, is then to restore humanity to the image of Himself. This being said, humanity still has the freedom to accept or deny this sort of restoration. Those who are restored will be a fuller image of the one God in the end than were the man and woman in the beginning: portraying both God’s holiness, sovereignty, love, glory and God’s knowledge.[8] God’s mission, since the beginning, has been reconciliation.

 

Man’s mission

I could simply suggest that, because we are to be the image of God, that we must take part in God’s mission. I could also suggest that we are the instruments of God’s mission. Both statements are supported by scripture. Since we were created to be God’s image on this earth, we should strive each and every day to be more like God. If God’s action on this current earth is the reconciliation of humanity to Himself, then it becomes impossible for any believer to grow in his or her relationship with God if he or she is not active according to God’s mission. A believer who is not involved in God’s mission will not be involved with God. A believer who is not involved in God’s mission will not grow closer to God. A believer who is not involved in God’s mission will find God’s instruction boring and worthless. Why? It is simply because a believer who is not involved in God’s mission is failing as God’s image to represent God’s purpose for creation in the first place: that is the establishment of His own creation.[9]

 

Challenge

The challenge is simple. Get involved in God’s reconciliatory mission. Without this, we become poor followers of Christ and we fail to live according to our purpose as God’s image. In this failure, we become burnt out, depressed, bitter, hateful, malicious and we grow apart from God, even if we belong to God. We do not reach out to others because of obligation, and we do not consider others’ rejection of God’s gospel as a failure. We reach out because it is the only way we can represent God’s image and fulfill our purpose. We remember that we are participating in God’s work and must trust God with that work. We take part in God’s work because it is the only way, on this earth, we can have part in God’s holiness, sovereignty, love and glory. It is through our love particularly that others see God through us.[10] Missions are important and without missions (the work of restoring those in this world to God), it becomes impossible for any Christian to live according to his or her relationship with God.

 

“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.”[11]


[1] Genesis 1:26-28 ESV

[2] Through this command, God provided freedom to mankind. Without freedom, it would have been impossible for mankind to portray the correct image of a free God. Thus, rebellion was permitted by God in the beginning in order that man would truly represent His image. This seems to also be the reason why God is willing to restore humanity to the correct image through the sacrifice of His Son at Golgotha.

[3] Genesis 3:6

[4] Genesis 3:12-13

[5] Genesis 3:20-24 ESV

[6] Matthew, Mark, Luke, John

[7] 2 Peter 3:9

[8] This is not a new idea and is even written by others in the Old Testament, specifically Jeremiah. In Jeremiah 33:2 it is written that God created the earth in order to establish it. This suggests that God wanted a fuller perfection since the beginning than what He created in the beginning. All of God’s action now is to bring about that fuller perfection.

[9] Jeremiah 33:2

[10] John 13:34-35

[11] Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 ESV

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