Late last night I scribbled out a hasty post on where this world needs to go. Long story short, I think the Gospel saves, both individuals and societies. I think this world could be a downright awesome place to live in. This is not a hypothetical statement on the nature of reality or my hopes; I honestly think it can be done in real time with real people.
Clearly, however, we are not there. Why not? We have the Gospel, why hasn’t it already transformed the culture around us? I think there’s a couple reasons. First, we don’t think the Great Commission can be fulfilled, so we don’t try. Second, we need to practice our faith as individuals, creating the Gospel in our own tiny spheres. Third, we need to get outside our own spheres and love the people Christ loves. In summary, the problem is one of faith.
We have a Gospel that trumps any other message out there. We admit that the world is dark, violent, and hopeless. Then, two thousand years ago, God himself was born in a manger to a virgin. He grew up, turned Judea upside down, and was murdered by imperial soldiers after a crooked trial by his own people. Then he quietly rose from the dead. At which point, everyone realized he had risen from the dead. He told us to spread the news of his coming, of the forgiveness of sins, and of the defeat of death– we not only could baptize and disciple nations in his name, but we were commanded to.
Take a look at the Church around us. Everyone thinks the world is ending this year, or maybe in five more years, or twenty. The rest believe we are doomed to suffer all our lives under an unfriendly regime, and the best we can hope for is to pass away unscathed by the enemy. This is a spirit of timidity. We have not been given a spirit of timidity. Christ told us to baptize and disciple. We must obey.
This starts out on an individual level. Each man’s salvation is between him and God. Likewise, each man’s faithfulness is between him and God. We are each given people in our lives– family, friends, roommates, coworkers, people we meet in the shops and on the street. We are to love them with all the care, compassion, understanding, and fervor with which we love ourselves. And we are to love God with all our heart (every emotion, desire, passion, motivation), all our mind (every thought, every line of reasoning, every calculation, every contemplation, every consideration), and all our strength (our every step and act, our every lying down and rising up, our every word and every silence).
But this goes deeper than a generic, universal command to live like one who has been saved from death and sin. Each of us has gifts particular to our own situation. There are men with strong backs and men with good people skills. Others are skilled with words or with numbers. Each of us has a passion, whether it be in music or literature, or in business endeavors, or in simply working hard and loving our families. These strengths and these passions, our talents, are to be carefully tended and grown. Every individual should be the best he can at whatever God has given him, and turn that gift right around to serve others with it.
If we serve those around us with all we have, if we give glory to God with our every breath, and if we speak the truth in love, we are halfway there. Men who work hard and give God the glory are already men of a heavenly country. Those who use their work to bless others are already the seed of a redeemed community. The Lord is with such a man, and who can be against him?
Though it starts on an individual level, faithfulness spreads to communities. Where one man lives the Gospel, others will soon follow. Soon you have a church full of disciples. There are certainly problems that come with community living, from wolves in the flock to churches gone astray. But looking at it with faith, there are also advantages. Where there are many talents, far more can be done. Where there are many resources, more needs can be met. If we work as a team, as the body that Paul talks about, we can change the society around us.
And how do we do that? Loving God, loving our neighbor, that’s all good in the abstract, but what does it mean in the concrete? That’s why we’re called “disciples.” There’s a whole book, the study of which is a discipline that will teach us all we need. By now everyone knows that reading the Bible is supposed to be helpful, but take a leaf from my book: sit down and read it not as the same old words you’ve heard all your life, but as a collection of old texts written as history, poetry, prophecy, and doctrinal teaching. Read it as it presents itself, and always assume that the author knew what he was doing and everything was intentional. Talk to your peers, to your elders. Learn that book and live it, and it will give you everything you need to know about what a godly society looks like.
All this comes back to a single virtue: confidence. Not self-assurance, but confidence. The word comes from the Latin, and it means “with faith.” Have faith that the Lord will transform the earth into a New Jerusalem, just as he said he would. Have faith that all things work together for the good of those who love him. Have faith that the world already belongs to Christ. If we have that confidence, and reject the defeatist spirit of the age, we can go out preaching and living the Gospel, and see it shake the world at its very foundations.
And it is not as if this is a new idea, one that has never been tried. Look around. Places already exist where men trust Christ and walk accordingly. Those are the best places on earth to live. And it is not always just pockets, either. Look at history. The Gospel has swept across countries and continents, and left paradise in its wake. No, death did not cease, for that is the last enemy. No, men were not made perfect, for we are still awaiting the resurrection. But they were righteous, and they were holy, and the whole world knew. I pray that may happen again, in our own time, and in our own nation. I am confident this is possible.