Formations lesson for July 25: The Human Response : Friday, July 9, 2004
July 9 2004 by Ken Vandergriff

Formations lesson for July 25: The Human Response : Friday, July 9, 2004
Friday, July 9, 2004

Formations lesson for July 25: The Human Response

By Ken Vandergriff
2 Corinthians 5:16-21

This is a superb text for concluding this month's focus on the Christian mission, since it brings into focus foundational theological themes that undergird Christian mission.

The strategies and programs for carrying out Christian mission are as varied as the individuals and situations involved, but all Christian mission rests on the same foundations. Three key ideas stand out.

New creation

2 Corinthians 5:16-17

There are at least two ways we might think through verse 17. Following the NIV translation, "if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation," we could focus on the ways in which our individual lives changed when we became Christians. We could consider the specific ways in which our attitudes and behaviors are new because of Christ. A weakness of this approach, however, is that it is too narrow.

As I wrote in the July 4 lesson, one implication of the Christian mission is that it's bigger than us. We can get so wrapped up in what God has done "for me" that we lose sight of the rest of God's mission.

God's mission includes not just the transformation of individuals, but also the transformation of creation itself, as Paul points out in Rom. 8:18-23. As Princeton theologian Daniel Migliore wrote in Faith Seeking Understanding: "Christian hope also has a cosmic dimension. It encompasses the entire creation."

The NRSV translation points toward this second approach, the cosmic dimension of God's mission: "if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation." The nuance is subtly different, inviting us to consider the ways God is even now bringing into existence not just new individuals but a new creation.

It's easy to be pessimistic about this world and push the new creation entirely to a future beyond this world. Doing so, however, diminishes sensitivity to God's present creative activity.

When Israel was in Babylonian exile, pessimism over their fate could have caused them to miss God's transforming activity, so God posed the question to them: "I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?" (Isa. 43:19).

When Jesus inaugurated the kingdom of God, many were not sensitive enough to realize it (Matt. 11:2-6 and 12:22-28).

Do we perceive that God's mission is to reconcile "the world" (v. 19)?

God's reconciling ministry

2 Corinthians 5:18-19, 21

This section explains how this new creation takes place - through reconciliation. Reconciliation means replacing hostility with harmony, alienation with wholeness, and aloneness with reunion, or in other words, "making up."

Notice two points of importance: first, God takes the initiative for reconciliation. Although hostility and alienation originate from people, both testaments affirm that God moves first to make up (Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 11:14-20; Rom. 5:10-11; 11:15; Col. 1:20,22; Eph. 2:16).

Second, notice the scale of God's reconciling - the world.

Our reconciling ministry

2 Corinthians 5:18b, 19b-20

Having reconciled us, God entrusts the message of reconciliation to us. While we might profitably dwell on the profound trust God places in us, let's consider something else. Reconciliation is hard work. A visible mark of our reconciliation to God is reconciliation with each other, and that doesn't come easily.

Spencer Perkins and Chris Rice explain the difficulties in their book, More Than Equals: Racial Healing for the Sake of the Gospel. Perkins is black and Rice is white. For 14 years, until Perkins' death, they were close friends who worked in a national ministry of reconciliation.

The book describes the riches of their friendship as well as its ordeals. When people ask: "How do I know when I'm on the road to reconciliation?" Rice answers, "When you start to feel pain." They conclude that "a gospel that is strong enough to save but often too weak to reconcile" is a "disabled gospel."

7/9/2004 12:00:00 AM by Ken Vandergriff | with 0 comments

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