Understanding the comprehensiveness of God’s reign must lead us to a comprehensive understanding of discipleship, where spiritual formation is not limited to our prayers or Bible studies, but extends to serving the needs of others as we seek to actively engage in God’s redemptive plan.
For many of us, our view of the gospel is limited to personal morality. We often measure our faith by our disciplines of grace — how often we do devotions or pray, or our attendance at church gatherings. Most of our goals in our practice of our Christian faith focus on personal moral development and spiritual therapy.
In other words, our “theology” has been replaced by “me-ology.”
“Me-ology” limits the Christian faith to “my story” and not God’s larger story of redemption in which our deeply engaged and sovereign Christ is working. “Me-ology” understands the “personal revival” of the gospel, but not how it extends to others. “Me-ology” reads Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God,” and releases a sigh of comfort, but ignores the following line: “I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”
If the goal of our faith never goes deeper than these personal achievements of a personal faith, then the gospel is merely a decorative piece on the presentation of our identity. It’s merely part of our own story.
The key question is which story captivates us? Ours? Or a greater story in which God is calling us to participate in His comprehensive work by demonstrating Christ’s love in word and deed to a broken world?
Because we have been formed in the image of God, all of humanity shares a deep conviction that there is something wrong with the world. But if the gospel we believe is one in which our personal piety is the goal, we are hopeless when confronted by the evil in the world around us — the forces are too big, too overwhelming. So we turn away — retreating at best, disdaining at worst.
Therefore, it is vital to our call as the Church that when we are confronted with a vast reality of injustice, we believe in a comprehensiveness of God’s reign — that he is not only redeeming and renewing us as individuals, but working toward a vision where every person experiences social, spiritual and economic flourishing.
Understanding this comprehensiveness of God’s reign must then lead us to a comprehensive understanding of discipleship, where our spritual formation is not limited to our prayers or Bible studies, but exptends to serving the needs of others as we seek to actively engage in God’s redemptive plan.
It is only then that we see a gospel not abbreviated by self-help platitudes, but one that genuinely has answers to these profound questions of brokenness. This gospel doesn’t retreat from or ignore brokenness, but looks toward Christ — who takes evil so seriously that He was willing to die to conquer it. We must see ourselves as faithful stewards, serving those who are in need because Christ first reached out to serve our greatest need.
To state it plainly: practical service to the poor is part of our Christian call and discipleship. As Abraham Kyuper wrote in The Problem of Poverty:
Never forget that all state relief for the poor is a blot on the honor of your savior. The fact that the government needs a safety net to catch those who would slip between the cracks of our economic system is evidence that I have failed to do God’s work. The government cannot take the place of Christian charity. A loving embrace isn’t given with food stamps. The care of a community isn’t provided with government housing. The face of our Creator can’t be seen on a welfare voucher. What the poor need is not another government program; what they need is for Christians like us to honor our savior.
When Christ was confronted with the question of “Who is my neighbor?” he described to the questioner not the qualities of a good neighbor, but rather a Kingdom in which “to neighbor” is a verb: the act of restoring someone who was robbed and binding up their wounds was our King’s picture of discipleship. It is in this space of discipleship, a space in which we live out our call as Christ followers to actively demonstrate his compassion to a broken world, where we encounter the power of what the gospel can do to us as well as to those whose lives are shattered by the fallenness of the world.
The call to Christians, then, is to view their faith not just in terms of personal transformation, but Kingdom renewal. If we are to truly grow as disciples, we should be open to God’s invitation into a deeper commitment, one that necessitates a complete change of attitude — a new heart, mind, and eyes to see the needs of others that involves neighboring and serving those we have kept at distance. We have the power to do this not in and of ourselves, but through the power of the gospel. Through this, we draw closer to our humanity that God wants to show us, and more importantly, to what he wants us to know about Himself.