It happened again.
This time it happened when my connecting flight was cancelled on my way back home from a conference. My initial reaction was frustration, but as I approached the counter, I reminded myself once again that I could choose my reaction to this waste of my valuable time, and choose how I would use this “wasted” time. I could choose to respond with an attitude like “Don’t you know who I am?”, and take my irritation out on the flight attendant; or I could choose to respond with an attitude like “Don’t you know who He is? Let me show you.”
This is Part 5 (the final part – for now) of a series on Your Born Identity – who you were designed to be, and who, now restored by covenant faith, God has called you to be. In Part 1 we discussed how through the all-sufficient work of the Christ on the cross, that God has declared you to have legal righteous standing before Him when you believe in the Messiah. In theological terms this is called justification. In Part 2, we discussed the nature of the unconditional new covenant relationship between you and God, and that you have the Holy Spirit implanted in you in all His fullness to work within you to put moral righteousness into every part of your life. In theological terms this is sanctification, and in Part 3 we learned that this sanctification process is not optional, but essential because we belong to Him now and we are to be fully engaged in God’s kingdom work. Sanctification is progressive, requires hard work and sacrifice, and your new identity needs to grow. Self-examination is required, and the growth will be evident in tangible ways and by the fruit of the Spirit in your life. In Part 4, we discussed the need for an essential shift in focus away from yourself as the main event, and toward God and His purposes – on to what He would have you do, as a covenant member of His new royal priesthood over all creation. This is why you are here, not just to wait and hold on hopefully for his promised return, but to go out and extend His kingdom, to make Him known.
Why you are here is for so much MORE than your personal salvation and personal blessing and gratification. A shallow interpretation of the gospel leaves one to conclude God’s favour means blessing, and the presence of suffering can be hard to understand. Yet the uncomfortable truth, rarely spoken of but appearing through the scriptures, such as Hebrews, is that we have been baptized into both the Messiah’s resurrection and the Messiah’s suffering. Through both – the resurrection and the suffering – we are called to the Great Commission, the working of the harvest, to make Him known and to glorify Him. He blesses us that we might bless others. He sustains us through the challenges we endure for His sake. And both the blessing and the hardship – and our response to them – are not about us but about Him.
I have just returned from a pentecostal studies conference that focused on holiness. The roots of pentecostalism go back to Wesleyan methodism of the 17th and 18th centuries, and the Holiness Movement of the 19th century. Both of these stressed the subsequent sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, not just for ourselves, but so we could go out and change our world and reach people with the practical good news of the new creation in Christ.
Today, even in pentecostal circles, this emphasis on holiness and its inward and outward manifestations is not adequately spoken of or acted upon, at least in North America. In certain branches, christian faith has descended into a kingdom-now, personal blessing-based, corruption of the gospel message which has re-shaped the Saviour into a personal manufactured Jesus blended with the American dream. In other branches, the imperative to change the world for the better has become separated from the truth and spiritual foundation of the gospel, so the engagement in social issues contains no gospel at all.
To neither of these descents have we been called. We have been called to so much more.
We need to return to basics, to a firm foundation, to a covenantal relationship with God made possible through the saving work of the Messiah, to an on-going process of sanctification both inwardly and outwardly. Like the Wesleyans and the Holiness movement, we need to commit to holiness and to go out and change our world, in this time of already, in-process, not yet of kingdom living as we prepare for His return and the full consummation of the kingdom. This is a far more accurate depiction of the great commission.
The great commission is not just about personal spiritual salvation, rescue from death and the promise of living in God’s kingdom some day in the future, which we hope will come soon… It is far more than that. In short, it is about the restoration of God’s original design and the establishment of his kingdom. Hesed (lovingkindness) which is at the core of God’s character, which undergirds His kingdom and which is the essence of the gospel, has been extended in covenant faithfulness to you and me as His people. It needs to be at work through you as you extend and establish His kingdom.
Understanding this – that the great commission is about, but not limited to, “sharing” the good news and saving souls from hell – requires a change of perspective to see the great commission as a greater more encompassing commission than we have realized. Being about our Father’s work – the great commission – is actually being an ambassador for, and the living embodiment of, the kingdom of God. This de-mystifies the great commission, and excludes no one, either from working the harvest, or of being part of the harvest. We are all workers in His kingdom, working His inheritance, blessed by Him to do His will, no matter what comes.
So this brings me back to my story of the delayed flight… and giving visible evidence of the kingdom of God.
Many years ago, I found myself stuck in a checkout line at a grocery store, and it was supposed to be the express line. As time passed, I became inwardly somewhat frustrated, as patience hasn’t always been my best feature. As I waited though, I became aware of the conversations around me, particularly between the cashier and the person at the checkout. The cashier had made a mistake and was being roundly criticized by the patron. The next person in line, just in front of me, was abrupt to the cashier, taking out his impatience on her, probably expressing what I inwardly felt. As I watched and listened though, my impatience vanished and I had compassion on the cashier. I realized that my inward frustration was wrong and that I was capable of (and expected to be) so much more. When I approached the cashier with my so important purchase, she was visibly crushed from the previous 2 customers, not crying but close to it, and she wouldn’t even look up at me. I thought to myself, “I’m going to talk to her… I’m going to make her talk to me and make her smile”… which I proceeded to do. At first she responded in only one word answers, but gradually my banter began to have an impact, and she looked up and engaged in a full conversation. And then she smiled and laughed at something I said. As I left, she said “Have a great day!”… and then greeted the next customer with a smile.
Something clicked in my mind at that point… getting stuck in a line-up was not optional, but I could choose how to respond, and how to use the time while I was stuck in line. Routinely now I will engage people in conversation, in line ahead of me or behind me, and always the cashier. I don’t quote John 3:16 but I give visible tangible evidence of the kingdom of God at work through me, and it changes someone’s world. Oh yes… the next time I went to that store and that cashier was on duty, she spotted me 3 places back in the line-up and smiled at me. She remembered.
I did the same thing with the airline attendant who was re-booking my delayed flight. She had been having a rough day – in her words, “a day like I’ve never had before”, with other delayed flights, and the 3 people in front of me had vented their frustrations on her. When it was my turn, I was reasonable, friendly, asking questions, and got her to smile and let her guard down a bit. I thanked her and told her she was doing a great job. What a visible response, surprised but pleased, I got to that! Then, 3 hours later and 4 boarded flights at the gate, as we prepared to board our delayed flight, her co-attendant at the desk was checking my flight itinerary, and the woman who had re-booked my flight stopped what she was doing, leaned across, and told her co-worker that everything was fine, as she had “verified Mr. Ambrose’s itinerary personally”. She remembered! And my inward reaction was not “Thank you God for favour! She knew who I am!”. Instead it was “Thank you God. I hope she caught a glimpse of You and Your kingdom. I hope You send others of your people across her path.”
Somewhere at some time, there will be the right time for someone to water the seed I planted and share with her John 3:16. That needs to happen. Maybe it will be you or me who gets that opportunity. But every day you and I get opportunities to be the visible evidence of the kingdom, the tangible manifestation of practical holiness, which you need to extend into your world and into peoples’ lives. Otherwise the words of the gospel, without its works, will be dismissed by those who are perishing and thrown out for lack of evidence.
As you carry out the great commission, let it be evident to everyone at all times through your words and actions as a covenant member of the kingdom of God. This is who you are. This is your born identity as a new creation in the Christ. To this you have been called!