By Danny Akin & Bruce Ashford
What is God’s mission in the world? If we, as Christians, are supposed to love God and obey him, it would certainly help if we knew what he was up to. Fortunately, God has given us the Bible, a book that tells us exactly what he is up to!
If we are going to understand God’s mission, the first thing we have to understand is that the Bible is not primarily a storehouse of random facts about God or Israel or the world. Nor is it primarily a collection of rules. Instead, it is primarily a fascinating and powerful story about God. This story is told in four acts:
The first act is Creation. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). God created the world and everything in it, and he called it “very good” (1:31). God loved and enjoyed what he had created!
At the pinnacle of his creation are a man and woman. They were different from the rest of his creation because he created them in his image and likeness (1:26–28).
Unlike the animals, they could be entrusted with managing the world God created (1:28), making families (1:28), and working to enhance the garden (2:15).
Also, unlike the animals, they were moral and spiritual beings who were instructed not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
A good way to summarize the uniqueness of human beings is to say that they are spiritual, moral, social, and cultural beings who were supposed to use the totality of their lives to please God.
And at the time of creation, they did please God. In fact, everything in the garden was just the way it was supposed to be. Adam and Eve had a right relationship with God, with each other, and with the rest of the world.
2. The Fall
The second act is the Fall. Just after God created the world, the Bible’s story takes a dark turn. Adam and Eve decided to rebel against their Creator (3:1–7).
Instead of loving him supremely and obeying him completely, they disobeyed him and sought to take his place on the throne of the world and the throne of their lives.
They believed the lie of Satan that they could become gods. In response to their sin, God cast them out from the garden of Eden.
Being cast out from the garden of Eden represented the fact that things were no longer the way they were supposed to be. Adam and Eve no longer had a right relationship with God, with each other, or with God’s world.
Each of us, just like Adam and Eve, has sinned against God. Each of us, like Adam and Eve, experiences broken relationships with God, with others, and with the world around us. Our lives are characterized not only by God’s goodness but by sin and its consequences.
Even as we experience the beauty and goodness of life in God’s creation, we also experience the ugliness and badness of sin and its consequences.
The third act is Redemption. Immediately after Adam and Eve sinned, God promised to send a Redeemer, a Savior, to save them from their sins (3:15). This promise represents our first “peek” at the gospel.
Throughout the Bible, God continues to reveal more and more about who this Redeemer would be until, finally, in the Gospels, we learn that he is Jesus!
Jesus—fully God in all of who he is—came to earth and took on full humanity. He was fully man and fully God. He lived a perfect life, but was crucified at the hands of sinful humans.
When he died on the cross, was buried, and rose again, he was making atonement for our sins and providing salvation for the world. On the cross, he took the guilt for our sins upon his shoulders so that he could suffer the condemnation that we should suffer.
When he rose from the dead, he rose as a victor, having paid fully for our sins and secured the future salvation of the world.
When we trust in Christ for our salvation, God forgives us of our sins and begins the process of making us more like his Son (Rom. 8:29).
This process of making us more like his Son is something that should happen daily (2 Cor. 4:16) and that involves the totality of who we are (Rom. 12:1).
God intends for our salvation to shape not only our personal devotions and “churchly” activities, but also our family life, our workplace activities, and the way we speak and what we do in our neighborhoods and communities.
The fourth act is Restoration. God’s work of redemption reaches its goal when Christ returns.
When he returns, he returns as a conquering King. As King, he will fulfill his role as the judge over all humanity.
Those persons who are not saved in Christ will be judged on the basis of their deeds, and will be condemned. Those persons who are saved will enjoy his good pleasure and will live under his blessings forever.
When he returns, Christ will invite us to live with him on the renewed cosmos, the new heavens and earth (Rev. 21–22). This new heavens and earth is the world in which we now live, except purged of sin and its consequences.
Our life in the new heavens and earth will be a thoroughly social and cultural existence. It is social, in that we will live together with believers from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation (Rev. 5; 7).
It is cultural, in that our existence will be characterized by cultural things, such as art, architecture, and song (Rev. 21–22). In this way, we will enjoy God’s presence and favor and will live in unity with each other for eternity.
In summary, we can say that God’s mission is accomplished through his Son’s life, death, and resurrection. His mission is to save us from our sins and to restore his good creation which had been marred by sin.
Excerpted from I Am Going with permission from B&H Publishing.
Daniel L. Akin is the president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. He is the author or editor of numerous books and Bible commentaries including A Theology for the Church and the New American Commentary on 1, 2, and 3 John.
Bruce Riley Ashford is Provost / Dean of the Faculty at SEBTS, where he also serves as Professor of Theology and Culture. He is the co-author of One Nation Under God: A Christian Hope for American Politics, author of Every Square Inch: An Introduction to Cultural Engagement for Christians, and the editor of Theology and Practice of Mission.