Life in the World
The essence of the Gospel is that Christ Jesus came into the world in order that it might have life. Even in those parts of the New Testament where the note of moral dualism between the world and God is strongest, every form of metaphysical dualism is rejected. Although Paul recognized the tension between the world and the Christian faith, he also recognized that the world is the place where the Christian is to live out his faith. Paul would have preferred to “depart and be with Christ,” but he considered it necessary for him to remain on “in the flesh” on account of his brethren (Philippians 1:21-26).
Just as Christ was in the world, so His followers are to be in the world. He pictured the Last Judgment in terms of the readiness of His followers to minister to the needs of even the least of God’s children. Because Christ has overcome all the powers of this world, He has shown that He is Lord of the whole creation. Since we His followers are, through faith, no longer under the dominion of the rulers of the present age, we are free to obey Him in all things. Indeed, the church may be defined as that community in which the Lordship of Christ is acknowledged. It is that body of believers that witnesses to the reconciliation of man with God which has been effected through Jesus Christ. The world, on the other hand, is that community or realm of human existence to which the church is sent to proclaim the Gospel.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was keenly aware that the church has been called into the world. He was also aware that, for the most part, the church had alienated itself from the contemporary world. It had related the Christian faith to the periphery of life where it had become only a matter of trivial interest. This is certainly the way it is in much of Europe today, as well as here in the United States.
“The church is her true self,” wrote Bonhoeffer in a book he was never able to complete, “only when she exists for humanity.” Its mission is to tell men, in terms that are concrete and relevant, what it means to live in and for Christ. The church is true to its own nature only when it is busy taking risks and emptying itself in the service of mankind.
The good news of the Gospel is that a radical transformation of human life has now become a present reality—a transformation so radical that Paul called it a “new creation.” Paul captured the heart of the Gospel when he wrote, “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). In Christ God had shown that He loved the world despite its disobedience, its estrangement, its guilt.
As we go our various ways this summer, let us remember that Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost, and He spent His life ministering to them. A church that is not “in the world” has forgotten what the incarnation is all about (John 17:11-18).
May 29, 2003
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.