My notes from Mack Stiles’ session at TGC13′s World Missions’ pre-conference, “God’s Love Compels Us.” (All notes are paraphrased.)
I want to read tonight from 2 Cor 5:11-21. This passage is best known for it’s ambassadorship, but I’m amazed at how gospel-centered it is. I have five marks of the ambassador that I’d like to highlight as we look at the text:
1. Our motivation for ambassadorship.
Paul is saying here that when we understand what’s at stake, we fear God and therefore we persuade people. We understand what’s coming—and so we persuade people. We lay out facts, we answer questions, we teach.
Our motivation is different from what people may see—we’re not proud, and we’re not crazy, though it may look like both. And though we fear God, we have concluded something—that sin can be forgiven and that reconciliation with God is possible.
And that conclusion leads us to an understanding that we don’t live for ourselves—and this conviction makes us look crazy to unbelievers, even to some other believers.
You listened to David Platt last night—don’t you think he’s a little crazy? And it’s true. He’s filled with a tender-hearted crazy love for the lost.
Verses 14-15 are sometimes used as a prooftext for universalism, which is a heresy that you can’t defend with this passage—but our concerns about definite or universal atonement sometimes mask the point of these verses: They’re about our motivation. We’re motivated by our fear of the Lord, in confidence in the truth that moves us to speak the truth to others.
2. How we view people.
Once we’re motivated correctly we view people correctly. Our natural tendency is to view people through worldly eyes—people even do that to Jesus, seeing him as a good moral teacher. Paul’s point here is that if people did that to Jesus, how much more are they to do that to others.
C.S. Lewis reminds us that there’s no such thing as a mere mortal, so ambassadors check their hearts and slay a tendency to hate others in their heart.
But at the same time, we remember that people are also sinners. So we have a correct view that prevents us from glorifying people.
We also view the possibility of people—that they can become renewed, redeemed, restored new creations in Christ. And is there any more joy in ministry than that? To see people become new creations in Christ, to grow in Christ and see them begin to share with others…
Do you have people in your life who you don’t believe will come to Christ, who might be too sinful or too hard-hearted, who perhaps look like they have everything they need? You’re tempted to believe they don’t need God. Don’t believe that. People the world around need God—they need to become new creations.
3. How we view the world.
God is reconciling the world, it goes out to all the world—there’s a tendency to think the message is just for small parts of the world. Now many Muslims will honor Jesus more than much of the western world. But to deny the deity of Christ is to cut the heart out of the gospel.
But there are no barriers to God. This gospel is going out through the world. And it’s our hope you’ll see with joy how God is moving out among the people of the world. There are no barriers to God—take heart! Do you see people from other faith backgrounds and think you can’t get to them? Do you see people who seem to have it all together and think you can’t get to them? Don’t!
4. Our role as Christians in the world.
We are Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. That’s an amazing thought. He didn’t come up with this image by himself—he did to make sure we understand our role.
Ambassadors exist to deliver a message. That’s what they do. So when you are sitting down with a family member, or a friend or a neighbor and a spiritual topic comes up–when that happens, when you screw up your courage and engage, think about this brothers and sisters that there from the very throne of God stretches a cable that somehow comes to that person through you.
You represent the foreign power of the Kingdom of God. It doesn’t always feel that way, but it’s true. And we need to get the message right. We don’t change the message, we give it as taught.
Listen, we don’t leave the message undelivered and ambassadors don’t live at home, living as wanderers in the world. It means they don’t make the world their home. They’re always a bit uneasy living here. The message we shout out to the world: We implore you, on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.
Now this isn’t something we only say, but it’s also what we do. We mostly say, but the gospel should come out in everything we do. We want to live and eat and breathe the gospel so that when it comes out it feels natural. The gospel is the in-and-out of life, it’s the hub of life. Whether it’s an elder’s meeting, or meeting with children in the neighborhood… it all should flow out of the gospel.
Listen—it needs to come out of us. Some of you here tonight may not know about this reconciliation with God. This is a message for you: You are divinely created, but cut off from God. The Bible says that because of your sin, you’re in rebellion to God. Understand your potential: You can be reconciled to God through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, who died for your sins. What’s required of you is not to claw your way into good standing, but to accept what has been done for you.
That’s the message we shout.
5. Our understanding of God’s work in the message of the gospel.
Much ink has been spilled on 2 Cor 5:21. It contains two huge ideas: imputed righteousness and substitutionary atonement in 24 words. Imputed righteousness means a righteousness that doesn’t come from inside you—it comes to you. It’s a God-given righteousness, who took our sin and put it on His Son, who “became” sin. Jesus wasn’t a sinner, but he took sin upon himself. And he clothes us in Jesus’ righteousness so we may stand before God.
Just as imputed righteousness is a righteousness that comes from outside of us, substitutionary atonement comes from outside of us too. Atonement means to pay for our sin, and most of the world thinks this is something we do. Substitutionary atonement means that God pays for your sin for you.
In our ministry, I love being able to show people the gospel in all of Scripture—the gospel in Jonah, who was a sacrifice for the sailors. The gospel in Joseph, who was sold by his brothers for a few pieces of silver and when they stand before him, he forgives them. And Abraham who sees the ram, who is the sacrifice in place of Isaac, which becomes so clear a picture of the gospel that John the Baptist could say on the sight of Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God!”
Do you love the gospel? When I’m describing imputed righteousness or substitutionary atonement, are you like, “yes!” or “…dinner.” I suspect many of you do—I suspect many of you are giving your lives for the gospel. Are you willing to call others to die for the gospel?
Brothers, make sure your understanding of the gospel motivates you to give yourself up for the gospel—and call others to give themselves up for the gospel, too.
Remember five marks of Christ’s ambassadors: We’re motivated; we view people through God’s eyes. We understand his work is for all the world. We understand our role and we have a firm grasp on the message of the gospel. Amen.