This week Sarah addresses heaven, the Kingdom of God, and becoming fully human.
We have talked here before about needing better ways of thinking and talking about heaven. So I want to focus in today on the distinction Sarah makes between converts and disciples.
Converts are where we tend to focus our evangelical and missionary activity. You pray a prayer you perform a ritual and you assent to a few central beliefs, and you receive your get-out-of-hell-free card, as long as you are, in general, a nice person and continue to believe all the correct things.
Disciples are people who are learning to “shape their lives into His life”: people who are following and learning from Jesus.
For most of my life, I believed it was our missional imperative as Christians to make converts. We need people on our side, so the goal of evangelism and Christian living is to convince people our way of thinking is better than theirs.
But these days, I am out on this.
I don’t believe it is my job to make converts. Having people switch from “their side” to “ours” is something I completely uninterested in.
I recently had a book come across my desk that was a 350+ discourse on the “conversion” of one person from one denomination to another. Not one religion to another. Denomination. Forget all the discussions about other religions. This is one brand of Christianity to another. Could there be a bigger waste of words, money, and time?
Books like this come about because we are focused on conversion. And conversion is little more than “rearranging mental furniture” (I think this is a Rob Bell phrase, but from now on it may be a Trevor Cox phrase).
I think we waste our time and energy when we focus on conversion as our end goal.
As an evangelical Christian, it is my job to partner with God to further the Kingdom of God. This is the heart of discipleship. We learn from Jesus to “embody God’s best dreams for us all” (Sarah). As Christians, we believe there is no better teacher for this than Jesus, so we continue to pursue his life.
If my job is to embody the Kingdom, then one of my responsibilities is to see where there is brokenness, hurt, and pain and dive right into the middle of it. As I try my best to embody this Kingdom life, part of what I am doing is offering freedom, love, grace, forgiveness, and truth to other people.
Doing so may range from taking on systemic evils through social justice efforts, to simply having a friend over for dinner who has had a rough day.
As Christians, we are called to live out the life of Christ where we are.
And why do we do this? Because we have been formed, shaped, and molded by Jesus. We have his heart and his eyes for people, so we treat people the way Jesus would treat them. We push back against the darkness.
This is a full-time job, without the added burden of rearranging people’s mental furniture.
Here’s what I think: I think bringing life and light into the world, embodying the Kingdom, is only possible when we are pursuing the life of Jesus. These are not simple behaviors, but are an overflow of a transformed heart and person.
But that overflow benefits others. It recognizes the image of God in everyone. It brings freedom and hope and love. People need that. Christian or not. I need that. So I pursue freedom, hope, and love everywhere I can.
I believe the life of Jesus is the best path towards freedom, truth, hope, love and reconciliation in the world. And I work towards that because of the transformation I have received from Jesus.
But sometimes it is enough for people just to experience a little more truth and love in their lives. Without the added burden of us trying to convert them.
Perhaps in this process people ask me why I risk and pursue making the world a better place. Then I can tell them. I can tell them that Jesus fuels this fire and that I am only able to do it because of the work Jesus has done in me. Then people are invited to go deeper into Jesus. People can see that this whole “Kingdom of God” thing is more than being nice and certain behaviors. It starts with a transformed life.
Yet even here, I can’t worry about converts. Because it is not my job to transform lives. It is Jesus’ job.
I am a witness. I act in the world according to what I have received in Christ. And I tell others why I do it. The rest (or we might say “the fruit”) is up to God.
This actually frees me to love more people. I am able to love and serve everyone I meet because I am not responsible for the results of that love and service. I offer them as an act of worship.
Our end goal is not converts but to love and trust God.
Even the places we participate are not our own. Part of our kingdom responsibility is not to create new places for God to enter in. But to see where God is moving and join God in that work.
The move from converts to discipleship places the mission of God in God’s hands. I am just a participant.
So I love. And I trust.
And that is enough.