We are invited to live in relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, in order that we might take part in His mission for the world.
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” — John 1:14
The Gospels draw our attention to the nature of God and to God’s ongoing work to restore all creation to the purposes for which He created it. John emphasizes that Jesus existed before the creation. He is the creator and not a created being. God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — one God, three persons. The Son (the Word) participated in the creation process. God the Father created through Him and in partnership with Him and the Spirit.
In John, when we talk about God’s mission, we are talking about the mission of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This mission is the restoration of all creation. This has profound implications for humanity and our participation in God’s mission. The Church does not have a mission apart from God’s mission. We have a mission because the Triune God invites, gathers, forms, and enables us to participate in His redemptive work in the world.
The Triune God sends us to embody the gospel in the world. The redemption and restoration of all creation matters to God. John reminds us that God is a missionary God. He is a sending God, and He is the sent God.
The sending and sent God also sends us!
The Father sent His Son, Jesus, the Messiah, to proclaim the kingdom of God and to die for the sins of the world in order to bring redemption. However, a close reading of Jesus’ words reveals that He clearly identifies Himself as one with the Father and the Holy Spirit; He identifies the unity of God in God’s mission.
Jesus Makes God Known
We know God because the Son made Him known to us: “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is Himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known” (John 1:18). To know God is much more than knowing concepts or ideas about God. To know God is to enter into and live in intimate relationship with Him. God is relational.
He created us to live in relationship with Him and with His creation. However, because of sin, humanity is alienated from God and unable to restore fellowship with God on our own.
It is only by God’s grace that we find redemption and are restored to live in fellowship with God, in relationship with one another, and with the rest of creation.
God desires redemption and restoration, and this is made possible through Jesus, who is God incarnate.
Through Jesus, we learn about God, and we learn what He intends for humanity to be like. Jesus teaches us what it means to be “the image of God.” We believe that God has called humanity to participate with Him in His redemptive mission in the world. Such call includes, above all, a life of holiness. Jesus models to us what it looks like to obey God and to overcome temptation.
A life of holiness is not possible in our own wisdom and strength. However, through the power of God, we can be obedient to God and live in a way that is consistent with the gospel. It is a life that is possible only when we are fully God’s possession — God’s people. According to John, those who believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, are given the power to become the children of God.
The language of knowing and believing in God that John uses denotes the necessity of human response to God’s gift of His Son to humankind. In fact, throughout the Scriptures, God offers Himself to be our God, a God who will live and move in and with His people. We know God by entering and living in intimate relationship with Him. To believe in the Son is to believe in the Father, for the Son and the Father are one. We enter into relationship with God and live in it through Jesus the Messiah.
God makes Himself known in our lives in ways that are beyond our limited human imagination. The Scriptures, creation, and the witness of those who have accepted Jesus as Lord paint a picture of what it means to know God intimately. Our experiences and the witness of His work in and among us also shape our imagination. God still speaks. He is at work today, and He reveals Himself today. He wants to be known by all.
The Witness of Evelina
I met someone who taught me what it looks like to be in such a relationship with God. Evelina lived most of her life with leprosy. Medical help was not readily available in her poor country. Yet, no amount of suffering could take away the life that she enjoyed in and with Christ. She was an amazing preacher of the Word, and she led many people to Christ. I remember how she loved to sing with a loud voice, spend time in the Word of God, and in prayer. Her prayers were more like conversations with a friend. She talked to God as if He were in close proximity (and, indeed, He was).
One day I had the privilege to interview her about her relationship with God. I said, “You have suffered a lot, and it has been painful to watch you suffer in this way. Yet, I often hear you say, ‘Nothing will ever separate me from the love of God.’ What do you mean?”
She said, “Fili, God loved us so much. He Sent His Son to redeem the world. He sent His people to my community to preach the Good News. Now I am a child of God. Over the years, I have come to know God and His love. I have fellowship with Him. My body may look disordered, but it is special to God. It is a body in which the presence of God resides. So, even in this disordered body, He must be glorified. People must see Him and meet Him. The love He has lavished on my life, He wants it lavished on all His creation.”
Then she said, “Fili, you have been blessed in many ways. You have an education that most of us do not have. You travel the world. You have many responsibilities in the church. As important as this might be, a priority in your life should be to know God and live in fellowship with Him. Seek to know Him; seek to discern His leadership in all aspects of your life.”
Her relationship with God was intimate and solid. I know this because I lived in the same home with her. She was my grandmother. When I interviewed her, I did not know that this was my last conversation with her. A few days later, my dad called to say, “Your grandmother has gone home.” At age 97, she passed on to be home with Jesus, but she left me a precious gift, and I want it to shape the rest of my life.
My grandmother was articulating to me what has always been God’s desire: God desires to live in and with His people.
Becoming God’s Dwelling Place
In the Old Testament, we learn that God dwelled among His people in the wilderness through the tabernacle or tent of meeting (Exodus 33:7-11, 40:34-38). The Israelites felt confident that God’s presence was with them as He revealed His glory through the tabernacle. Even here in the Old Testament, it is important to recognize that God’s desire was not for a temporary relationship based upon an external dwelling like the tabernacle. Rather, God desired a permanent relationship.
He says in Leviticus 26:11, “I will put my dwelling place among you.” In Ezekiel 37:27 God says, “My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people.”
The people of Israel looked forward to a day when God’s promises would be fulfilled. In Jesus, God has come to dwell among His people. God’s purposes have now been fulfilled. He has now tabernacled among us and within us!
God’s presence transforms. He saves, makes holy, and empowers us for a Christlike life. This enables us to participate fully in God’s redemptive agenda in the world. In Jesus, Kent Brower reminds, “God, whose holiness is expressed through His seeking love, has made it possible for His alienated creation to be brought back into that intended relationship with Him.”1
God’s purpose to establish His presence among His people is fulfilled in Jesus. This is not a fulfillment of a temporary presence, but rather a fulfillment of permanent presence, as Jesus promised: “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever – the Spirit of truth…I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:16-18).
God is omnipresent — He is everywhere.
There has never been a time when God was not present, even though sometimes we cannot always perceive or discern His presence.
As John reminds us, the Word — the true light of the world — was in the world. Unfortunately, the world did not recognize Him (John 1:9-10). The Word is the eternal God, who desires for humanity and for all creation to enter into a right relationship with Him.
Learning to be Human
Jesus did not only come as a revelation of God to humanity, but also to reveal our true humanity. Through Jesus, we learn how to be the people that God intended us to be. We learn that when we are in God, we love God, we love one another (the neighbor) as God loves, and we love all creation as God loves. This holy love compels us to participate in the redemption and restoration of others and of all creation. This is good news for us and for the world today!
John writes, “We have seen his glory.” This is what I pray, that we will experience as the Church. Of course, we are not like the people who saw Jesus with their very eyes. We do not (yet) have this privilege, but seeing Him in person did not necessarily mean recognizing or accepting Him as the Messiah. There are those who still rejected Jesus even after seeing Him face-to-face. Those who did receive Him by faith entered into a relationship with Him. Indeed, this is still the case today.
The manifestation of God’s glory signals to us God’s commitment to accomplish His purposes. As Diane Leclerc writes, “Through God’s presence we see a glimpse of God’s infinite devotion to us, God’s dedication to our salvation — to our renewal in the image of God — as we directly experience God’s holiness.”2
In Christ, humanity is restored and empowered to live as the holy people of God — His holy priesthood. We represent God to His creation and represent creation to God through prayer. This is so precisely because God has not abandoned or given up on His creation.
The Present Challenges of Our Culture
We live in a world where it is hard to proclaim or embody the gospel. Andrew Root writes, “Our culture has little room for belief in a God who is both transcendent and personal, who acts to bring forth an all-new reality, promising transformation.”3 The complexity of this is such that scientific methods are limited in what they can do to help reveal God and His divine activities. The contestability of beliefs is another factor. People have many options of whom to follow. This may result in a syncretistic, or blending of religions, approach in some cases.
Despite all of this, salvation matters. It matters to the point that God would come and empty Himself for our sakes. We do not do the work of evangelism for our benefit, or simply to feel good. We participate in evangelism as worship to the God who seeks to reconcile all people to Himself. Furthermore, we must remember that His mission is not totally dependent on us. God has chosen to participate in His mission with us. God’s mission is dependent on God’s faithfulness.
Evangelism is not about us. It is not a human project. It is God’s project.
I like to think that evangelism is living in the faithfulness of God, participating with Him in His mission to reveal Himself to the world. It is participation in ushering in the Kingdom of God on earth. We are “sent from God,” (John 1:6) as witnesses to testify about Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God. We evangelize, but it is God who illuminates and quickens hearts. Evangelism will not always yield desired results. Some will accept Jesus, but there will also be those who will reject Him. There will always be ideologies that threaten the advancement of the Kingdom of God. This is not new. It has happened before in many places. Still, nothing can stop God’s redemptive purposes.
Over the years, the Church has responded to God's call to live in Him and participate with Him in His mission by being a people sent into the world to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. Our history attests that we have participated with boldness and with a sense of urgency. There was definite conviction that there is power in proclaiming and living the Message of full salvation. There was a commitment to telling everyone about Jesus.
Our history also attests that we were not ignorant of the realities of our world. We affirm that because of sin, ours is a fallen world; a world that does not recognize God. Thus, ours is a world in desperate need of a Savior. Persecution, idolatry, demonism, animism, unbelief, scientism, rationalism, and many more realities have always been present as we seek to embody the good news of salvation.
Yet, in the midst of these and many other challenges, the Church, compelled by God’s love, has faithfully made sharing the good news of Christ a priority. Obstacles do not stop us from living as sent people. We remain firmly committed to unleashing the gospel.
In recent days, I have been rereading the history of how the Church of the Nazarene began in Africa. I learned that when missionaries arrived and began to preach, they often encountered people who were not ready to accept the gospel. In several places, people doubted its validity. In some contexts, it took years before there was even one convert.
This could have been discouraging for missionaries who were convinced that God had clearly called and told them to move to Africa to preach the gospel. Instead, in the midst of discouragement, they did not lose hope. They remained convinced that God was surely going to transform the lives of many people in Africa.
There were many reasons why people were reluctant to accept the gospel. A common reason was that these people were already religious people. They had their own gods. Many people in Africa were afraid that abandoning the worship of ancestors and other gods could result in being cursed. Idolatry was at the heart of such resistance.
Furthermore, in these contexts, religion or faith is not individualistic. It is communal. The ancestors or idols that they worshipped were a part of every member of their family and village. Therefore, it would have been difficult or nearly impossible for one individual member of the family to abandon their religion by entering into a relationship with a God that the family had not heard about. Family members feared that such person(s) might bring a curse to the entire family or community. Persecution and even exile would have been a real possibility.
The missionaries continued to preach, and God illuminated the hearts of the people. They began to seek to know more about God and accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior. Today, we have a vibrant Church all over Africa. Only God could accomplish this, but thanks be to God, He allows us to be part of His redemptive work.
An Ongoing Invitation
As followers of Jesus, we are invited to continue to participate in these works of God. My prayer is that we will always hold on to the truth that God is working to redeem His creation, and that He invites us, gathers us, forms us, and enables us to fully participate with Him in this work.
The incarnation of Jesus demonstrates to us the seriousness of God’s commitment to His redemptive purposes. If redemption is important to God, it must be important to us. Over the years, this passion has led the church to live as a sent people. This same passion to live as God’s image bearers should compel us today. Living as God’s image bearers in the world has yielded phenomenal results.
We have a vibrant church because God has powerfully gifted, enabled, and blessed His church with His presence.
We have followed Him throughout the world with boldness. He is not done yet. He remains a sending God, and He sends us!
The question is: Are we willing to continue to know God, to be indwelt by Him in the fullness of His grace and truth, and to be enabled by Him for His Mission in the world?
I hope we are!
Filimão Chambo is a general superintendent of the Church of the Nazarene.
NOTE: This message was preached in February 2019 at the M19 Conference in Kansas City, Missouri.
 Kent Brower, Holiness in the Gospels (Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 2013), 79.
 Diane Leclerc, Discovering Christian Holiness: The Heart of Wesleyan – Holiness Theology (Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 2013).
 Andrew Root, Faith Formation in a Secular Age (Baker Publishing Group, 2017), Kindle file.