I recently watched an interesting documentary about four college students who took a trip to Europe for the purpose of discovering true Christianity. Entitled, Beware Of Christians, the college students went traveling about Europe to see how Christianity was practiced and what made it different from their American expression of Christianity. Their purpose was to try and discover what might be called “true Christianity.”
Near the end of the movie the four college students essentially came to a simple conclusion, the truest expression of Christianity is to love God and to love others. While I don’t want to necessarily invalidate their discovery, I find that there is a subtle yet foundational problem in their premise.
They went into the world for the world to change them instead of going into the world to change the world for Christ.
It is true, in a large sense, that the greatest expression of Christianity is to love God and love others. But the greatest expression of loving God and loving others is itself two-fold: sharing the Gospel and sacrificing yourself for others. Without the Gospel going out to change the world the world remains lost in sin with no hope of eternal life. While it is true that you can travel the world, learn much, and thereby have your life changed, the purpose of our Christianity is not to have the world change us, rather it is for the Gospel to change the world.
My involvement with missions began in 1988 when I felt the Lord convicting me about a future media ministry outside the US. From that day forward I set my heart on fulfilling God’s call to missions. But my first opportunity to explore that calling didn’t come until three years later when I was asked to go on a vision trip to France and Egypt to explore my potential involvement in the Great Commission. That trip changed me in the sense that it set my resolve even stronger to fulfill the ministry God called me to three years earlier. The purpose of that trip was the opposite of what the college students experienced. I was exploring how to change the world, not exploring how the world could change me. This doesn’t mean I got it right and they got it wrong. It’s clear from watching Beware Of Christians that these young men took the Gospel with them wherever they went. But the important truth still remains: we are called to change the world through the Gospel, not for the world to change us.
In the Bible there are three great commands that help us define what the Christian life should look like. These are known as the Cultural Mandate, the Greatest Commandment, and the Great Commission. The Cultural Mandate is found in Genesis 1:28. After creating Adam and Eve, “God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’”
Sometimes we look at the Genesis story and think that God was making Adam a glorified gardener. In one sense that is true. Adam was commissioned to take care of the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15). But, the implications of God’s command to Adam are more far reaching. We might say that Adam was commissioned to change the world through the exercise of the Cultural Mandate. From his first breath Adam was to change the world by extending the practice of God’s rule, through Adam’s agency, to the world. Yet, it was in the Garden that the world changed him through sin (Genesis 3:6, I John 2:16).
The Greatest Commandment is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-7, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Here it is that Israel is given the command to not only love God, but to change the world through their children by ensuring that their children grow to know and love God also. We can even say that this is an expression of the Cultural Mandate since they both have a similar purpose.
The Great Commission, found in Matthew 28:18-20, becomes the ultimate expression of both the Cultural Mandate and the Greatest Commandment. The principles underlying the command are virtually the same. Take the Gospel to all the world. Change the world through the Gospel. The Gospel is the expression of the greatest love for God and others by the sacrificial death of Jesus. It is the fulfillment of the Cultural Mandate to take Christ to the entire globe, to establish his rule and reign, the very thing the Cultural Mandate also commands us to do.
I’ve been to 15 countries and have lived in three of them. While my travels are certainly not exhaustive and I have had my life changed by that foreign experience, I can say with a degree of confidence that looking for true Christianity in the practices of other nations, or even our own, can be self-defeating. The world cannot reveal to us the truest expression of Christianity. So where are we to find it? You can search high and low, but the bottom line is that the truest expression of Christianity is always found in Christ himself “In whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3).