Both the biblical story and the gospel reveal that the mission of a restored humanity is to glorify God by participating appropriately in his mission.
Because God desires to save sinners from sin and for a life under his reign, we declare to the world his offer of salvation. Because he promises to restore his good creation, we live the creaturely and cultural aspects of our lives in such a way that the world will know that Christ is our Lord. We do this as a matter of obedience and witness and out of delight for and gratitude to our Lord and Savior.
In addition, we live our everyday lives in such a way that we provide a preview of the new heavens and earth, where Christ will establish his reign of justice, peace, and love. In this way, the Christian community provides for the world a seamless tapestry of words and deeds that point to Christ the King and the salvation he provides.
“Jesus’s lordship is as wide as creation. And if his lordship is as wide as creation, then the Christian mission is as wide as creation.”
Central to the Christian mission is international mission. After Christ rises from the dead, he appears to his disciples and tells them to make disciples of all the nations.
The significance of this command is highlighted and affirmed repeatedly throughout the New Testament (e.g., Matt. 28:18–20) but nowhere more so than in the fifth chapter of the book of Revelation. In this chapter, John receives a vision from God in which a vast multitude from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation gathers around Christ to worship him. This multitude has been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb and now worships him together.
In light of God’s concern to redeem sinners from among the nations, Christians should keep international mission at the center of the church’s mission.
Theological, Social, Cultural, Global
Christian mission has four aspects: theological, social, cultural, and global. It is theological in that it flows out of a person-to-person relationship with the one and only true God. Our love for God fuels our mission in his service.
Our mission is also social in that it involves interaction with other people made in the image of God. When we speak the gospel to our neighbor, love and serve our fellow church members, or serve in a mercy ministry, we are participating in social aspects of the mission.
In addition, our mission is cultural. When we honor Christ in our college studies or in our workplaces, we are participating in the cultural aspect of the mission. When we bring our Christian faith to bear on art, science, politics, education, business, or homemaking, we are living missionally in the cultural dimension of our existence.
“Christians should keep international mission at the center of the church’s mission.”
Finally, our mission is global. The Bible makes clear that global mission is near to God’s heart and central to the Christian mission. We want to preach the gospel and plant churches among every known people group and every known language on earth. When we do so, the churches we plant will be able to live out the Christian mission—theologically, socially, and culturally—among their own people and extend it outward—globally—to other peoples.
A Seamless and Interdependent Whole
These four aspects of the Christian mission are not exclusive of one another. In fact, they go hand in hand. Having a healthy relationship with the one true God (theological) will cause us to seek fellowship with God’s people, share the gospel with those who are lost, and engage in mercy ministries to help those in need (social).
Further, our relationship with God will inevitably manifest itself in our workplaces and leisure activities (cultural). Similarly, our love for God should naturally lead us to participate in international mission by praying for the lost among the nations, supporting missionaries financially, or going as a missionary to the nations (global).
Just as these four aspects of the Christian mission live in a reciprocal relationship with one another, so do word-based and deed-based ministries. The Christian mission goes forward on the back of both types of ministries.
We can compare the relationship between words and deeds to the relationship between a wheel’s rim (deeds) and its hub (words). In order for a wheel to move forward, it needs both. Without the hub (gospel words), the wheel will collapse. Without the rim (gospel-centered actions), the hub will have great difficulty moving forward.
“The Christian community provides for the world a seamless tapestry of words and deeds that point to Christ the King and the salvation he provides.”
Just as a wheel moves forward because its hub and rim are working together, so the Christian mission moves forward through a combination of gospel words and gospel-motivated actions. Without gospel words, the Christian mission collapses. Without deeds, it has difficulty getting traction. Although not every word will be accompanied by a deed, or vice versa, Christians should be looking to witness and obey with words and deeds at all times. So the Christian mission combines theological, social, cultural, and global aspects. And these are mutually reinforcing, each combining words and deeds. Mission, then, is holistic in its scope.
Baptist theologian W. T. Conner saw holistic mission not as a problem but as a prerequisite to understanding the nature of the new life found in Jesus Christ. In 1945, Conner wrote:
“The Christian mission is to do all the good he can in every realm of life, in every possible way. He is to make regnant the will of God in the whole extent of human life and society. There is no conflict between serving God and helping men. Surely the Christ who healed the bodies of men and performed a miracle to feed the hungry multitude does not represent a God who is displeased with anything that makes this world a better place in which to live. The type of piety that thinks that the only function of religion is to cause a man to withdraw into some monastery and save his own soul and let the world go to the devil—that type of piety belongs to the middle ages, if it belongs anywhere.
Nor is the only function of Christianity to save the souls of men from hell in the next life; they need to be made righteous in every relation of life. The regeneration of the individual and the regeneration of society should never be put over against each other as antithetical things; it is not a question of one to the exclusion of the other. They are rather two things that are mutually dependent. The only way to regenerate society is through the regeneration of the individual units of society. And the only power that can regenerate the individual is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Nor has the gospel done its full work in the life of the individual unless he is made right in every relation to life. The gospel makes a man live right in the world, not withdraw from the world.”
Jesus’s lordship is as wide as creation. And if his lordship is as wide as creation, then the Christian mission is as wide as creation—and, by extension, as wide as society and culture. A redeemed humanity who lives under the lordship of Jesus should, therefore, seek to conform to his lordship in every sector of society and sphere of culture. In other words, the redemption and lordship of Christ should cause us to hold a holistic view of mission.
Bruce Ashford serves as provost and professor of theology and culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. You can follow him at www.BruceAshford.net and on Twitter.
Heath Thomas is the Dean of the Hobbs College for Theology and Ministry at Oklahoma Baptist University. He also serves as Associate Vice President for Church Relations and Professor of Old Testament. You can follow him on Twitter.
Content taken from The Gospel of Our King: Bible, Worldview, and the Mission of Every Christian by Bruce Ashford and Heath Thomas, ©2019. Used by permission of Baker Publishing (www.bakerpublishinggroup.com).
 W. T. Conner, The Gospel of Redemption (Nashville: Broadman, 1945), 221–22.