Churches that strive to be missional in their community engage the surrounding culture and yet offer their neighbors a radical alternative community focused on the gospel of Jesus Christ. In his article, “Missional, Theological Church Planting”, Ed Stetzer describes a church dedicated to God’s mission as, “God at work in the world, touching hearts and lives, our participation with Him seeing men and women converted, their lives changed by the power of the Gospel, and establishing New Testament congregations.” Christians can do their individual part in God’s mission by displaying Christ through that radical alternative lifestyle in three circles: marriage, family, and community.
Christians are called to be salt and light in this world, offering the culture we are called to live and minister in a view of the truth of the gospel. Christ commands his disciples to, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Ephesians 5 describes the mystery of marriage, revealing that it is, in fact, a representation of Christ and the Church. Those in the covenant of a Christian marriage are to convey to the world a marvelous picture of Christ’s covenant with his people that is unlike any other living example available.
John Piper, in his sermon “Marriage: God’s Showcase of Covenant-Keeping Grace”, describes Christian marriage as a unique display of God in that it involves two people in an intimate life-long covenant. “[I]n marriage you live hour by hour in glad dependence on God’s forgiveness and justification and promised future grace, and you bend it out toward your spouse hour by hour—as an extension of God’s forgiveness and justification and promised help.” Not only are Christian couples displaying Christ to each other, but the radical difference in their covenant relationship ought to affect all those who encounter them, observing their light and glorifying God. He chose to use the institution of marriage to reveal to the world his gospel message.
Is this concept yet another example of a theologian commentating on a vague biblical truth that is easier said than understood ... much less done? How exactly, does one live the gospel before one's spouse ... or others, for that matter ... especially knowing that each spouse is a sinner. Ah, but a sinner saved by grace! It is easy to use theological words but do you truly understand grace unless you experience and live it? How can you show grace to your spouse? When she disappoints you, will you condemn her? Or will you show her the "longsuffering" and forgiveness that Christ has shown you. When he fears he has let you down and does not think he deserves your forgiveness, will you show him the undeserved unconditional love that God extends toward you?
This is practical theology, folks. This is meant to be normal Christianity of the Sermon on the Mount sort ... not super-Christian ideology ... but everyday Christian gospel living.
In addition to the marriage covenant, Christians have a responsibility to the next generation of believers. When God blesses a Christian couple with children, they have the awesome responsibility of evangelizing, discipling, and training their children to become godly leaders. Just as Adam and Eve were called to image God to the world, so are Christian parents called to image God to their children. Fathers and mothers exemplify God as they love, discipline, and train their children. Doreen Moore in her article “Jonathan Edwards: Ministry and the Life of the Family” [which I strongly recommend that you read] depicts Edwards as an exemplary father and minister of the gospel, whose “chief anxiety” was the salvation of his children’s souls. Those who do not have children need not necessarily neglect representing Christ to the next generation. They may do so among the young people in their church community and beyond.
Marriage and family are unique pictures of the gospel because they are the most intimate of relationships lasting for a lifetime (particularly the husband-wife union of one-flesh). However, Christians, whether they be married or single are called to extend God’s grace to all. Colossians chapters two and three exhort Christians to remember what Christ has done and to extend that grace to others, including those within the church and the community. Not only are unbelievers watching the family relationships of Christians but they are also observing the interaction of the saints with each other and toward others. This new life that Christ offers is radical and when Christians live it out before others they provide a visual of the gospel in action. The world observes “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another, … forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, … love, … the peace of Christ, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, … giving thanks” (Colossians 3:12b-17) when Christians understand their responsibility and joy to represent Christ to each other and the world.
Whether God calls an individual or family to live for the rest of their lives next door to the house they were born in or relocates them across the world, Christians are called to represent him wherever their location. The gospel transcends cultures. It is not bound by borders. Thus, citizens of the Kingdom of God across the globe can impact whatever culture they find themselves in by living this extraordinary lifestyle prescribed in the Sermon on the Mount, Colossians, and the entire Scriptures. Whatever their situation, they may contextualize the manner in which they live and share the gospel of Jesus Christ as they take part in God’s mission; however, these three areas of marriage, family, and community are key to living out the mission God has planned for his people regardless of their place or position of service.