It is not an overstatement to say that everything that we are called to as Christians and as the church is effected in our lives through the gracious ministry of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit and Union with Christ
First, of course, we long to be found “in Christ”—abiding in Him as He abides in us (John 15:4). The yearning of our hearts is that Christ would be formed in us—Christ in you the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). We do not want to merely talk about Jesus, and we are not only interested in a good theology of Christ Jesus. Yes, theology matters; and yes, of course, it is essential that we foster good conversations about what it means to say, as we do in the Alliance, that Jesus only is our message.
But, what we long for is that our identity would be one of intimate union with Christ—baptized into his death and resurrection (Romans 6:4). It is this dynamic that captures our imaginations, such that we pray: bring us, Lord, into deeper fellowship with you. And it is important to stress that this is the heart of sanctification—this being found “in Christ”. Yes, morality matters; and yes, it is so very important that we mature in our understanding and in our behaviour, in the quality of our relationships and in our generosity and patience in sermon. All good! But each of these is derivative of something else: being found “in Christ”. Thus the goal and focus of the Christian life is all about Jesus – that is, in the words of Ephesians 4, that we would grow up into him who is our living head.
What must be stressed, though, is that this is the work of the Spirit in our lives. Meaning two things. First, that if we want to be found in Christ, we need to learn how to attend to the Spirit—or, in the language at the end of Galatians, we learn to live by the Spirit (5:16), be led by the Spirit (5:18), bear the fruit of the Spirit (5:22), and sowing the seed in the Spirit (6:8). The life of Christ is mediated to us by the Spirit.
And second, that knowing the grace of the Holy Spirit is not the special prevue of more committed or eager Christians—as though some Christians are just “Jesus Christians” and then a second order of believers are “Spirit Christians”. No, the Spirit has one agenda for the church, that we would be brought to Christ and, further, that we would mature in Christ. Christian spirituality is then, nothing other than the intentional response to the initiative of the Spirit, with a clear focus and vision to be found in Christ, abiding in Him as He abides in us.
The Holy Spirit and the Mission of God
As followers of Christ, we are called to witness to the kingdom of God in word and deed. This is what it means to be a church on mission, which our vision and longing is that we could point to the reign of Christ.
Mission is, without a doubt, about reaching those who do not know Christ and establishing congregations where those who come to Christ can find Christian fellowship and join others in Christian worship and, in community, be discipled into mature Christ followers. But it is also much more, we need to think in terms of the Kingdom—the reign of Christ. And this means that everyone is on mission, those called to establish new church communities in the farthest outpost and those called into business, education, or arts in the heart of Toronto, Vancouver, or Calgary. We are all on mission. On mission to witness, in word and deed, to the kingdom.
The kingdom comes not so much on Sunday morning as Monday morning. Thus vibrant and effective congregations are those where the Gospel is preached, but more, where women and men are equipped for service Monday through Friday, in the marketplace or as homemakers. We preach for Monday morning.
And yet, all of this is merely a human endeavour, at best, and perhaps nothing more than grasping and struggling to make a difference – even a difference for good – if we do not learn to do mission in the Spirit. The mission of God, bringing glory to God and establishing the reign of Christ is not, ultimately our work. We are but participants, in the grace of the Spirit, with what God is doing.
Therefore, it is imperative that we get past any idea that we are going to do “great things for God”, that we are going to be heroes and saviours. Rather, all we are going to do is precisely – no more and no less – what the Spirit leads us to do. Where we act, where we speak, what we say, and what we do will all be the fruit of the Spirit’s prompting and guidance. We do not live self-constructed lives and mission is not our construction. Rather, the whole of our lives, including our participation in the mission of God, is a response to the Spirit.
The Apostle Paul insisted that some plant and some water but eventually, it is the Lord that gives the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6-7). This is a reminder that we are not called to do it all. We can therefore in humility accept with alacrity the work to which we are called, and equally humble to trust God with what He is not calling us to do. Mission ultimately belongs to God, not to us.
Finally, as the Scriptures emphasize, what we say and what we do as our contribution to the mission of God, is typically beyond us. We are in over our heads and yet desire the wisdom for an apt word, a courageous word, and to have the emotional, intellectual, and physical capacity to do what we are being called to do. This will mean that we learn to depend on the grace of God and the empowerment of the Spirit. And we can and must ask for this grace, for the Spirit to equip us for the very work to which the Spirit is calling us. So, whether it is our union with Christ or our participation in the mission of God, we come back to the same prayer again and again, Come, Holy Spirit, Come. It is our daily prayer as those who long to be found in Christ and who long to witness, in word and deed, the reign of Christ.
This story is taken from the Fall 2018 Alliance Connection magazine. You can get a free copy of the Alliance Connection at Alliance churches across Canada or view the digital copy online. We hope you will be encouraged and inspired to go deeper in Jesus and as a result, further on mission.
Dr. Gordon T Smith is the president of Ambrose University located in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He is also Professor of Systematic and Spiritual Theology. Dr. Smith has published several books, including Called to Be Saints: An Invitation to Christian Maturity (IVPress, 2014). He is married to Joella and together they have two adult sons—married and with children of their own.