Free Church of Scotland College Certificate in Theology/Diploma in Christian Studies: 2011/12
Practical Theology Assignment
In what ways does the incarnation of Christ serve as a model for mission and outreach?
Responding to John Chapter 20 v 21, “As the father has sent me I am sending you”, John Stott writes as follows: “Now he sends us into the world as the Father has sent him into the world. In other words our mission is to be modelled on his. Indeed all mission is incarnational mission.” (John Stott, The Contemporary Christian)
John 1:14 says “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (ESV).” It is perhaps the most well-known verse of the entire Bible about the incarnation of Christ. The ESV Study Bible describes the incarnation as “the most amazing event in all of history: the eternal, omnipotent, omnipresent, infinitely holy Son of God took on a human nature and lived among humanity (ESV Study Bible 2009).” Relating this to Christian mission, John Stott says that “all mission is incarnational (Stott 2004)”, as we are sent into the world to proclaim the power of the Gospel as image-bearers of Christ. This essay will take a look at the incarnation of Christ as a model for mission.
The incarnation is Jesus Christ arriving on the earth in human form. Jesus came to announce the Kingdom of God through humble beginnings, and, as Jesus rose in stature (Luke 2:52), He grew in favour with God, and announced that the prophesied Messiah had arrived. Influential evangelical Pastor Mark Driscoll states in his book Doctrine that: “the incarnation is more of a miracle than the resurrection because in it somehow a holy God and sinful humanity are joined, yet without the presence of sin” (Driscoll 2010 pp209-10). In the incarnation, Jesus came to earth in human form, giving up His seat on the throne in Heaven to be with His beloved children on earth. Theologian J.I Packer notes how the incarnation and the Trinity are linked together, describing it as “the Son who came from the Father’s side at the Father’s will to become the sinner’s substitute on the Cross” (Packer 1993 p90).
As God calls all Christians to be missionaries to follow in the pathway of His only begotten Son Jesus and not to the world, questions can be asked as to how we can we be missional Christians and be as bold as Jesus was. Two verses linked comparing worldly living and Christ-like living are: 1 John 2:15 “do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him (ESV),” and Romans 12:2: “do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (NIV).” These verses also linked to mission, as two essential traits that Christians need to be disciplined in are found. The first trait is love. Without love for our fellow humans and for God a Christian can not do mission well. The second trait is a renewed mind. Without a renewed mind, one that has been changed from a worldly perspective to a Christ-like perspective, a Christian can not do mission well. When we live out in the power of God, living for His Glory, then we should not fear the world. As Jesus stood boldly declaring the Kingdom and enduring pain on the Cross, so then we as Christians must declare the Gospel boldly through the power of the Holy Spirit.
In the book of Acts, the disciples “were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4 ESV). This is a true encouragement to all Christians today of the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. As Spirit-filled missionary ambassadors for Christ in a postmodern world, we can boldly proclaim the power of the Gospel, just as the Apostles did in the First Century. Being filled with the Spirit also awakens our heart to the Word of God more, as well as imparting Spiritual fruit and gifts into our life, whilst also rebuking and correcting us. Romans 1:16 says: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” It’s a verse that speaks straight to the heart of mission that Christians are not ashamed of Christ and the power He so freely gives to those who are willing to believe in Him. If as Christians we are to truly believe in God’s power and just as then being filled with the Spirit is again a daily choice that we must make. As Mark Driscoll has quoted, “God revealed that through the power of the Holy Spirit, the followers of Jesus are given the ability to live a life like Jesus by the same Holy Spirit that enabled Jesus” (Driscoll 2007 p129).
J.I Packer in his trademark book Knowing God described the incarnation as the “supreme mystery” associated with the gospel (Packer 1973 p45). This “mystery” is truly something special, and that we all partake in as Christians. When we partake in incarnational mission as Christians, we truly see how to live in the world. We are missional because Jesus was missional. In His time on earth, Jesus spent a lot of time speaking and teaching the Word of God, amazing His followers. He didn’t necessarily perform many miracles of His own accord but they came to Him because He lived out through the love of His Father. When we truly realise who we are as adopted heirs as God’s beloved children, we can have the mindset of Christ. As believers in Jesus, the need for renewed minds and a prayerful, missional heart is a daily choice that we also must make.
A third quality for incarnational mission is what Paul speaks about in Philippians 2, and that is humility. Paul writes: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4 ESV). Humility in the context of mission takes many different forms, from being humble knowing that God is sovereign to honouring other people and caring for them the way Jesus would. The ESV Study Bible describes Christ’s earthly life as “one of continual humiliation. He subtly and selectively revealed his divine glory, even keeping it a secret at times” (ESV Study Bible 2009). So as Christ was humble, then we are to be humble.
Another quality that comes with being missionaries for Christ on earth is being cultural. John Stott in his book The Contemporary Christian writes: “no word of God was spoken in a cultural vacuum; every word of God was spoken in a cultural context” (Stott 2004 p194). Today many evangelical Churches are highlighting the importance of contextualising the Gospel in culture. To use a practical example, one that is making airwaves across Christianity is the emerging Church movement, of which Timothy Keller, Joshua Harris, Mark Driscoll and Matt Chandler are prominent names. Generally known to be charismatic in worship and Reformed in doctrine, these “emergers” are trying to make the Church more relevant, accessible and culturally-connected. This is done through various means, from worship concerts such as the Passion Movement, headed by Louie Giglio, to coffee house evangelistic outreach. The emerging Church is a good example of how to be cultural in mission, where some of their Churches are based in God-less areas of America.
In conclusion, mission is something that we are all a part of as Christians. Jesus Christ died on the Cross for our sins not so we could go just to Church every Sunday, tithe, and be in fellowship with each other. Jesus died so that everyone could receive eternal life from Him, everyone who freely receives it with open arms. That’s our job as missionaries for Christ, to live for Him, a life full of faith and grace, hope and humility, all led by the Holy Spirit. As image-bearers of God and co-labourers with Him, it is our honour and privilege to serve our Heavenly Father in this way. Wherever our mission takes us, whether it’s to the student in the hallway or the receptionist in the Hospital, God has a purpose for each and every one of us to do mission the way His Son Jesus did it.
Word Count: 1,328
References and Bibliography:
Driscoll, Mark & Breshears, Gerry, Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway 2010)
Driscoll, Mark, cited in The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World ed.
Packer, J.I. Concise Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1993)
Packer, J.I, Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1973)
Stott, John: The Contemporary Christian (InterVarsity Press, 2004).
Taylor, Justin & Piper, John (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway 2007)
Thoennes, Erik: Life’s Biggest Questions: What the Bible Says about the Things That Matter Most (Crossway, Wheaton IL. 2011).
Mars Hill Church, Seattle. Religion Saves: The Emerging Church. Retrieved February 10th from http://marshill.com/media/religionsaves/emerging-church
Christianity Today. Young, Restless, Reformed: Calvinism is making a comeback—and shaking up the church. Retrieved February 10th from
Scripture quotations indicated as from NIV are taken from The Holy Bible: New International Version. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by International Bible Society.
Scripture quotations indicated as from ESV Bible are taken from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version Study Bible. Copyright 2001, 2009 by Crossway Bibles, Wheaton IL.