The sketch shows God/Man/Creation arranged in 5 columns. Those columns depicted:
- Creator’s ideal – where we get our sense of “ought”
- Creation’s deal – where we experience that the “ought” is not
- Creator’s redemption – God’s pursuit and rescue of us and our world
- Creation’s transformation – God’s ideal rekindled through his people
- Creator’s completion of the ideal – God, humanity and creation in shalom
The 4th column represents people in this story who have trusted God revealed in Jesus as the explanation for reality and the expectation of all ultimate hope. The highlighted bits in the picture posted show “church” as 1 identity with 3 functions.
1 identity for church is Jesus. The New Testament continually connects ideas of “God” “creator” and other general terms to an essential recognition of Jesus. Jesus is the Creator revealed in the creation. Jesus is the promise of rescue made throughout the Old Testament, the promise incarnate in the gospels and the promise projected to scale through the church, his people. Church is people redefined by Jesus connecting with other people redefined by Jesus. Identity precedes activity. Who we are informs what we do.
3 activities for the church are growing in faith, gathering in hope and giving in love. Acts 2 has the birth of the church and is a good description of the basics we see detailed later in the New Testament. The grand Story of God and humanity is explained as culminating in Jesus. People believe and are immersed in that identity, of people who trust Jesus. They then grow in faith through the apostles’ teaching, they gather in fellowship, eating together, talking to God together, and giving up control of their resources as they participate in the expansion of God’s redemption.
Faith, Hope, Love keep showing up. Throughout the New Testament we see this triad as a meaningful dynamic. (Rom. 5:2–5; 1 Cor. 13, 1 Thess. 1:3; 5:8; Gal. 5:5–6, Heb. 6:10–12; 10:22–24; 1 Pet. 1:3–8, 21–22). Simplification is useful for holding our focus. What follows is to be taken as a guide to keeping major ideas in balance, not as “the secret of church finally revealed in 3 easy steps” or some such bloggishness as scholarship.
Faith is trust. It is believing that confidence in someone is appropriate and responsible. I see the primary role of studying the Bible as growing in faith. What we do when we listen to a sermon, participate in a Bible study or have a private devotional reading is consider God’s trustworthiness. That may seem odd, but it shouldn’t.
We are quick to point out that we are not just trying to get “head knowledge”. There are a variety of reasons we say that, but the most valid is that what is at stake is allegiance. We study God’s Story to be reminded that God is faithful. Growing in faith is not bulking up our “personal faith powers” or some such superstitiousness. Growing in faith is growing in clarity regarding the object of our faith. The more we know about God’s character, the more we have to draw on when we are tempted not to trust him, to trust something else. Studying God’s faithfulness frequently helps us keep what we know before us.
In the sketch, faith is looking backward at what God has already done. Hope is looking forward at the ultimate good that is going to come from what God has done.
Hope is expressed in celebrating the confidence that good is coming. Romans 8:24-25: “Now in this hope we were saved, yet hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with patience.” When the church gathers we do so out of our faith in Jesus. Sermons and such help remind us Who we trust in, but why do they? We are reminded so that we can celebrate what that means, particularly when we focus on the completion of all the promised goodness from God. We do this in song, and prayer, and feasting. The main event of church gathering should be celebrating the future goodness we presently experience in part because of what was done in the past. Faith focused learning in the form of sermons can help, but what is helped is the confidence to celebrate joyfully.
Love is what comes from celebrating the God who calls us to have faith in who He is and what He does. 1 Corinthians 13 is a beautiful exposition of what love is, but it is also a reminder that faith and hope are temporary; only love is permanent. What we are told is that our limited knowledge and experience, we “see through a glass darkly”, are conditions that will pass away. When the completed (τέλειον) has come, only love will remain.
What we do with that is act with purpose. Faith is growing in understanding of who God is and what God has done so that we trust him. Hope is expressed together in celebration, demonstrating in part what will be complete one day. Love is what has been, what will be, and what is being lived here and now. Love in a broken world is expressed in bringing justice and mercy in humility (Micah 6:8), and doing such in word and deed (Col. 3:17, 1 John 3:18), for our friends and our enemies, those near and those far, even to the ends of the earth.
Church: Jesus-defined people who study his faithfulness, celebrate the hope he’s bringing, and live to love like him.