I pulled the little chain and nothing. My little green lamp didn’t turn on. I checked the bulb to see if it was dead or not screwed in tight. The bulb was fine. Pull the chain—nothing. Hmmm? My favorite green lamp simply wouldn’t work.
Just as I was beginning to grow frustrated and ready to throw it in the trash, I noticed the cord had been pulled out of the outlet. Mystery solved: My green lamp wouldn’t function properly because it was unplugged from it’s power source. It was disconnected from it’s source of life.
The human story as told in the Bible gives a similar predicament. Human beings, carefully designed and made for a particular purpose, quickly unplugged themselves from their power source. Disconnected from God, their source of life, humanity lost its ability to properly function. Instead of living in the bright sunshine of God’s brilliantly crafted world, the human family found itself groping around in a dark world now under the black canopy of Sin.
The Bible says, “For although they [human beings] knew God, they did not glorify him as God or give him thanks, but they became futile in their thoughts and their senseless hearts were darkened” (Rom 1:21). Or again, “They are darkened in their understanding, being alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardness of their hearts” (Eph 4:18).
Jesus enters this dark landscape in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: “The people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, and on those who sit in the region and shadow of death a light has dawned.” He came announcing the good news: “I have come as a light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in darkness” (John 12:46).
The church proclaims the glorious truth that God has acted in Christ to plug the human race back into the life of God. The sin that once kept us disconnected (separated, alienated) from God has now been nailed to the cross and forgiven on account of Christ’s sacrifice. Like my green lamp, we are plugged back in and the problem is solved. But now what?
This is where many gospel proclamations end. There was a glitch in God’s original creation—Sin (the lamp is unplugged). Christ has fixed the problem—Atonement (the lamp is plugged back into it’s source). I am convinced that this leaves many of us still in partial darkness. This gospel addresses and solves the sin problem (thanks be to God!); it offers us assurance of salvation and eternal life in heaven when we die (Praise our merciful Father!).
But now what? What do we do on this side of heaven? Back to our green lamp illustration. Now that the lamp is plugged back in, what is its designated function? It’s hardly works as a vacuum cleaner. It fails as a coaster to set your drink upon. It’s worthless for brushing your teeth. I wouldn’t try storing cookies in it. What’s it’s created purpose? What was it made to do in the first place—before it got disconnected from its power source?
The full Gospel of Jesus Christ not only saves us from our sins; it saves us unto or for living out the purpose for which we were originally created. God did not create us for the purpose of saving us from our sins in order to get us into heaven when we die. He created us for something prior to the Fall.
One way of getting at this other side of the gospel is by looking again at the gospel Jesus proclaimed. What was the gospel Jesus announced as he strolled into Galilee? No, it wasn’t “I died on the cross for your sins.” Jesus hadn’t died yet! Jesus came announcing, “Behold, the kingdom of God has drawn near. Change your life around and believe this good news.” God’s saving power was breaking into human history through Jesus Christ, and by embracing this redeeming power one could enter into the life of the coming age already now in the present.
Dallas Willard tries to capture the meaning of Jesus’ proclamation “The Kingdom of God is at hand” by likening it to saying, “Behold, electricity is at hand!” Jesus came not only to save us from our sins and offer us eternal life; he came to bring the power, the electricity, of God’s redeeming reign into human history. The Kingdom of God is the saving, renewing, restoring, redeeming, life-giving electricity of God breaking into the world through Jesus and His loyal followers—the church.
Jesus invited all to embrace this new act of God unfolding in and through his life, death and resurrection. He urged one and all to plug into this divine electricity, this power from on high capable of undoing all the wrongs of the world.
Once plugged in, however, one had to decide to take the next step in turning on the power switch and at last performing the function we were designed for. What is that? Well, its simply joining God in the work of wisely managing His creation, of joining in the beautiful, harmonious dance of life in union with God, nature and fellow man.
No longer disconnected from our source, we are now able to tap into God’s infinite resources and live as reflections of His glory. The Bible says, “God has made us what we are, and in our union with Christ Jesus he has created us for a life of good ‘works’ (energo), which he has already prepared for us to do” (Eph 2:10). At first glance this verse appears to promote a sort of Boy Scout Christianity that boils down to merely doing good deeds like helping old ladies across the street. While we should always help an elderly in need, there is more to this verse than what meets the eye.
The Greek word translated ‘work’ is energo, which is where we derive our English word, “Energy”. Being a Christian is all about plugging into God’s divine electricity available through the Holy Spirit and exerting God’s life-transforming, world-healing, Kingdom-building energy where ever we go. We are juiced with a high calling! And the New Testament does not attempt to hide such an explosive truth. Paul boldly proclaims, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13).
Again, this translation tones it down about, seemingly just encouraging us to depend on God when we are weak. True enough. But again the Greek word translated ‘strengthen’ is dunamos which is where we derive our word, “Dynamite.” Paul realizes that by the Spirit we have access to kind of explosive power that brought the world into existence out of nothing, the kind of power that raises dead people from their graves!
Now, this is a kind of Christianity that gets me excited to join God in His mission! I want to be part of this divine Kingdom-advancement! Young, fearless teens overflowing with untamed energy and explosive potential can get excited about this invitation, too!
So many of us have long embraced the fact that we are like broken lamps, unplugged from our source and gladly accept Christ’s offer to plug us back in. Yet, many of these same folks are bored with church and just waiting around to die in order to cash in their faith currency for an eternity in Heaven.
To all of these I offer this challenge: It is quite pointless to plug a lamp in if you’re never going to turn on the switch and start using it to light up the dark. You are saved, Christian. Now start doing what you were created to do! Turns out you are not so different from the old green lamp when it comes down to it:
“You are like light for the whole world. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bowl; instead it is put on the lamp stand, where it gives light for everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matt 5:14-16)