Excerpts from chapter three of Everyone Belongs to God.
If you are observant, you can always find traces of God at work (Acts 17:23). God is always moving, in our hearts and among those nearest to us. But if you get too engrossed in what you are doing, you will not be able to notice what God is trying to accomplish, just as many did not see the working of God in the Savior. So, keep your eyes and ears open, and as soon as you perceive something of God’s work, let it speak to you.
If you focus solely on all the need and suffering that is before you, you will soon find yourself groaning and lamenting like the Israelites in the desert. Remember, God in his great mercy gave us a new birth, “into a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet. 1:3). That is the greatest event that has ever happened – the resurrection – and the living hope within our hearts is its consequence. With this hope, everything puts on a different appearance, and we can confidently proclaim God’s works and deeds.
Some trace, something very tangible, of Jesus Christ runs through all ages (Acts 14:16–17). Our distress is not that there is absolutely nothing to be seen of God in this world, but that the fleshly pursuits of this world seem to tower over the few small indications of God’s spirit, that the vanity of this world, the perishable and the corruptible, seem to have the upper hand over the victory Jesus won on the cross. Even so, something of God’s peace, which comes from the risen Savior, is always present. Hang on to this, come what may.
God is always at hand; he despises no one. If a heart shows itself to be only a little bit receptive, God is able to do something and reveal himself as the Living One who is present (Mark 7:24–30). He does not hesitate to approach anyone. At the time of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, God revealed himself, though naturally according to the context of their time (Rom. 1:18–21). Despite the whole outlook of that period of history – when for example slavery was considered essential, as it was even in the time of the apostles – God revealed himself in such a living way that we, in our time, still draw on it. God was even able to reveal his glory in the brutality of the people of Israel, at the time of the conquest of the land, and later among the kings.
Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:17). When we come to a foreign land in the name of Jesus, we should thank God that a law or ethic already exists which can find fulfillment. Or do we think we have first to hammer the laws of Moses or Christian morals into people? This would be to stand above God, whose spirit was at work long before we Christians showed up (Acts 17:16–31).
To begin with, your work should only have a quiet influence. As long as you don’t make Western Christian customs compulsory, you will not arouse opposition, and this will work to your advantage. Avoid all religious provocation. Let Christ quietly work and comfort people through you; they will sense the difference between what you and others are trying to do. Aggressive attempts at evangelizing do not spring from the love of God, but from the spirit of business.
Take heart, and may God give his spirit to all you meet! Remember, they don’t need to become “Christians” like us. This designation need not come up at all. Whoever does the will of God is a child of the kingdom of heaven, whether he takes his cue from Confucius, Buddha, Muhammad, or the Church Fathers. Christ is the only one who brings truth and life into people’s lives. Everything is in his hands.
Where there is clear revelation from God, social, political, and even religious rules and regulations are forgotten (Col. 2:16–23). Though God’s revelation comes to us through people’s lives, ultimately only Jesus brings about what is new and pure. Political and religious forms and cultural mores are constantly changing; they belong to what is human and transitory. Christ’s true followers never feel obligated to follow them.
Confucius, Buddha, and other great religious figures are not equal to Christ (Acts 4:12). A civilization like the Chinese – just as others in the course of human history – strives ultimately for a social order. Yet Confucius offers virtually nothing to quench our deepest thirst. A mere moral philosophy, however significant it may be, cannot lift us up to God.
Only Christ expresses God’s nature clearly (John 14:6). Apart from him all our efforts to change society will collapse as soon as outer circumstances change. Christ must redeem us from “the curse of the law” (Gal. 3:13) that we may enter into “the freedom and glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21). It is the law and human morality that hold people back. As my father wrote to me when I was young, “Our virtues have become our greatest sin.” They hinder the living God from bringing about something new.
Although profound outer changes can occur quite apart from any revelation from God, there is nothing more wonderful than the indwelling Christ. When he is present streams of living water flow out, bringing true life to people (John 4:13–14). This is something that transcends human goodness. What God directs is never destroyed, even when nations suffer ruin. Only where Christ’s love rules are human beings valued for who they are, and everything else – social institutions and customs – takes second place and even becomes unimportant.
The hidden church of Jesus Christ, out of which something of God’s future can come, remains and will never die. It is only the mantles of religion and philosophy and Christianity that are in tatters. A new mantle is needed – made of God’s pure love and the capacity to receive it.
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Photo by Yann