How the Church Transforms and Renews the World

The Church Transformed and Transforming by Steve Wilkins

If the Church is the chief instrument of transforming the world, then, apart from evangelism and missions, how does this happen? What is the Church to be and what must it do in order to scatter the darkness of sin and Satan?

Often, the answer we find in the Scriptures is, “live like God lives.” Israel was commanded to be “holy” because Yahweh was holy (Lev. 19:2). Jesus said that we must “be perfect” even as our Father in heaven is perfect (Mat. 5: 48). Paul says, “be imitators of God” (Eph. 5:1).

The Church is to be the place where the world sees true life, the life of God, lived. The Church is to be the place where the world can see the love, forgiveness, mercy, compassion, generosity, and merriment of God. It is to be the place where the life that every person longs for (but can’t have apart from union with Jesus), may be seen and heard, tasted and touched.

The Church is called to demonstrate, as N. T. Wright has said, a new way of being human – that is, displaying the true and right humanness for which God created us. But what specifically does this look like? Paul says this is a life that stands in sharp contrast to the world of unbelief and rebellion (Eph. 4:17-21). It is a life that contradicts and corrects the world at every point. In the epistle to the Ephesians we see some of these points:

The world has lost its integrity, so we must be the people who speak the truth (4:25). This not only means that we must keep our promises and fulfill our contracts but also that we straightforwardly confess our sins and shortcomings. We are not yet what we ought to be and we must not pretend to be something more than we are. Integrity requires honest acknowledgement of our failures and taking full responsibility for our sins.

The world is a bitter place, so we must be the people who practice forgiveness (4:31-32) and we must do it like God Himself does it (i.e., freely, fully, immediately, and forgetting the offense). The Church ought to be a “grudge-free” zone.

The world is an ungrateful place, so we must be the people who give thanks (5:20). We must learn the discipline of gratitude, not only because it reminds us of our own insufficiency, but because it promotes peace. Gratitude implies confidence in God’s wisdom and goodness. I can’t sincerely give thanks for all things unless I believe God will work everything together for good. Thanksgiving brings peace.

The world is an unmerciful place, so we must be the people who are marked by compassion. The world takes, we should be the people who give (4:28). God delights in mercy and so should we.

The world is a stingy place, so we must be the people distinguished by generosity. God gives freely without regret. He gives abundantly and doesn’t keep an account, and we must be like Him. Our calling is not to enrich ourselves but to enrich others, making them more honorable and glorious. This means, among other things, that we must learn to be excited over every opportunity to give.

The world is a sad place, so we must be the people characterized by merriment. God is the One who is ever-blessed, ever-merry and we must be like Him. His joy makes Him mighty. It was the joy set before Him that enabled Jesus to “endure the cross and despise the shame” of the cross (Heb. 12:2). George Grant has reminded us that “merry” is an Anglo-Saxon word that originally meant “valiant, illustrious, great, or mighty.” To be “merry” meant not only being mirthful but to be joyously gallant and courageous. Merriment is that which constantly characterizes God Himself and it is this which fits us for living faithfully as well (“The joy of Yahweh” is our strength!).

If the Church is to be the engine of transformation in the world, then it must faithfully show the world what real life (the life of God) is like. The faith must be made visible. Salvation must be seen as a tangible reality—a reality you can feel.

And this happens when we imitate God: being faithful in our marriages and honest in our callings, living with the integrity of holiness, rejoicing with thanksgiving. As men see His life lived before them, that is, as they see our “good works,” they will then come to give Him glory (Matt. 5:20).

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