There are a lot of “re” words in the Bible. Words like redemption, renew, repent, restore, resurrection, reconciliation and regeneration show up over and over throughout the Bible, especially the New Testament.
These “re” words have to do with returning something (a person, a relationship, a project, a universe) to its original, intended state. For example, the Scripture uses a word like reconcile to describe how the relationship between God and people is made right again. But it also uses that word to describe what we are to be doing in our daily lives. We are reconciled to become reconcilers (see 2 Corinthians 5:14-21).
And a word like redemption describes how Christ paid for the sins of the world. But it also describes the “already not yet” state of all things, secured by Christ’s resurrection and which will be realized when his kingdom comes in fullness to earth.
In other words, the most common “re” words in Scripture are more than just repetitive words used to assure us we are headed to heaven if we trust Christ. They are also summary words that describe the roles the church and individual Christians are to play in the overall story of the world. “Re” words flesh out for us the personal and cosmic impact of the work of Christ. Through them we learn more about who we are in Christ, as well as the future of the cosmos.
We inhabit his world
The Bible is both the story of God and the true story of the world. The “re” words we find throughout the Scripture unlock, in all kinds of ways, the central plot of the grand story of God’s cosmos, from its beginning in Genesis to its new beginning in Revelation. It is the story of God’s creation of the world, of man’s rebellion against God, of God’s love and grace being so great that he sent his son to redeem us, and — the final chapter — that he is in the process of restoring all things to himself.
“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,” proclaimed King David (Psalm 24:1), but this is more than the psalmist’s adoring reflection. This is, in fact, the foundational fact of the Bible: God does not inhabit our world, we inhabit his world. From the very beginning of the story of redemption, this fact is assumed. First, God brings the world into existence by his command, and then he brings humans into that world by his creative hand.
“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” he said. “And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Genesis 1:26).
Don’t miss this very important point: The absolute ruler of everything decided to make other rulers to take care of his world. They are not puppets, nor have they been granted tourist visas in order to enjoy paradise. They have work to do.
We know where the story goes next. The first people fail at their task, futilely attempting to be their own masters and fatally attempting to remake reality. It doesn’t work, and the results are catastrophic, for them and for the world they were supposed to steward.
As a result, they are separated from God and from one another. Their responsibility for the creation isn’t removed, but it is frustrated by pain and toil. They are in need of rescue. They need to be reconciled to God and each other. And God does not abandon them. In Christ he fully and finally enters the humans’ story to make things right again.
That’s where the “re” words come in. Christ redeems humanity from sin, reconciles us to God and one other, restores us to our full humanity, resurrects us from the death that our rebellion brings and promises to ultimately restore all things. The end of the story, as told in Revelation, is not really the end at all, is it? It is, as C.S. Lewis so skillfully describes in “The Last Battle” of his Narnia series, a new beginning.
Living our story
In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul identifies those who are in Christ as those who have been entrusted with “the message of reconciliation.” We are now “ambassadors” of the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. Let’s be clear on what that means.
First, we are ambassadors of the full redemptive work of Jesus Christ. This includes, but is also more than, the rescue of individual souls. The story, as told in Scripture, is the restoration of all things that culminates in the New Heavens and New Earth, when all wrongs will be made right again.
Second, we are not only saved from sin and death, but also saved to the life that God intended for his image bearers from the beginning. Humans were placed in the world to care for it, and though the fall frustrates our efforts, Christ restores that identity and calling. “Re” words are “again” words. They only truly make sense in light of God’s original intent.
So what does this look like in real life? We’d like to offer a guiding framework for “re” word living in the form of four questions that connect our actions with what we know to be true about the world from the biblical story:
1. What is good in our culture that we can promote, protect and celebrate? Christians believe that how God created the world was, in his own words, “good.” Even after the fall, much of this goodness, such as beauty, truth and human dignity, remains.
2. What is missing in our culture that we can creatively contribute? Christians believe that humans were created to be creative. When something good is missing in a particular time and place, we should find ways to offer it to the world. God is glorified, and the world is helped by properly ordered human creativity.
3. What is evil in our culture that we can stop? God hates evil, and so ought we. Throughout history courageous Christians have worked to stop that which destroys and deceives. We must do no less. It’s a basic requirement of loving our neighbors.
4. What is broken in our culture that we can restore? Ultimately, we reflect the Gospel most clearly when what has been damaged by sin is restored to God’s intended purposes.
• This article is condensed from the Introduction of “Restoring All Things: God’s Audacious Plan to Change the World through Everyday People,” by John Stonestreet and Warren Cole Smith. Copyright 2015 by Baker Books. Used with permission.
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