Identity can be a tricky thing. We can find our identity in being a son or daughter, a parent, a teacher, a businessman, or a barista. The list goes on. As Christians, however, our primary identity is found in Christ. We are first and foremost children of God. Everything else in life should be shaped by this identity. Sadly, finding our identity in Christ alone is easier said than done. At least, it was for me.
My whole Christian life, I longed to be a cross-cultural missionary. For several years, I had the opportunity to learn a language and culture, share the gospel, and make disciples in Kathmandu, Nepal. It was truly a dream come true. After years of preparation and planning, I was finally doing ministry in a cross-cultural setting. It shaped me in ways that few things have.
Over time, I found a lot of my identity in being a missionary—too much, in fact. Without me realizing it, it took over as the main part of my identity. I wore it like a badge of honor. I talked about it, wrote about it, and made sure people knew I was a missionary. Even while I was back in the United States to get married, I made sure people knew we were only in the US for a short time. However, the Lord had other plans. Instead of going back overseas as a newly married couple, we were led to stay and help send others to the field from our local church.
It was a painful season of discouragement. If I wasn’t a cross-cultural missionary, who was I? I had made being a missionary core to my identity, rather than Christ being the core. I made being a missionary an idol, and when it was taken from me, I was crushed.
WE ARE CREATED TO LIVE SENT
During this season of wrestling with my identity, I asked the question: Who am I if I’m not a missionary? This question led me to realize that my understanding of missions was wrong. For so long, I understood a calling to missions as it related to place and position. Where should you be? What position should you hold? But although location is important, it is secondary. Identity is primary. The primary question about calling is not where you are, what position you hold, or what specific work you are doing. The question is whose you are. It is your identity in Christ that matters most.
My identity and purpose had not changed; only my location changed. I was no longer a cross-cultural missionary in Nepal, but that did not mean I was no longer called to live on mission. I was still called to share Jesus and make disciples. Mission is primarily about our identity in Christ because God’s mission begins in our hearts and extends outward to the world. Our activity and location are simply details in the grand narrative of that story.
When we make missions primarily about location and position, we can easily see ourselves as employees of God. But God’s calling to us is far greater than that of a corporation or employer. He doesn’t just give us a job to do, he adopts us into his family and gives us all of the riches of Christ. In this way, we aren’t just sent ones, we’re beloved sent ones. We are family, deeply loved and sent out on mission to make God’s love known.
Jesus teaches this in John 20:19–22 when he meets his disciples after his resurrection: “Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”
Here we see Jesus giving words of comfort. He starts by blessing the disciples, saying, “Peace be with you,” and showing evidence of his resurrection. After the disciples rejoice at being reunited with their Lord, Jesus then sends them out on mission to the world with the blessing of peace and the gift of the Holy Spirit’s presence.
In this passage, Jesus was speaking directly to his disciples, the apostles whom God would use to establish and lead the early church. Although Jesus was directly speaking to these men, the call to be witness is not just for the disciples but for every Christian. Jesus sends us out on mission just as he was sent, as one loved by God and empowered to make that same love known to all nations. Every Christian, no matter what their personality, occupation, or location is sent with the gospel into the world.
ALL CHRISTIANS ARE CALLED
At times in my ministry, I’ve mentored people who struggle with this idea. They doubt whether the call to share the gospel and make disciples is for every Christian. They wonder if they too are called and empowered to make Jesus known to the world around them. It’s a good question and one worth considering. Are all Christians called to live on mission?
Let’s look back to the end of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:20. Here Jesus gives us a promise that we often overlook, the promise of his presence. “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” At the end of Jesus’s command to take the gospel out, he promises that he will be with us to the very end. Jesus promises to be with his people, as they live on mission, till he returns again. The implication here is that the commission to make disciples of all nations applies to the followers of Jesus until he returns, long past the time of the apostles and the early church.
Second, the call to live on mission is not an isolated call in just a few places in Scripture, but a clear theme of the New Testament. The Scriptures provide a convincing apologetic that those who follow Jesus are his witnesses. Jesus himself, in his powerful Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:13–16, urges the thousands listening to be his gospel witnesses to a watching world.
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”Matthew 5:13-16
The apostle Peter in 1 Peter 2:9 tells his readers they are God’s chosen people, called to make the glory of God known. “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Later in his letter (3:15), Peter urges those who suffer persecution for their faith to “always [be] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” Peter’s was speaking to normal everyday Christians seeking to live faithfully in their culture and context, people like you and me.
We can also look at the unfolding theme of the book of Acts as evidence of God’s desire for the church as a whole to make and multiply disciples. From Jesus’s call to his disciples in Acts 1:8 to be his witness in Jerusalem and beyond, to the Spirit’s empowering presence with God’s global people in Acts 2, to the movement of the gospel through God’s people, including Paul, Timothy, and others, all of these movements in Acts point to a church on the move. It wasn’t simply pastors and missionaries doing mission, but the whole people of God living out the gospel in word and deed, making an impact wherever they went.
John 20:19–20 and Matthew 28:18–20 are not the only Scripture passages that communicate this reality of being sent out with the gospel. Each of the Gospels and the book of Acts contains a Great Commission passage that complements John 20 and urges those who follow Jesus to be his witnesses in the world (Mark 16:15–16; Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8). These passages, when understood together, along with the work of Paul and other early missionaries found in the New Testament, give a clear and compelling missiological apologetic to share Jesus, make and multiply disciples, and plant new churches. But the work of being a witness sent out into the world is more than a command, it is a new identity rooted in the person and work of Jesus.
At its core, Jesus is teaching that mission is more than activity. Our mission is rooted in the person of God. Before the creation of the world, our triune God had a plan to redeem the world from the death it would experience. The Father, in union with the Son and the Spirit, sent the Son into the world to redeem it. The Father and Son then sent the Spirit to bring conviction of sin and provide life to the church. Finally, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (the triune God) sent the church—you and me—out on mission to the world. My point is that mission is more than just activity, it’s identity. We don’t simply do the work of witnessing, we are witnesses!
Excerpted from You Are Sent © 2022 by Nathan Sloan. Used by permission of New Growth Press. May not be reproduced without prior written permission.
you are Sent: Finding Your Place in God’s Global Mission
Our life-changing relationship with Christ comes with a new, life-changing “sent” identity. Learn how the Spirit that sends us fills us with God’s heart to share the gospel with those near and far. In this nine-week study, discover God’s passion for local and global missions and be empowered to make Jesus known everywhere you go.