God Our Creator and Redeemer: Some Reflections on Genesis 1 and Colossians 1

by Dr Hwa Yung

My fellow colleagues in the ministry of the everlasting gospel, I give thanks to our Lord God for this opportunity to stand here before you, who have come from many different parts of Asia, to join us in the 7th ALCOE Conference here in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. I welcome each and every one of you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…

But the eternal life that Jesus brings is not just about life in eternity after we pass from this earth! It is also about “abundant life” (John 10:10) in the here and now.

…The hope of the gospel

The third thing that Paul speaks about here is the “hope held out in the gospel” (Colossians 1:23). What is the content of this hope of the gospel that Paul speaks about? The hope is first and foremost the hope of eternal salvation in Christ. We are all familiar with this and there is no need to elaborate further.

 

But the eternal life that Jesus brings is not just about life in eternity after we pass from this earth! It is also about “abundant life” (John 10:10) in the here and now. In Christian evangelism and missions, the gospel has been preached by evangelicals oftentimes largely in terms of eternal salvation and hope after death. This is true, necessary, and crucially important. We need however to explore more fully what it means in the present life when Paul speaks of making known “among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). For many today are turning to Christ, not just because of hope beyond the grave, but also because of what salvation in Christ means for them today in the here and now! And they do so for very good reasons.

 

…Many are turning to Christ because of the hope of the gospel in the here and now.

 

What are some of the reasons for their turning to Christ?
(1)          The Power Of Christ Demonstrated Through “Signs
and Wonders”:

Much of the growth of the church in the Majority World in the last century has been driven by “signs and wonders”, demonstrating the power of the Living God. On this, Philip Jenkins’ comment is most helpful. He asserts that:

 

The churches that have made most dramatic progress in the global South…. retain a very strong supernatural orientation… They preach messages that, to a Westerner, appear simplistically charismatic, visionary, and apocalyptic. In this thought-world, prophecy is an everyday reality, while faith-healing, exorcism, and dream-visions are all basic components of religious sensibility.[1]

 

There is an abundance of literature supporting Jenkins’ position. The plain fact is that many have come and are coming to Christ through healing or having encountered Christ through some supernatural experience, visions or dreams. Further, many have been set free from the bondage and fear of demonic powers and evil spirits that have held them in bondage for generations. Many westerners find this difficult to comprehend. But unless you have lived under the fear and bondage to demonic spirits, it is not easy to understand what salvation from these mean!

 

(2)          The Hope Of Socio-Economic Transformation In Christ:

Many turn to Christ because of the transforming power of the gospel. What sociologists refer to as “social lift” has been regularly observed among the poor after becoming Christians. The same pattern gets repeated: the poor gets converted; they are then set free from debilitating bondages of various kinds such as demonic power, taboos, alcohol, loss of dignity and sense of self-worth through generations of socio-economic and cultural oppression, etc.; they then put individual and family lives in order, helped by a supportive church community; they work hard, save hard, and their children study hard; and the

result is upward social mobility! For example, David Martin, Emeritus Professor at LSE, has argued that Pentecostal growth among the poor in Latin America in the past generation has produced essentially similar socio-economic results as Methodism did amongst the 18th century poor in England. And as a result, Pentecostalism has been re-shaping the social landscape of Latin America from the margins.[2] You will find the same story repeated elsewhere, such as among Dalit or outcaste communities in India!

 

One of the most dramatic examples of this phenomena that I personally know of concerns a tribal group called the Lun Bawang in East Malaysia. Like other tribal groups, they were originally among the head-hunters of Borneo. Following the prohibition of head-hunting by the British colonial authorities, the men ended up spending much of their time drinking. By the 1930s, it was said of this tribe that they were drunk 100 days in a year, including the children. Only the dogs were sober! The British colonial authorities were so disgusted that they did not allow the missionaries to go to this people. They wanted them to die out so that other tribes would not be similarly influenced. But God had other plans. Somehow the gospel reached them and, through the prayers and dogged efforts of Australian missionaries, a miracle took place, with the whole tribe saved from extinction. Today, 70 years later, the Lun Bawang community is one of the key pillars of the Borneo Evangelical Church, the largest Protestant Church in Malaysia,[3] with many socially successful professionals and businessmen amongst them. That is the living proof of the power of the gospel.

 

(1)          The Gospel & Nation-Building In Emergent Nations:

Many Christians in newly-emergent nations are looking to Christianity as the foundation upon which to build a future for their countries. They do not see answers anywhere else. This is particularly true with so-called cultural Christians in China. But they are not the only ones.

 

What are many thoughtful intellectuals and leaders seeking in the emergent nations? When newer nations today look at the west, what they desire most are the prosperity and the freedoms. They long to see their countries becoming modern democracies and advanced economies, with human rights properly enshrined in their national constitutions and legal framework, plus minimal corruption. They are not so foolish as to buy into the secularisation agenda that suggests that this unique and finely-balanced combination of democracy, political stability with checks and balances in government, civil society, human rights undergirded by a strong and just legal system, and an advanced economy with minimal corruption, will eventually emerge willy-nilly with modernisation. They have looked at the grand 20th century Enlightenment experiment called Marxism, perhaps the most secular of secular ideologies, and found it utterly wanting—for it has produced neither the prosperity nor the freedoms they seek.

 

These intellectuals have done their own homework and come to similar conclusions as those espoused by such as the late Harold Berman, the doyen of American scholars on the relationship between law and religion, and also the sociologist, Rodney Stark.[1] They believe that the moral values, legal principles and psychological basis upon which the best of the modern western civilisation is built could only have come from its Christian history! Thus, many like China’s cultural Christians see the gospel alone as being able to provide adequate moral foundations for rejuvenating their nations!

(2)            As An Atheist, I Truly Believe Africa Needs God”:

The point I am making is perhaps best summed up in a short piece in The Times of London by Matthew Parris, a journalist and sometime British Conservative MP. In it he reflects on a visit to Malawi where he had grown up as a missionary kid. He confesses that the visit challenged his present ideological beliefs and “has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.” He came to see that Christianity was necessary to effect changes in the mindset and culture. He writes:

 

‘Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good…. Those who want Africa to walk tall amid 21st-century global competition must not kid themselves that providing the material means or even the know-how that accompanies what we call development will make the change. A whole belief system must first be supplanted…. And I’m afraid it has to be supplanted by another. Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete.’[2]

 I doubt I can express it better!

 

The Call and Cost of Mission (Colossians 1:24f, 28f)

We began with God and the goodness of His creation in Genesis 1, and the dignity of with which He endowed each human person with through the impartation of the imago Dei. But all these were messed up through sin by the time we get to Genesis 3 in the bible. Colossians 1, like many other parts of the bible, tells us of the great story of the gospel of redemption in Christ and His cross, and the hope we now all have in Him! This hope is not something that exists only in the “Never-Never Land” of Peter Pan. But it is the hope of life with God in eternity, the only adequate answer to the problem of death. But it is also the hope that many men and women are finding in the gospel even in this life and the here and now. Thus the hope of the gospel which is drawing countless into the Kingdom of God today is wonderfully comprehensive indeed!

 

For Paul, all these make the preaching of the gospel and the task of mission infinitely worthwhile, even though doing so can be extremely costly! Thus he can speak of rejoicing in “what was suffered for you” and filling up “in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church” (Colossians 1:24). Paul here is not suggesting that Christ’s death on the cross is not a sufficient sacrifice for our redemption. Rather he is echoing the teaching found throughout the New Testament on the cost of discipleship. Following Christ and proclaiming the Kingdom can never be without cost for those who follow faithfully in their Lord’s footsteps.

 

With these thoughts in mind Paul brings Colossians 1 to a close: “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labour, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me” (Colossians 1:28f). May God give you and I the obedience and faithfulness to respond to Christ’s call!

 


[1] Philip Jenkins The Next Christendom (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), pp.7f.

[2] David Martin, Tongues of Fire: The Explosion of Protestantism in Latin America (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990), pp. 27-46; Forbidden Revolutions: Pentecostalism in Latin America and Catholicism in Eastern Europe (London: SPCK, 1996), pp. 1-65.

[3] Shirley Lees, Drunk Before Dawn (Sevenoaks, Kent: OMF, 1979).

 


[1] On Rodney Stark, see e.g., The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success (New York: Random House, 2005).

[2] Matthew Parris, ‘As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God,’ The Times (Dec 27, 2008); (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/matthew_parris/article5400568.ece).

 


[1] Matthew Parris, ‘As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God,’ The Times (Dec 27, 2008); (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/matthew_parris/article5400568.ece).

(Excerpts of Keynote speech at ALCOE VII held in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, Jun 2011. For full speech, please refer to “The Unchanging Gospel for a Changing Asia: Compendium of Seventh Asia Lausanne Conference on Evangelism” edited by Hwa Yung and Lawrence Ko, published by Asia Lausanne Committee on World Evangelization and Singapore Centre for Global Missions. For copies of the book which will be released in Dec 2012, please email lawrence@scgm.org.sg)

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1. Out of the 10 inspiring stories of missionaries sent from Singapore, which story do you like best? Why?
2. Do you agree that God has given children a sense of curiosity and a mind full of imagination? At play, they explore the world they live in. The school, the church and the home can provide wonderful opportunities for children to learn about different people and cultures in the wonderful world God has created.
3. How many types of occupations can you list from the 10 missionary stories? Have you started to think about what you would like to do when you grow up?
4. Can you match the missionaries with their occupations? Whether you are a medical doctor or a dental nurse, a pastor or a teacher, a business leader or a community worker, you can serve God in missions using your special interest, talent and training.
5. It is never too early to wonder about life. Many of the missionaries asked questions even when they were young. Some of them experienced bullying, disappointments, unhappiness and even family problems when they were young. They learnt about the purpose of their lives when they started talking to parents, pastors and teachers in church. Do you talk to your parents and teachers about your hopes and fears?
6. Do you realize that God can use your childhood interests, experiences and education to be a blessing to the people around you? Whether it is learning about science, geography, or enjoying the fishing at the beach or making music, it takes hard work to become good at what you like to do. So work hard, play hard and enjoy your childhood.
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