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21 March 2014

Whole-life God, Whole-life Gospel, Whole-life Disciples

John Risbridger (LT pics 2016) John Risbridger Minister
Whole Life Discipleship LICC Blog

You might be tempted to think that the idea of ‘whole-life discipleship’ is a bit of a fad that will soon be forgotten. However, in this blog post we argue that ‘discipleship’ that isn’t ‘whole-life’ isn’t real discipleship at all! If you missed the sermon exploring this theme from Colossians 1, you can download it from The Big Story and if you missed part one of this blog series, you can catch up here.

‘Whole-life discipleship’ is exactly what it says it is: it’s a commitment to learn from Jesus and to follow him in all the different spheres of our lives – not just in the bits we have traditionally regarded as ‘spiritual’. It provides a liberating perspective that transforms work into worship and brings the Christian faith out of our church buildings and onto the frontlines of everyday life.

Whole-life discipleship is not a new idea. It’s really just an outworking of some basic things that we know are true about God and the gospel:

1.     God made all of creation (Gen 1:1). Therefore all of creation belongs to him (Psa 24:1) and is for him (Rom 11:36).

2.     God sustains of all creation(Hebs 1:3). Having created the world, he hasn’t walked away and left it to its own devices. Rather he is actively involved in his creation, holding it all together (Col 1:17) and providing for all he has made (Psa 145:13b-16). 

3.     Jesus is Lord of all creation(Hebs 1:2, Col 1:15-17) and over every human being (Phil 2:9-11).

4.     God made us in his image to represent and serve him in all creation(Gen 1:26-28). As he ‘formed’ creation (days 1-3) and ‘filled’ creation (days 4-6) so we are to ‘subdue’ creation and ‘fill’ it, cultivating creation so that humankind flourishes.

5.     The gospel reconciles all creation to God(Rom 8:20-25; Rev 21:1-8). Through the cross, God will reconcile all thingsto himself (Col 1:19-20), just as through the cross he has already reconciled us to himself (Col 1:21-22).

6.     God is the judge of all creation(Gen 18:25). He establishes the proper boundaries of human behaviour (Gen 2:16-17, Ex 20), will hold us to account for our obedience to him (2 Cor 5:10), will finally destroy all that is evil (Rev 20:11-14) and establish his eternal Kingdom of justice, righteousness and joy (Rev 21:1-8; 2 Pet 3:13).

So what difference should this theology make to the way that we live our everyday lives? In short, it destroys the whole idea that we can have a secular life in which God doesn’t figure much and a separate spiritual life of ‘Christian stuff’ which God’s really interested in! The challenge though is in allowing these truths to seep into every area of our lives.

Biddy worked for many years as a mission partner teaching in Indonesia. When she retired and returned to the UK, she could have thought that her time ‘working for God’ was over and that it was a time to put her feet up. Biddy saw things rather differently: “Just as there is no sacred-secular divide, there’s also no working-retired divide. As a Christian all of our days are to be lived for God. Time is always God’s!” God is actively concerned about our whole lives – he isn’t just interested in church growth and populating heaven, but he remains interested in how people live and flourish in his world.

At the heart of the gospel is the good news of fallen people being reconciled to God through the atoning death and life-giving resurrection of Christ. The goal of this reconciliation is that we share in the reign of Christ (Rev 22:5), just as we were created to do in the first place (Gen 1:28). So being a Christian is about learning what it means to live a God-centred life in every sphere of human existence. The gospel should impact our relationships, our use of money, our interactions with power, our attitude to career, our engagement with politics…everything!

So how might this manifest itself in the workplace for example? Dave is a software engineer working on a project with a small team. One member of the team is quite challenging – he’s difficult to get on with socially and sometimes his work is not as good as it could be. When he does do some good work, it would easy for Dave not to acknowledge it and simply think “at last!” However, as Dave knows that all people (however difficult!) are precious image-bearers of God, he’s prompted to email the guy’s line manager giving praise where praise is due.

Nyovani is university professor who spends a lot of her time at the computer analysing data. “It’s quite easy to operate as a ‘practical atheist’ and just get on with your work in the same way as your non-Christian colleagues”, she explains. “I’ve had to train myself to keep front of mind that God is the ultimate scientist – he is the world’s greatest professor as he made it all! What a privilege that we can come to him in prayer when we are stuck with our work!”

Since God’s purpose is not only to ‘save souls’ but also to ‘reconcile all things’ to himself (Col 1:19-23), the mission of the people of God should impact all of life, working to maximise human flourishing in every sphere through the pursuit of justice, righteousness and peace in our relationships with one another, with creation and with God. ‘Mission week’ is a special time for Miriam and others at the University Christian Union, but it’s quite clearly not the only week that God is at work or that the students are serving him in mission!

The bottom line of whole-life discipleship is embracing a bigger view of God and a more comprehensive vision of the gospel. There is therefore no part of our life that is to be pursued in isolation from our relationship with him. In the coming weeks we’re going to explore some of the implications of that for the issues we face every day.

“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’[i] – Abraham Kuyper.

[i] Abraham Kuyper, quoted from his inaugural address at the dedication of the Free University. Found in Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Read, ed. James D Bratt (Eerdmans, 1998), page 488

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1 comment

Noel on March 21, 2014

"Hello John,

This is good, very good; though I’m just a little worried about your apparent mapping onto others a wrong assumption as some kind of dialectic - “[God] isn’t just interested in church growth and populating heaven, but he remains interested in how people live and flourish in his world”. My wide ecclesial research suggests that many of us are moving closer to ‘the Gospel without the church’ which seems to be so prominent in traditions such as Evangelical Anglicanism, itself such an influence on the EA. Eg Chine’s evocation of what an inclusive church is in the current IDEA is sadly totally out of touch if you’ve ‘been out there’. A very common view is that a church is ‘inclusive’ if a father with a young child feels included; end of problem.



Interesting to run into the Rev Samuel in Richmond last year and remember his father. I recall those hot summer nights at ABC in the 50s when I used to colour in my children’s Bible while listening to Leith expounding scripture. These are different days, certainly, and I do fully acknowledge the whole-life perspective (tho without M’s ‘excited’ at every page-turn perhaps). At the same time, at litmus-test level, a very helpful perspective can still be gained re any church when you consider what happens when a middle-aged man arrives at the door, alone, and just before his next haircut."

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