The redemptive harvest: A four factor equation

The role of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the evangelistic enterprise . . . and the human factor

Peter J. Prime, D.Min., is an associate secretary of the General Conference Ministerial Association.

God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit were One in thought, One in purpose, and One in action in bringing about primary creation, including the creation of humankind. The declaration of God, the mediation of the Son, and the operation of the Holy Spirit were clearly present in the creative activity of the Godhead. Similarly, except for the addition of the responsive cooperation of humankind, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are inextricably involved in the consummation of the plan of redemption and the redemptive harvest.

Each factor that makes up the equation of creation and the equation of redemption is equally essential to the integrity and effectiveness of the equations. The first equation of creation consists of exclusively divine factors, while the second equation of redemption consists of divine action and human response.

The divine factors in both equations are invariable since with God there "is no variableness, or shadow of turning." In contrast, the human factor that forms part of the second equation is the only variable element in the total construct. However, when by God's grace, the human response is one of acceptance of God's redemptive plan, the miracles and wonders that will follow will be no less spectacular and conclusive than those that attended the equation of creation.

The Bible speaks of creation in terms of God's declaration ("For he spake, and it was done," Ps. 33:9), the Son's mediation (He "made the worlds" through the Son, Heb. 1:2), and the Spirit's operation ("The spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life," Job 33:4). Likewise in the equation of redemption as re-creation, the Godhead is One in thought and action.

First, there is the declaration of God the Father ("And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed," Gen. 3:15), the mediation of the Son ("It shall bruise thy head and thou shall bruise his heel," Gen. 3:15), and the operation of the Spirit ("There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ hath made me free from the law of sin and death," Rom. 8:1, 2). In declaration, in mediation, and in operation of the redemptive action, the Godhead stands as One, just as they were One in creation.

The roles and functions of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit make up the three exclusively divine invariable factors that are common to both equations of creation and redemption, and with redemption the redemptive harvest.

However, the human factor of responsive cooperation that is absent in the first but present in the second represents the only point of dissimilarity between the two equations. Unlike the first equation in which human cooperation is not a factor, without the element of the human factor in the second equation, redemption would be an exercise in divine futility, and the consummation of the harvest would be an outright impossibility.

When Jesus says in John 3:16 that "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begot ten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life," this is an absolutely seminal declaration of how human redemption comes about. As such it clearly indicates that while the divine provision for eternal life is available to all, its realization requires human responsive cooperation at the level of belief and acceptance. There could be no such human factor in the equation of creation.

Choice: God's gift to humans

In creating humankind in His own image and likeness, God bequeathed to us the distinctive gift of "response-ability" to Himself and His Word. This gift of response-ability provided humans the opportunity to exercise and develop that gift and explore its infinite riches and possibilities. Accordingly, God placed in Eden the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and revealed to our first parents the significance of their response-ability. But Adam and Eve deliberately chose noncooperation with God over responsible cooperation. The choice was more than tragic, and so were the losses.

This wretched tragedy and fall created the need for a Savior. Hence, God the Son assumed voluntarily the role of the Second Adam to make possible the new prototype of the human family: "When the fullness of time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons" (Gal. 4:4, 5).

How were both the prototype and the Savior role to be accomplished? By nothing less than the Son's perfect obedience to God, involving flawless responsive cooperation with God through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. "For as by one man's dis obedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous" (Rom. 5:19). "And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (Phil. 2:8). "How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered up himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" (Heb. 9:14).

Christ in His unique life of "being obedient unto death even the death on a cross" fulfilled all the requirements of His role as the prototype and the Savior of humankind. And it is this, His very life, that will be replicated by God's grace in the lives of His followers who themselves will be distinguished similarly, in that "they loved not their lives unto the death."

Since humankind's lost state was precipitated by their irresponsible noncooperation with God, their recovery was made possible by the Son of God, but only after His experiencing in human flesh perfect cooperation with God. God's objective in the Son's incarnation and death has everything to do with restoring humankind to harmonious cooperation with Himself.

This is a pivotal truth that must govern the lives and the reaping activities of all the reapers of God's harvest. Without a full understanding of this basic truth, there will be tragic failures for reapers and harvest alike. It is this preeminent truth that the Year of World Evangelism 2004 seeks to bring to the center stage of the thought life and practice of the total world church so that God may effect through the church the consummation of the harvest with utmost precision and in the shortest possible time. "For he will finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness: for a short work will the Lord make upon the earth" (Rom. 9:28).

Thus the church should never for get that the reaping and consummation of the redemptive harvest is first and foremost a divine prerogative and responsibility. God graciously invites us to experience this redemption our selves first, and then collaborate with God for the benefit of others.

The redemptive formula

The fixed formula through which we ourselves are reaped redemptively, and are able in turn to cooperate with God in the reaping of others, is that of the declaration of God the Father, the mediation of God the Son, and the operation of God the Holy Spirit, and our responsive cooperation with God.

In this formula, consisting largely of divine invariables that are more than sufficient for reaping the whole world, our role is the only variable and fragile factor. As such, it presents the only dilemma in the completion of the harvest.

However, we are not without assurance: In Christ our variable and fragile cooperation with God may become as resolute as was Christ's. When by divine grace this spiritual miracle occurs then will be brought into being the perfect equation that will be more than sufficient for the evangelization of the whole world. Against this reaping model no gate of hell can prevail.

Is the quest to fulfill our designated role and function in this model for success in evangelism a checkered journey of countless fits and starts, illusory advances and besetting reverses? Is it a tantalizing dream full of beguiling hopes? It may be if we perceive our responsive cooperation with God to be the outcome of mere human blood, toil, sweat, and tears, rather than a gracious gift of God which precludes any human grounds for boasting.

Response-ability to God and His Word, and responsive cooperation with God were a gift from God that the first Adam chose to repudiate. But the Second Adam, in His perfect life of responsive cooperation with His Father to the point of His death, resurrection, and mediation, recovered for the forlorn Adamic race. "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive" (1 Cor. 15:22). "And so it is written. The first Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit" (1 Cor. 15:45).

Therefore, our role and function within the perfect model of evangelism are gifts of Jesus Christ earned by Him and freely bestowed on us. But they are not only gifts, they are also, in Christ, our legal right, which we are privileged to claim at the throne of grace. "Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb. 4:16).

Additionally, the gifts of God's grace in Jesus Christ carry more than a theoretical and legal meaning. They also have a highly meaningful, practical application to all of human life and experience. In other words, the gifts of grace extend beyond mere legal dimensions to include on the practical level the whole range of human emotions and dispositions—total cognition, behavior, and every deed or action in every area of human life.

They are, moreover, operable in and for all times and human circumstances. God's grace is more than sufficient for all humanity even in their extremity and worst depravity.

In the framework of the strange dis play of divine grace with all of its extravagant benevolences, God has provided in Jesus Christ the where withal with which to gift us with all of the worthiness of His only begot ten Son, and this in exchange for all of the worthlessness of us sinners.

His Son's beauty, God exchanges for our ashes; His Son's abiding joy for our pitiful mourning; His innocence for our guilt; His fullness for our emptiness; His responsive cooperation with God for our unresponsive cooperation with God, ad infinitum.

All these inequitable exchanges of grace occur not just on the legal level, but extend simultaneously on to the experience level in the lives of those who continue by grace to respond cooperatively to God's calling.

Experiential reality

Paul speaks emphatically to these experiential realities: "For it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13). "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live: yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20).

The Galatian passage is particularly poignant. When we respond fully to God's grace, our sinful life is crucified with Christ on the cross, and we are gifted with a new life that is no longer our own. It is Christ living in us. It is that experience that assures that God will use us as instruments of His harvest work.

The brilliant light of imminent victory will envelop the dismally dark evangelistic tunnel now, for many, buried in hopeless despair and defeat. This harvest concept, ingrained in the Galatian text, can be paraphrased as follows: We, the church with our noncooperation with God, have been crucified with Christ: nevertheless we live; yet not we, but Christ with His responsive cooperation with God liveth in us: and the life of responsive cooperation with God which we now live in the flesh we live by the faith of the Son of God who loved us, and gave Himself for us (Gal. 2:20).

Thus it is only in this setting that the words of Jesus will be fulfilled. "Verily, verily I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father" (John 14:12).

Potency and efficacy

Where lies the irresistible potency and efficacy of responsive cooperation with God? The answer is simple: in the replication of divine love. "We love him, because he first loved us" (1 John 4:19).

But there is more to this love than its vertical expression. The horizontal expression is no less an integral part of love than is its vertical aspect. "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" (John 13:35). Responsive cooperation with God that is devoid of love is a caricature at best and terribly tragic at worst; to all intents and purposes it is completely worthless.

The Year of World Evangelism 2004

The Year of World Evangelism 2004 is expected to be the most historic of years for evangelism in the Seventh-day Adventist Church world wide. It is to serve as an evangelistic model for years to come. The essential outline of the model is:

Declaration of God the Father.

Mediation of God the Son.

Operation of God the Holy Spirit.

Cooperation of the church world wide on the vertical and horizontal levels.

Declaration-Mediation-Operation- Cooperation—these are the factors that constitute the divine equation for the optimum reaping and the consummation of the redemptive harvest.

The roles and functions of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are already in place. To complete the equation and to accomplish the consummation of the be in place is our fullest cooperation with God and with one another.

Empowered by the operation of the Holy Spirit, grasping the mediating grace of Jesus Christ, let us, as we have never done before, cooperate with God and with one another in the Year of World Evangelism 2004.

Our six-billion-people world will humbly fall at Jesus' dear feet

Only when the church's cooperation with God is truly complete,

Against the church shall prevail not one of the gates of earth or hell

Since the Spirit of Jesus in us is more than able to do all things well.

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Peter J. Prime, D.Min., is an associate secretary of the General Conference Ministerial Association.

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