If You Can’t See These People, You Can’t See Christ

“How we treat the poor, the oppressed, the immigrant and the incarcerated is directly related to our intimacy with God.”

This article is courtesy of Missio Alliance, an organization dedicated to equipping the church for fuller and more faithful participation in God’s mission. For more resources, including articles, videos, podcasts and more, go to MissioAlliance.org.

The Scriptures are clear that Jesus was born into poverty as an oppressed minority. The only begotten Son of God, who was in the beginning as God and with God, speaking creation into existence (John 1), came to Earth as a Jewish, multiethnic, poor and marginalized human being.

This ought to challenge, inform and guide how the Christian lives in society today.

If it indeed is true that Jesus sets us free, then shouldn’t all of Christ direct how we live as his liberated followers? We are set free by Christ’s birth, earthly life, death on the cross and rising from the grave.

God’s work of bringing salvation to sinful and fallen humanity begins with Christ’s birth. How he was born and grew up ought to shape our understanding of living for Christ in this politically, racially and economically divided world.

Our living as citizens of the kingdom of God is deeply connected to the countercultural life that Christ lived on earth. Christ’s birth and upbringing was a threat to oppressive political systems and religious power structures of his time.

Christ on the Wrong Side of Town

If we are open to our Christian lives being informed and guided by the birth of Christ, we must ask, “How does Christ being born into poverty as an oppressed minority shape how we live our Christian lives in society today?”

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Christ was not only born into poverty—he was raised by an earthly working-class family. He grew up in the wrong community on the wrong side of town. One of the reasons people questioned his claims of being a King, the Son of God, and the Son of Man is where he grew up.

Soon after he was born, the leader of an oppressive government system ordered all male babies that looked like Jesus to be murdered. This forced Joseph, Mary and Jesus to flee into Africa and live as refugees and undocumented immigrants.

Will Christians in the United States today allow this journey, right on the other side of Christ’s birth, empower how they love refugees and the undocumented for the advancement of God’s kingdom?

How We See the Marginalized

The birth of Jesus and the life he led as he journeyed toward the cross and the resurrection is about the road to our individual salvation, and the roadmap for how we live as disciples in this divided and dysfunctional world.

How we see the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, the immigrant, and the incarcerated is directly connected to how we see Christ. If we see these people falsely, then we see Christ falsely. How we treat the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, the immigrant and the incarcerated is directly related to our intimacy with God, or lack thereof. This truth is shown to us in Matthew 25.

Christians, whether evangelical or mainline, must be set free from the politics of left and right in order to live missionally and humbly among the groups of people that Jesus lived among.

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I yearn for a church set free from captivity of left- and right-wing politics, as well as the social matrix of race, class divisions and other broken and divisive systems that have caused Christians to compromise the gospel. I will continue to participate in movements of church planting, multiplication, leadership development and reconciliation that prophetically put the kingdom of God over the sinful and broken systems of this world.

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Efrem Smith is an author, international speaker and pastor of Bayside Church’s Midtown campus in Sacramento, California. This article was originally published on MissioAlliance.org.