God on a Mission—Freedom and Love
In this, the final installment of my missional theology series, I look to the liberation and love a missional God provides.
Free, Free, Set Them Free
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” said Jesus. Standing in his hometown temple, he continues reading a passage from Isaiah: “he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Lk. 4:18-19).
Among the many ways biblical authors talk about God seeking and saving, the themes of healing and freedom from oppression appear often. Healing and deliverance are part of the well-being/abundant life/favor the Lord generously offers. And we desperately need the well-being – shalom – of God’s salvation.
In a world of brokenness, wholeness breaks in. This wholeness is evident in the local church I attend, in which a robust Celebrate Recovery ministry has emerged. Those in this group believe God empowers them to overcome hurts, habits, and hang-ups. God is their deliverer. Through this and other avenues in the church, many find God’s healing and deliverance.
The Apostle Paul says liberation comes from the Spirit and becomes effective through Jesus. “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death,” he says (Rm. 8:2). In this liberation, we see God again empowering us in ways that provide salvation from destruction.
A look at the overall scope of Scripture leads one to believe humans are the focus of God’s seeking and saving. But the Bible also says God cares about nonhumans.  In fact, Scripture says God intends to redeem all things. “The whole creation” hopes to be “set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rm. 8:21-22).
We play a vital role in this mission. We can be co-laborers with God’s work for the redemption of all things. God acts first to call, empower, and guide us in love – prevenient grace. But God seeks our cooperation. This becomes clear in the Revised Standard Version’s translation of Romans 8:28: “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him” (emphases added).
We can work for good with God. The healing and deliverance God has in mind involves our participation.
Love is On the Move
A God on a mission is a God on the move. And love is the primary and persistent intent of our God-on-the-move. A robust missional theology is a theology of love.
To love is to act intentionally, in response to God and others, to promote overall well-being. God’s initial and empowering action makes response possible. We live in community with others to whom we also respond. We are not isolated individuals, and God desires the common good.
God’s love establishes the God’s kingdom – or what I call God’s loving leadership. Here again, it is through Jesus we believe such things. Jesus preached God’s loving leadership as both possible and actual here in this life. And he proclaimed its fulfillment in the life to come.
As a young child, I learned a chorus I now sing to my kids. It derives from 1 John 4:7-8: “Beloved, let us love one another. For love is from God, and everyone that loves is born of God and knows God. The one that doesn’t love doesn’t know God, for God is love.” John says our best clue about what love entails is this: God sent Jesus.
The God who seeks and saves is revealed best in Jesus Christ. This God of love desires that all creation live shalom. God works powerfully through love to fulfill this desire, and we are invited to join in this love project. The result is the healing, restoration, and liberation of all held captive to sin and death. This holy God revealed best in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is on a mission of love.
John takes these truths about God, love, and Jesus a bit further and concludes with this logic: “Since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another” (4:11). Thankfully God makes love possible, says John: “We love, because he first loved us” (4:19). The empowering God enables us to love.
A missional theology supporting the endeavor to seek and save the lost is not based primarily on an evangelistic canvassing strategy. Nor is it based primarily upon duty and obedience to God. It’s not even based primarily upon worship. Strategies, obedience, and worship are all important. But missional theology is based primarily on love.
We ought to be “imitators of God, as dearly love children, and life a life of love, just as Christ loved us…” (Eph. 5:1, 2a). This missional ethic emphasizes generosity, listening and speaking, both influencing and being influenced by, enabling, mutuality, and community. It’s a strategy that cares for the least of these and all creation.
In short: God loves us, and we ought to love one another and love God. We ought to imitate God’s full-orbed love – agape, eros, and philia as we cooperate with God’s mission to seek and save the lost.
The God on a mission invites us on an adventure of love.
 For an exploration of a Wesleyan doctrine of creation, see Michael Lodahl, God of Nature and of Grace: Reading the World in a Wesleyan Way (Nashville, Tenn.: Kingswood, 2003).
 I explain the details of this definition from philosophical, scientific, and theological perspectives in my book, Defining Love: A Philosophical, Scientific, and Theological Engagement (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos, 2010).