“Stuff Christians Should Know” Part 2

This week, we’ll continue with the series I’m calling “Stuff Christians Should Know”.  These are categories that were preached from the pulpit and taught via catechism for much of church history.  What used to be “common knowledge” isn’t very common these days. In the last few years I’ve spoken to believers who have been raised in church (and some who held various leadership positions) who missed the mark wildly on these basic categories. I think we as mature believers are failing here. We aren’t studying them, we aren’t discipling new believers in them, and frankly we aren’t really even concerned about them. While they may be listed somewhere on the “What we Believe” statement of faith, they’re rarely discussed in “community” or delivered from the pulpit.

Speaking with several Christian brothers recently, I was made keenly aware of the problems caused by not understanding basic categories of our faith.  There are many reasons for this, but I believe that the main reasons are that it’s not taught from many pulpits, and most Christians don’t read the Bible.  Ouch. I know, but stick with me over the next few posts and see if I’m missing the mark on this.

Categories are important. REALLY important.  Much of scripture deals with understanding of major categories, some of which I’ll cover over the next several posts; law and grace, justification and sanctification, indicative and imperative, already and not-yet.  If you don’t understand these categories, you’re building on a bad foundation.  I’ve seen where this leads, and it leads to a performance treadmill, “Do better, try harder”. It leads to focusing on your works instead of His grace. It leads to legalism. Ultimately it leads to focusing on you and your self-improvement program and not on God.

This week, we’ll continue with “Indicative and Imperative”

Indicative:  of, relating to, or constituting a verb form or set of verb forms that represents the denoted act or state as an objective fact (Miriam-Webster Dictionary)

Imperative: expressive of a command, entreaty, or exhortation (Miriam-Webster Dictionary)

The gospel always, always, ALWAYS (you get that it’s always?) begins with indicative, which drives imperative.  So what. So why throw out this theological terms. “Deeds not Creeds!” right?

Wrong. So wrong.  If you lead with the imperative, you end up with legalism. You end up on the  performance treadmill.  Don’t believe me? Find your favorite “do this” and I’ll show you the more important “because of”.  How about the Paul’s manifest… the book of Romans? Lots of imperative, right?  

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (12:1-2). (Read forward from Chapter 12 and you continue with more well known imperatives.)

How about the great imperatives:

The Great Comission? (Mt 28)  “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other”? (Eph 4), “Wive’s submit to your husbands, husbands love your wives”?(Eph 5), “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice”? (Rom 12).

All of them depend on the indicative. Every. Single. One.  If you glaze over the indicative, the gospel, the grace, the WHY, you will land squarely on the WHAT.  And then you climb on the performance treadmill and either feel self-righteous that you’re doing it, or despair that you aren’t.  Does that sound anything remotely like the grace of the gospel?

We, as fallen human beings, will always look for the imperative (the law).  It’s our nature. It puts us back in control.

How about looking at the imperatives above with their indicatives?

The Great Comission? (Mt 28)  “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.“”Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other”? just as in Christ God forgave you.(Eph 4), “Wive’s submit to your husbands, husbands love your wives”? Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her(Eph 5), and finally, nearly everything after chapter 12 of Romans.

If you want to see great examples of how Christ designed us to live and rest in His finished work, read Romans 1-11. See how the indicative is beautifully laid out.. then, and only then, are the imperatives rolled out.  Paul often uses “therefore”, “in light of this”, “just as”, “since”, etc.

Read Paul as he deals with problems in the church. Does he give the disaster of a church in Corinth more rules? A remediation plan? 5-steps to a more successful church seminar?  Read it yourself, he gives them… the gospel. Indicative. Think they already knew the gospel? Of course they did! But they lost focus. The next time you hear “Deeds not Creeds!”.. run. It’s all law. There aren’t enough deeds to make up for the creed.

I challenge you to do this for the next week.  Think of the the things you’ve been called to do… now think of the indicative behind them. Go from indicative, to doxology (praise), to imperative.

“For every look at self, take 10 looks at Christ!” – Robert Murray M’Cheyne

Rest in the grace of our Lord, praise him for that grace, and live out of that grace into love-driven imperative.

Marc

Additional articles:

Quick Read: http://theresurgence.com/2010/12/04/be-who-you-are-indicative-imperative

Deep Dive:   http://www.modernreformation.org/default.php?page=articledisplay&var1=ArtRead&var2=26&var3=main

And a pertinent quote from A.W. Pink:

“There is a continual need to return to the great fundamental of the faith. As long as the age lasts the Gospel of God’s grace must be preached. The need arises out of the natural state of the human heart, which is essentially legalistic. The cardinal error against which the Gospel has to contend is the inveterate tendency of men to rely on their own performances. The great antagonist to the truth is the pride of man, which causes him to imagine that he can be, in part at least, his own savior. This error is the prolific mother of a multitude of heresies. It is by this falsehood that the pure stream of God’s truth, passing through human channels, has been polluted. Now the Gospel of God’s grace is epitomized in Ephesians 2:8-9,

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.”

All genuine reforms or revivals in the churches of God must have as their basis a plain declaration of this doctrine. The tendency of Christians is like that of the world, to shy away from this truth which is the very sum and substance of the Gospel.”

“Stuff Christians Should Know” Part 1

I’ll be starting a new series this week, which I’m calling “Stuff Christians Should Know”.  These are categories that were preached from the pulpit and taught via catechism for the much of church history.  What used to be “common knowledge” isn’t very common these days. In the last few years I’ve spoken to believers who have been raised in church (and some who held various leadership positions) who missed the mark wildly on these basic categories. I think we as mature believers are failing here. We aren’t studying them, we aren’t discipling new believers in them, and frankly we aren’t really even concerned about them. While they may be listed somewhere on the “What we Believe” statement of faith, they’re rarely discussed in “community” or delivered from the pulpit.  To that end… here’s the first category:

Speaking with several Christian brothers recently, I was made keenly aware of the problems caused by not understanding basic categories of our faith.  There are many reasons for this, but I believe that the main reasons are that it’s not taught from many pulpits, and most Christians don’t read the Bible.  Ouch. I know, but stick with me over the next few posts and see if I’m missing the mark on this.

Categories are important. REALLY important.  Much of scripture deals with understanding of major categories, some of which I’ll cover over the next several posts; law and grace, justification and sanctification, indicative and imperative, already and not-yet.  If you don’t understand these categories, you’re building on a bad foundation.  I’ve seen where this leads, and it leads to a performance treadmill, “Do better, try harder”. It leads to focusing on your works instead of His grace. It leads to legalism. Ultimately it leads to focusing on you and your self-improvement program and not on God.

To set the stage for these categories, we’ll need to cover the very basics of what Christianity is.  It’s simple. REALLY simple. So simple it’s thought of as “foolishness” by the wise.  Unfortunately, many of you haven’t heard this in a long time, and some of you may have never heard it.

God is holy. Utterly holy. All men have sinned and stand condemned before God as just objects of his wrath.

Let that sink in for a minute.  The problem is pretty plain, and it’s the most horrific problem you could ever face.  The holy creator of the universe has his wrath focused on us.  Can you imagine?  10,000 times worse than the worst hurricane and it’s barreling down on us.  And the worst part? We deserve it. It’s the just act of a holy God.

You’ve GOT to get this. This is the definition of the problem. If you view your problem as facing the just wrath of a holy God, you need a SAVIOR.  If you view sin as “less than the best” and miss the wrath, you don’t need a savior, you just need a LIFE COACH. A better example. A self-improvement plan.  I know we don’t use words like Sin, Wrath, Atonement, Justification, and Sanctification much anymore. Why? Because we’re people, and as much as we’d like to think we’re much more sophisticated than those tent-dwellers in the Bible (who didn’t even have facebook!) we’re people..and people don’t want to hear that we’re bad, or helpless, much less both.  We *want* to hear that we’re generally good, and we just need to try a little harder, or come hear someone talk about a plan for a better life.  If I’m not aware that I’m facing the wrath of a holy God, then my biggest problems are having a better life, having a happier marriage, raising better kids, and hey, why not throw in some health and prosperity too?  So, is it all bad news? Doom and gloom? Hellfire and brimstone?

But God, to the council of His own glory, has chosen before the dawn of time to show His unimaginable grace to His sheep (those God saves) by pouring that wrath out upon His own Son in our place.  Inredible! So we are not only forgiven, but we are adopted as sons and daughters.

Let that sink in too. Not only forgiven, but adopted. Why? Again, to show his great mercy to the council of His own glory.  Not because of how awesome we are. Let’s get that straight. You don’t deserve it. You weren’t smarter, or more spiritual, or “better”. You didn’t do more good works, make a better choice, or check the right box.  You deserved wrath, God gave mercy.  Hear the difference? Big God, little you.  May well sound different than the big You and the God you just push buttons or work a plan to manipulate, huh?

So, when the Father sees believers, he doesn’t see our sin, he sees the righteousness of Jesus.  You want something to hang your hope on? Something to tell you that you’re forgiven?  How about this:  God didn’t just decide to overlook that horrible thing from your past, it’s been paid for. Christ bore THAT sin.  This is justification, and it was all His work, none of your own. You didn’t, and couldn’t have earned it.  It’s ALL grace.

So, you’re justified. The Father sees you and sees no sin. He sees the righteousness of Christ. So now what? How do I live day to day?  Good question. How we live day to day is work. Hard work. It’s the work of killing our sinful nature every day and growing to become more Christlike.

Don’t get confused here. Your sins have been atoned for. The Bible says that unlike the sacrifices of old, Christ, having atoned for our sins, sat down at the right hand of the father, making his atonement once and for all time. It is finished! You don’t continue to work to have your sins forgiven, but it is a daily effort, powered by the Holy Spirit, to grow to be more Christlike.

Do you see the problem with confusion in this area?  If you don’t understand the seriousness of sin, you’ll miss the need for a savior.  You’ll define your problem from your own heart, and begin to see God as a way to fill those “better life” needs. You’ll hear more about how God can give you better kids, a bigger house, promotions, money. Notice the difference?  Notice how one focuses on Him and the other on..you?

If you get the problem right and still confuse justification and sanctification, you end up with a performance treadmill. You have to keep, in essence, re-saving yourself or earning your salvation. And the focus quickly moves from praising Him for His grace to….. you and your works.  See a trend here?  Maybe we could just use that as a yardstick moving forward in these discussions of categories; Does what you believe focus more on Him and what he had DONE or You and what you are DOING?  Which do you figure is more scriptural?

The Gospel of the Bible is this: You were an enemy of God, you were facing His just wrath, you’ve been reconciled through Christ, Repent and believe in Christ. The work has been done. Live out of the peace of that accomplished work.

The popular evangelical message today is:  God has a wonderful plan for your life, choose Him, and begin to work the plan to get that life.

These are, quite obviously, not the same thing. You are hearing what Paul warned of as “another gospel”. It’s easy to spot if you understand the categories described above.  Wanting to go to heaven, or to have a better, more successful life doesn’t make you a Christian. It makes you not-stupid. It also focuses on the gift, not the giver.  I pray that you see Jesus not as a one-time ticket to punch to get to heaven, or a plan to work to get your “best life now”, but as the very Lamb of God, who laid aside all the riches of glory to be born of man, to live a sinless life, and lay down His life for His sheep, having atoned for all the Father had given Him.

Maybe this week you focus on looking at how you view Sin/Savior vs. Life Problem/Life Coach. Listen to sermons you normally listen to and see where the focus is. Read the tweets from your favorite Pastors. See where they focus.  I pray the Holy Spirit of our Lord opens your eyes to the  truth of His glory this week.

I think Matt Chandler knocked it out of the park on this video, a description of Justification: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Oxt3_nqoFo

I’m always available at Marc5Solas@gmail.com

Marc

The Space Shuttle and American Evangelicalism

Roger Boisjoly.  Never heard of him?  He would have probably preferred it that way.  See, Mr. Boisjoly, who passed away last month, was an aerospace engineer.  Literally, a “rocket scientist”.  And by all accounts, one of the smartest guys you’d ever meet.  Why does he hold any notoriety? Why would I bring him up in a blog about Christianity?   Because Mr. Boisjoly paid a great deal of attention to something very “trivial” in the massive scope of the space program; the “O” ring.

Mr. Boisjoly had found data which indicated that in cold weather, the “O” rings, which sealed the shuttle’s multi-stage booster rockets, would stiffen and unseal.  In an internal memo, he predicted a “catastrophe of the highest order”, “involving loss of human life”.

On January 27, 1986, Boisjoly reported to his superiors that a launch during such cold weather would be too dangerous, that the seals would likely fail and “if the seals failed the shuttle would blow up.”  For hours, he argued with colleagues and managers to stop the launch.  They initially agreed, but then moved forward.

“I am appalled,” said NASA’s George Hardy, according to Boisjoly and our other source in the room. “I am appalled by your recommendation.”

Another shuttle program manager, Lawrence Mulloy, didn’t hide his disdain. “My God, Thiokol,” he said. “When do you want me to launch — next April?”

“We thought that if the seals failed the shuttle would never get off the launch pad,” Boisjoly said. So, when Challenger lifted off without incident, he and the others watching television screens were relieved.

“And when we were one minute into the launch a friend turned to me and said, ‘Oh God. We made it. We made it!'” Boisjoly continued. “Then, a few seconds later, the shuttle blew up. And we all knew exactly what happened.”

The explosion of Challenger and the deaths of its crew, including Teacher-in Space Christa McAuliffe, traumatized the nation and left Boisjoly disabled by severe headaches, steeped in depression and unable to sleep. When I visited him at his Utah home in April of 1987, he was thin, tearful and tense. He huddled in the corner of a couch, his arms tightly folded on his chest. But he was ready to speak publicly. – NPR online “Remembering Roger Boisjoly”, February 7, 2012

This sounds far too similar to discussions within American christianity today.  Those who point out departures from orthodoxy, wrong ideas about God, are painted as “nitpicky”, “divisive”, “arrogant”, or “unloving”.   In an era where more information is readily available to the church than ever, we perish due to a lack of knowledge.   We quickly brush aside the battles of councils past, completely unconcerned with accuracy.  We sacrifice precision in speech and thought on the altars of unity, growth, and relevance.  In an attempt to avoid anything dogmatic, we eschew theology altogether.. yet ironically, what we create isn’t a lack of theology, but a vacuum in which members create their own aberrant theologies.  “Deeds not Creeds” leads to wrong-headed ideas about what it is we are doing in the first place.

To draw the analogy with the space shuttle, why would you bother a new brother with something as insignificant as the “O” ring of “persons” vs. “modes” in the Trinity?  Because it matters! Because God has revealed Himself to us in His word. How, then, shall we fashion for ourselves inaccurate (at best) or false (at worst) ideas of God to worship?

As I begin this blog, it is my sincere desire to write precisely about the orthodox, historical,  Christian faith.  My heart is for those who seek to know Him more, lest we be like those who neither know, nor care about the accuracy of the faith.  For if we love our Master, we will love to know Him more, and the study of knowing God is Theology.  (Not “feeling” God, not looking inside yourself for your views of Him, rather externally to how He has revealed Himself to us through his word.) Theology matters.  Truth matters. Accuracy matters… because He matters.

Marc