HOW DO CHRISTIANS GROW & CHANGE? PART 2
A major question for some surrounding what seems to be a Gospel-centered movement in our day is a good one, “Does the Bible teach that sanctification is empowered by the Gospel?” We’ll be examining this question in the next several posts on this blog.
One of the main ideas in support of Gospel-centered sanctification is the Bible’sconnection between statements of fact / truth (known to English majors and Bible nerds as indicatives) and commands to live the truth (known as imperatives).
For sanctification to take place it is crucial that the Gospel (indicative, “He did,” “you are,” or “are not”) is never severed from, but is the basis of and motivation for the believer’s obedience (imperatives, “you must” or “must not”). Without this, our preaching and counseling stops being distinctly Christian and is no different than the preaching that took place in the synagogue or the counsel given in self-help books and seminars.
If obedience to the imperatives of the New Testament depends on knowing and cherishing it’s indicatives then Christians need (along with the empowering of the Spirit) a steady diet of both indicatives and imperatives, to grow, to be more sanctified, to become more like Jesus. As D.A. Carson and Tim Keller wrote, “expository preaching fails if it does not tie every text, even the most discursive, into the great story of the gospel and mission of Jesus Christ” (Gospel-Centered Ministry, 9) (italics mine).
So, it’s foolish, suicidal and blasphemous to think and tell others that the Gospel (indicative) is the “elementary doctrine” we’re supposed to mature past (Hebrews 6:1), forget and strain forward from (Phil 3:13) to do the imperatives. As the Puritan John Owen (1616-1683), who penned almost 4000 pages on Hebrews, wrote “Holiness is nothing but the implanting, writing and realizing of the Gospel in our souls” (Works3:370)” (italics mine).
We never assume or move past the indicatives to do the imperatives relentlessly, nor do we lazily do the imperatives when we feel like it because we’re relishing the indicatives – sanctification is both-and, not either-or!
Without a growing understanding of and appreciation for the Gospel (indicative), the imperatives will either become stuff we heartlessly treat like a checklist (making us loveless, arrogant Pharisees) or they will represent a battle that’s impossible to win (causing hopeless despair & constant doubt about salvation). Or, as Kevin DeYoung writes, encourage others and yourself to greater sanctification with “Be [imperative] who you are [indicative]” (The Hole in Our Holiness, 93-105).
To show that Gospel-centered sanctification is biblical and based on the biblical connection between indicatives and imperatives, I will begin my next post by helping you see this in the big picture of the Bible before diving into the details of individual texts.
For now, if you’re still unconvinced that indicatives feed imperatives and vice versa, check out Philippians 2:3-11 and see if you don’t see the connection I’ve been arguing for here. Notice how Paul encourages the actions he wants to characterize the Christians in Philippi (vv. 3-4) by reminding them of the good news of Jesus’ incarnation, death and exaltation (vv. 5-11).