Growing up in the church, I heard what I was supposed to be doing all the time. “Read your Bible more; stop lusting; pray more; you should want to go to church; don’t take communion in an unworthy manner; you should want to tell people about Jesus; make sure you find a good Christian girl.” The list could go on for pages. None of these things are bad. Actually, all of them are really good things. The problem with these commands is that there is a prerequisite to all of them: the Gospel. I heard all of these without a clear understanding of the Gospel. All of them quickly became more things on my Christian list that I needed to get better at in order to be a good Christian. I don’t think the people who told me these things meant them to be this way, but that’s how I received them.
Fast forward to right now. These things have become a joy for me. I’m not trying to say that I am perfect, but a basic understanding of what Jesus did has given me a hunger for these things. I long to grow in godliness and sanctification.
Paul is a very good example of this. Many of his letters (especially Romans, Ephesians, and Colossians) are ordered in such a way that shows his desire of understanding before action. The first eleven chapters of Romans are filled with amazing truths about the Gospel and what Jesus has done for us. Then, in the last five chapters, Paul begins to open up what an understanding of this should look like in everyday life (loving one another, submitting to government officials, following Jesus’ example, etc.). Ephesians and Colossians are ordered the same way; the first half of each book has amazing truths about how Jesus saved them and what he saved them from (spiritual death, assured wrath, hostility toward God, and alienation from God). Then the rest of the letters are dedicated to showing what the churches’ reactions should be to those truths (love for one another in the church, an orderly household that represents the gospel, hard-working submission to your master/boss, etc.).
These are all great examples that we are never expected to simply do things outside of grace-driven effort. In fact Paul tells us that it is impossible for us to do them outside of the Spirit (Romans 8:7-8). It is all done as a response to the understanding we have that Christ saved us from wrath, Hell, and an empty, unfulfilled life. So we worship by giving our lives to Him (Romans 12:1). And, this worship is done in joy. Can you not see that in Paul’s life? Begrudging submission is not even a thought to him. He worships Yahweh because of the joy that he has found in Him.
This truth was brought to the forefront in my life by Tullian Tchividjian via Sinclair Ferguson. In his message at the 2010 Desiring God conference, Tullian quoted Ferguson with this summary, “Imperatives minus Indicatives equal Impossibilities.” This is what he means: Gospel commands without Gospel truths as motivation created frustrated, bitter people who have no way of doing those things. We must make sure that we are giving people (and ourselves) a proper understanding of why we are doing the things that we are doing, or else we will quickly become angry, bitter servants who feel like they have earned something from God.
So, get into the Word. Remind yourself that God is good. He rejoices in doing good to you (Jeremiah 32:40-41) and He is your Father who loves to give you good gifts (Matthew 7:11). So, when this good God tells you to do something, you can have confidence that it is for your ultimate joy. Remind yourself that while you are a sinner, Christ died for you (Romans 5:8). He humbled Himself to the state of a man to live the life that you could not live, and die the death that you should have died. And now He has given you the greatest joy possible, relationship with Him.
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.
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