Sunday, September 05, 2010
Christian Sanctification - Indicative but no Imperative?
One of the standard features of Christian ethics is that it has an indicative part (what God has done for us in in salvation) and an imperative part (how we are to live in consequence). In other words, because of what God has done for you, now you should live in a manner worthy of your salvation. This pattern of indicative and imperative certainly works in Paul (e.g., Romans 6), but I would argue that it is also the pattern in the Pentateuch since the long is given to a redeemed people not to redeem the people. In fact, Charles Talbert's study on the Sermon on the Mount shows that while Matthew is big on imperatives, he still has an indicative.
Where am I going with this? Well my concern is that some are beginning to replace the imperative element in Christian sanctification (i.e., the need to diligently prosecute, pursue, and cultivate holiness and godliness) with the need for more knowledge of the indicative (i.e., believing more in the grace of God). Dan Ortlund, who is a jolly nice chap, gives a big listing of quotes that basically take this line. For instance, one guy quoted, Jared Wilson, writes: "As pat as the answer may sound, the key to healthy Christian growth in godliness is submissive study of the Scriptures". Now let me say that I believe in big "G" grace and I'm against big "M" moralizing. I'm fully aware that an understanding and appreciation of Christ and his work will work itself out in transformed behavior. No denials. But I am concerned that the "now go and do this" and "in response let us live like this" or "don't do this" that we find in the Scriptures are being marginalized in the name of a piety that is largely cognitive rather than transformative, a piety that is cerebral rather than practical.
But let's consider one of the exhortations to godliness in the Scriptures. Here is 2 Pet 1:3-10 (I preach a sermon on this passage called "Godly Mathematics").
3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Now notice that there is clearly an intellectual aspect about knowing the call of God and his promises, but thereafter we are called to add certain virtues to our life in order to life a godly life. It is not just a matter of read your ESV study Bible more or "let go and let God brother". We have the responsibility to deliberately adopt changed attitudes and changed behaviours that show our family likeness by our conduct and thereby make our calling and election sure! This is not some moralizing self-help step ladder to salvation, it is the genuine calling of the Christian to work out what God has worked in (Phil 2:12-13). Good theology, godward passion, and christocentric interpretation is not enough. Based on the words of Jesus, Paul, and James I'm willing to say that the differences between the sheep and the goats, between the followers and the fans, between hearers and doers, and between wearing a cross and carrying one, is whether one earnestly struggles against sin and earnestly seeks after godly virtues in the power of God's Spirit. It is mediation on grace, imitation of Christ/God, transformation of the self, and actively pursuing application that will make us godly people.
HT: to Jason Hood for pointing out Dane's post to me.