Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Indicatives and Imperatives

If you haven't yet subscribed to the White Horse Inn podcast then you need to repent. This week, Horton and co. were discussing the first century church in Corinth and the problems faced there. Corinth was a city of libertines and the church, to an extent, reflected the madness of the culture. There were factions for a start. The believers in Corinth were playing the teachings of one preacher off and against that of the other (see 1 Cor. 1:11, 12). Some were gathering round Paul, others round Apollos and some even around Christ (red letter Christians?)!

They was so much in-fighting, Paul described them as Christian babies and 'fleshy' (3:1-4). That's not all. A man was sleeping with his step-mother (ugh!), they were suing each other in the courts ruled by unbelievers, they were abusing the poor, getting drunk at communion, abusing spiritual gifts, allowing demons to speak in worship (12:3) and to top it all, some were denying the resurrection.

How would we expect Paul to react to a church like that? He could maybe say something like, "I DOUBT WHETHER ANY OF YOU ARE SAVED!", or read some statistics from Gallup to show how cases of immorality in the church are almost as prevalent as that of the world. He doesn't do that. He opens by writing, "To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people" (v2 TNIV). He continues in verse 8 "He will keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ." (TNIV)

WOW! We might ask, where's the motivation to holy living in that? We'd have preached the law. Instead Paul reminds them of the Gospel. He starts with the Gospel indicatives (i.e. who they ARE in Christ, what God has DONE in Christ) and from THERE moves to imperatives (therefore do this etc).

These verses are proof positive that the Gospel is counter-intuitive. I know what I'm like; I would have thanked God for the Galatians and called down curses on Corinth. Further evidence that I need to beat the truth of justification into my own sin sick heart/mind.

10 comments:

Daniel said...

Nick,

I haven't listened to the podcast (I'm unrepentant!), but your post raised a couple of questions.

I do agree that the Gospel is counter-intuitive. By nature, we believe in works-righteousness, not grace. And I agree that "the motivation to holy living" must be the Gospel. We need to start with the indicatives and move to the imeratives.

But do you think you overstate the case when you say that we would be wrong to say to the Corinthians, "I doubt whether any of you are saved", and that we would be wrong to preach the law to them? Doesn't Paul do these things at times? After all, the man who was sleeping with his step-mum was to be excommunicated. Isn't that like saying, "unless you repent, you can't claim to be a Christian". What about when Paul told the Galatians, "I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like that will not inherit the kingdom of God"?

As I say, I think I basically agree with you. I'm fully aware of contemporary "protestants" who end up teaching a Gospel of Law. But sometimes maybe we overreact and end up sounding like Campus Crusade for Christ's "Spirit filled life" tract which taught carnal Christianity.

Regards,
Daniel

Steven Carr said...

There are a couple of good reminders in this post. 1) There is a need for regular dosage of the gospel, and 2) it is not for us to call into question our fellow Christian's salvation; rather, it is for us to remind them of their gospel calling.

Thanks for the reminder.

Nick Mackison said...

Daniel, you raise some good points. I don't think I was overstating the case when I wrote it would be wrong to say "I doubt whether any of you are saved". Paul did start off by describing them as "sanctified in Christ Jesus" without any kind of broadside.

You're right though, Paul does move on to get at individuals, and I'm not ignoring that fact. Nevertheless, he does say things like, "hand this man over to Satan so that his spirit will be saved on the day of the Lord". Paul views excommunication as a sort of 'this realm' judgement that should help lead the man to repentance and final salvation.

Further, instead of accusing them of being unsaved, he describes the habits of those who won't inherit the kingdom in 6:9 and then goes on to say, "and such were some of you, but you were washed, justified, etc" You were like this, you've been justified, so live like it.

God bless my man.

Steven Carr said...

Daniel,

Man has a propensity to peer into the mind of God and claim his knowledge for ourselves. This propensity has shown itself in various doctrinal systems. Most notoriously, in the Romish System, but we see this propensity also in the hyper-calvinist system. The Romish Church took upon itself the power of God in being able to declare who was going to heaven and who was not. Those who were excommunicated from the Church were declared anathema--that is that their souls were eternally damned unless they repent. Those who died outside the Romish faith were never buried in the Church graveyard, thus declaring the dead excommunicate eternally lost.

Hyper-calvinists sometimes tend to think that they can know who is elect or not based upon how a person acts. Not all hyper-calvinists think that way, but I've met a few who do.

Calvin constantly warns against the human propensity to claim knowledge that is rightfully God's. It is not for us to make any judgments about a person's final destiny or state of salvation. It is for us to remind our brothers in Christ of what Christ has called us to. Excommunication should not be viewed as a pronouncement about the person's state of salvation and certainly not about his final destiny. Paul clearly shows that excommunication is a drastic wake up call to the person who is living inconsistently with his Christian calling. It is essentially saying, "You want to live like the world? OK, we'll hand you over to the world so that you learn that you can't be a Christian and live like they do." The final goal of excommunication is the person's salvation. Paul says, "Deliver such an one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh that the Spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus Christ."

When we warn people that those who live according to the flesh do not inherit the kingdom of God, it does not mean that we are making any claim about the person's state. When we observe someone acting contrary to their calling in Christ we are to admonish them as fellow believers. We are not to call their salvation into question. When Paul calls the Corinthians "carnal", he still reminds them that they are the "temple of God" and that the Spirit of God dwells in them.

When we say to a person, "I doubt whether you are really saved," we claim for ourselves knowledge that belongs to God alone. We need to guard against this tendency.

Steven Carr said...

BTW, Daniel, I'm not saying you're a Papist or a hyper-calvinist.

Blessings,

Steve

Daniel said...

Hmmm. I could have been clearer. I was not suggesting that when a fellow believer behaves in a way inconsistent with his profession, our first response should be to tell him we don’t think he’s a Christian at all. What I had in mind was a person who refused to repent after being admonished in the way you describe. The reason I commented on the post was because it seemed that it could give the impression that a professing Christian’s misbehaviour should never bring their profession of faith into question. I think that failure to repent can bring a person’s claim to be a Christian into question. That’s not to say we’re peering into the decrees of God (when did I mention election? That came up in one of the subsequent comments.) Of course, the desire of any form of discipline is restoration. The problem is if the offender refuses to repent. In which case he does call his profession into question. It seems to me.

Regards,
Daniel

Nick Mackison said...

I totally agree Daniel.

Steven Carr said...

Daniel,

When you call a person's salvation into question, you essentially call his election into question. You cannot separate salvation from election. Be that as it may, notice that I did not say decrees of God, but mind of God. Peering into the decrees of God is one way that we peer into the mind of God. We want to know what He knows. That has been a human tendency since the fall and it has reared its ugly head in various ways. Roman Catholicism was one way, hyper-calvinism another, even evangelical pietism can be a way to peer into the unkowable mind of God. My comment was simply to say, that it is ours to admonish, rebuke, correct, etc., but it is God's to ultimately judge.

Blessings,

Steve

Nick Mackison said...

BTW, I'm 100% with you on this Steven too (sounding pretty post-modern here). I was agreeing with Daniel's example of one who refuses to repent.

Daniel said...

Steven,

No, if a person’s salvation is called into question, their election is not called into question. I know lots of people who are not Christians (i.e., they make no profession whatsoever of being Christians). When I say they’re not Christians, I’m not denying their election. I pray God will grant them faith and repentance. But at the moment, they are not saved.

Simon Magus professed faith and was baptised. But as a result of his subsequent behaviour, Peter called his salvation into question. But Peter didn't deny his election. Indeed, his desire was that Simon would be saved. But that came through repentance.

You’re very concerned about people peering into the mind of God, but that’s not what I’m doing. I claim no knowledge of God’s secret will. Only his revealed will. We can only go by appearances. When people profess faith, we accept them on the basis of an ‘uncontroverted profession’. When professing Christians fall into sin (as of course we all do), we admonish, rebuke, correct, etc. But if someone falls into gross sin and refuses to repent, how can that do anything other than call their profession of faith into question? Which is not to say we deny their election, that we deny that they ever can be saved. But that must come through repentance. “If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.”

Regards,
Daniel