Recently, I shared a message at my church about the way in which we tune out the Gospel message with destructive consequences. (You can listen to the podcast here or watch the video here). This post is the third in a series of five, unpacking some concepts I didn’t have time to explore in a 35-minute sermon. You can view all of the posts here:
Every sermon, talk, and presentation needs to have one big idea. I work primarily in the world of sermons. For me, I’m looking for one concept that is clear, memorable and portable enough for someone to take from a weekend service into their weekday at home, work and their community. Writing big ideas like these is a difficult task, one area where I must continue to improve.
In the message I mentioned above, my one big idea is seen below in this slide from Keynote slide deck.
I shared the big idea deeper in the talk than I normally would because I wanted to get at 3 foundational ideas first. One, many of us tune out the Gospel with disastrous consequences. Two, the gospel is about what God has done, not what we do. Three, grace is an unmerited gift, something we do not earn. With those three introduced into the conversation, I shared my big idea – what we do as followers of Christ flows out of who we are in Christ.
I first came across this concept in a post I read online that referred to some recent writing from Michael Horton. Horton, a professor at Westminster Seminary, is definitely on the opposite aisle from me in a lot of places theologically. But I hold strongly to the idea that you can learn from whom you disagree. Some of Horton’s recent work had been around the concept of indicatives and imperatives in the New Testament.
For those of you who are fuzzy on high school grammar terms, a quick refresher. Indicatives are declarative statements – such as “Scott is a man”. In the Scriptures, these would be statements about who we are in Christ, what Jesus accomplished through the cross, and Gospel definitions. Imperatives, on the other hand, are commands – such as “Scott, act like a man.” In the Scriptures, these would be the moral, ethical, and relational commands that litter the New Testament.
Horton shared that in Paul’s letters, Paul begins with the indicative (who we are) statements and moves to the imperative (what we do) statements. Horton encouraged pastors and teachers to ensure that their teaching of indicative statements came of out of the indicative context. Without connecting these dots, the teaching could easily become moralism or legalism.
We need to teach, challenge, and encourage one another to embrace the Scriptures’ teachings regarding what we are to do as followers of Christ. But if we ever lose sight of who we are in Christ and allow a different foundation to be built for our identity, we have lost our roots in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I believe many of us have lost those roots. We’ve lost our way when we call and expect people whose identity is not rooted in Christ, who have not embraced the Gospel to do what followers of Christ are called to do. When I see followers of Christ bluster at the actions of those who do not follows Jesus – whether that bluster is on Facebook, in pulpits or in personal conversations – I either laugh incredulously or shake my head in disappointment. We cannot do what the Scripture calls us to do apart from who we are in Christ. Apart from the Gospel. Apart from the power of the Holy Spirit at work in us. Yet on a regular basis, we freak out when those who do not have this identity and resources live contrary to the Biblical standard. Friends, at best this is hypocrisy. At worst, it is pure lunacy.
When we connect the dots, we preach the Gospel to ourselves daily, rooting our identity in that reality. When we connect the dots, we rediscover the power and resources to live a Christ-centered life. When we connect the dots, it is possible to do what we are called to do as followers of Christ. When we connect the dots, we grow in humility. When we connect the dots, we focus on sharing the Gospel with a world that does not follow Jesus, instead of sharing about what they aren’t doing that they should be doing or what they aren’t doing that they should be doing.
What we do flows out of who we are. What we do as followers of Christ flows out of who we are in Christ. Connect those dots today.
More than any other writer, Henri Nouwen’s writings have enabled me to see the power of this concept again and again. This concept is latent in all of his books.