Family BBQs are one of my favorite things about summertime. I love cramming my plate with a hamburger or two, chips, baked beans and, of course, potato salad. The only problem is that always, right as I’m dishing up that last spoonful of delicious potato and boiled egg goodness, my convenient-yet-all-too-cheap paper plate always starts bending.
This convenient, disposable, unfortunately bendy dish was invented back in 1904 when a veneer plant worker named Martin Keyes started thinking about the idea of disposable plates. Keyes saw his shift buddies eating their lunches on pieces of maple veneer and spent the next two years perfecting the process of pressing wood pulp into a mold to make plates. His plates pioneered the assortment of disposable products that allow Americans every summer to chow down on burgers and hot-dogs without ever having to think about cleaning up.
Unfortunately, the mentality that goes along with single-use disposable products - use once then throw away - describes how Christians often view the gospel. We see the reality of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, as what we believe to get saved, but after that “single-use” there really isn’t much need for the gospel anymore. The Bible however, presents the gospel not just as the way we get saved, but as central to the entire Christian life. Both how we come to Jesus (salvation) and how we grow in Jesus (sanctification) are rooted in the gospel.
In 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 the Apostle Paul explains to his readers the essential events of the gospel. The gospel is truth that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and was raised to life. This gospel, Paul tells his Christian readers, is the message “which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved” (1 Cor. 15:1-2). In other words, the gospel isn’t a “paper plate” we use once then trash. Instead, it is essential to how we go on and grow as believers.
It isn’t surprising that the gospel should be the ongoing center of our growth. In two different letters Paul says that the gospel itself “is the power of God...” (Rom. 1:16, 1 Cor. 1:18) In the rest of the New Testament, only Jesus is described with words like this (1 Cor. 1:24). Remaining rooted in the gospel then is the best way for us to stay close to Jesus.
IMPERATIVES vs. INDICATIVES
One of the best ways we can remain rooted in the gospel for our ongoing growth is to distinguish between the Bible’s imperatives and indicatives. I know, I know… the big words aren’t helping, so let’s make this simple.
A lot of people think of the Bible only as a book of commands, full of lists telling you what to do and what not to do. Certainly the Bible does contain commands, or imperatives, but those imperatives are never given without being tied to a gospel indicative (something true that has happened). That means that every instruction regarding how we’re to live and grow as believers is grounded in what God has done for us and in us through the gospel. The Bible motivates us to change in our lives by reminding us that our lives have been changed! Scripture’s constant plea is to become who we already are.
Here are some examples:
“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies... present yourselves to God (imperative) ... as those who have been brought from death to life ... since you are not under the law but under grace (indicative).”
- Romans 6:12-14
“Having been set free from sin [you] have become slaves of righteousness (indicative) ... now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification (imperative).”
- Romans 6:18-19
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh (imperative) ... those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (indicative).”
- Galatians 5:16, 24
Tullian Tchividjian, a pastor in Florida, uses a simple equation to show the need for our hearts to rest in these gospel declarations:
IMPERATIVES - INDICATIVES = IMPOSSIBILITIES
Tchividjian is saying that without a gospel indicative it is impossible to obey an imperative. The power to follow and obey Jesus is the gospel. What the gospel has done and is doing in our hearts is central to how we grow in Christ. Regularly reflecting and meditating on Jesus’ work on the cross and all its implications and applications in our lives is incredibly important. The gospel is not disposable.