Context is king.
And when the king is dethroned, the best of intentions can give the most damning of messages. If the only point of a sermon is “Be more good,” “Be more disciplined,” or “Be more like (some Bible hero),” then the preacher has not only preached an un-Christian message, but an anti-Christian message.
These “Killer Be’s” are not wrong commands in themselves, but they are wrong by themselves. The overarching context of the Bible is grace. God created out of grace (2 Cor 4:6), he called Israel out of grace (Deut 7:7), he began the Ten Commandments with a reminder of his grace (Exod 20:2), and of course, the Christian is saved alone by his grace (Eph 2:8). This is not the cheap kind that balks at imperatives and sins all the more, but the costly acts of God that supernaturally stir the soul to glad-hearted obedience (Rom 6:1–14). That will preach!
And so it did.
We had the privilege of hosting Dr. Brian Chappell on March 4th and 5th for a two-part symposium entitled “Sanctification by Grace: How God’s Grace Fuels our Hearts for Obedience.” (You can listen to the entirety of his talk here.) Dr. Chapell argued that the grace of God is what fuels the car of true Christian obedience. That is, any exercise of true virtue is always in response to the initial kindness of God—we love because he first loved us; we forgive because we’ve been forgiven. It’s precisely when people understand how good God has been to them in Christ that they actually want to “be more good”!
The alternative just doesn’t work. If a pastor should preach commands from Paul’s epistles without mention of Paul’s gospel, the pastor risks commending a false gospel of pulling oneself up to heaven by the bootstraps. Why should the new Christian husband lay down his life for the bride who is flexing her sinfulness? Not merely because, golly, it’s the right thing to do, but because Christ laid down his life to forgive that new husband (Eph 5:25). Why should the Christian no longer lie? Not merely because it’s wrong, but because through the gospel the believer has put off his old sinful self and put on the new self in Christ (Col 3:9–10). Why should the Christian present his entire self as a sacrifice set apart for God’s service? Not merely because of duty, but because of the thrilling “mercies of God” already exercised on the believer’s behalf (Rom 12:1). In each one of these cases, the grace of God is the grounding motivator and fuel of true obedience.
Chapell is right. When the king is on the throne, the kingdom flourishes. And when the grace of God is preached as the catalyst for godliness, the Christian drives his car of obedience with the tank full, the windows down, and the gas bill paid—to the glory of our gracious God!
Kevin McClure is the Associate Pastor at Geist Community Church.