Amidst evangelicalism in our present culture, there’s been a revival of sorts with returning to and rediscovering the Gospel. Whether its seen in conferences, books, or on Internet websites and blogs – the Gospel of God’s grace is “all the buzz”, if you will. To see and hear more talk and teaching explaining how God saves sinners by His grace alone through Christ alone is both encouraging and necessary. We must be clear about the Gospel. We must know what it means and the way to unpack it for sinner and saint alike. All such discussion among Christians is an ear-mark of biblical spirituality.
Yet, while there’s so much to be celebrated in this gospel-revival – like most movements in church history – there’s always something lacking, with some error that actually minimizes the rediscovered truth. In the present case, the excitement over this great renewed interest in the Gospel, has in many circles, laid an exclusive weight on nothing but the Gospel indicatives. This refers only to what God has done to save sinners. Obviously this truth is at the heart of the Gospel and must be preached and understood – if we’re to be faithful to what the Bible bears witness to, as to why any sinner is rescued from their sin and reconciled to God (e.g., Rom. 3:21-5:11; Eph. 1:3-14; Col. 1:13-14).
However, if one places all their emphasis on what God has done to save us, then they will end up with only half of what makes the Gospel good news. And thus, unwittingly, they will wind up in serious error. In fact, where this accent is so strongly pressed on the indicatives of the Gospel, it has brought many professing Christians to embrace ideas about the Christian life that literally truncate all that Scripture reveals about God’s saving grace. And what’s cut off from their understanding are the imperatives which the Gospel calls every believer to live by.
To say it another way: many Christians in our day think that to be Gospel-centered is to only talk about what God has saved us from, without also confessing what God has saved us to. It’s reading only the first eleven chapters of Romans, while ignoring the last five chapters which tell us how Gospel-centered Christians live. The practical outworking of misreading the Gospel in this way, is that you have Christians claiming God’s forgiveness without God’s mandate to pursue holiness (cf. Heb. 12:14). In other words, obedience to God is optional since we’re “under grace and not under law.” This is the mind-set behind an indicative only-gospel.
But let’s be clear: this way of thinking is wrong because it’s reading only half of what the Gospel is about. Since God has saved us in Christ, then our lives should give proof of what the Lord has actually done. This is why, for instance, in Colossians 3:1-17, we begin by reading what God has done for us in salvation – by raising us up with Christ and enclosing our lives in Him. This is the indicative of the Gospel. However, the teaching doesn’t stop there. Since we’re united in Christ, with a new life in Him – there’s now a distinctive way this spiritual union is applied. Colossians 3:5 starts the application: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire…” Here’s the rest of the Gospel. It’s in the imperatives. It’s God’s divine call for His people to flesh out what He has done for them, by living lives in obedience to Him.
And this obedience God commands from us is not impossible, because it’s carried out by God’s power (cf. Phil. 2:12-13). This is why the Lord’s imperatives are the other half of the Gospel – because the life God is calling us to live is the new life we have received due to His saving grace. Therefore the pursuit of holiness, godliness, and righteousness tell the rest of the Gospel story. It demonstrates the power of God’s salvation for all the world to see with both feet on the ground.
So then, in all our “gospel-talk”, let’s remember this: the biblical Gospel declares what God has done, while commanding us how to live. There’s no separation between the two: The Gospel is both indicatives and imperatives. “And by this we know that we have come to know [Christ], if we keep his commandments” (1 John 2:3).