Last time I suggested that too narrow a view of a passage can lead to burdensome and non-gospel application. In narratives we need to make sure we are seeing God’s role and the humans as living in response to Him (both in faith and rebellious self-trust). In epistles we need to read the imperatives in light of the doctrinal gospel sections that inevitably have preceded the commands and applications.
Last night I was at a prayer meeting where we sang “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” . . . an old hymn with a few great verses:
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea; there’s a kindness in His justice which is more than liberty.
For the love of God is broader than the measures of man’s mind; and the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.
But we make His love too narrow by false limits of our own; and we magnify His strictness with a zeal He will not own.
If our love were but more simple we should take Him at His word; and our lives would be illumined by the presence of our Lord.
So to avoid imposing a “strictness” God would not own, we must preach good news and not turn it into burdensome law. Here are a few thoughts to keep stirring our thoughts:
1. In narratives like the gospels, observe the growth in faith among characters as the stories unfold. The same is true in other narrative sections of the Bible. We are not given much concerning most characters, but what we are given enables us to get a sense of their trajectory towards God in faith or away in rebellion. Tracing that broader story can help to make sense of a particular pericope (individual story).
2. Be careful to identify the link between doctrine and application. It is often more of a “this is what a life looks like that is gripped by that truth” rather than “so you must now do this!” Is the application an implication? Is it a natural outworking? Is it an appropriate response? These are all very different than a self-moved obligation.
3. Turning response into responsibility is to turn gospel into legalistic burden. Many really struggle with this, but it is so important. A captured heart that is stirred will flow out in far greater commitment, sacrifice, integrity, holiness, etc., than a person pressured to obey by the apparently self-moved determination of their own will. If the heart is not stirred, then the motivation will still be about love, but a misplaced love that is a weaker motivator. That is, if it isn’t love for Christ that stirs a person, then maybe they will obey commands out of love for self in respect to conformity to community expectations – a love-driven action, but not in response to the greatest love of all.