So how do we preach the gospel to believers? Or even, do we? I grew up in a church setting where there was a great chasm between the Sunday evening gospel service (an ABC’s presentation of the gospel and how to become a Christian) and the midweek believers Bible study (often a gospel-less teaching of some biblical section). We naturally divide gospel from teaching and consequently end up with a view that the gospel is for newcomers, while a different message is needed for spiritual maturity.
With the different message often comes an apparent contradiction. Now you are saved by grace, here’s the work list for you to do. Your growth is up to you. Work hard now. Get your pen and paper because I have a to do list for you this week. It is different than the gospel, but that is okay because you have now graduated from needing the gospel service to needing training in the believer’s service.
The glorious indicatives of Paul’s letters now give way to the pressure of the imperatives as believers need to buck their ideas up and press on to maturity.
Hence we come to the great debate. Do we grow by obedience to instruction? Or do we grow by learning our new identity? (*And is there a third option that nobody seems to mention?)
The tension over sanctification is not one that started brewing three years ago. It was a debate a generation ago under different labels than it is today. It has been a debate between preachers for generations. It was an issue during key moments in previous centuries, a point of division after the Reformation, a disagreement at the start of the second millennium and a source of disagreement right back in Augustine’s day. Actually, it was an issue as the New Testament was being written.
So which way should we lean in the debate over the nature of our ministry? Do we have to decide between obedience and identity? Is the motor for Christian living self-effort or gratitude (*or is there a third motor that is going unmentioned today?)