How should we preach on St Paul’s exhortations?

A good deal of Paul’s letters involves some form of telling his readers what they ought to be doing. This is not very surprising for the letters, like 1 Corinthians, where he is writing in response to problems, difficulties, and disputes that he has heard of. Where there is disagreement on an issue, Paul is exercising his apostolic oversight to present a resolution, and where those he is writing to are going wrong, he needs to direct them to a better way of doing things in the light of what God has done for us in Jesus.

Perhaps, though, it is a little more surprising that he includes so much of this ‘hortatory’ or ‘paraenetic‘ material in letters like Romans, where he appears to be largely setting out his understanding of the gospel in order to establish common ground with his audience. Although there are hints of differences that need resolving, principally between Jewish and Gentile believers in relation to Jewish food and festival laws, it is still striking that Paul offers what we now have as four full chapters of instruction, which, together with the greetings and further instruction in chapter 16, form almost a third of the whole letter! It is hard to avoid the conclusion that, for Paul, action must follow understanding—that you simply cannot separate the process of receiving and understanding the grace of God in Jesus, and responding to it in a changed way of living.

This is frequently missed, so that some people suggest that, if we have to do something in response to the gospel, our action is somehow ‘earning’ our salvation, so that we are not relying on God’s grace alone. Not so! cries John Barclay; God’s grace is indeed unconditioned (in the sense that you do not need to be worthy to receive it), but it is not unconditional.

Luther was anxious about any language of obligation or obedience if it implied trying to win favor with God. As a result, some Protestants believe it’s inappropriate for God to expect something in return, because it would somehow work against grace. They believe a gift should be given without any expectation of return. However, that can lead to notions of cheap grace—that God gives to us and doesn’t care about what we do. On the other hand, the Calvinist and, in different ways, the Methodist–Wesleyan traditions have rightly understood that the gift of God in Christ is based on conditions, in a sense. While there is no prior worth for receiving the gift, God indeed expects something in return. Paul expects those who receive the Spirit to be transformed by the Spirit and to walk in the Spirit. As he puts it, we are under grace, which can legitimately lead to obedience, even obligation. (emphasis mine)

Note here that Barclay is linking three things together: our lack of prior worth; God’s gracious gift; our subsequent transformation and obedience. Barclay’s emphasis on obligation only works when it is firmly located in this sequence—the conditional nature of God’s grace only makes sense when we first understand it is unconditioned. This is sometimes expressed using grammatical terms. There is an imperative to the gospel (things that we need to do) but they only and always follow the indicative (what God has already done for us). So all our action, obedience and response must be in the light of what God has done for us.

But that gives us a challenge, and it has recently given me some particular challenges! Because we usually read, preach and teach on shorter passages, it is easy for the imperative to be detached, to a greater or lesser degree, from the indicative. I once came across an example of a sermon in an evangelical church that, in theory at least, focussed on the grace of God, but the sermon end with a list of things we should do—we should read our Bible, we should pray, we should…and so on. And this wasn’t even from a text which was in the imperative, but from a narrative passage!

More broadly, in churches with a strong preaching tradition, this use of ‘what we should do’ can easily become a way in which those who are preaching exercise power and control over a passive congregation of listeners. The claim might be made ‘Well, Paul tells people what to do, so we can too!’ but this fails to recognise the wider context within Paul’s writings and theology, and the integrated connection between grace and obligation that we find there.

My particular challenge recently was preaching from Eph 4.25–32:

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbour, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Those who have been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (TNIV)

The task of preaching on this passage presented several challenges.

First, the preceding passage contained much of the ‘indicative’, as Paul rehearsed the change that God has effected for us in Jesus, so that we no longer live as we once did. This passage is now saturated with the ‘imperatives’ that flow from that, so how should I preach on this given that that someone else had preached on the preceding passage in the previous week? The key thing to notice is the opening ‘therefore’; everything here flows from everything that has gone before.

Secondly, unlike with Romans, in Ephesians Paul does not follow a linear, logical argument, but instead (according to Ben Witherington) is deploying ‘Asiatic epideictic rhetoric’. This means that Paul states and restates things, often using lofty and inspiring language to paint a picture. I was struck by the way, in these chapters, Paul is constantly moving back and forward between what God has done and what we must do in response.

(In case you were thinking that this was all a bit theoretical and abstract, it is worth noting that this approach is precisely how much advertising functions—using lofty language to praise certain virtuous ways of living as a way of getting you to follow a specific path of action viz: ‘buy our product’. You can read all about it in this dissertation.)

Thirdly, and flowing from this, I noticed that, although this passage is primarily ‘imperative’, Paul has laced through it some of the reasons for living in the way we do. So, for example, we must put off falsehood and speak truth because we are members of one body, and this last observation points back to Paul’s argument about reconciliation in Christ from chapter 2. We should not grieve the Holy Spirit because we have been sealed by him in anticipation of the future, which points back to his language in chapter 1—and so on.

Finally, my major observation was this: what was the rhetorical impact of this description of the community living out their new life in Christ for Paul’s first readers? What it have given them a sense of obligation or burden—or would it have done something else? Is Paul giving them a list of things we ‘must’ do—or is he painting a compelling and inspiring picture of what life could be like in this new community of redemption, a foretaste of what is to come when we see God face to face?

I decided that Paul intended the latter, not the former, and this encouraged me to take a rather unusual and radical approach to the passage.

  1. I began by talking about the most beautiful and inspiring places I had been to, and invited the congregation to recall the most beautiful place they could think of.
  2. Rather than giving a detailed exposition of the different things Paul is encouraging, I attempted to translate that into an experiential description of what such a community would be like. This, surely, is the intention behind Paul’s description.
  3. I then connected these things with what God has done for us—not so much in theological terms (since that had happened the previous week) but in existential terms: what sort of people could live in a community like this? What must God have effected in them?
  4. I ended with a personal story of online encounter with someone on the other side of the world, which exemplified for me what this beautiful community might look like.

Of the three kinds of speech (according to Aristotle) that we can deploy—logos, ethos and pathos—there was more pathos and less logos than I think I would usually deploy. But two interesting things resulted. First, people did appeared to be genuinely moved and inspired, and the elements of logos that I incorporated gave substance to the pathos. Secondly, a colleague said to me that the thing he came away with was the phrase ‘God has done everything we need to make this happen.’ That encouraged me to think that I had made the connections between indicative and imperative, between the grace of God and our response, in a way that was faithful to Paul.

See what you think!

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53 thoughts on “How should we preach on St Paul’s exhortations?”

  1. ‘God has done everything we need to make this happen.’
    What a great strap line that would be for a church to have on its wall outside. It reminds me of psalm 23 …you have spread a table in the presence of my enemies…
    We should come to the table and as we eat, drink and converse never forget who provided, not only the food and drink but the plates, forks, linen, candles, chairs, tables etc.
    thanks Ian for a wonderfully meditative word of encouragement.

  2. Well, while the indicatives are certainly much more pronounced in Romans than in other epistles, I think that Romans still follows the general pattern that Paul uses, of indicatives, telling us exactly where we are in Him, followed by imperatives, telling us to act like it – and to show forth the fruit of the Spirit. I think that Ephesians does exactly the same.

    Right now, following the invasion of the Ukraine, I strongly struggle with some verses from Romans 12 along the lines of, `Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
    In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

    … and I don’t really see how it is possible to take the sanctimonious and pious line that Paul is advocating (of course, I understand it at some sort of theoretical level) when faced with such events.

    Sorry Steve – I liked your comment, but right now I’m not in a frame of mind for a meditative word.

    • Actually, in Romans, I’m very glad he gives the indicatives before the imperatives – if it were the other way around, I would have concluded long ago that I am lost, but the indicatives tell me exactly where I am, before he goes on to the imperatives which give a standard which (despite much prayer) I can’t possibly aspire to live up to.

      I’m also grateful to the apostle Paul for the `wretched man’ Romans 7:14-25, which is written in the present tense, first person singular, and an expression of faith and the struggles of faith of a mature Christian. This has meant a lot to me (and Romans 7:14-25 was the passage I used at my baptism).

      I’m surprised at the remarks Ian Paul made towards the beginning of his piece about sermons on Romans. I was privileged to hear a series when I was a student, which took almost two years (September 1987 – June 1989) and I discovered that somebody had very kindly put the sermons that I listened to `live’ up on the web here

      Click on `evenings’ and then click on `87-89 Romans’ and I’d suggest that 3rd or 10th of July 1988 would be well worth listening to.

      If anyone asks `how should we preach on Romans?’ Well, I’m not a preacher, but as a listener I can say that these sermons meant an awful lot to me.

      • Hi Jock

        James Philip was a help to me when young. It is his son who is also a minister who has made his sermons available. He has also a book on Romans which i found helpful in my youth.

        • Hello John,

          You also enjoyed James Philip – very good to meet you here! Yes – `The Power of God’ – a great book about Romans, short and to the point, extremely well written.

          I was privileged to attend his church when I was a student. I had a (minor) quibble with the fact that he did infant baptism – and I didn’t get baptised until later (when I was involved with a Baptist church, having moved elsewhere on account of the job).

          The answer to the question that Ian Paul posed – I found that Christians invariably enjoyed the approach to preaching (which involved taking whole books and working through them methodically) that came from the pulpit of James Philip. I don’t know who Ian Paul is referring to with is `we’ when he writes `we usually read, preach and teach on shorter passages’. This wasn’t the style at Holyrood Abbey and it wasn’t the style at the Buccleuch Free Church that I sometimes attended – the general idea in both these churches was to methodically work through whole books – and indeed has been the style at any serious church that I have attended.

          • Jock, could preaching on Romans for “almost two years” be an example of reading, preaching and teaching “shorter passages”? Or was the whole of Romans read each time? 😉

          • Bruce – well, on the one hand, each of his sermons would have made a good `stand alone’ sermon on a shorter passage, but on the other hand, he always tied it into the context. He’d start by pointing to the general theme of the last few weeks (and often a summary reminder of the overall structure of the epistle), move onto `last week we studied’ (insert Paul’s argument from previous week’s sermon) and then, `and now we see how Paul develops his train of thought by …..’, before he moved onto the passage in hand.

            As Geoff pointed out (further down), Ian Paul’s sermon on Ephesians which he posted was part of a series. I enjoyed that sermon, but *if* I have any criticism, then perhaps it is that Ian Paul could have made more explicit where he had come from in the letter in previous weeks – perhaps just after his exhortation to think of a beautiful place.

            I think that Ian Paul did make the connection clear, at least to me, but it wasn’t clear enough for everybody. Geoff wrote (in response to PC1) `if it was a stand-alone sermon, a visitor on the day, may not see it as an outworking of the indicatives but rather see it as you seem to have.’ So perhaps a couple of minutes at the beginning, putting this sermon into the context of the earlier sermons in the series would have removed all doubt.

  3. Thank you for this.

    (I have now watched your sermon. I’d suggest that it is viewed before your article, with the underpinning theology, not referred to explicitly in the sermon. It is the Good News outworking of your scholarship. A glimpse of church. As you have been challenged, so are we. )
    This was written before viewing your sermon.
    While I’ve yet to view the link, the article draws out something that seems to be missing in much teaching/ preaching from the letters, something which I came to understand from the reformed tradition: the imperatives flowed from the indicatives.
    Much of preaching seemed to be a heavy press, simply to *try harder* even without first or ever mentioning what God has done, is doing and will do.
    Pressed a little in the opposite direction in reality, we can invert sanctification and justification, basing our justification on works of sanctification.
    Don’t the first eleven chapters of Romans generally set out indicatives? And the indicitives, realities, flow thick and fast in Ephesians 1 +2.
    An expression from Augustine seems to be apt in emphasising grace from start to finish: command what you will and grant what you command.
    None of it is cheap grace: the cost or price always falls onto God, in a Divine exchange: gifting.
    But as Ian succinctly puts it, it involves both “putting on” and “putting off.”
    Yet we retain a performance perspective, deep within and are deeply offended when we can’t bring to him, in the words of Mat Redman, *anything of worth*: we always come to him empty handed, nor in our own goodness nor strength, nor barred through weakness, failings, lack of obedience, things done or not done, but through, Christ’s, “It is finished.” Completed by, through, and in Him.
    No one will receive a welcome: “well done brilliant and successful servant” but in hope, “good and faithful”.
    There also seems to be missing from some teaching, the idea of Christian reward and what it is, why and how obtained.
    (It seems that the reward from Australian Tim, was thanks, appreciation, even unknowing fellowship together at a distance, with Christ.
    Matthew Henry wrote: “the best fellowship together is fellowship together with God.”
    Thanks again.)

  4. I still remember a sermon on Romans 12:1ff, delivered by the curate of the church I attended some 42 years ago, in which he insisted the most important word in Romans was not “justification or “sanctification” or “atonement” (etc) but simply “therefore”

  5. Beauty.
    Following a similar trajectory to Ian’s sermon from beauty in nature to God/ Christ to humans, to Christians in union with Christ, here is a link to an academic paper of 16 pages plus 10 pages of bibliography.

    “Beauty in the Clouds: Jonathan Edwards’ Onto-typology of Nature’s Beauty”

    Here is an opening taster :

    “Ever wondered why a lovely sunset will take our breath away or a walk through a rose garden will bring joy and delight? People from nearly every culture and time period have reported a feeling of awe in nature. Using Edwards’ treatise, Dissertation II: On the Nature of True Virtue (hereafter referred to as True Virtue), as well as other sources, we will explore how Edwards understood the beauty both observed and felt in nature as ontologically real, as a shadow of God’s divine beauty. This insight contrasts contemporary scientific views holding that there is no meaning or purpose in nature or in nature’s beauty. According to naturalism, biological processes arose out of random chance events devoid of any teleological significance. Given this contemporary understanding of nature, what might a plausible explanation be for the human response to nature as beautiful? There is no satisfying evolutionary explanation for why humans find nature beautiful. Being moved in the heart by a rainbow,or a spider’s web, or the blue of the sea is counter to the paradigm of survival of the fittest. In the early anthropology of human evolution, gazing deeply at a spider’s web in the grass might reduce survivability by distraction, leaving one open to danger.
    Aesthetic pleasure in nature’s beauty encourages us to contemplate its object. But why is this good, from an evolutionary point of view? Why have humans from all cultures and time periods found it valuable to be absorbed in contemplation, with all the attendant dangers of reduced vigilance? In addition, wasting time and energy puts organisms at an evolutionary disadvantage. For large animals such as humans, unnecessary activity is particularly expensive and evolutionarily counterproductive. This leaves us without a satisfactory biological explanation of nature’s aesthetic
    to human beings.
    With this in hand, how can we formulate a satisfying explanation, beyond mere cognition, for why humans are drawn to nature’s beauty, and have felt a sense of the transcendent or the numinous when immersed in it?
    Edwards offers us an explanation from a biblically-grounded, theistically informed ontology of the natural world in which beauty plays a crucial role. Edwards viewed nature as God’s moment-by-moment divine acting in a continuous creation. As part of God’s Original Ultimate End in creating, Edwards construes that God intended to communicate the divine excellencies to the creature through what has been made.
    This is not to say that appreciation of beauty in nature holds no intrinsic significance for humans, quite the contrary. According to Kant, nature’s aesthetic is important for human cognitive faculties and reflection. Aesthetics in nature serves as a condition of the exercise of reflecting judgment, and is important in human psychological development in other areas of life.
    (For an excellent discussion of Kant’s philosophy on nature’s purposiveness for
    human cognitive faculties, see )

    One way to communicate God’s excellencies, as we have seen earlier, is through onto-types embedded in the structures and mechanisms of nature as a form of communication, or
    God-embedded-intentional-guides for the creature. Along these lines, the beauty in nature can be seen as yet another way for God to communicate His excellencies. In addition to a lovely countenance, a virtuous disposition, a piece of music or art, Edwards also viewed beauty in the natural world as a reflection or shadow of God’s own beauty.
    Perhaps, in much the same way, God is communicating something of the divine Self through the secondary beauty or inferior beauty of nature pointing to the ontologically real bea
    uty that is God’s primary beauty or superior beauty.

    In this construct, all forms of created beauty serve God’s end in creating as a shadow or an onto-
    type pointing to the antitype of God’s primary beauty. The motivation in God to create nature as intrinsically beautiful as it is, is to communicate the divine beauty to the creature in forms that they encounter every day in the natural world. Encountering this beauty lifts the heart and brings joy. By displaying God’ssplendor, nature becomes yet another pursuit of God toward relationship with the ones God infinitely loves. Through the dimension of nature’s breathtaking beauty, God reaches to the very heart of the creature. In this way, we recover the biblical narrative claiming that indeed nature has meaning and purpose plaited in its functionality. Simply put, people are deeply moved in
    heart by nature’s beauty.

    In an Edwardsean construal, this is precisely because the beauty that nature presents is a reflection of the ultimately real beauty that speaks of the knowledge and glory of God, the One who is the most supremely beautiful and valuable in all existence. In True Virtue, Edwards details his understanding of such beauty.
    In Edwards’construction and nomenclature, primary or superior beauty is God himself in all of God’s attributes and excellencies. Secondary or inferior beauty reflects God’s excellencies.
    InTrue Virtue and elsewhere, Edwards often correlates the word “excellencies” with “beauty.”

  6. Not only is it often the case that the “what we should do” is under the control of the preacher, but equally it can be geared towards the “needs “of the preacher – and those of the congregation! Sometimes, therefore, the outcome is that the “imperatives” can become disassociated from the “Indicatives” or simply end up as a series of “moral lessons”.
    But there is another issue which I believe is even more pertinent than this: what exactly constitutes the *indicatives*? In the context of what Ian has written, I think he is referring to the text of Scripture. However, Geoff has written the following: “We can invert sanctification and justification , basing our justification on sanctification”.
    Now this indicative is not based directly upon the text of Scripture per se, but upon *doctrines* that are Scripture – based .
    By way of personal reference : I spent many years wedded to this doctrinal approach; not least in relation to *Romans”, with the result that in my absorpton with “key” doctrines, I had no knowledge of Chapters 9 – 11 (or for that matter re the rest of the epistle).And yet at the same time I was totally imbued with the precept that “sanctification follows justification” ! Gradually in absorbing the idea of contextual reading of the biblical material (grammatical/ historical approach) I began to imbibe, for example, Paul’s letters in their totality, in order to comprehend *holistically* what God is saying. By way of example: there was the discovery that holiness is fundamentally based upon “the call of God”. There are several of Paul’s letters that are addressed to “the Saints” (the holy ones – set apart- for God’s purposes). Indeed “kletois hagiois” [Romans 1: 7] appears in the introduction earlier than the dikaiosune (righteousness/ justification) terminology. This makes makes its first appearance in verse 17! “Holiness” is an indicative therefore as well as an imperative!
    Good doctrine has a crucial place , but in attempting to deduce it from the scriptural text, one should proceed with caution in allowing the text to have the “final word”.

    • Colin – I think the indicatives are most wonderfully expressed at the beginning of Chapter 5:

      Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.

      I always thought that something (or someone) was `sanctified’ if it was set aside for God. For example, Samson – and I don’t think that anybody would say that he was a `good man’. I don’t think that the `wretched man’ of Romans 7:13-24 is a person who considers himself to be a particularly `good Christian’ or someone who has succeeded in living a morally good life.

      So I kind of agree with you on your `justification’/`sanctification’ point.

      For Romans 9-11 I’d strongly encourage (believe it or not) Karl Barth’s commentary on Romans – I was really surprised and it made my hair stand on end.

    • On Romans 1:7, and in support of your point, there is again a translation issue. Paul simply says that his readers are ‘called holy’. ‘Called to be holy’ suggests a vocational, not necessarily realised, future state. In Romans 1:1 and 1:6, similarly, there is no infinitive verb. Paul is expressing a present reality: God has appointed Paul an apostle (hence v. 5), a present truth; he calls/declares those in Rome to be members of the body of Christ (kletoi Iesou Christou, simply adjective + name in the genitive). This idea of being called is picked up in Rom 8:28, 8:30 and 9:24. But holiness in Rom 6:19 is presented as requiring collaboration (surrender).

      The translation issue arises also in relation to the beginning of I Corinthians.

      • Steven I would not dispute your point that holiness demands “surrender”. However if you care to “step outside” Romans for one moment you will see that (as I have already indicated) Paul addresses several of his epistles to the *hagaioi* the holy ones (the saints) -[cf Ephesians I:1] . Indeed, in this context, he goes on to say that that “he chose us in him (Christ) before the creation of the world to be *holy and blameless* in his sight [1:4]. Are you saying therefore that this *call* refers to some “not necessarily realised ,future state”? In which case, when the Apostle proceeds to delineate that “he has predestined us to be adopted as sons” [1:5] are we then to assume that *adoption*( as holiness) will only be perceived and received at some future time? Surely the context here is speaking of the indicatives. As we read in 1 Peter 2:9 : “But you *are* a royal priesthood, a *holy nation* , a people belonging to God —” (based upon Exodus 19).
        Regarding Romans 6:19 : as CK Barrett writes, ” The parallel here with iniquity ( ‘slavery to impurity’ NIV) suggests that ‘sanctification’ has here an *ethical* sense”! In other words, holy/holiness/ sanctification can be both indicative and imperative. In 6:19 it is surely the latter!

        • On Romans 6:19: Paul inserts an apology for `putting this in human terms
          because you are weak in your natural selves.’ The *ethical*
          urgency of Paul’s writing suggests that the weakness is a *moral*
          reference. He is emphasising the strength of the believer’s new bond
          with God because he knows the very real danger that libertinism
          presents to his readers. The verse follows a pattern typical of the
          letter so far and indeed of many of Paul’s letters; starting with an
          indicative and proceeding with an imperative based on the indicative.
          Under the terms of the old slavery, a certain behaviour was expected
          and required – impurity and greater and greater iniquity. Under the
          new, a new behaviour is required; righteousness leading to holiness.

        • Colin, I think you have understood me to be saying the precise opposite of what I actually said. The Greek in Rom 1:7 does not say, as per the ESV, that we are ‘called to be holy’ – therein lies the translation issue. There is no infinitive verb ‘to be’ or (Rom 1:6) ‘to belong’.

          • Steven I think if you read my first post, you will see that the reference to Romans 1:7 was from the Greek – not the ESV. The Greek translates as *called saints* (holy). And this was precisely my major point: *Holy* and its cognates can be both indicative and imperative (see Romans 6:19 above!). Holiness is rooted in the call and grace of God; but “working out our salvation with fear and trembling” requires submission and conformity to His will -sanctification.

          • Colin, there’s no need to be ungracious. Obviously I read your post – why do you say ‘if’? You quoted the Greek but you did not bring out the point that I made, which I offered in explicit support of what you said. I do not say ‘if you read it’, but it wasn’t with care, and your reply was completely at cross purposes.

  7. Hello Colin,
    What I wrote was in no way an indicative! From scripture my understanding is that sanctification (saintification) is at the same time as justification, on conversion: it is now but not yet and in our union with Christ. It involves a putting off and putting on as Ian mentions and which is also integral in our union with Christ.
    What I had in mind comes from Tim Keller and a conclusion drawn from Richard Lovelace’s
    book, Dynamics of a Spiritual Life, tracing Revivals: revivals drew to an end when sanctification was seen as the substance of justification.
    Quoting Lovelace, Keller writes, “He concluded that while Christians know intellectually thattheir justification (acceptance by God) is the basis for their sanctification (their actual moral behaviour) in their actual day -to day existence…they rely in their sanctification for their justification…drawing their assurance with God from their sincerity, their past experience of conversion, their recent religious performance or relative infequency of their conscious, willful disobedience.” Keller – Shaped by the Gospel.

    Holiness of God and Christians are topics that are greatly avoided. I find Sinclair Ferguson a reliable guide, particularly in his books, The Whole Christ; Devoted to God and much that is available on line in his throughly scriptural, teaching on Union with Christ – again, teaching which seems to be rare , though soaked in scripture indicatives.
    Although not mentioned by name I’d suggest that the key drawing- to -conclusions, applications as it were, by Ian in his sermon is holiness in God’s people as church.
    He may not agree.

    • Geoff, Your thoughts deserve more than a quick-fire response. I shall endeavour to reply more fully within the next couple of days! Best wishes C

    • Regarding Keller’s words describing people’s experiences of justification and sanctification, that sounds very much like NT Wright’s understanding – it is the life led that provides the basis for justification. If we havent led an ‘appropriate’ life then we have no basis for justification. Though I find Wright’s writing on this rather confusing, I tend to disagree. But it does sound similar to Ian’s view with his emphasis on behaviour – correct me if Im wrong!


    • Hi Geoff

      In the strictest sense i would not say that our justification is the basis of our sanctification. I’d say any ethical holiness within us is the result of regeneration. However, in Roms 6 Paul sees our sanctification as the moral imperative of our justification and union with Christ in his death – how can you who have died to sin live any longer therein. The incongruity of having died to sin and yet living in sin presents an impossible tension.

  8. Just continuing my thoughts, I listened to Ian’s sermon about beautiful places. He referenced our ‘security’ but I did ask myself, how can we be secure in God if it really does depend on our own behaviour?


    • Peter – I had intended to listen to Ian Paul’s sermon tomorrow – but following your comments I’m thinking twice about this. Sunday is for Holy things and not for interacting with the literature in order to establish that it is wrong.

      Re: Paul’s `wretched man’ Romans 7:14-25. The apostle Paul doesn’t think much of his own behaviour – his basis of security has nothing to do with his own behaviour.

      Justification is a legal pronouncement of `not guilty’ in a judicial sense – and has absolutely nothing to do with feelings of being guilty – so I’m not at all sure what Keller means when he talks about peoples experiences of justification and sanctification. In fact, it is when one is taking God seriously, like the repentant sinner of Luke 18, who *has* been justified, that we’re most likely to actually feel that we are guilty; when we become more and more aware of the divine standard, it is cast iron guaranteed that we will think that we have not led an appropriate life.

      What about the thief on the cross in Luke’s gospel? Did he live an appropriate life?

      Paul (the wretched man) definitely felt he had led an `inappropriate’ life (and his `wretched man’ is first person, present tense, a mature Christian who is author of the epistle to the Romans). Yet he was sure of his salvation anyway.

      Romans 5 begins `Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.’ So we *have* peace with God here and now – there is absolutely nothing about living an appropriate life there.

      In fact, Romans 5-8 deals with four basic freedoms we have in Him; freedom from God’s wrath (peace with God) Romans 5; freedom from sin Romans 6; freedom from the law Romans 7 and freedom from death Romans 8.

    • Hello Peter,
      If I could make two points:
      1 Keller is writing the opposite to what you have said about it. As he writes, people were basing their acceptance by God (justification) based on their past experience, and present morals etc as their basis for acceptance with God. Crudely, it is justification by works of sanctification.
      If it is still available Keller’s book is well worth a look. It would dispell confusion you may be finding in NT Wright, I’d suggest. Even if you don’t agree with Keller, he is clear.
      2 As I understand it, Ian’s sermon followed sermons in earlier weeks on indicatives in Ephesians 1+2. A thought I had when viewing it was that if it was a stand-alone sermon, a visitor on the day, may not see it as an outworking of the indicatives but rather see it as you seem to have.

    • Hello Peter.
      A couple of days ago, I linked an academic paper on beauty in nature, based on the writings if Jonathan Edwards and others. I also abstracted a quite lengthy taster, but it is awaits moderation it seems.
      *Beauty in the clouds: Onto-typology of nature’s beauty.*
      …the beauty observed and felt in nature as ontologically real…as a shadow of God’s Divine beauty…a secondary beauty pointing to the ontological primary beauty of God…an ontological type pointing to the ultimate supreme ant-type beauty of God.

      If I may add, it relates to being changed by *gazing on*, contemplating, the beauty of God in the Glory of Christ and all he is and has done..doing.
      Yours in Christ,

  9. Jock, John, Colin, Peter,
    While Ian’s aticle was not specifically about Romans but from
    his sermonn, it is based on the indicatives in Ephesians 1+2, (which are
    not part of the sermon,
    having been part of a series) here is something from a former, then, young preacher which a friend as a student sat under at the Tron, Glasgow. It mentions indicatives and imperatives, and near the end, how at one time he was severely castigated for his lack of imperatives!
    Here is a link to, Romans in 40 minutes, by Dr Sinclair Ferguson, hosted by the Banner of Truth in 2019:

    • Hello Geoff,

      Thanks for this – I’ll try to find time today for both Ian Paul’s sermon and the Sinclair Ferguson piece that you have linked to.

      And thanks for putting it into context! It looks much better now – I should probably try to read Keller’s book for myself. Although I uphold Peter’s criticism of NT Wright. I read some of his New Perspective and thought it looked worryingly and dangerously wrong, but then I was told that I hadn’t understood it – and that my impressions of what he was saying were wrong.

  10. Gentlemen! If Tom Wright was aware of how his understanding of *justification* was being interpreted here , he would go bananas! The closest interpretation to what he actually believes is provided by Jock in part of a statement, beginning :”Justification is a legal pronouncement of not guilty”—-. Now I might be tempted to quibble over the rest of Jock’s contribution. Instead I would take the liberty of expanding it in the following way:
    The scene is a *courtroom*; and God is the judge! Justification in this setting is a forensic term meaning *acquital* from judgement and guilt (for sin) ; supremely through the sacrifical self-giving of our Lord Jesus Christ (see Romans 3:22 – 26). But alongside this *negative* aspect is a very positive one; namely that we are in the “right” with God; that all His blessings are readily available to us : redemption ,sonship, an inheritance etc.
    But Tom Wright would see something else (and this is where one of the points of conflict arise between him and his detractors) – the importance of membership of the (new ) covenant! Wright, I would argue, has strong reservations( based upon extensive research into the OT background and especially the Pauline epistles) regarding what he sees as the ongoing individualistic approach to the doctrine of justification; in particular that in his view the topic has much to do with how justification links into the OT background materials and how these relate to the *crossover * from OT understandings and practices to foundations on which the gentile world can share in these blessings.
    Finally, perhaps the term *foundation* (whatever our view of Tom Wright) is the best description of the meaning of justification. It is not *forgiveness* ; it is *not* how we “become a Christian”. It is not therefore to be confused with regeneration / new birth. No! It is the cornerstone, the basis on which we can *stand* in the presence of a holy God throughout our earthly existence; knowing the reality of his grace, his calling and the blessings he has in store for us!

    • I’d suggest Colin is that Christian’s get Christ, not *merely* the benefits of Christ. It is in our union with Him. And that certainly is not an individualistic matter, though, it is one at a time, personal. That is how we stand in the presence of a holy God, the curtain into the Holy.

      of Holies, torn from too to bottom. We have been brought into access to the throne room of God. We have in our union with him died and beeen raised with Him eg Ephesians 1+2. All of grace.
      My understanding is that Wright has taken insufficient or no cognition of Union. Union sets aside what I think Wright has undermined the judicial court room scene of judicial pronouncement as a *legal fiction.* That is argument made against Wright that Mike Reeves, for one, has made in, I think his UCCF talks.
      Dane Ortland, in his chapter in Keller’s book, Shaped by the Gospel, emphasises Union, both at the micro (personal) level and macro level in the contrast and opposite of being *in Christ* rather than *in Adam*, that is a new humanity even in our present day , overlap of the ages, and Keller responds that union brings all the benefits hild together, transfered from One realm to another.
      Freguson writes:
      “The Christian union and communion with Jesus Christ… is the heart of sanctification, the soul of devotion, and the strength of holiness…
      For Paul, the *big idea* of the gospel is that the believer is *in Christ* on virtually every page of his letters…
      For Paul this union with Christ is multi-dimentional with
      – an eternal dimension chosen in him before the foundtion of the world
      – a covenental and dimension, since in his incarnation Christ was obedient as the second man and last Adam
      – existential dimension , since the Holy Spirit brings us into real spiritual bonding with the risen and ascended Lord,”
      From Devoted to God. Banner of Truth
      For more than good measure the book traces holiness, sanctification through the both Testaments ans with dome scriptural rigor explores the the relationship between indicatives and imperatives, within the Trinitarian dimension, expanded in 271 pages.
      Sure, it’s not from an Anglican, but is well worth chewing over.
      So far, I think only Jock in comments on an earlier article has made mention of Union with Christ on refering to Torrance.
      I stand to be corrected, but nowhere else on this site have I seen it mentioned.

      • I get the impression that some of you have read little or nothing of NT Wright’ works, given that some of what has been quoted emanates from other theological sources. Why not read Wright for yourself – for example, his fairly recent major work *Paul And The Faithfulness Of God”?
        Secondly, if (Sinclair?) Ferguson has written “The Christian union and communion with Jesus Christ is the heart of sanctification” , then I challenge his intertpretation! The Christian’s holiness is located *first and foremost* in “the call of God*! The Hebraic and Greek roots of *holy* mean *set apart” -by God to be his covenant people and to be his witnesses to the world [1Peter2:9]. Sanctification is (a) the work of the Holy Spirit within the life of the believer bringing about a growing conformity to the Father’s will and purposes and (b)
        sancrtification necessitates a growing desire within our own being to conform to his will.
        Thirdly, if we are in step with Paul’s *logic* in Romans, then we shall see that he proceeds from justification and its benefits and – yes – to, say, our union with Christ , but also *our sonship* (something I think has not been mentioned to date!) ! In all of this , the Apostle, while connecting the various theological themes takes great care not to create a melange of doctrinal potions the would only serve to create confusion . Following his introduction to Romans, Paul speaks of God’s judgement both in general terms and specifically relating to his own people [2:17 ff]. He confronts both Jewish and Gentile believers with the condemning truth that no-one will be declared righteous in his (God’s) sight by observing the law”[ 3:20].
        So to the *”solution”! And where is the starting point? In 3:21 , we begin to see the emergence of the cognates righteousness and justification . Moreover the introduction of Abraham (ch.4) as the exemplar of faith “and “the Father of us all” [4:16] illustrates that the unconditional covenant mediated by God through Abraham has been extended to the Gentiles!
        After all what is the Gospel? ” It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes; first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel the *righteousness of God is revealed”[1:16-17].
        Finally, two points worth noting:
        First ,as we so often hear nowadays,”the Gospel is about *love*”? The word love does not occur until ch. 5!
        And secondly, the word justification rarely, if ever, occurs in several of Paul’s epistles. Does that mean that it has become less important ? No! What it does signify is that where it occurs frequently, Romans and Galatians, the discourses reflect issues of conflict (or possible conflict ) not only between Jewish and Gentile believers but particularly as in Galatians , within the”believing” Jewish community itself. Justification , as delineated in Romans , while still speaking to the individual , is too profound and expansive to be limited in this way!

        • Colin – thanks for this.

          I can’t speak for Geoff, but I confess that I didn’t read much of NT Wright; I read some introductory parts of his `New Perspective’ and decided it wasn’t for me.

          So much of what you wrote here rings true for me. For example, when you say that Paul didn’t mention the word `love’ until the fifth of Romans, I remember James Philip making exactly that point!

          In his short book `the Power of God’, James Philip tells us that Romans 1:16-17 (which you quoted) is the *theme* of the epistle to the Romans. Yes – the outline you give of Romans up to Romans 3:20 chimes in; Romans 1:18-32 `the bad pagan’ (where he addresses them in the third person – people who aren’t listening to him) Romans 2:1-16 `the good pagan’ (he addresses them as `you’; people who want to be good, but are pursuing their own righteousness through trying to be good). Romans 2:17-3:8, the religious man (seeking righteousness through religion) and then the conclusion Romans 3:8-3:20; none of the paths we take by our own efforts, can lead to justification.

          And – yes – you point to Romans 3:21 as the great turning point, the righteousness from God.

          I don’t really understand what you mean by `too profound and expansive to be limited in that way’; I know that I am saved, I also know that I am in communion with the saved community, those who are `in Him’ and I know (for example from the prayer of intercession of Moses, when God vowed to destroy the Israelites and make Moses into a great nation) that I should identify with the *wider* community and pray for them, from that point of view (i.e. we identify with people, as Moses identified with the Israelite community even if they are apathetic or show outright hostility to God).

          But I still haven’t got the point that NT Wright is trying to make.

          I’d like to point out that while *you* pinpoint Romans 1:16-17 as a crucial verse – and it is! – in his `New Perspective’, I remember that NT Wright was at pains to point out that this was *not* the theme of the gospel and instead, for him, it was Romans 1:4. It didn’t stop there; it didn’t seem to be just a shift of emphasis, whereby he accepted the importance of Romans 1:16-17, but thought that Romans 1:4 had been down-played; no. He seemed to be suggesting that those who had taken Romans 1:16-17 as the theme of the gospel had got it all wrong.

          I confess that I didn’t do the book justice – the opening left me feeling very uneasy, so I gave up on it. At that stage I didn’t feel much like interacting with the literature that I found difficult and which didn’t seem helpful to me.

          • Thanks Jock. Just one point: “to limited in that way” : this is not to devalue indivual salvation. Rather it is to assert fullness and extent of that saving activity ; that God’s covenant love has, through the cross of Christ, emerged above and beyond his chosen people to embrace sinners from every race and colour. Justification declares that each and everyone who trusts in Jesus Christ is “standing on the Rock”.

  11. On reflection, in my desire to highlight the centrality of justification, I am somewhat remiss in employing terms such “cornerstone” and “foundation”. These can only be reserved for Jesus Christ. Blessings!

    • Colin – thanks for this. As I indicated, NT Wright is difficult for me, because I think he’s saying one thing – and then I discover that he’s actually saying something completely different. So – thank you for pointing out that he sees these things (just up to the point where you start `But Tom Wright would also see something else …) in the way that I do.

      For the rest – I’m not at all sure what you mean by it. When God has made the legal pronouncement of `not guilty’ on a person, this means that the person is in the number of the Saviour’s family, has passed from death to life and – in short – is going to heaven when they pass from this life to the next. This is what Paul means by freedom from God’s wrath (Romans 5), freedom from sin (Romans 6), freedom from the law (Romans 7) and freedom from death (Romans 8).

      Of course, we are part of the community – and the community extends much further than the local church fellowship of `good’ people; when God expresses his intent to destroy the people of Israel, Moses makes intercession on their behalf and he relents. That should indicate to us who we should be praying for – and the community that we are part of.

      Moses was not a Christian in isolation; he was a Christian as part of a community that he was praying for.

      Is this what NT Wright means?

      • Freedom from,,,wrath…sin…law… and death. Ah… there’s a man who has read James Philip and maybe Anders Nygren om whom Philip built.

  12. I used to be up on this topic but since it is no longer a hot topic the battle lines have faded. Here are some of my thoughts at the present time.

    Justification is a verdict of being righteous. It is forensic; as Colin/Jock say the verdict of the courtroom. While to be justified is a statement that we are in the right with God and a member of the covenant community I’m not so sure membership of the community (Wright’s contention) is the Pauline emphasis. Paul is more concerned with justification as a means of entry to the covenant community; the dynamics of saving righteousness are his focus. In pursuit of this end he stresses two things a) justification is God’s act. Saving righteousness is sourced in God b) saving righteousness depends on faith and not human works. Both these aspects of righteousness are deeply rooted in the OT. Both Abraham and David (key characters in the OT one before and the other after the giving of the law) were justified by faith (Roms 4). God justifies the ungodly and that is the paradox resolved only in Christ. Again and again in the OT God roots eschatological salvation in the accomplishment of his own righteous. Justification is by faith it is necessarily individualistic (faith is individual) although it brings us into the new covenant community. It seems to me here Wright (as he is given to doing) stresses the minor aspect of justification (society) at the expense of the major (status).

    Wright, however, was right in his challenge to IAO (imputed active obedience). Reformed theology (or a large part of it) teaches that we are justified not only through the death of Christ (his passive obedience) but through his life (his active obedience). Christ’s law-keeping life is in some sense justifying. This misses entirely the NT emphasis on the death of Christ as the basis of our righteousness. It is in the propitiatory death of Christ that the saving righteousness of God is revealed. It is there that God is seen to be righteous and confers righteousness on those that trust in Christ. Of course the righteous life of Christ gave virtue to his death (he was a lamb without spot or blemish) but his life was not in itself vicarious. It was not wrath-bearing. It did not provide satisfaction for sin. The NT dynamic for justification is not Christ’s life and death but his death and life, that is, his resurrection life; he was raised for our justification (Roms 4). Our vindication or public justification is sharing through faith union in his resurrection life. Justification is achieved through our union with Christ in his death and resurrection. Thus Bird advocated that ‘imputed righteousness’ is more accurately ‘incorporated righteousness’.

    Of course, there is another aspect to justification. Incorporated righteousness or union with Christ necessarily means that if we have died with Christ then the resurrection life of Christ will be revealed in our mortal bodies. James calls this justification by works. I think the traditional Protestant explanation of this best preserves the balance of Scripture; works are the evidence of our justification. Works demonstrate we belong to the community of faith.

  13. Hello Jock,
    Reverting to indicatives and a main point of Ian’s original article, but focusing on Romans (which Ian doesn’t as his sermon makes clear) – Ferguson invites taking *medicine* in this way.
    1 Take an old Bible.
    2 Read Romans 1-11 slowly.
    3 Don’t lose focus. Mark every statement in the imperative mood ie every statement in the form of a command, telling the reader to do do something.
    4 Romans chapters 1-11 contain 315 verses
    5 Write down the numbers of verses containing an imperative, verbs telling the reader to do something.
    6 Check the answer… here:

    In essence Paul devotes 308 out of 315 to a sustained exposition of what God HAS DONE.

    Only then does he open the sluice- gates and let loose a flood of imperatives. (Or as he starkly puts it, in his Romans in 40 mins video – a thunderstorm of imperatives.)
    Clearly Paul believes in the necessity for exhortations, imperatives but only after rigorous profound deep roots in the rich soil of grace (as the expected fruit of obedience, fruit of the Spirit’s ministry.)
    *This is the principle that destroys both legalism and antinomianism… Get this right and we have a strong foundation for growth in sanctification. Go wrong here and we may go wrong everywhere.”
    Again, from Ferguson’s book, Devoted to God.

    • Geoff, Thanks for this – and to this I would say, yes, yes, yes, YES!

      I’m a bit worried about the `count the verses’ approach, because if you count the number of verses in Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel where God is pronouncing destruction as a proportion of the total number of verses in these books, then you may end up with a certain impression which may be correct, but somewhat discouraging. Nevertheless, I really like the conclusion that Sinclair Ferguson drew.

      You’re absolutely right that we drifted away from what Ian Paul wrote – which deserves more attention than it got. From my point of view, the trouble is that I didn’t have very many windows over the weekend where I could listen to a sermon (and yesterday – when I intended to listen to it – I had to telephone my mother to assure her that we had not been invaded – it was the next country along that was experiencing difficulties and we were safe – at least for now). I’ll listen to it this evening.

      I’m still not clear from all the discussion about Colin’s take on NT Wright – does `justification’ (according to Wright) imply freedom from wrath, sin, the law, death? Or is something else needed? (in which case justification isn’t justification at all in any meaningful sense).

  14. Jock, Could it be suggested that Ferguson was starkly emphasising a point in context, the context of his book and sanctification and the distinction between indicatives, what God Has done and imperatives and an illustrationation I used to support key pointsin Ian’s article. Neither does it apply to prophecy. It is not suggested that methodology be applied to the whole of scripture.
    I hope you and your mother find comfort even while you seem to live in part of one large geographical land mass with peoples grimly at war, though some distance removed.

  15. Ian, Geoff – I listened to the sermon – and many thanks!

    Geoff – I’m not sure I agree with `if it was a stand-alone sermon, a visitor on the day, may not see it as an outworking of the indicatives….’. There was one crucial point towards the middle of the sermon where Ian Paul points to what we already are in Him, which gives us the confidence, as Christians, not to be self-obsessed, not to be concentrated on our own difficulties-of-life, but to be outward looking and pressed into service for the wider mission.

    (Ian – apologies if I misrepresented what you said there).

    I think he made it reasonably clear that you can only have this perspective if your faith is firmly based on the indicatives that came earlier.

    • This is for John Thompson – and it comes from James Philip’s take on Emphesians 4:25-32.

      `Before we leave these verses we must say something about Ephesians 4:30 , by far the most
      important verse, ‘Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God.’ Nothing could emphasise more
      decisively how unthinkable and inexcusable it is for the believer to let the sins
      mentioned in this unholy catalogue reign in his mortal body; for when we sin, we hurt
      not only ourselves, but also the Holy Spirit, the honoured Guest Who dwells in our
      hearts. The Christian life is above all else a fellowship, a personal relationship with
      Christ, by the Spirit. And sin is an infringement of that relationship. As to the way to
      safeguard against any such infringement we may consider how it was with Simon Peter
      when he transgressed in denying his Lord. In the striking ‘resurrection’ appearance by
      the Sea of Galilee our Lord’s challenge to him was not a rebuke about the failure of his
      faith or of his theology but a failure of his love. ‘Lovest thou Me?’ is what was said. Love
      is a constituent element of genuine faith – ‘faith worketh by love’ – and love to Christ is
      necessary within the context of Romans 6 and Galatians 2:20, and makes the whole
      thing work. It is this that produces expansiveness of spirit – kindness, tender-heartedness
      and forgiveness. How deeply we should covet this! To be able to say ‘My Jesus, I love
      Thee’ and to mean it – and for Him to know that we mean it – this is what will keep us
      true to Him and to our fellows, day by day, and all the days.’

  16. Thanks Jock. He has teaching on the Christian warfare in that book which I once found helpful. I think it was particularly the part on ‘fiery darts’. He deals with some of the attacks on the mind in a way that was meaningful to me.


  17. Really interesting read Ian , thanks for the article. The question is, what is the best way to approach parts of scripture that appear to be choc full of imperatives with little in the way of indicatives? Two examples that come to mind are Matt 5-7 and the book of James. I have often felt rather beaten up by those texts, with the takeaway message seeming to be “do better, be more good, do more works or else……”.

    • Thanks Jon. I think the same principle applies—taking it in its wider context. We need to remember that James is a letter focussed on working out what the gospel means for us in practice, rather than being a Romans-type exposition. Perhaps the two belong together!

      It is very striking that the Sermon on the Mount begins with the repeated announcement of the kingdom of God in the Beatitudes, so we need to start there.

      • Thanks Ian

        Interesting comment on the beatitudes – I’ve generally read them to be referring to attitudes and dispositions we are being told to adopt (meekness, purify of heart etc.).

        Do you see it differently?

        • Hello Jon,
          Ian has written articles on the Beatitudes.
          If I could put it this way – they are not imperatives. They are what a Christian is.
          It is far from new teaching, but not very common. An example would be, The Beatitudes, by Thomas Watson (1660) available from Banner of Truth.
          More recently, Crucifying Morality – The Gospel of the Beatitudes, by RW Glenn (2013) and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. By DA Carson (1987)

          From RW Glenn:
          The beatitudes declare what a child of the kingdom, is, looks like as they they look to Jesus. They are not a list of dos and don’t s to get into the kingdom.
          Seek Jesus to see the cost of saving you to see poverty, bankruptcy of self.
          Seek Jesus to see our meekness at the foot of the cross.
          Seek Jesus for his righteousness…
          Seek Jesus, not the beatitudes.
          Seek Jesus who alone embodies the Beatitudes and they will be true of you as well.
          Why? Because Jesus fulfills them.
          The Beatitudes are all about Jesus. Seek him.
          Christianity is about coming over and over again to the life Jesus lived and the death he died for you as a gift of sheer grace.
          Christianity is not a system of achievement.

          In the Beatitudes we here Jesus say; I have done this , so that you live…
          From RW Glenn

          And so we return to Ian’s article – the Beatitudes are in effect based on indicatives, on what God in Jesus has done, into whom believers are incorporated.

  18. Can I say that I struggle with depression and anxiety (as some of you know) and find the imperatives of Scripture very hard to deal with. In fact i find I have to stay away from many Scriptures which are imperative based. This may be hard to understand. I felt alerting you to this may help you when pastoring people who may have similar problems.

    • Hi John

      It’s not hard for me to understand. While I have not suffered with depression, I have put up with chronic soteriological angst for many years and struggling with harsh parts of scripture is a big part of that.

      I also find that engaging with scholarship on this (e.g. NPP stuff) can often make it worse!

      Bless you

      Jon B

  19. Hello John,
    While I’m not making light of your struggles, nor looking for a one dimensional solution, there may be some transitory solace in this – My yoke is easy, Sinclair Ferguson:

    In book form, along, similar lines, Gentle and Lowly, by Dane Ortlund has been well regarded.

    With language of its time of, you’ll be aware of the series, Spiritual Depression, by Martin Lloyd Jones, available free on the MLJ web site.

    He also found refreshment in a time of exhaustion in the Bruised Reed, by Richard Sibbes.
    At the same time, I recognise that anxiety and depression can be more embedded over time than, a season of exhaustion.

    I have a personal familiarity with clinical depression. Even the Prince of Preachers, Spurgeon, was not exempt.

    Ortlund writes in his introduction:
    “This book is written for te discouraged, the frustrated, the weary, the disenchanted, the cynical, the empty, Those running on fumes, Those whose Christian lives feel like constantly running up the descending escalator…
    ” It is for that increasing suspicion that God’s patience with us is wearing thin.
    “For those of us who know that God loves us but suspect we have deeply disappointed him. Who have told others of the love of Christ yet wonder if -as for us – he harbours mild resentment.
    “Who wonder if we have shipwrecked our lives beyond what can be repaired…
    “Who are convinced we’ve permanently diminished our usefulness to the Lord. Who have been swept off our feet by perplexing pain and are wondering how we can keep living under such numbing darkness.
    ” It is written, in other words, for normal Christians. In short, it is written for sinners and sufferers. …
    “We are not focusing centrally on what Christ has done. (There are many sound books on this.) We are considering who he is…
    ” The two matters are bound up together, and indeed interdependent. But they are distinct. “The gospel offers us not only legal exoneration- inviolably precious truth_ it also sweeps us up into Christ’s very heart…
    ” It is one thing to know the doctrines of incarnation and atonement and a hundred other vital doctrines. It is another, more searching matter to know his heart for you.
    “Who is he?”

    Yours in Christ,

  20. Thanks Jon and Geoff. Jon, I identify with your reaction to reading James. Last time I did I went into a kind of tailspin of guilt and doubt about my salvation. Geoff. Thanks for comment and suggestions. I did read Spiritual depression many years ago. I have Gentle and Lowly but not read it ass yet. I started but it seemed to be raising the very imperatives that trouble me as it focussed me on Christ. I may have another go. Illness makes reading difficult.

    • Thanks for for your honesty, John

      I might be wrong, but I get the impression that you and I have a certain amount of overlap with our respective struggles (I have noticed you pop up in various blog comment sections for a number of years and thought so before).

      I find assurance of salvation a very difficult and elusive. It’s not helped that most of the material that explicitly addresses it is from a the reformed tradition. Certainly there is some good stuff there (Ortlunds book is good, and I also found Joel Beeke’s book on the subject helpful), but I only find it helpful to the extent that I agree to the precepts of reformed theology. Much scholarship seems to have moved on and stand in contrast to that perspective.

      For example, I end up reflecting on the work of scholars such as Matthew Bates and thinking, while it’s all very interesting, if salvation is by allegiance then I’m screwed.

      I don’t know if you can relate to this?


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