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I know, I know. The horse is already dead, so stop beating it.

As far I know my own heart, I’m not trying to pile on, dig in my heels, or even win an argument. I would like, however, to be clear.

I believe with all my heart in justification by faith alone. It is the “main hinge on which religion turns,” as I explain here and here. I cherish beyond words that because “it is finished” (John 19:30), I can know true comfort, trusting that Jesus Christ “has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil” (HC Q/A 1). I gladly affirm the scandalous nature of free grace. I need it every day. As God gives me strength, I will preach, and pray, and sing, and shout of the wonderful, matchless grace of Jesus as long as I live.

I am also compelled by Paul’s example and by Holy Scripture to declare the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27).

Which doesn’t mean we move past the gospel or leave grace behind. The gospel never ceases to be relevant. We are never not dependent on grace.

In fact, grace is so amazing that there is more than one thing to say about it. By grace we do wonders (Acts 6:8), by grace we are justified (Rom. 3:24), by grace we exhort (Rom. 12:3), by grace we build (1 Cor. 3:10), by grace we work hard (1 Cor. 15:10), by grace we give generously (2 Cor. 8:7), by grace we use our gifts (Eph. 4:7); by grace we are strengthened (Heb. 13:9), and by grace we are saved (Eph. 2:8). Every good thing we do, every true thing we believe, every bit of resting, every bit of striving, every mercy and every effort is by grace (James 1:17).

If there is one central area of confusion surrounding progressive sanctification, I think it has to do with the role of exertion in the Christian life. Is there any place for God-infused effort as we “grow in grace” (2 Pet. 3:18)? When we meet people whose hands and feet cause them to sin, can we only tell them of justification by faith, or can we also implore them to cut it out and “cut it off” (Mark 9:43-47)? Might that word of warning and exhortation be a grace to them?

If we are faithful parents, faithful mentors, and faithful preachers, we will gladly teach with all our might that Christ made propitiation for the sins of his people (Heb. 2:17), that we can with confidence draw near to the throne of grace (Heb. 4:16), that Christ is the mediator of a new and better covenant (Heb. 9:15), that Christ offered up his body once to bear the sins of many (Heb. 9:28), and that we should not be sluggish (Heb. 6:12), that we must not go on sinning deliberately (Heb. 10:26), that we must run with endurance the race set before us (Heb. 12:1), and that we should strive for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14).

Legalism, self-righteousness, glorying in our own strength—these are dangers we must always guard against and constantly preach against. The greatest grace champions can be graceless in real life.  The strongest proponents of holiness can be worldly to the core. We are all leopards whose spots do not change as easily as we would like or as noticeably as we think. We need to hear of grace to the day we die.

And we need grace to enable us—as regenerated, saved, justified, adopted, beloved children—to beat our bodies (1 Cor. 9:27), run the race, and fight the good fight (2 Tim. 4:7).

There is no plausible way to read the Bible and conclude that God working in us absolves us from working hard, no responsible way to think that exhortation and exertion are anything other than essential to a life of discipleship.

  • 1 Corinthians 15:10 “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”
  • Philippians 2:12-13 “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
  • Colossians 1:29 “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”
  • 2 Peter 1:5 “For this reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge…”

The Bible clearly teaches that God works in us so that we might work out. This is taught by Calvin:

As it is an arduous work and of immense labour, to put off the corruption which is in us, he bids us to strive and make every effort for this purpose. He intimates that no place is to be given in this case to sloth, and that we ought to obey God calling us, not slowly or carelessly, but that there is need of alacrity; as though he had said, “Put forth every effort, and make your exertions manifest to all.” (Commentary on 2 Peter)

And by the Westminster Confession of Faith:

Their ability to do good works is not at all of themselves, but wholly from the Spirit of Christ. And that they may be enabled thereunto, beside the graces they have already received, there is required an actual influence of the same Holy Spirit, to work in them to will and to do, of His good pleasure: yet are they not hereupon to grow negligent, as if they were not bound to perform any duty unless upon a special motion of the Spirit; but they ought to be diligent in stirring up the grace of God that is in them. (16.3)

This effort is not by our own strength, and it merits nothing. But as Christ works in us by his Spirit through the gospel, we are called to striving and effort. To make this effort is not a return to Moses, and to call others to this striving is not antithetical to the gospel. In an attempt to safeguard what is true, let us not proscribe a bevy of doctrines that are not false. Nuance is not the enemy of faith. Saying everything Scripture says does not have to weaken any one thing that Scripture does say.

If as a preacher I tell you that you can be justified by works of the law, I should be damned (Gal. 1:8,9; 2:16). And if I never tell you to flee from sin (1 Cor. 6:18), never warn you about persisting in sin (1 John 3:4-10), never implore you to no longer keep on sinning (Heb. 10:26), never plead with you to pluck out your eye (Mark 9:47), never let you know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9), never urge you to lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees (Heb. 12:12-17), then you may be damned.

God uses a multitude of indicatives and a host of imperatives to save us and sustain us. It’s all of grace, of course, but grace does not always look or sound the same. There is grace to run and grace to rest. And we need both.

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140 thoughts on “The Grace that Saves Is the Grace that Leads Us Home”

  1. Samantha says:

    I think that the way they treated Tullian was just plain WRONG! They are treating him like a heretic. Even pastors need ministering to. What can we do to support our brother in Christ, Tullian?

  2. Derek Matthews says:

    @Patrick, #99 – thanks for your heartfelt comments, brother. I speak only for myself and not for TGC here. But I have read a lot of Tullian’s material on this site and I agree with TGC’s decision here. I realize this may seem like a sweeping statement, but Tullian Tchividjian lacks balance, in my view. He sees virtually any call to active obedience and repentance as a form of works righteousness and “grace with buts and brakes”. It’s very hard for me to see him respond as Peter did when asked what to do in response to the Gospel, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.”. Nor can I see anything in Tullian’s theological framework for a discussion like Paul had with the procurator Felix, when “Paul talked about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come”. These are just two examples of many I could cite from Scripture in which Tullian’s approach diverges to speaking only of the positive elements of the Gospel and grace. As John Owen stated centuries ago, the same Gospel that gives life also requires it. Just as we should grow weary and concerned about a preacher who only preaches the 3rd use of the law, we should also be concerned when a pastor only has a theoretical category for it, rarely or even employing it in practice or in sermons.

  3. Struggling Christian says:


    Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. I truly appreciate your kindness.

  4. Derrick says:

    How come the means of grace (sacraments) aren’t mentioned in an article about sanctification from a RCA Pastor?

  5. MarkO says:

    “If as a preacher I tell you that you can be justified by works of the law, I should be damned (Gal. 1:8,9; 2:16). And if I never tell you to flee from sin (1 Cor. 6:18), never warn you about persisting in sin (1 John 3:4-10), never implore you to no longer keep on sinning (Heb. 10:26), never plead with you to pluck out your eye (Mark 9:47), never let you know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9), never urge you to lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees (Heb. 12:12-17), then you may be damned.”

    Unfortunately, this paragraph is either poorly worded at best or a simple pulse on TGC reverting back to Law. I’m hoping for the first. To tell a person (or me) that I MIGHT be damned if I fail to do that list of things you warn against is advice outside the boundaries of the Gospel. In my former days the message of the Law I came to understand that I was already condemned and damned. That was the Law. Then the Gospel said that though I had failed I was and am forgiven fully and freely. So to warn me that I might be damned is not the Gospel but reverting back to the Law.

    Again, I hope this just a piece of poor wording. Of that we can understand, but it still needs to be fixed for being more clear on the Law – Gospel distinction.

  6. MarkO says:

    Kevin: “a host of imperatives to save us ”

    Just noticed this too. More confusion. The imperatives (plural) don’t SAVE us. If there be but one imperative that can save us it is “come.” After that (or before that) no list of imperatives can save or ever will save us. It is in fact the indicatives of the Gospel that tells we are rescued not by no working the imperatives. We are saved alone by the work of God’s grace in us.

  7. Samantha says:

    Thanks MarkO

    I completely agree you said exactly what I was thinking

    Derek Matthews. I appreciate your opinion but the gospel is NOT balanced. As Steve Brown says it’s scandalous. If it was balanced then we would all be in big trouble. I think the problem is that some of the bloggers on TGC don’t fully grasp the perfection that the LAW demands and don’t understand how messed up they really are. We all are messed up.

  8. Johanna Quincey says:

    I personally think that Mr DeYoung although very smart is not a theologian. Tullian is first a theologian and he understands the imperatives and indicative a much clearer. Tullian is also a lot more nuanced and educated.

  9. Bereans All says:

    The gospel is never balanced, it is all of grace: grace to repent and believe, and grace to persevere in obedience and good works. Eph 2:8-10 is a perfect summary, all of grace from inception to practical manifestation.

  10. Derek Matthews says:

    Samantha- how about responding to some of the specifics I listed from Scripture instead of responding with quippy platitudes from Steve Brown or Tullian? This is what I notice with many of the commenters I dialogue with, at least from TT’s loyal readers- they know the clever phrases about one way love, but rarely if ever engage with texts that don’t support a truncated understanding of grace or draw from the full council of God’s Word. And that’s exactly the problem – if you don’t see that, for instance, repentance or obedience combined with the message to “come” to Christ is actually a gift from God and a means of grace given to us, you will only see grace in black and white terms rather than in the radiant and multi hued rainbow that it is.

  11. MarkO says:

    Wow Richard. Are you being serious or just kidding?

    “Keep preaching the law Kevin because if we don’t we might see women speaking in our churches. Just like you said Kevin we need grace but once we have it we need to work hard!”

    So if you being serious I guess you would agree with this sequence:

    Law > Gospel > Law

  12. Amy Thom says:

    I may be missing this completely. I am not a theologian and have never been to seminary but a house wife wanting to please the Lord. I was wondering, do you think the battle that keeps going on is more an issue that can be somewhat linked to personalities and bents. For example my husband tends to need a kick in the pants and I tend to need a hug. And don’t you think that some are fighting for the motivation being rooted in grace (justification/union with christ) and others are talking about means and outworking of genuine faith. Let me try to make this plain. I grew up with a natural bent towards courage and determination and in a family firmly rooted in that same bent. I was a D1 athlete and that furthered my natural bend. I was strong in spiritual disciplines because I knew it was right. But when I got engaged my sheer will power did not keep me from committing serious grievous sins during that time. I was so sad over it that I started to wonder if all my efforts were worth it. So, I slid some in spiritual disciplines. Then via John Piper I began to understand that it wasn’t my efforts that were bad (self righteous maybe) but it was the motive behind the efforts. I was drawing from myself rather than looking on Christ and His death as the sufficient covenant keeper that makes my efforts have power to both be glorifying to God and to put to death sin. When I draw on past grace (In Christ) as I put forth effort in the future grace then and only then can my works actually be an act of faith that pleases the Lord. So for me it is very important that I hear grace (justification) as the spring board for all I do or I go back to my old habits of self righteousness and self reliance or I get totally paralyzed because I know my efforts will be in vain. Is this a biblical perspective on the issue?

  13. Derek Matthews says:

    Amy, I think you have received good counsel to arrive at these conclusions. The only thing I would encourage you to do is to base your formulation mostly upon Scripture rather than any given teacher’s, whether that is Kevin DeYoung, or John Piper, or Tullian Tchividjian. Then you will have the confidence in the certain anchor of God’s Word. I assume you’re already doing it, and if so, keep at it, sister.

  14. just something to consider says:

    On 15 June 1520, the Pope warned Luther with the papal bull (edict) Exsurge Domine that he risked excommunication unless he recanted 41 sentences drawn from his writings, including the 95 Theses, within 60 days. That autumn, Johann Eck proclaimed the bull in Meissen and other towns. Karl von Miltitz, a papal nuncio, attempted to broker a solution, but Luther, who had sent the Pope a copy of On the Freedom of a Christian in October, publicly set fire to the bull and decretals at Wittenberg on 10 December 1520,[61] an act he defended in Why the Pope and his Recent Book are Burned and Assertions Concerning All Articles. As a consequence, Luther was excommunicated by Pope Leo X on 3 January 1521, in the bull Decet Romanum Pontificem.

  15. Dear Derek: What has lead you to believe that TT and others like him believe that “any call to active obedience and repentance is akin to works righteousness …” In all the articles I’ve read by him — in the books I’ve read by TT and Brown and others … not once have I ever gotten the impression that we are to “passively” sit by and not contribute anything to our sanctification. Seriously, please link an interview or article … perhaps I’ve missed it.
    How does any mature Christian possibly believe this? “Well, I prayed for a job today, so I’m going to sit on this couch and wait for one because God is sovereign …” We all know this is ridiculous. Likewise, your implication that the grace guys teach us to “not contribute any work to our sanctification” is ludicrous. We study, we seek opportunities to express God’s love, we serve, we strive to eliminate sinful habits … of course we contribute. TT wouldn’t disagree with this one bit. Not one. But we “strive” in that we accept the fact the Spirit works in and through us. I don’t have to worry at the end of the day if I did enough — if I worked hard enough. I rest in the finished work of Christ on my behalf and then what happens? I desire to be more holy. I want to serve Him more. NOBODY is denying imperatives. This “sky is falling” rhetoric — this antinomian boogeyman that’s out to teach us to sit idly by and let fruit just automatically spring up doesn’t exist. But for every imperative, there better be a truckload of indicatives, because those give me the power to work, to strive, to contribute. Please stop insinuating that TT would suggest Christians not participate in their sanctification. He’s never said that. He’s never hinted at that. The straw man doesn’t fly here.

  16. Derek Matthews says:

    Pastor Darren Paulson – I’ve read Tullian for at least 3 yrs now and I haven’t seen the imperatives you speak of – but if you want to send me a link to any of them, I’d be happy to discuss them. And I don’t believe your “truckload of indicatives for every imperative” statement – especially not in the Gospels. The NT, not just the OT, is chock full of imperatives. Jesus didn’t coddle his listener with 99 comments about one way love and then give an imperative – if anything he did the opposite! Have you sat down and read through the Gospels in a day or really soaked in them? If you do, you will end up with a totally different feel for the Gospel than if you listen to Tullian Tchividjian for any period of time. Guaranteed.

  17. Are you suggesting I have the power to obey an imperative without the indicative(s)? Because I don’t. I can work really hard, I can strive really hard, I can bust my butt every day to be a “better Christian.” But if it’s just me doing the “work”, I will fail. Every time. And/or I’ll become puffed up with pride — just like the Pharisees — they did a real good job of playing the role, too.
    No sir — imperatives don’t do me one bit of good without the indicatives. “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church.” You see I haven’t got a snowball’s chance in h*** to love my wife unless and until I grasp the truth of how much Christ loved me. Telling me to “love” without telling me how (through the power of the Spirit now in me because I am found in Christ) is pointless. It doesn’t help me. At all. Sure, you can preach imperatives all day long. Do this, do that. Work hard, try more, be better. And pile brick after brick of burden on the backs of Christians … and beat them down so that they leave the faith, or worse, become arrogant “look at me and how good I am” Pharisees. What do you suggest we do, Derek? How do I hope to be a better father, husband, preacher, friend? Try harder?? Man, I “tried hard” for a lonnnnng time … and it got me nowhere.

  18. Derek Matthews says:

    Pastor Darren – if you are able to quote from the Bible as well as you can quote or paraphrase Tullian, you must be a great pastor. Blessings to you, brother.

  19. Bereans All says:

    @ Darren, With all due respect, I couldn’t disagree more. Simply look at the now famous quote by Tullian on Phil 2:12, 13 that Mark Jones references in his book, and the quotes from 1 John referenced by a number of authors in the article “Unburdened” where Tullian clearly states that the way we obey is to focus on what Christ has done for us or the Spirit is doing in us, exclusively. There are countless statements that at least implicitly suggests that any effort on our part to intentionally obey/pursue the written imperatives is a focus on man’s effort and of the flesh. He refers to it as ‘Nike Christianity,’ ‘rule-keeping,’ etc. In fact, I believe you give an example of the same kind of thinking when you wrote, “But we “strive” in that we accept the fact the Spirit works in and through us.” That is a totally different definition to “strive” that I believe Kevin and Mark Jones would give. From my point of view, we don’t strive to rest on the Spirit, but knowing that the Spirit is working in us, we strive to actually do what the Spirit/Christ is asking us to do in the written imperative. If it says “study,” “pray,” “give,” etc., then we should make an effort to do those things.

  20. Amy Thom says:

    You are right thanks for the admonishing. I will aim to put scripture to my thoughts.

  21. Derek Matthews says:

    Thank you, Bereans All – well put. When the command to obey or repent or act in belief attends the clear presentation and acknowledgment of God’s unconditional love and grace towards sinful man, the POWER to obey the imperative is GIVEN by the Holy Spirit – the question is whether we have faith to believe this. Of course, the power of the Holy Spirit is not promised or given to fulfill commands NOT given by Christ, but rather by man (e.g. circumcision in Galatians). Yet Tullian Tchividjian and many others constantly conflate these and confuse many sincere followers of Christ.

  22. Thanks for interacting with me on this BA. Let’s chop it up for a minute. To deny that the Bible is full of imperatives would be crazy, no? I’m assuming we agree that TT and Brown and others on the “grace train” see the imperatives as being present. They exist. We are called to “do” certain things, not “do” other things. If what you’re saying is the grace guys deny the presence of imperatives then there really isn’t any reason to discuss things further. But I don’t think this is what you’re saying …. therefore, what we have to determine is the HOW we obey them. I pulled out my copy of Jones’ book. In response to the Philippians passage, TT says (when instructing us on the HOW), “God works his work in you, which is the work already accomplished by Christ. Our hard work, therefore, means coming to a greater understanding of his work.” Here’s where I think you miss it … and I want to say this as kindly as I can … I’m amazed at what some of you are implying TT and others are saying here while missing the point. Are you saying … do you really believe … that TT thinks you don’t need to read your bible? That he’s saying you don’t need to serve widows and orphans? That you don’t need to be kind to your neighbor? That you don’t need to worry about looking at your neighbor’s wife? Is this what you think? Because that’s nonsense. It really is. What TT and others are talking about here — and it’s really crystal clear, there’s no missing this unless one chooses to just really be bull-headed and blind — is our motivation for ‘work.’ When I grasp all that God has done for me in Christ, I want to read, I want to study, I want to serve, I want to help. His grace (the Gospel) is where the power lies. Trying (by my power) to be more self-disciplined, to be better, to work harder is a recipe for disaster. It doesn’t work. I will become so discouraged that I fall away, or I will become an arrogant Pharisee. TT is speaking about our motivation — he certainly is NOT suggesting we have nothing to do. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Frankly, suggesting that TT and others are suggesting we do nothing but sit around and reflect on God’s grace is intellectually dishonest. It’s a blatant lie.
    We all want the same thing. We all want our brothers and sisters in Christ to grow in holiness. The question becomes ‘how best to encourage that.’ Let me tell you the worst way to encourage that. Preach imperatives without indicatives. Tell me to work harder. Tell me to love my wife more. But then refuse to tell me how the heck I do it. Because I’m POWERLESS in and of myself to do it. But when I reflect on God’s finished work in me in Christ, then I’m empowered. When I realize I have the Holy Spirit, then I’m empowered. When I realize that even when I do a lousy job of loving my wife, my salvation is secured, then I’m empowered.
    That’s what guys like TT are saying, and to suggest otherwise … to imply that they think Christians ought to just sit around and do nothing … that we’re not called to holiness. Yeah, that’s BS, it really is.

  23. And Derek, I appreciate how you chose to criticize me sarcastically without addressing one of my points — not one. It’s easy to spot the Pharisees after awhile, isn’t it?

  24. LWesterlund says:

    Pastor Paulson writes: “When I grasp all that God has done for me in Christ, I want to read, I want to study, I want to serve, I want to help. His grace (the Gospel) is where the power lies.” True. but I find I am left with a question: How do we come to grasp the Gospel in a way that grasps us, so that the sensibility of our soul (to quote Jonathan Edwards) delights in Christ and lives to please Him? Surely it is more than head knowledge–that I have had all my life. We all agree it is only the working of the spirit, but what I find missing in the comments here (or maybe I missed it) is that we need a present working of the Spirit, which happens when we consciously depend on Him? Yes, we recall the great truths of our redemption, but only as the Spirit applies those truths freshly to my heart do I bear fruit. I cannot accomplish this by focusing on the Gospel by my own intellectual effort. That is as futile as seeking to obey in my own strength. I go to God, and to His Son as He meets me in the Word and in prayer for fresh supplies of grace, for the work in my heart that I sorely need. I am in a battle. My only hope of victory is conscious reliance upon the power of God’s Spirit in me. I know I have this power because God has promised. Of course, going to God, and asking, and praying and reading His Word so that He can reveal more of the beauties of His son are all acts of obedience.

  25. ctrace says:

    Reformed Theology has to be defended from facile constructions and presentations. Tullian is being facile in his presentation of law and gospel. He is also being influenced by Michael Horton and Westminster Seminary California regarding their silly “It’s not about you!” message and their “You don’t do anything!” teaching. Once regenerate you have ability to do. Seeing the difference between man-centered exertion and God-reliant effort (J. I. Packer’s phrase) doesn’t take a PhD. Self-will vs. acting from God’s will is still acting. We’re not robots. God could have made us love him by fiat, but obviously His plan of redemption doesn’t call for that.

  26. MarkO says:

    During the Downgrade Controversy Charles Spurgeon said:

    “There is no point on which men make greater mistakes than on the relation which exists between the law and the gospel. Some men put the law instead of the gospel; others put gospel instead of the law. A certain class maintains that the law and the gospel are mixed…”

  27. Bereans All says:

    The last thing this argument is about is simply motivation. Their is not a single author in the evangelical world that has disagreed with Tullian on active obedience that has not shared his motivation, and that has not gone out of their way to acknowledge it. Not one denies that the motivation for our obedience is not loving gratitude. Not one denies that the power behind any intentional obedience is the Holy Spirit. No one believes that an imperative, commandment, law — NT or OT — has the power in and of itself to accomplish anything but guilt. Not one believes that we focus on the imperatives simply by head knowledge. These are all straw-man arguments or the proverbial “jousting with windmills,” as least with respect to fellow GC or PCA authors. Can you show one example of any major evangelical author who doesn’t do everything they can to distance themselves from these legalistic motivations? Virtually every article starts with this qualification, including this article; Kevin spent 2 paragraph making it clear. And yet your last post was passionately arguing against the very things that Kevin said he was against at from the beginning. Or you suggesting that because he argues for active/intentional obedience to written imperatives that he doesn’t have the right motivations?

    The real issue is whether, when God asks us to do something, we are going to do it — not perfectly of course, no one says that either — or let them die the death of a thousand qualifications? Do I love enough, trust the Spirit enough, hate my sin enough, etc., until I have actually forgotten the very thing I was asked to do. If this were simply about motivation, that would have taken 2 sentences and no one would disagree. This is about active obedience to written imperatives, and I think Tullian knows it and has stated it clearly. If he agrees with you, and this is JUST about motivations, then he should be able to say that in one sentence and put this all to rest.

  28. ctrace says:

    Here is Spurgeon on this subject – A Call to Holy Living:

  29. BA, you write, “the real issue, when God asks us to do something, is are we going to do it …?” Am I stating this correctly? Well, my answer is, “I certainly hope so.” I appreciate your insistence re: what we all agree on. I’m glad. Truly. I’m not being sarcastic. The point I’m arguing is this … the “grace guys” understand that we need to ‘work.’ They understand that we need to obey the imperatives and put our faith into action. We’re to produce fruit. Nobody disputes that. Seriously, would TT or Steve Brown or Michael Horton say, “No, don’t read your Bible — just rest in the Spirit.” “No, don’t love your neighbor, just rest in the Spirit.” This is what it seems you’re suggesting. Again, we all want the same thing. Growth in obedience. Growth in holiness. Growth in our sanctification (in which we participate.)
    Look, I preach every Sunday. It does my congregation no good to say, “Husbands love your wives!! Do better, work harder!” “Why? Because Christ said so, that’s why. Just do it, don’t ask questions.” I understand this is a silly example, but you get my point. The imperatives without the indicatives aren’t helpful. They really aren’t. If we all agree that the Holy Spirit empowers us to do these things, then we need to constantly remind the Church of this fact. Why? Because all of us have a natural inclination to thing we can pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and do better on our own. Impossible.
    What is it that TT is suggesting we do (or not) that shows this isn’t a question of motivation? Honest question. Because the alternative to “working out our faith” is doing nothing and ignoring the imperatives. Is this what you think TT and others are doing? Simply looking at the imperatives and saying, “Yeah, I see that, but you don’t have to do that. Just rest in the Spirit — it doesn’t matter if you love your neighbor or not. (?)”

  30. The grace guys “argue for active/intentional obedience to written imperatives” all. day. long. Of course they do. Who wouldn’t?? But they make sure we understand that the only shot we’ve got at “active/intentional obedience” is the grace of God in Christ. Once again, to suggest that TT and others do not want Christians to actively and intentionally obey imperatives in Scripture is intellectually dishonest.

  31. When I first came across the idea that a true understanding of grace causes one to work harder than all the rest, I didn’t understand how it worked. I first started wrestling with the idea while reading Doug Wilson’s book on childrearing, Standing on the Promises. He writes that it is the parents who truly believe God’s promises to bless the faithful to a thousand generations that work the hardest at teaching their children the gospel. The parents who do not take God at his word in this area, do not do the work.

    In my limited fallen mind I thought: but why isn’t it the opposite? Why isn’t it the parents who believe it depends all on them that work the hardest? If a parent starts believing that God is after the lineage, the faith passing from generation to generation, won’t he start to coast, feeling like he has it easy? Wilson writes NO. True faith in God’s promises will yield a life of gospel laboring as a parent.

    I pondered over this puzzle for some time. At one point, I tried to work it out by saying that for the parents who didn’t believe the promises, it felt like a losing race. If you think there’s a good chance you are going to lose, why try? But now I see that is only a small part of it.

    I wasn’t able to understand this seeming-paradox until I began to believe the promises for myself.

    Of course I wasn’t able to believe the promises until I first took a full inventory of what it was exactly that was being promised: okay, so what this verse is saying is that my seemingly-insignificant, mundane, daily faithfulness as a parent will produce gospel fruit ONE THOUSAND generations from now? Okay, do I really believe that? The answer will be found in my moments.

    When God took elderly, childless Abraham outside and showed him the stars as a picture of his descendants, there were exactly two responses he could have had: disbelief or eyes that darted to and fro over an unfathomable expanse of tiny lights, and a heart that pondered and believed the what seemed impossible. He had faith.

    Faith enables you to see what you couldn’t see before. Now that I believe God’s promises, I can understand how faith works and see why faith compels believers, as Paul said, to work harder than all the rest. The moment I no longer feel like working, is the moment that I need to return to the promises, to that starlit sky, and take God at his word.

    When gospel striving is lacking in any area of life, not just parenting, the question we have to ask ourselves is do we believe the promises? I don’t mean here merely have we been born again (although the scriptures do exort believers to examine themselves to see if they are in the faith), but also, have we truly internalized the sowing and reaping illustrations from Jesus? Do we believe the promises that our gospel strivings, our hard work, our self-discipline (a fruit of the Spirit), when done in faith, will be blessed by God for his purposes and multiplied a hundredfold?

    When one believes these things, coasting and calling it grace simply doesn’t happen. But this can only make sense after faith: which is a faithful assessment of what is being promised (scanning the stars in the sky) and simply taking God at his unbelievably lavish promises.

  32. Derek Matthews says:

    Pastor Darren Paulson – Sorry for my sarcasm. I didn’t respond to your response because I’ve heard much the same as what you described in #118 from TT’s followers over and over again. And with all due respect, I didn’t read anything that sounded like it was grounded in Scripture – mainly what I heard was you complaining that imperatives don’t work for you – even though the Bible is chock full of them – you’ve done that, bought the T-shirt and it got you nowhere.

    In any event, I will respond. Who specifically are all of these pharisaical evengelicals who only issuing pure thou shalts and nots, no indicatives? This seems like a straw man to me. Am I to really believe that you were totally defeated in the Christian life because you were in some kind of environment where only imperatives or commands were issued all day long, no Gospel foundation laid before, during or after they were given? What kind of church did you attend? Was it really as extreme as you’re describing it? Because this is how TT talks – as if none of our evangelical churches teach people about God’s unmerited favor for sinners.

    In any event, let’s talk a bit about indicatives. Yes, the unmerited favor of God upon sinners is a tremendous indicative that we all need to be deeply rooted in. But what about the indicative described in John 16, where Jesus says that the Holy Spirit’s primary role is that “he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment”? Is this an indicative that TT helps us become familiar with? How about the wrath of God? 2 Thessalonians 1:5-8? When is the sermon series on that, or is that an indicative that is just such a downer and so de-motivating that I need not be grounded in those indicatives? I’m not trying to be snarky here, but the truth is that I’ve read TT’s work for at least 3 year and I missed TT’s entries and books about those kinds of indicatives or Gospel truths. It seems to me that TT’s grandfather could teach him a bit about clearly and consistently teaching these indicatives, because he most certainly did, and he didn’t do so badly with his ministry.

  33. Well, thanks for getting back to me … let me see if I can address some of your questions. I suppose all of us are guilty of “hearing things” or “not hearing things” from the other side simply because we’ve set up presuppositions unfairly.
    I became a Christian at 30. I attended a Reformed Baptist church in the Bay Area that, looking back, was solid enough I suppose. The pastor preached Christ crucified … I can’t think of any ‘heretical’ things I learned. But I was always under the impression (and maybe because I wasn’t listening) that the Gospel was adequate for my salvation, but growing in Christ and becoming more obedient to His commands was up to me. I needed to discipline myself more — I heard that word a lot. And so I spent the better part of 10 years “white knuckling” it. You know what I mean? Trying real hard to read more, pray more, fornicate less, etc. etc. I would do well for awhile — I’d have seasons of obedience (sometimes a year or two even) before I’d crash — I’d sin and because I became so discouraged by my lack of discipline I’d just go ahead and sin BIG time for awhile before I’d come back and start the whole process over again. It wasn’t until I really began to understand God’s grace in my life that I saw real change. For me it was clearly because the pressure was off. I didn’t have to worry anymore about God being angry with me — I didn’t have to worry anymore about disappointing him so much as if He stood up there or sat up there shaking His head disapprovingly. And understanding this grace, this security, my day-to-day behavior changed dramatically. Because I wanted to please my Savior – because I was so relieved that my performance and my report card wasn’t up on God’s bulletin board so He could see whether He should love me or not — my holiness grew in leaps and bounds.
    I gotta tell you, man, I’m constantly reminded (just by looking at myself) that I don’t measure up to God’s standards. I don’t need to be reminded of this every Sunday — nor do most Christians, mature and immature alike — we’re very aware of the fact that we blow it and blow it regularly. But because I know this full well, I need encouragement. I need to be reminded of the Gospel. Good news that in spite of my futile efforts at being good, Christ hit the mark I could never hope to. The Law kills me. It’s like hanging my speeding tickets on the wall. It reminds me that I’m a failure and drives me to Christ. And it’s His grace that encourages me to press on, strive to obey Him, yes, but all the while understanding my grade has been earned and turned in already.
    To answer your question — and I guess this is just a matter of perception — I think the Church today is infested with preachers and teachers that, most likely unknown to them, are moralistic Pharisees. Work more, try harder, be better! There is no way anyone will be able to convince me that the vast majority of churches out there understand grace. No way. This is why this “grace movement” has taken off — because people are having their eyes opened!! Why? Because they’ve been fed legalistic nonsense for a very long time, and now their souls are being nourished.
    If I’ve set up a straw man in my arguments is the same one I see being set up by those on the “active obedience” side of things. Again, this idea that the antinomian boogeyman is lurking. That if we push grace, everyone will go off the rails, drinking and smoking and gambling and that the grace guys suggest Christians don’t have to do anything at all to participate in their sanctification. TT or Steve Brown or any other grace guy would absolutely shudder to think that our sanctification requires absolutely no effort or participation on our part. Really, the charge is ludicrous.
    Finally, (and sorry if I answered this above) — yeah, “the imperatives don’t work for me” unless and until you tell me how the heck I stand a chance of fulfilling them. My congregation knows what they’re SUPPOSED to do. What Christian doesn’t? But they need to know how to do it. Where does the power come from? It comes from the Gospel. It comes from hearing over and over and over and over again that they worship a person, a God who has accomplished their righteousness for them and that if they abide in Him, HE gives them the power, through the Spirit, to be more obedient. I need to hear that every single day.

  34. Denise. says:

    Just wanted to thank Pastor Darren for taking the time to answer Derek Mathews.
    What you have written reflects our experience in our Christian walk too. Real life begins when we transfer our trust from our own efforts to the efforts of Christ.
    In His Grip

  35. Bereans All says:


    I for one do not believe that Tullian holds to “active obedience” in the way that Kevin and Mark have defined it, or even the way that you affirmed it above. I used to believe that it was a matter of preaching style or the sloppy use of trending “bloggy like” little sayings that are so common today. But this question has been stated in so many clear ways by so many people in direct response to what he and others like Brown have written, that if he wanted to clarify — just like you did above — he easily could have. Additionally, he has certainly seen many statements by supporters on his own blogs say things like, “If we have to be told to do something, then to do it is not of the Spirit.”

    I firmly believe that if you asked him the question, “Do you believe that intentional obedience to written imperatives are an essential part of the sanctification process?”, that he would not answer you or say “No.” Or he would say no in a more complicated way by asking a number of questions that no one answers in the affirmative, “Are you suggesting that we can do this on our own, or that I am better than someone else, or that the gospel isn’t radical/scandalous, or etc, etc., etc.

    And I repeat, this is not “intellectual dishonesty,” this is about the community of believers taking seriously what leaders write. Steve Brown for example (from Timothy Kauffman – Grace Movement article in Trinity Review):

    “I’m about as good as I’m going to get and I’m tired of trying . . . You are free. You can do it right or wrong. You can obey or disobey. You can run from Christ or you can run to Christ. You can chose to be a faithful Christian or an unfaithful Christian . . . It ought to be that simple. If Jesus said we’re free we ought to accept his declaration at face value and run with it.”

    Any reason that an objective reader wouldn’t believe that he doesn’t believe in ‘active obedience’? Or again from Kauffman, when Tullian writes in Jesus + Nothing = Everything:

    “Think of what Paul tells us in Phil 2:12: ‘Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.’ We’ve got work to do, but what exactly is it? Get better? Try harder? Pray more? Get more involved at church? Read the Bible longer? ‘For it is God that works in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure’ (v. 13). God works his work in you, which is the work already accomplished by Christ. The Christian life is not about my transformation; it’s about Christ’s substitution.”

    So what do we do with imperatives dealing with church attendance and Bible reading according to Tullian? Like our justification, we consider them already done by Christ? Does he practice that? I seriously doubt it? Does he believe it? I don’t know, but as an officer of the Church he ought to correct the misconception that he does — if it is a misconception — if for no other reason than the tender consciences of immature believers that aren’t reading critically enough. That is simply what Kevin an others are asking he and Brown and others to do: Fly your colors or take them down. Timothy Kauffman and others have accused Tullian of “conflating the doctrines of justification and sanctification” and they are right. In response to Tullian’s statement, “The Christian life is not about my transformation; it’s about Christ’s substitution,” Kauffman correctly responed, “To the contrary, justification is about Christ’s substitution, but sanctification is about my transformation.”

  36. Chatooga says:

    Clever and deceitful P.R. The removing of TT from the TGC site had NOTHING to do with the SFM scandal. The TGC response to that matter was published a year ago and TT never expressed his disapproval until his own scandal erupted in recent days. His belated outrage over the old TGC response is questionable at best. This is clearly a diversion technique used and reused for many years by corrupt politicians. I now expect such deceit from those types but it should never be used by pastors who claim to love and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Having known TT for years, I am disappointed but sadly not surprised. These tactics are consistent with the person I know.

  37. Chatooga says:

    correction: the SGM matter was disclosed months ago, I suppose the TGC had not responded until very recently.

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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