Liberate

Interview With Mike Horton: Part Four

This is the fourth and final part of my interview with Mike Horton on the nature of the gospel and sanctification. You can (and should) read Part One , Two, and Three.

A friend of mine recently wrote this to me. How would you respond? “I’ve not heard many of the folks who focus on the indicative be very specific about how they handle the imperative in preaching and counseling. They keep saying, “Of course we believe in the imperatives…” Then what? It think it would be very instructive to have some “indicative folks” post specifics on how they preach and counsel with the imperatives. What is the role of the imperative in preaching, counseling, personal sanctification, etc.? What does it actually “look like” in real life ministry to build the imperatives on the indicative?

I wonder if this is quite fair. Speaking in my own defense, I’ve written a book on the application of the Ten Commandments to us today and I can’t think of any book I’ve written on the gospel that doesn’t include the claims of God’s law as well. When you’re trying to shift the focus, it’s easy for people to think that this is all you talk about in the pulpit or in counseling. However, when preaching through the whole of Scriptures—which full-time pastors are privileged to do—there’s no freedom to cherry-pick your favorite verses and emphases. To be sure, “the sacred writings…make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ” (2 Tim 3:15).  Nevertheless, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (v 16). Containing both indicatives and imperatives, Scripture itself gives us what we need; our job is to make sure that we distinguish these and recall which does the saving work.

A while ago, our family was reading through Proverbs. What wonderful wisdom! I didn’t try to turn them into parables of the gospel. They were examples of the goodness of God’s law that is sweeter than honey from the honeycomb. And yet, many parallels (even nearly identical proverbs) can be found in non-biblical wisdom literature. We need wisdom for daily life. And yet, we must never confuse this with the gospel.  Christ doesn’t just add a little secret wisdom to the storehouse; he “became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption…” (1 Cor 1:30). The main point of Scripture—the height of true wisdom—“is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:3). To say that is not to negate the more mundane forms of wisdom that we find in Scripture—or even among the world’s wiser sorts.  It’s just to say that if the gospel isn’t true—and central—then none of that really matters at the end of the day. “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”

One of the concerns that’s been raised is that while many people seem to be reveling in the indicatives of the gospel (what Jesus has done) we are in danger of giving short-shrift to the imperatives (what we must do). I’ve argued  that if someone is giving short-shrift to the necessity of obeying biblical imperatives, it’s because they are not glorying in the indicatives of the gospel. Their problem is not first and foremost that they aren’t giving full-throat to the imperatives. It’s that they’re not giving full-throat to the indicatives–that disobedience happens not when we think too much of grace, but when we think too little of grace. Do you agree?

Again, think of how Paul answers that in Romans 6. He doesn’t respond to the antinomian charge by saying, “Hey, the other side of this—just for balance—is that if you don’t turn over a new leaf, everything I’ve just said doesn’t apply to you.”  Rather, he says, “Wait, there’s more yet to the gospel—more indicatives that you need to understand and embrace as applying to you.”

The Church of Corinth was a mess and Paul’s epistles were basically disciplinary.  Nevertheless, before he goes to the specific charges of violating the law, he reminds them who they are in Christ.  “Don’t you remember that while I was with you I preached nothing but Christ and him crucified?”  Perhaps some of Paul’s agitators in Galatia would have replied, “Yes, indeed, and don’t you think that may have been part of the problem, Paul?  After all, if you had preached more imperatives, they wouldn’t be in this mess.”  Paul always believed that deeper immersion into the gospel is essential for the health of believers and churches.

At the same time, he never failed to follow up the indicatives with very clear, practical, and urgent imperatives.  In my view, many evangelical churches—including many who claim to be Reformed—are very undisciplined.  We mirror our democratic, individualistic and egalitarian society.  It’s not just sound doctrine, but sound structures of biblical government, worship, catechesis, and nurture that will help recover a solid vision for the growth of the body.

While I believe that it’s generally true that those who are forgiven much love much and that those who are in view of God’s mercies will present their bodies as a living sacrifice, we have to recognize the deep depravity in our own hearts even as regenerate believers. Often I find myself reveling in the glories of the gospel for my own delight, oblivious to the “reasonable service” that it yields toward my neighbor.  I can be writing a paragraph on the wonders of grace while I snap at my wife or children for interrupting me. We do need Christ to remind us, by his Spirit, through his law, that the gospel doesn’t stop at our own personal security and welfare, but drives us out to our neighbors in love and service.  A good Shepherd guides his sheep.  A good Father rebukes those whom he loves.  We need to hear the very specific and uncomfortable rebukes of the law as well as the tender comfort of the gospel.

We always need the gospel wind in our sails and the directional equipment on our dashboard.  Without the former, we’re dead in the water; without the latter, we’re blown all over the map.

I’ve argued that there is one primary enemy of the gospel—legalism—but it comes in two forms. Some people avoid the gospel and try to “save” themselves by keeping the rules, doing what they’re told, maintaining the standards, and so on (I call this “front-door legalism”). Other people avoid the gospel and try to “save” themselves by breaking the rules, doing whatever they want, developing their own autonomous standards, and so on (I call this “back-door legalism”). In other words, there are two “laws” we can choose to live by other than Christ: the law which says “I can find freedom and fullness of life if I keep the rules” or the law which says “I can find freedom and fullness of life if I break the rules.” Either way you’re still trying to “save” yourself—which means both are legalistic because both are self-salvation projects. So that, what some call license is just another form of legalism. How would you respond?

Yes, that’s a great point, Tullian, and I hope everybody takes it to heart in this conversation. “Make a rule” or “break a rule” really belong to the same passion for autonomy (self-rule). We want to remain in control of our lives and our destiny, so the only choice is whether we’ll conquer the mountain by asceticism or by license. However, when Christ comes to us, he does not come to improve the old self, to bouy its self-confidence and encourage its pride. Christ comes to kill us in order to make us alive in him, as new creatures. The gospel is the answer both to the guilt and the tyranny of sin and other lords that cannot liberate but hold us to their breast in a death grip.

Thank-you, Mike, for taking the time to interact with me on these crucial topics. We are all grateful for your life and ministry.

14 Comments
  • […] Mike Horton: While I believe that it’s generally true that those who are forgiven much love much and that those who are in view of God’s mercies will present their bodies as a living sacrifice, we have to recognize the deep depravity in our own hearts even as regenerate believers. Often I find myself reveling in the glories of the gospel for my own delight, oblivious to the “reasonable service” that it yields toward my neighbor.  I can be writing a paragraph on the wonders of grace while I snap at my wife or children for interrupting me. We do need Christ to remind us, by his Spirit, through his law, that the gospel doesn’t stop at our own personal security and welfare, but drives us out to our neighbors in love and service.  A good Shepherd guides his sheep.  A good Father rebukes those whom he loves.  We need to hear the very specific and uncomfortable rebukes of the law as well as the tender comfort of the gospel. […]

  • […] The Final (for now…) Post of the Conversation Between Mike and Tullian Aug.31, 2011 by WHI Admin in General Tullian Tchividjian has conduced a four-part conversation with Mike Horton dealing with some hot topics in the blogosphere concerning legalism and license among other important distinctions. Part one is here, part two can be found here, and the penultimate installment can bee read here. The fourth and final section of the conversation has been posted here. […]

  • Mark says:

    As a father of eleven, I have often failed to mirror my Lord’s grace, kindness, and detailed-attention to my own children. It is only as I have grown in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ—understanding a little more the interrupted fellowship and condescension of the Godhead, if I could put it in those terms—that I have begun to welcome the interruptions and demands. I’ve got a long way to go and the Spirit continues to shape me in this area, but I would have to say that the Indicative has been indispensable to me.

  • In the bond between faith and sanctification we perceive, no less than in the bond between faith and justification, the pulse-beat of the Gospel. If faith will lift its blossoms to catch the sunlight of God’s grace, the fruit will be a life imbued with holiness.

    — G. C. Berkouwer
    Faith and Sanctification
    (Grand Rapids, Mi.: Eerdmans, 1952), 193

  • Steve Martin says:

    I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to hear the gospel proclaimed in it’s purity, by folks who understand that if you let even a little bit of law slide in the door, it is akin to putting a drop of poison in the pure, clean glass of water.

    Thanks, very much.

  • Mike says:

    PT,
    I’ve been following this conversation and I really appreciate it. With machete in hand you are hacking through the vines branches and over growth in this jungle that has surrounded the gospel. For non theologians and the common man like me you are making some of these complex issues understandable.I am obsessed with this issue of “law and gospel” I still have a real struggle with comprehending the place law has but it is all kind of new. My main struggle is the third use of law: “your free now to obey the law and are given power to obey” that to me is not good news but even more terrifying then the second use of law which drives me to Christ. I am following hard this conversation and PT your guidance on this! Thanx Mike

  • James says:

    Even when we are reconciled in Christ we still can in know wise keep the law any more now (with the Spirit)then the children of Israel could without Him (personally). that’s why we have an advocate who intercedes on our behalf before the Father if we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us…Also while we are yet in the flesh we will do the very things we aught not and the things we will to do we fall short of the mark. Though we walk in faith not by sight we use the law for the purpose of it’s intentions yes but nonetheless we will fall short in this part or that part. Isn’t everything God commands us to do in a sense a law of God? Since when did God’s law in this area or that area become obsolete. Didn’t Jesus say I didn’t come to abolish the law but to save us from it’s death grip. We still have to obey the law but if we fall short (and we will) we don’t die a permanent death with no hope but on the contrary we now have an advocate…David said in sin my mother conceived me, like us also we are born a sinner but He who has begun a good work in us will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ, but until that day lord I pray that it pleases you who has begun this work in me being built up a spiritual house to offer up spiritual sacrifices pleasing and acceptable for your name’s sake Amen.

  • Steve Martin says:

    Forget about the “3rd use”.

    That use is already contained in the 1st use- so bringing it up again and trying to tame the law is worse than fruitless because it shifts the emphasis away from God and back onto you…where it does NOT belong.

    Two uses is plenty. For civil righteousness, and to convict of sin. That is all that the Christian need know about the law other than, “Christ is the end of the law for all those with faith.”

  • James says:

    September 1st
    Evening Reading “Trust in him at all times.” — Psalm 62:8

    Faith is as much the rule of temporal as of spiritual life; we ought to have faith in God for our earthly affairs as well as for our heavenly business. It is only as we learn to trust in God for the supply of all our daily need that we shall live above the world. We are not to be idle, that would show we did not trust in God, who worketh hitherto, but in the devil, who is the father of idleness. We are not to be imprudent or rash; that were to trust chance, and not the living God, who is a God of economy and order. Acting in all prudence and uprightness, we are to rely simply and entirely upon the Lord at all times.

    Let me commend to you a life of trust in God in temporal things. Trusting in God, you will not be compelled to mourn because you have used sinful means to grow rich. Serve God with integrity, and if you achieve no success, at least no sin will lie upon your conscience. Trusting God, you will not be guilty of self‐contradiction. He who trusts in craft, sails this way today, and that way the next, like a vessel tossed about by the fickle wind; but he that trusteth in the Lord is like a vessel propelled by steam, she cuts through the waves, defies the wind, and makes one bright silvery straightforward track to her destined haven. Be you a man with living principles within; never bow to the varying customs of worldly wisdom. Walk in your path of integrity with steadfast steps, and show that you are invincibly strong in the strength which confidence in God alone can confer. Thus you will be delivered from carking care, you will not be troubled with evil tidings, your heart will be fixed, trusting in the Lord. How pleasant to float along the stream of providence! There is no more blessed way of living than a life of dependence upon a covenant‐keeping God. We have no care, for He careth for us; we have no troubles, because we cast our burdens upon the Lord.

    Charles Haddon Spurgeon

  • […] Interview with Mike Horton: Part Four (Final) by Tullian Tchividjian (Gospel Coalition Blog) […]

  • Pam says:

    After reading all four posts, I have a question. If unbelievers don’t care about keeping the Law in order to please God, then who is the Law for? Not Christians, because we are no longer under the Law but under Grace.
    God gave ISRAEL the Law, not the church(Body of Christ). The Law was never given to Gentiles. It was a conditional covenant God made with the Jews and was done away with at the Cross.It was put in place in order for Israel to know what the requirements were for a people to commune with a holy God. Priesthood was put in place by God in order to intercede for His chosen people to offer sacrifices that God determined would suffice until THE SACRIFICE would come to take away their sins. God knew they would never be able to keep the Law. It is a reflection of who He is. Only He could be what the Law demands. He knew they would fail when He put it in place. Now THE priest has come, the Lord Jesus Christ and did for those, whom He died for what they could never do; satisfy the wrath of God with His sacrifice on the Cross. He now lives in His people. The Law has been nailed to the Cross and we live by the Law of Christ found in the Gospel of John. It is about sacrificial love for God and your brothers.
    Unfortunately, covenantalism has always confused the issue.
    Hope this helps.
    pam

  • […] Tchividjian has posted a series of stimulating blogs (Part One ,Two, Three, and Four), where he is in conversation with Michael Horton. I particularly liked this interaction on Union […]

  • […] White Horse Inn and he’s recently featured an interview with Mike on Law and Gospel at his blog. We’re also excited to announce that we are partnering with him for the Liberate Conference […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Related Articles

Tullian Tchividjian
I’m addicted to the gospel. It burns inside of me. And it seems to get hotter ever day. I can’t…
 
Tullian Tchividjian
On at least two occasions in the last year I’ve been late for a meeting or an appointment and haven’t…
 
Tullian Tchividjian
As readers of this blog know, I’m a huge fan of Mockingbird. The work and ministry of my good friend…