Part of our make-up as human beings is this unquenched thirst for autonomy and self-reliability. We don’t like people telling us what to do, how or why to do it. This truth is plainly clear in young children; as they learn to talk and make decisions for themselves we see this play out. Perhaps you’ve come across that rare conformist two year old that is far from the norm, but most of us have been anarchists since diapers and will continue to be until we are again wearing diapers! It’s part of our nature as fallen creatures, we want to be in charge of ourselves.
This innate desire has driven many men and women into a conflict with religion. Because of their desire for autonomy and self-governance, people look upon the Bible and the Christian faith with contempt and anger because its outline for righteousness conflicts directly with the morality that individuals and societies have built up around themselves. They don’t like being told they're wrong, much less that that they must change their lifestyles, their morals and their beliefs. God becomes a dictator looking to suck the fun out of everything. The rules around sex, the rules around finance and money, all point to God being a tyrant looking to find some kind of satisfaction out of restricting the freedoms of humanity. This caricature, built primarily by atheists and agnostics, serves only as a straw man and has no logical, scriptural, or spiritual merit. On the contrary, as we will discover together, the commands (or “imperatives”) given by God in no way deprive the Christian of any kind of happiness, rather they lead the believer into a greater, more profound, joy and peace than we would ever find in a morality built by and upon our finiteness as fallen creatures.
Gospel imperatives are instructions given by God through the writers of the New Testament. Think of Ephesians 5:22,25 “Wives submit to your own husbands….Husbands love your wives...,” Galatians 5:16 “Walk by the spirit…,” and Acts 16:31 “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved …” We don’t have to look very far to see how culture’s ideals of freedom run up against God’s explicit commands. The debate raging over gender roles and sexuality makes my point for me. The rhetoric surrounding this issue is volatile. And if you happen to find yourself landing on the Bible’s side of the fence you’re nothing more a bigoted Bible-thumping chauvinist.
Why then as Christians are we holding on to these “antiquated,” “culturally-irrelevant” and “intolerant” teachings? Why are we as believers insisting that these instructions given 2000 years ago apply to everyone today? In John 15, Jesus is discussing his divinity and the importance of submitting and holding to him as God. He is explaining to the disciples why his authority and governance over hearts and minds are so vital saying, “By this my Father is glorified...These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:8,11). Jesus is saying that faithfulness to the imperatives not only brings glory to God and not only does it please God the Father, creator of the universe, but it also pulls us along into a greater joy and a deeper happiness than we would otherwise experience! Let’s follow John Piper in believing the truth that, “God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in him.” Think about it, how would God the Father be glorified if we could find more joy and satisfaction in the things that he has told us NOT to do or live in the ways he’s told us NOT to live? Piper’s book Desiring God expands on that quote far more eloquently and in more depth than I ever could; it’s a book every Christian should at some point make a priority to read and study.
God is seeking the maximum amount of glory
Our greatest joy is His greatest glory
God-given imperatives and instructions will ALWAYS maximize our Joy
God then is not a “fun-sucking” dictator but is the source of the greatest joys that humanity can experience. As Christians we insist on the “antiquated,” “irrelevant,” and “intolerant”’ teachings because ultimately it is those teachings which will bring human flourishing to its greatest heights within the individual and to society as a whole. We don’t want to impose our world view because we’re arrogant religious fanatics who want to stifle freedoms, annihilate civil liberties, and implement a theocracy. Rather, we love people and want to see people reach the heights of joy and peace that would grant God the glory he so rightly deserves!
If it’s so easy to understand then why do people still think Christians are a bunch of curmudgeons? Why do people still insist that the exclusivity and absolutism of God are reproachable and that Christians are narrow minded fun-suckers? It’s because the imperatives of scripture, the commands of Jesus don’t begin to make sense until the indicatives of the Gospel have taken root in the heart. In John 15:5 Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches…” God’s “glory” (vs. 8) and our “joy” (vs. 15) don’t apply and don’t make sense unless the branch is holding to the vine, unless we are rooted in the gospel, unless the Christian is wholly submitted to the person and work of Jesus. Ultimately no amount of explanation or logic can convince the most ardent skeptics, and no measure of legislation can regenerate the darkest of hearts. The only remedy for the rebellious and anarchistic heart of man is the mercy and grace of God. And as vital the imperatives of scripture are for our joy and God’s glory, gospel imperatives always come second to gospel indicatives. What we believe about the gospel is the only way to properly inform how we will live and act in response to the gospel.
The point then is not how to live, but why to live. Forget the rigidity of the Bible, set aside your dogmatic disagreements and examine the cross. Because once the gospel is made clear, once Christ is seen as the savior and king of creation, the “how to live” will inevitably follow. When we subject our autonomy to the gospel, submit our will and rights to the Creator God, only then can the gospel imperatives become life-giving joy factories and cease being oppressive freedom-stifling regulations. It all begins with Christ.