“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” – Hebrews 4:16
The scriptures are full of imperatives; commands.
The scriptures are full of “you must do or you must not do.” You would have to white out and chop up your Bibles to miss those.
So we preach imperatives. We preach do. We preach don’t. But more these, we preach Christ crucified. The danger in teaching any type of imperative from the scriptures, the danger to preaching any type of “do” or “do not” from the scripture, is to preach the imperative divorced from the work of Jesus.
If these imperatives are ever preached and divorced from the Gospel, divorced from Jesus’ work of reconciliation, or preached with no mention of God’s mercy or the Spirit’s enabling power and grace, then they are simply an appeal to the will of man to “be better” and “do more.” They become graceless legalism or motivational pep talks. They can be found in high school locker rooms or on Oprah’s couch, but they shouldn’t be found in Christian pulpits.
The churches of yester-year (obviously stereotyping here) preached “Do not! Do not! Do not!” with spit, gusto, and incredible hair, and gave themselves a reputation of being out of touch, angry, devoid of love.
So the next wave of churches set out to remedy that, this mean, nasty, graceless, “legalism.”
These new churches were nice. They didn’t talk about sin. Only love.
But they ran into the same legalism.
Rather than angrily shouting “Do not! Do not! Do not!” they, with warm smiles, gave the people a list, usually a top 10 list, or a list made out of an acronym, of “Do. Do. Do. Do this list and you will be happy, have a better marriage, healthier finances, more friends, ect….”
And while it did not come across as angrily or mean spirited as the legalism of old, and probably did draw people into church that had been turned off by Shout and Spit guy, it was just as legalistic and Gospel-divorced. (For a fuller and better written treatment of this, read Jared Wilson’s Prodigal Church)
Done Before Do
All of Paul’s letters come with imperatives, things we must do or not do. God gives commands. Jesus was very stern and serious about what His followers were to do and not do.
But if you read Paul’s letters, you’ll see that a Gospel announcement always precedes a work assignment. There is no “work” or “do” before a “done” in the Gospel.
Paul’s letters begin, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ…”
Peter’s letters begin, “Grace and peace be multiplied to you.”
John’s letters begin, “Grace, mercy, and peace…”
Jude’s letter begins, “Mercy, peace, and love…”
At CLC, we are kicking off 21 Days of Prayer this Wednesday, so I feel it’s vital we understand this. There is no “do” concerning your prayer life and our church’s prayer life that is divorced from God’s “done.”
To call a church to prayer with a mindset to “get God to move” or to “get God to like us” is wrong, anti-Gospel.
The main message of prayer here can’t be, “You better do it!”
To call a church to prayer with a mindset of rejoicing in what God has done and is doing and will do: His Gospel; is the gas, the match, the wood, and the wind, to set God’s people ablaze in the place of prayer. There is no delightful prayer without the Gospel.
There is dutiful prayer. There is earning prayer. There is even disciplined prayer.
But there is no enjoyable prayer that happens apart from an understanding of God’s grace.
This is why it can sometimes be unhelpful to hold up examples of our “prayer heroes” like Jesus, Elijah, Count Zinzendorf, John Wesley, Charles Spurgeon, and say, “Look, see how they prayed. Now you pray this way.”
To say that “Jesus woke up early to pray, so how much more do we need to” is divorced from the Gospel unless we also say, “He did it for us because we were unable to do it as we ought.”
We will absolutely hold up our prayer heroes, specifically Jesus, and say, “Look how He prayed!” but it will always be under the Gospel, Gods’ work that happened first.
Prayer is not meant to be one more “to do” but meant to lead us to talking with the One who has said, “Done.”
Prayer is not a burden, but a road to the One who bears our burdens.
Until He Comes,