My boys’ obsession with Peter Pan began shortly after watching the Disney film for the first time about three months ago and has continued to this day. Wire hangers beware at our home! If you are left out or unintentionally fall from a closet rod, you are likely to be used as a hook in the next battle between Peter and the villainous Captain James Hook!
Recently, our nightly bedtime routine has included reading from James Barrie’s classic children’s book Peter Pan and Wendy. While the Disney version was drawn from this original work, there are many splendid details that, like treasure, can be dug up in this marvelous work of fiction. For instance, did you know that fairies are so small that they can only experience one emotion at a time? It is true! Listen to Mr. Barrie explain this little known phenomenon:
Tink was not all bad; or, rather, she was all bad just now, but, on the other hand, sometimes she was all good. Fairies have to be one thing or the other, because being so small they unfortunately have room for one feeling only at a time. They are, however, allowed to change, only it must be a complete change.
As I read this description of the marvelous little pixie it reminded me of the difficulty we have as children of God to grasp his full character or his full revelation found in the pages of our Bibles. We tend to, like Tink, be filled or pre-occupied with one major doctrine or tenant of the faith at a time. Sometimes this is a result of a sinful, self-serving theology (i.e. those who would only see God as love and not as righteous Judge as well) and sometimes it is simply the natural tendency of our finite minds to be overcome by one particular doctrine at the expense of others that are also important and may even allow us to have a better understanding of the one doctrine we are focusing so much on. Let me give you an example of the latter tendency:
At this time in modern church history, there is an extraordinarily important focus on the grace of God. Some have observed that this movement (most easily seen in writings by Tullian Tchividjian, Elyse Fitzpatrick, Jerry Bridges, and Paul David Tripp) is a needed reaction to and correction of an evangelicalism that was quickly becoming a works driven, pick-yourself-up-by-the-boot-straps type of religion. While the grace of God was seen to be necessary and gloriously responsible for salvation, it was becoming less and less important and understood as it related to and was responsible for the Christian’s personal sanctification.
For many, including myself, the Christian life had become less about accepting the grace supplied by the Savior for salvation and sanctification and more about pursuing personal holiness out of a thankfulness to God for what he had accomplished on the cross for our salvation. As if God had done his part at Calvary and would fulfill his part completely when we reached heaven. Until that time it seemed the Christian life was all about conforming yourself to the image of Christ and putting to death the sin that still remained within you. Indicative statements of what Christ has accomplished for us were casually affirmed and sometimes overlooked as we sped toward the more “practical” imperative statements that gave us something to do.
Many of us have been reading our Bibles in a new and freeing light these days, recognizing all that our glorious Messiah has accomplished on our behalf and how he continues to sustain, empower, and sanctify us as we run this race called the Christian life. And yet, as we focus so fastidiously on this marvelous grace and all that has been accomplished for us, it becomes difficult to understand how personal effort and the pursuit of personal holiness can coexist with the truth that our holiness has already been fully and forever accomplished through Christ. Is it biblical to call a Christian to pursue holiness? Is it ok to tell someone they must work toward putting to death the sins of the flesh? Is it right to encourage a brother or sister in Christ to diligently seek to obey the Lord in all areas of life? Or is this all being too self-centered and egotistical? Is this leaving Christ at the cross?
It could be–if you were to go on ignoring the indicative truths of the Bible. But to not allow room in your theology for the imperative commands of the Bible is to reject the very Words of God; it is to deny that he had purpose in including such commands in his revealed Word. The imperatives of the Bible are important because they are the practical outworking of the glorious indicative gospel truths. The commands to live as holy and redeemed people are only egotistical if they are cut off from the source of grace that makes obedience to them possible and desirable. We must have room in our theology for both, because our God has given us both, and thus it is only by seeking to better understand and apply both that we will glorify him. Certainly, the grace lavished upon us through the gospel of Jesus Christ is of preeminence, but it does not negate the call to live holy lives right here in this moment, rather it makes such a thing possible.
The message of the Bible is the good news of the Gospel (a righteous God forgiving sinful, created beings through the atoning work of the Savior Jesus Christ) and so this must be the focus of our hearts and minds as well. Yet, included in the very message of the gospel is the purpose of Christ’s saving work which is to set apart a people who are holy for his glory–a people for his own possession.
As we seek to focus our hearts and minds and indeed our lives on the gospel of Jesus Christ, we must not forget that a very important part of the gospel is the continual sanctification that comes as a result of his grace. The Word of God has much to say and command us in regards to the personal pursuit of holiness which we must obey. What is necessary to remember, and to never move past, is that it is the Holy Spirit (secured by the work of Christ on the cross) who indwells us as redeemed people and causes us to pursue and work diligently toward holiness.
What grace is this, that compels us, who were once rebellious sinners, to obey and glorify the Creator? All glory and honor must be given to the Savior who has made obedience possible! He has once and for all made us holy as we stand before the Father clothed in his righteousness, and is even now, daily, in the moment-by-moment decisions we make, causing us to be conformed to his very image. Praise God for his marvelous grace and may we never take it for granted! Let each of us be able to acknowledge with Paul in every circumstance, that it is the grace of God which allows us to work hard toward holiness:
“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.” (1 Corinthians 15:10 ESV)