God's Grace to a Pharisee like Me

I would have been a good monk and a great Pharisee. I like rules. I like order. I like disciplining myself, especially if it brings the commendation of others, particularly those in authority. This inclination is constant and often reveals itself in self-judgment. I can be hard on myself—all the while justifying my strict tendencies as a desire for progressive sanctification. But even godly pursuits can be perverted if not seen in light of the gospel.

I was reminded afresh of this truth at the 2014 Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference, June 27 - 29, in Orlando Florida. The event gathered some 4,000 women eager to hear the teaching of God’s Word. The weekend brought rich content and while I could write for days on the things learned, I will focus on Elyse Fitzpatrick’s workshop on understanding the indicative/imperative divide. Her words in that class warned against my natural Pharisaical ways.

I learned there that the Scriptures contain both indicatives and imperatives and often the two are given in one breath. In general, scriptural indicatives are declarations that convey assurance of salvation. They tend to affirm the believer’s identity as beloved of God with positional righteousness on the basis of Christ’s substitutionary atonement. Imperatives then are the obligations given to God’s people. These commands are to be followed as a grateful response to the Father’s grace and not as a means of gaining His approval.

Ephesians 5: 1-2 serves as a great example. It states: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Did you catch the beautiful symmetry of imperatives and indicatives? If so, did you notice the loftiness of those commands? “Be imitators of God!” “Walk in love as Christ loved!”

How does one satisfy such grand obligations? How does a human— brought forth in iniquity and shaped in sin—mirror the transcendent nature of God and love with the deep abiding love of Christ (Psalm 51:5)? As you ponder this thought, please note also that the commands are paired with these declarations: “as beloved children” and “as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” The combination is not by accident!

As a woman naturally bent toward pharisaism, I am frequently aware of my shortcomings. I desperately want to do well for the Lord and I feel the weight of my failings. No one has to tell me to observe the imperatives of Scripture. I tell myself. And I pray daily for God’s grace to obey. I believe that the Lord is pleased with this. And yet He breathes out His imperatives and indicatives together in one breath. A refreshing wind of truth for a labor prone Pharisee like myself.

Elyse Fitzpatrick encouraged me—along with a conference room of women—to strive earnestly for holiness and for sanctification. And when I fail to meet the standard of Christ’s righteousness—which I always will on this side of eternity—to thank God for the imputed righteousness of the Lamb who takes away my sin and overcomes the world. For in Him, I too have overcome. In Him I stand forgiven. In Him I am saved and I’m being saved until ultimate sanctification (1 John 3:2-3). For this reason, I press on to imitate God and I extend to love with the abiding love of Christ. I do so as God’s beloved child, made perfect by the fragrant offering and sacrifice of Christ.