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Tell them why

We must not separate ethics from redemption

-David Cook-

There is a scene in the movie Chariots of Fire, where two British Olympic officials are discussing trying to talk Eric Liddell into competing on a Sunday at the 1920 Paris Olympics. One official realises that they are asking him to do the impossible: to forget about God and to run the race of his life.

The other night Maxine and I were watching My Kitchen Rules, (we only watch quality TV in our home) and Uel was introduced as a youth worker. We caught a glimpse of his tattoo – 1 John 2:2. He was obviously a Christian youth worker, though that was edited out. The 2011 Masterchef winner, Kate Bracks, was only identified as such when she did not address the Dalai Lama as “Your Holiness”. I have just read an article from the New York Times by Nicholas D. Kristof on Catherine Hamlin’s magnificent work among fistula victims in Ethiopia which makes no mention of Dr Hamlin’s Christian faith nor indeed of the Christian staffing of the hospital she founded in Addis Ababa.

It’s a common enough mistake. The world is quick to claim the benefit of Christ’s work, heaven; it just doesn’t want Christ. And the world may like what it sees in the redeemed, it just doesn’t want to recognise its source or inspiration, the redeemer. What has this got to do with preaching? This worldly problem can be perpetuated in the thinking of the believer by our poor preaching. T. David Gordon has said that “ethical exhortation must never be divorced from its redemptive environment”. We make that divorce whenever we urge some action without telling people why they should live that way.

The world needs to hear the word of explanation, that what we do springs from what we are, and what we are is a result of what God has done for us.

We must preach the redeeming work of Christ and its implications rather than just preach its implications. Paul does this in 1 Corinthians 6:18-20, where he exhorts the Corinthians to flee from sexual immorality. He bases the exhortation for sexual purity on three “whys”: because of our doctrine of the body, our doctrine of the Spirit and our doctrine of redemption. “You are not your own, you were bought with a price.”

The world needs to hear the word of explanation, that what we do springs from what we are, and what we are is a result of what God has done for us. Beware of the fallacy represented by the well-known statement, “Tell me the gospel and use words if you must.” The Lord Jesus, who lived the perfect life, did not let his actions do all the talking. The life of Jesus, though perfect, was the backdrop to his saving word.

Let’s not let the world, which confuses fruit for root, confuse us. We live out the new creation lifestyle because God’s Son has laid down His life in payment for our sin and God the Father has raised Him from the dead, showing His acceptance of Christ’s work, and He now gives us His Holy Spirit who makes us new from within and leads us to surrender control of our lives to the Lord Jesus.

Our message is not: be good, be better people, be moral, be selfless. In Exodus 20 God declared that He was Israel’s redeemer (Ex.20:2) before He gave them His law (Ex.20:3-17). The message is: “Come to Christ and have God’s image restored in you, through the Father who chose you, the Son who redeemed you, and the Spirit who sanctifies you.”

David Cook is Moderator-General of the Presbyterian Church of Australia

Published Spring 2014

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