Monday, September 03, 2007

80/20? 50/50?

I've had this post in "draft" mode for over a month now. Since July 31st to be exact. I was stirred to finally finish it and post it as a result of reading and responding to a post entitled "The unhypocritical church" on Alan Knox's "Assembling of the Church" blog. I believe this post and Alan's post are two very important sides of the same coin. As a short summary, Alan's post is about believers not simply staying stuck on theology and never being moved to put feet to it. My post here is about the need to be grounded in theology in order to put feet to the Christian life. With a tiny bit of editing to make the post current and to finish it up, here's what I started a month ago:

(At the time I started this post), I've been sharing a bit about the reasons why I believe we need much more teaching on grace and our identity in Christ, and how we, individually and as the entire body of Christ, need to become more and more deeply rooted and established in grace.

I shared a story about a woman who had called a Christian talk radio show with questions about problems in her marriage. I could tell she was very confused and unstable in her identity in Christ, but yet the answers to her problems, according to the well-meaning hosts, were directly focused on "what to do" and "what to change" --- when I personally wished they would have first steered her in the direction of becoming grounded in who she is in Christ. You can know all the "do's" of the Christian life, but if you aren't firmly established in who you are, are you truly doing the do's by the grace of God? Or are you trying to do it according to your own attempts at following "shoulds" and "musts" and "principles for Christian living?"

Am I off base here with these thoughts and questions? I'm seriously not trying to be uppity or facetious or sarcastic. I'm really dwelling a lot upon my own perception of the body of Christ - and I'm wondering if my perception is correct or if I'm wrong in any way. And if I'm correct, even to a degree, is the "solution" that I've been sharing truly beneficial? (Again, at the time I started this post, I'd been sharing about the need for more teaching on the grace of God and our identity in Christ). I'm trying to be vulnerable in asking others what their thoughts are as well.

Here's my perception, in a nutshell. It's a perception I've had for a long time. I see the saints of God going to church each week and serving God and people in various ways (going through the motions, so to speak). Many church-going Christians know the "stuff" to do. But what I perceive to be a huge problem is that the main message taught in today's churches revolves completely around "principles for Christian living." I perceive that there is a total, or near-total, disconnect between being grounded in our identity in Christ and in going out and doing the actions of the Christian life. I don't really see that grace and identity are taught a whole lot. They seem to be mere subjects of the Christian life to be touched on now and again.

My thoughts were further stirred a few days ago (a few days ago, according to the time I started this post) when I heard Paul-Anderson Walsh of The Grace Project talking about the Apostle Paul's epistles to the believers in various cities. Walsh said he estimated that about 80% of Paul's writings have more to do with grace and identity, and the other 20% have more to do with the actual "doing" of the Christian life. This is my own summary of his thoughts, not necessarily the way he worded it. Obviously this ratio is a matter of perception, but is 80/20 a fairly reasonable assessment? I was interested when I recently heard a person on the radio (I don't know who this person is) say that he perceives that there is a 50/50 ratio between "grace and identity" talk and "doing" talk in Paul's epistles. Perhaps I would say 70/30 or 65/35.

In the end, the actual ratio isn't important, but perhaps it's worthwhile to look at Paul's epistles from this perspective when you're reading them. I can think of a couple of ways to go about this. One way would be to look at the make-up of his epistles as a whole, and watch how Paul moves from thought to thought, and watch how he often uses a conglomerate of many sentences or paragraphs to make larger points. In Romans, for example, the first 11 chapters are mostly doctrine-based, as Paul talks about salvation, identity, grace, the purpose of the law, Jews, Gentiles, etc. It's not until chapters 12-16 that Paul gets into more of a practical application, based upon all that he's just said.

A second way to view Paul's epistles would be by looking at individual sentences and paragraphs. Even when Paul gives a sentence or paragraph about "doing," and even after he's previously made a solid doctrinal case for grace and our identity, I've noticed that he generally continues to build up his readers in who they are as he exhorts them in the actions of the Christian life. In other words, it doesn't seem to me that Paul ever strays too far from encouragement in grace and our identity in Christ, no matter what point he's making. One example (of countless many) would be in Colossians. When Paul says, "Therefore put to death the deeds of the flesh" (Col 3:5) he has first encouraged his readers with, "When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory" (see Col 3:1-4). Any time you see Paul's calls-to-action, look at how he first builds up his readers with the foundation of grace and identity.

Anyway, maybe you'll come up with a different ratio than 80/20 or 50/50, but I do believe that you'll come up with a ratio that calls for more teaching on grace and identity than seems to be currently taught in the church. The reason this is so important, at least as I see it, is because if we aren't 100% solidly grounded in who we are in Christ, and established in grace, then the Christian life becomes a matter of trying to live by principles rather than living by the very life of Christ, who, as the above verse from Colossians says, is our life!

This post seems incomplete to me. I've been hesitant to post it for a month. It's not because I feel that it's necessary for me to have the "final answer" before I post it. To tell the truth, while I'm strongly convicted in all of this, and while I do know that my personal call in life, at least at this time, is to focus on learning and teaching these foundational truths, and being established in them and growing in them, I'm forever looking to my brothers and sisters in Christ to find out where they're at in regards to all of this. It's an ongoing conversation in my life, and I'm happy to hear your thoughts...


  1. Joel,

    Great post! Yes, we must realize who we are in Christ and accept who we are in Christ. I like the way that you described our two posts as two sides of the same coin. I think your last sentence is very important: "It's an ongoing conversation..." This must be an ongoing conversation in each of our lives and in each of our communities. At some times, we may need to stress our identity in Christ. At other times, we may need to stress our response to who we are in Christ and the indwelling of the Spirit.


  2. Alan,

    Indeed the individual members of the body must keep connected and keep the conversation going with each other. We all need continuous encouragement in who we are in Christ and it's through each other that we spur each other on towards love and good deeds.