Several years ago a friend gave me the book “In His Steps” by Charles Sheldon. It’s a novel written in 1896 where the phrase “What Would Jesus Do?” was coined. It’s a story about a pastor who challenges his congregation to ask themselves “What would Jesus do?” in every aspect of life. As a result, remarkable things happened and blessings resulted. Though prosperity and goodwill were launched, there was not much of the Gospel shared, as I recall from the novel. I had read the book right around the time that the Emergent movement was about to climax in the early 2,000’s. So many people were wearing the “WWJD?” bracelets. It was fashionable to wear the acronym, and it was common to pressure each other in the church into doing good deeds. The Social Gospel was in full swing, and everyone felt great about doing what they thought Jesus would do. It was a time when it was imperative to focus on the imperative.
This still goes on today, and I suppose it will continue until Christ comes back. But, there’s a Biblical flaw to this formula. Jesus warned the disciples about glorifying the imperative while forgetting the indicative:
“Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.””
The lesson here was to be careful of focusing on the imperative, what we do, without keeping in view the indicative, who Jesus is and what He did. The indicative (the Gospel) is the foundation for the imperative. An indicative absent imperative is not the church’s mission. An indicative absent imperative is what Jesus rebukes in the above passage. The Christian endeavor is to be fueled by the indicative, who Jesus is and what He did, and not fueled by what we think Jesus would be impressed by. The only thing that impresses the Father… is the Son, and what the Son did:
“And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.””
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
God is only satisfied by God (the shedding of Christ’s blood), and God chose some (the elect) to trust in that satisfaction (Christ and what He did) knowing that they cannot contribute to that satisfaction, but to rest in it and to be satisfied that they cannot contribute to it. This is the indicative which must precede the imperative, in order for the imperative to be of any good. Unless our deeds are fueled by knowing who Christ is and what He did, our deeds are as “polluted garments”. (Isa 64:6)
Maybe we should ask ourselves:
What did Jesus do? (WDJD?)
Godspeed, to the brethren!
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