The first Reformation was about doctrine; the second one needs to be about behavior," best-selling author Rick Warren told a congress of the Baptist World Alliance not long ago. "We need a reformation not of creeds but deeds." Throughout the speech, as reported on the group's website, Pastor Warren announced that a new movement is underway in the church, shifting the emphasis from doctrinal issues to service in the world. "It's time to stop debating the Bible and start doing it...This is the new reformation I'm praying for."

I begin with this account not to suggest that we either jump on the bandwagon or burn it, but as a way to frame the challenging topic before us. As has been frequently pointed out, Paul often moves from doctrine to exhortation in his epistles. In fact, he is pretty obvious about it. In 1 Corinthians, he moves back and forth between diagnosis (division, strife, sexual immorality, lawsuits, mistreatment of the poor) and cure (God's faithfulness, justification, sanctification, and the unity of the saints in union with Christ, especially as engendered by the Lord's Supper). Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, and Romans exhibit an even clearer pattern. In each case, the first half or more of the letter expounds the riches of our inheritance in Christ by grace alone through faith alone, and then specific exhortations are given to realize the impact of these truths in the concrete relationships of believers between each other, in their homes, in their relationships with non-Christians in their vocations as neighbors, workers, and citizens, and so forth.

Not even in Corinth, where strife, immorality, greed, and the profaning of the Lord's Supper threatened the peace and purity of the church, did Paul seem to think that the problem was deeds rather than creeds. He always thought that when believers were "acting up," the first recourse was to preach the gospel again, to recall believers to their one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one Spirit. At the same time, even where the focus of the problem was doctrinal (as in Galatians), he did not fail to point up the spiritual and ethical issues involved. And even where the focus of the problem was spiritual and ethical, he did not fail to preach the doctrine. Paul would have considered it inconceivable that a church might have its doctrine right but be uninterested in missions, evangelism, prayer, and works of service and charity to those in need-or, conversely, that a church might be faithful in life apart from sound doctrine. Orthodoxy and orthopraxy were inseparable and mutually dependent elements of Paul's message.

"In View of God's Mercies": From Indicatives to Imperatives through Doxology

Romans, as we have seen, is the apostle's most systematic presentation of the Christian faith. He has told us the bad news: everyone, Jew and Gentile alike, is "in Adam," under the condemnation of the law. Yet this merely sets the stage for the good news that everyone who has faith in Christ is justified. After holding up this shimmering, many-faceted gem to our wondering eyes, Paul meets the objection that this gospel of free grace has always met: namely, that it will lead to moral license. Yet even here, the answer is not to reign in grace as if it were too much of a good thing, but to explain how Christ is the answer to the power as well as the penalty of sin.

Moreover whom he predestined he called; whom he called, he justified; and whom he justified, these he also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen and is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? (Rom. 8:30-38)

Nothing. Absolutely nothing, Paul replies. Each ascent leads us to ever-higher vistas, all the way through the purposes of God's electing grace in chapters 9 to 11, until Paul reaches his summit: