Monthly Archives: May 2016

Prescriptive vs. Descriptive

I don’t know when it happened, but at some point many Bible-believing Christians became passionate about the dichotomy between “prescriptive” and “descriptive” passages in Scripture.

“Prescriptive” means God is prescribing, or commanding, or telling how something must be done. We must follow prescriptive passages. For instance, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20.3) is prescriptive for the Christian church.

“Descriptive” means God is simply describing what happened in biblical times, not telling us how something must be done, but only telling us that something was done. Many Christians apparently believe we are never obligated to follow descriptive passages. For instance, Abraham had more than one wife, and yet He was blessed by God. That is descriptive, not prescriptive for the Christian church.

I generally agree with the distinction. And I think it is fairly obvious whenever something is purely descriptive, not intended for us to follow (like multiple wives). But, as I’m sure you suspected I might say, please be careful.

Some commands are descriptive of a certain time period and/or covenantal arrangement (“all males must be circumcised” or “you shall not eat shellfish”). And my contention is that many descriptions in Scripture are prescriptive. And for sure, all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable to help us do good works (2 Timothy 3.16-17, note “all”).

So listen more closely to what God is saying by what He said. I would give examples, but I don’t want to get your mind going in more directions than it needs to. The principle I am aiming for here is we must let all of Scripture– not just the explicit commands– speak to us and shape our thinking and make us more Christ-like. If there is a description of something often in the Bible that looks good, seems to be commended, seems to be blessed by the Spirit, and/or has good results, then we should take those descriptions as prescriptive.

“Free grace” vs “Cheap grace”

There are some who call themselves “free grace” Christians, who believe that repentance is not necessary to be saved. They believe if we call people to repent we are preaching works-righteousness. They are not against repentance, just against it being part of the gospel call.

I believe John MacArthur’s book, The Gospel According to Jesus, has already settled this issue. But I still know of some who hold to “free grace” theology. And I say, they are stealing that phrase. They do not preach free grace, but rather cheap grace.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the gospel of free grace. Jesus paid it all! So for those who trust in Him, salvation is absolutely free. But the kicker: Jesus even paid to purchase faith for His elect people (Romans 5.5-6: Jesus died while we were weak, so that the Holy Spirit could be poured into our hearts). In other words, Jesus paid it all! It was costly for Christ, but His death makes all of salvation completely free for believers. And because we know He paid it all, we can have God-ordained confidence to call all people to repent, and God’s elect WILL repent in faith. No doubt. 100%. Because Jesus paid for all of it!

The modern “free grace” movement cheapens the grace of God by saying Jesus paid for less than He actually paid for. They think the grace of God in salvation is not as expensive, so to speak (i..e. “No way God would require acts of repentance in His people, that’s too much!”).

Another thing that is actually happening is they think we are saying salvation is dependent on repentance. No! Salvation is dependent on the absolute sovereign mercy of God and the absolute complete work of Christ and the absolute mysterious work of the Spirit!

If what the “free grace” people are saying is that salvation is dependent on faith, then no one will be saved. Can you really depend on any human being to believe (John 6.44)?

The only way salvation comes is if it truly comes for FREE, through the sovereign, miraculous, gracious work of God Himself. And if God really does 100% of the work of salvation, then no need to sell God short by calling His people to anything but faith-filled repentance. Don’t cheapen the grace of God. Make it sound as valuable as the Bible does.