Indicatives Vs. Imperatives
In Part One, we began our look at vital elements of biblical growth and change: Biblical change begins by understanding and applying the gospel. The Bible sets forth a balanced perspective on how change takes place – God is the author of change. Gospel indicatives and imperatives nurture and direct the process of change. Because of the Word and the Spirit we’ve been given, the Christian can find true hope and help. In Part Three, we look further into the details of our growth in holiness and our responsibility to exert effort toward change.
Affirmation without true repentance and genuine heart change is known as “easy believism.” It is easy for Christians to fall into this trap. One problem of easy believism is that people can find themselves in performance bondage vs. righteousness in Christ. As a false dichotomy, we see no accountability vs. necessity of effort. Ideally, we are not called to be moralists or legalists – Our priority is the gospel. However, obedience is necessary. It’s here we find a biblical balance. The Bible sets forth a balanced perspective on how God-honoring change takes place.
- Philippians 3:9
- Romans 6
Growth and change take place by a new, dependent pursuit of Christ as Lord. The imperatives of the gospel provide the framework of the outworking of our salvation toward Christ-likeness, our progressive sanctification. Some, wrongfully, start with the imperative (what we must do for God), instead of the indicative (what He has done). This inevitably leads to moralism. The first imperative command in the entire book of Romans isn’t in the beginning of the book. It doesn’t come until chapter 6, verse 11! Five whole chapters of the book of Romans are the precursor to this imperative. Scripture begins with the indicative. It begins with what God has done. We see over these chapters that the indicative (what God has already done for us in Christ) is the ground for imperatives.
- Romans 6:11; 8:5-8; 14:23; 15:2-3, 7
In the Law, we see civil commands with the understanding that it is wrong to steal, murder, lust, etc. We see Galatians 3:24 as a reflection back on the Law through the lens of Christ. The second use of the Law did not end at salvation: We need Christ and His righteousness just as much today for confession and pardon as we did under the Law. Its new purpose is to serve as a reminder of Christ and His grace.
- Romans 13:8-14
- Galatians 3:24
- 1 John 1:9
- Titus 2:14
With normative use, the Law shows us how to live after repentance and coming to Christ. The grace of God is not a license or free pass to sin. As those who are His, we know and want to please Him. The Law makes us more perfect in Christ, that we would be made holy. Again, part of growth and change is effort, even if we don’t feel like it. We are sinners redeemed! And in light of that, we should give ourselves to Him completely. Believers are responsible to walk in a manner worthy of our salvation.
We are to present ourselves as alive from the dead, remembering who we are in Christ. Once saved, we abide in Christ. We connect in His Word, learning what He wants us to do. Our obedience sees the Law as blessings for our good. The entirety of the Law whispers the truth that this is how we as humans work best. All of Scripture, actually, proclaims that this is how we work best. God knows how we work best. The Word is a blessing and grace in showing us how to live.
- John 14:15
- Romans 3:31, 6:11
Our responsibility and God’s work come side by side. Life change is about training, not trying. To work for something means to earn it, to deserve it, to merit it. The Bible clearly teaches that salvation is not something we have to work for. It is a free gift of God’s grace. Paul’s writings are not implying that we devise our own plan of salvation, or that we work into a “right” relationship with God by our own efforts.
- Ephesians 2:8
- Romans 3:24-26; 5:1-2
We look to the transforming power of the Gospel as the key to spiritual growth with the right understanding that the New Testament epistles typically begin with what God has done for us, but also proclaiming the imperative with what follows. John Murray writes:
The pilgrimage to perfection (in the eternal state) is not one of the quiescence and inactivity…The journey proceeds expeditiously with the most intense exercise on our part. Our working is not suspended because God works, and God’s working is not suspended because we work. They are complementary. Our working is grounded in God’s working. Our working receives its urge, strength, incentive, and cause from God’s working in us.”
Practical principles in the New Testament can help us in our struggles. The Bible as a whole contains the perfect order and balance, beginning with what God has done for us as the basis for our obedience.
- 1 John 2:3-4
- John 14:15
- Matthew 7:20
- Romans 12:1-2
God’s enablement of Christians is never passive. The book of James presents us as not only hearers of the Word, but doers. We are made able to model the put-off and put-on in Ephesians 4. Our motive for that obedience is not merely acceptance. We are only loved and able to love because of Christ. Representing Christ means we are to love others as much as God loves us in Christ. Our motivation is out of our love for him. Putting forth effort is important. Training is necessary for the Christian to keep our soul fit, as the Apostle Paul illustrated by frequently borrowing from athletic metaphors.
- 1 Timothy 1; 4:7-9
- Ephesians 4
As illustrated in Developing Healthy Spiritual Growth, mature Christians act more like servants and less like lords. Spiritual growth encourages submission to God. Joel Beeke writes:
We tend to think of spiritual growth in terms of doing great things (and winning lots of accolades). But a large part of spiritual growth is deepening submission whereby we say, even in the shadow of the cross, ‘Not my will but thine be done.’ Luther once quipped that letting God be God is half of all true religion.”
The typical pattern in the New Testament epistles is to begin with the indicative as the basis for the imperative. Our responsibility and God’s work in us are placed side by side. The New Testament is filled with specific exhortations to actively fight sin and to faithfully and diligently pursue righteousness: Put off sin, by way of repentance, and put on righteousness. It is not enough to merely hear God’s word, or even to agree with it. We are called to do what God commands (James 1:22), and our motive for obedience is crucial.
- Romans 6:13; 12:1
- Ephesians 4:1, 17, 22, 25, 28, 29
- Colossians 3:1
- Philippians 2:12-13, 4:13
- Matthew 5:29-30; 7:24-27
- James 1:22-25
Christianity is unique in that it teaches that we can never be justified before God by our own works. We are saved by God’s grace alone. Our works, obedience, and service cannot add to the merit of Christ. Nor do we do what is right so that we can feel better about ourselves. Our motive for obedience is not to gain God’s favor but rather out of love for and gratitude to the One who so loved us that He gave His Son.
- Matthew 20:25-27
- 2 Corinthians 4:5
- John 10:17-18
- Philippians 2:8
- Isaiah 42:1
- Romans 3:20
- Ephesians 2:8-9
- Philippians 3:9
- 1 Timothy 1:15
Some wrongfully stop with the indicative, declaring what God has done for us in Christ, while neglecting the imperatives of what God calls us to do. So what would be the use of biblical imperatives? God’s law shows us our need for Christ, who alone meets God’s standard and provides the righteousness we lack. God’s law also shows how He desires His redeemed people to live.
You don’t need to break the power of sin – you need to take hold of the victory on the Cross and live as if you actually believe it happened.” – Paul Tripp
Embrace gospel hope. You need to remember that you have been gifted with grace that is more powerful than all of your sins. The indicative and imperative are not an either/or – We can restructure our lives to rely on God’s grace and Word to transform lives with faith, humility, and flexibility. Christ’s work and ours come side by side in biblical growth and change. God’s Word is a gospel victory narrative with wisdom we are able to apply to our daily lives. In Part Four, we consider how our union with Christ is the key to growth and holiness.
The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life,
To turn aside from the snares of death.
Good understanding produces favor,
But the way of the treacherous is hard.
Every prudent man acts with knowledge,
But a fool displays folly (Proverbs 13:14-16).
Many times it’s easy to see, but hard to admit areas that need changing in our lives. As Christians, we should long for change that will glorify God. What old patterns is God calling you to replace? What reveals how change is accomplished?
The law has a vital role in bringing unbelievers to conversion. Does the law reveal our need of Christ’s atonement and righteousness? Explain.
Where will change be hard and demand perseverance? Instead of looking at those difficulties as obstacles to change, see them as God-given opportunities to experience God’s grace and to step out in a better direction.
Where do we find wisdom for life in a broken world? Simply getting the Bible open in the midst of life’s problems can be challenging for some, but it is there we find Truth for comfort and guidance. In what situations do you tend to doubt the truths of Scripture? Do you have a clear and right understanding of grace as a free gift? Paraphrase Romans 5:1-2 in your own words.
Examine your heart motives for obedience. Are you living God’s love in the gospel, moving us to obedience and change? Or are you basing your salvation and worth on service so God might love you more?
What does it look like to live a whole life in a broken world? Where have you experienced regular problems in your relationship with the Lord? There is always hope for us to change, whatever the problem and no matter the age. We can trust that God’s Word is true! There is always hope for us because of the infallible promises of God. There is always hope for us because of the indescribable power of God’s resource (2 Peter 1:3; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5).
Reflect on your understanding of the noted Scripture in Part Three.
- My goals for application of the the scriptures in my Bible reading are…
- As a result of better understanding, I hope…
- My prayer in regard to these scriptures is…
All sources for this series are listed here. https://debbieswindell.com/2020/07/22/upcoming-series-biblical-growth-and-change/