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Indicative Before Imperative

06/16_Indicative Before Imperative; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20190616_indicative-imperative.mp3

We’ve been looking at 2 Corinthians, savoring some of the beauty and details of this passage. We’ve been in 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 and we’ve seen that identity comes before instructions, that promises under-gird and precede the commands. Another way to say this is that the indicative come before the imperative. Imperatives are commands; do this, this is how you ought to live. In grammar, the indicative mood is used to make ordinary statements of fact. Because this is true (indicative) then this is how you must act (imperative). We’ve been looking carefully at 2 Corinthians, and 2 Corinthians 7:1 is a great example of this pattern;

2 Corinthians 7:1 Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.

In 6:16-18 Paul assembles about 6 different Old Testament promises to highlight our identity in Christ. God will indwell in us, he will walk among us, be our God and take us to be his people. He will welcome us; he will be a father to us and we will be to him sons and daughters. These promises enclose the command in verse 17 to go out, to be separate, to touch no unclean thing.

7:1 spells out this relationship between promises and commands; between what is true and what we ought to do. ‘Therefore, having these promises, beloved.’ Not ‘in order to make these promises come true, this is what you must do,’ but rather ‘because you already possess these promises, because the belong to you in Christ Jesus, because you already occupy the position of ‘beloved,’ this is how you must respond. ‘Because this is true of you’ (indicative); ‘therefore, this is how you must respond’ (imperative).

What I’d like to do today is to step back from looking closely at this text and to see the bigger picture, to see this pattern in other places. Think of it as examining a tapestry or a quilt. We have been looking closely at each stitch, the care, precision and intricate detail in one particular section of the quilt. Now we take a step back and take in the whole, and see the symmetry, the design, to see the repeating patterns woven into the very fabric of Scripture.

Romans and Ephesians

In the magnificent letter to the Romans, Paul takes 11 chapters to systematically lay out the gospel, the good news, that although all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (3:23), that all together are lost and wrecked by sin, that God’s righteous requirements are not met by our effort, not by earning his favor, but rather through trusting in a God who declares sinners righteous (4:5). He does this out of sheer grace as a freely given gift by putting his one and only Son Jesus forward as a propitiation – the wrath appeasing sacrifice for our sins – by his blood, to be received as a gift by faith (3:24-25). He died for us not after we had cleaned ourselves up, but ‘while we were still sinners’ (5:8). He tells us (in the indicative) that we have been justified or declared righteous by faith, that we have peace with God, that we have access into this grace by faith (5:1-2), that God’s love is poured into our hearts through his Holy Spirit who has been freely given to us (5:5). We have been reconciled. We died with Christ and are raised to newness of life. We are no longer under sin’s control, although we continue to struggle with sin. We are no longer under condemnation, we are no longer under the law. We are indwelt by the Spirit of the living God who now empowers us to live holy lives. It is not until chapter 12 that he really gets to the imperative.

Romans 12:1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Therefore, in light of the overwhelming mercies of God, therefore, rooted and grounded in what is true of you in Christ, as a result of 11 chapters saturated with indicatives, therefore I appeal to you to live holy lives to the glory of God.

In Ephesians we see the same pattern. He tells us that we are blessed, chosen, loved, predestined for adoption, redeemed, forgiven, made co-heirs with Christ, sealed with the promised Holy Spirit (1:3-14). Even when we were dead in our trespasses, he made us alive together with Christ, he raised us up with him, he seated us in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, he intends to display in us for all eternity the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus (2:5-7). We have been brought near by the blood of Christ, we are reconciled to God and to one another, we have access in one Spirit to the Father (2:13-18), we are called saints, a dwelling place for God. We have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in Christ. He prays that we would have strength to comprehend what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge (3:17-19).

Only after all this, in chapter 4(:1), does he urge us therefore, because of this truth, because of what has been given to us in Christ, because of who we are, because of all these indicatives, therefore, ‘walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.’ Therefore, walk in unity, Jews and Gentiles, walk in submission to proper authority. Therefore put off the old self and walk in love, therefore try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Built on this firm foundation of indicative truth, he gives instructions to husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and slaves. He gives instruction for spiritual warfare, rooted in and flowing out of who we are in Christ. The imperative commands flow out of the indicative truths of who we are in Christ.

Peter, James and John

This is not only a pattern we see in Paul. Peter begins his letter addressing the elect exiles, whom God caused to be born again by his great mercy, into the hope of an incorruptible inheritance which is being kept for us, and we are being preserved by him for it (1:1-5). Only then does he say ‘therefore, gird your minds for action, set your hope fully on future grace, and as obedient children be holy as he who called you is holy’ (1:13-16) Peter goes on to point us back; be holy because you know that you were ransomed with the precious blood of Christ (1:18-19).

James reminds us that every good gift comes down from above, and that it was by God’s will that we were birthed by the word of truth. We are told to ‘receive with humility the word that was planted in you which is able to save your souls’ (1:17-22). Only after that, he reminds us to ‘be doers of the word and not hearers only’ (1:22)

John says in his letters that

1 John 2:3 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.

The knowing him comes first. The keeping his commands is response, evidence of the relationship. The response, what we do, is built on and flows out of the objective reality of the relationship we have with him by grace.

Jesus and the Gospels

We see the same thing in the gospels. We see the Son of Man coming to seek and to save the lost (Lk.19:10). Jesus comes for people like tax collectors and prostitutes, sinners. He doesn’t come with a message that ‘if you will clean yourself up, then you can be my followers.’ No, he says ‘come, follow me, and I will make you to become fishers of men’ (Mk.1:17) Jesus calls Peter to follow him, and he continues to mess up. In response to a revelation given to him by God about the identity of Jesus, he names him ‘Peter’ – Rock, and then he begins to shape him into who he intends for him to become (Mt.16:17-18)

Jesus calls a wee chief tax collector down out of a tree and invites himself over to his house. It is only in response to his grace toward a sinner that Zacchaeus freely offers to repay all those he has wronged and give generously to the poor (Lk.19:1-9).

Jesus says ‘you are the light of the world’ (Mt.5:14); that is who you are – therefore ‘let your light shine’ in order to glorify God (Mt.5:16); live consistent with your identity, allow you identity to shape your behavior.

The Old Testament

This is not only a pattern in the New Testament. In the Exodus, God saves his people by his own mighty acts.

Exodus 6:6 Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. 7 I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.

When the people are afraid, he tells them through Moses:

Exodus 14:13 And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. 14 The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”

God saved them with a mighty hand and outstretched arm. God got glory for himself over the Egyptians. God provided for their needs in the wilderness. God gave them victory over their enemies. It is not until Exodus 19 that God moves into the imperative and begins to give them commands. He says:

Exodus 19:4 You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”

Therefore, because of what I have done for you, because I brought you into a relationship with myself, therefore, it ought to transform your behavior.

We see this even in the structure of the ten commandments.

Exodus 20:2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 3 “You shall have no other gods before me.

Because of what I have done for you, because I have rescued you, because I have proved myself to you, because I am your God and have taken you be be in relationship with me, you shall have no other gods before me. The indicative drives and motivates the imperative.

We see this throughout the Old Testament, as prophet after prophet calls the people of God to live consistent with their identity as the chosen people of God.

Our Response

I hope you take this into your bible reading and see if you see this pattern over and over again. I have picked out some of the more obvious examples, but I believe you will begin to see this everywhere.

We need to ask why. Why do we see this pattern everywhere in God’s word? We see this everywhere because this is how God works. God is the initiator. We reciprocate. God is the originator. We respond. God is the creator, God is the redeemer. God alone saves. We are rescued by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, as God authoritatively declares in his word alone, for his own glory alone. When we were dead, God made us alive by his grace, through faith. This is not our own doing; it is all gift, all grace. We are his workmanship. But we are created new in Christ for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them (Eph.2:10). He initiates; we respond.

So how do we respond? Seeing this pattern should motivate us to pursue holiness. Because of all that is true of us in Christ, because of what God has done to rescue us, because of our new identity in Christ, seeing this awakens in us new desires to make it our aim to please him in all things. So look! Look at all that God has done for you in Christ. Look at your identity in Christ. Look at the great news of God’s unearned grace. Look, ponder, meditate, worship. And as you look, allow him to awaken in you new desires, new longings to please him in all things. If you feel stagnant in your walk, in your pursuit of holiness, look! Look at the wonders of the gospel; behold and be transformed.

And step out in childlike dependence in pursuit of his pleasure. Seeing this pattern gives us confidence to trust. We work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, because we know that ‘it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure’ (Phil.2:12-13). All the imperatives he gives us are built on the indicatives of who we are in Christ. The indicatives, what is true of us in Christ, supplies us with the ability to walk boldly in the imperatives.

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Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

June 17, 2019 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, occasional, podcast, Theology | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment