Imperatives – Indicatives = Impossibilities

From JT:

The dominant mode of evangelical preaching on sanctification, the main way to motivate for godly living, sounds something like this:

You are not _____;

You should be _________;

Therefore, do or be ________!

Fill in the blank with anything good and biblical (holy; salt and light; feed the poor; walk humbly; give generously; etc.).

This is not how Paul and the other New Testament writers motivated the church in light of the resurrection and the outpouring of the Spirit. They did give imperatives (=what you should do), but they do so only based on indicatives (=what God has done).

The problem with the typical evangelical motivation toward radical or sacrificial living is that “imperatives divorced from indicatives become impossibilities” (to quote Tullian Tchividjian). Or another way that Tullian puts it: “gospel obligations must be based on gospel declarations.”

This “become what you are” way of speaking is strange for many us us. It seems precisely backward. But we must adjust our mental compass in order to walk this biblical path and recalibrate in order to speak this biblical language.

We see this all throughout the NT. Here are a few examples of this gospel logic and language:

“You really are unleavened” (indicative),
therefore “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump” (
imperative). [1 Cor. 5:7].

“You are not under law but under grace” and you “have been brought from death to life (indicatives),
therefore “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body. . . .
Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness,
but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness” (
imperatives). [Rom. 6:12-14]

“Having been set free from sin, [you] have become slaves of righteousness (indicatives) . . .
[therefore] now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification (
imperative). [Rom. 6:18-19]

“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (indicative),
therefore, “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (
imperative). [Gal. 5:16, 24]

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5 Comments

  • Leo says:

    Preaching through Ephesians right now…you cannot do wo without exactly this understanding…

    Become what you are, what Christ has made you.

  • Leo says:

    AND…apparently I can’t spell…”wo” should be “so”

  • Michael K. says:

    I agree, Leo – Ephesians points it out great. It’s a “believe, become, behave” paradigm. Often, we make it “believe, behave, become” or something like it.

  • dip rippy says:

    Amen. We must see each other in this light and treat each other appropriately. For example, I am a father by the simple fact that I have children. Acting out that role as father is evidence of who I am. All who are saved, knowing WHO saved them and to WHOM they are saved, move their whole lives in Christ’s direction.
    I’m reminded of that famous quote from Hugh Latimer,

    “Be of good cheer, master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle in England, as I hope, by God’s grace, shall never be put out.”

    We play out our obedient hearts according to the work of Christ in us, the hope of Glory.
    Thanks for the post mk.

  • Steve says:

    I’m so happy you used 1 Cor 5:7 for one of your examples; it brings back good memories.

    When my wife and I were first married, we did a study of Corinthians with other young married couples. So when one of us got grumpy the other would say “are you being a leavened lump?” It made us laugh and always helped lighten up the situation. I think we should bring it back. It always kept the little things from leavening the whole lump (Gal 5:9).

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