By Max Strange
The Scriptures are chiefly concerned with who God is and what God has done; that is to say, it is an indicative proclamation from God about God. The Bible also includes, with no less force, how we should respond to who God is and what God has done in the imperative. Both are spoken of with such equal consistency that they cannot be separated, isolated, or broken apart. The one is normally seen with the other, like a set of dedicated twins.
The relationship between who God is and what He has done (indicative) and the Christian’s response to it all (imperative) is immediately clear because there is a cause and effect relationship. In the structure found in each case in Scripture, the imperative follows the indicative with transitions: “thus,” “so that,” “in order to,” “for,” or “therefore.” This relationship can also be seen in Philippians 2:12-13 as well when Paul said by the Spirit, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling (imperative), for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for his good pleasure (indicative).” We cannot disconnect, invert, split, or even balance them (50/50). Ridderbos says that the “imperative rests on the indicative and this order is not reversible.” The Christian who does reverse this order will eventually be shipwrecked by his duty-driven rudder.
In other Scriptures, we see this pair of paradoxical twin-ness between the indicative and the imperative. “You are really unleavened” (indicative), therefore “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump” (imperative) [1 Cor. 5:6, 7]; “You are not under law but under grace…you have been brought from death to life” (indicative), “therefore, do not let sin therefore reign in your mortal body...”(imperative) [Rom. 12-14]; “…having been set free from sin, you have become slaves of righteousness” (indicative)“…so 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]; “If then you have been raised with Christ (indicative), seek the things that are above” (imperative) [Col. 3:1].
The indicative is the spring from which the imperative flows. All of what God has done in His great acts of redemption gives fuel to do the good work. God has worked so that we can work. He loved us first so that we can love Him. Jesus did the ultimate work so that we can now walk in His steps. We can walk in good deeds because they have been predestined by God, and we can finish because God has already promised our completion (Eph. 2:10; Phil 1:6). In Colossians 1:29 we read, “For this I toil” (imperative), “struggling with all His energy that He powerfully works within me” (indicative). This shows us that, though we toil with all our energies to do God’s works, in the final analysis it is God’s mighty power working in us to enable us to do what we do. This is a wonderful paradox, for it tells us that we are not alone in our strivings to become what God has called us to become. By our vigilant, aggressive, and sober faith, God works in us the new life that actualizes the indicatives.
It is good to comment at this point that the believer does not simply see what God has done and then respond in his own strength and determination. This would create a moralist who also views the Spirit of God as one who makes change possible but not necessarily actual. In truth, the believer is moved by the preaching and hearing of the Word’s indicatives so that, by the work of the Spirit, his will is energized. All this working of God brings about “the obedience of faith” and “grows” the believer into full development (Phil. 2:13; Rom. 16:26).
This has huge implications as redemptive history unfolds. A Christian is not merely becoming a “Jesus replica” by his own efforts. He is being created by the power of God, after the image of God, for the new creation of the Kingdom of God, by the divine intrusion of His Son (Lk. 17:20-21).
Therefore, the uni-directional preaching of the kingdom and the redemptive work of God in Christ by the Gospel (Kerygma) and the bi-directional teaching of the Kerygma’s content (didache) must primarily be about who God is, what He has accomplished, and what He is bringing to pass. Many cry out for a more practical and handy instruction on Christian living. This, however, is an anti-Biblical plea that reduces preaching and teaching to mere practical advice. This is not the character of the Bible; the Bible’s main thrust declares the greatness of God in the face of Jesus Christ. It is the heralding of “…a new and decisive event, the coming of the Kingdom of God, the dawn of the great time of salvation that God had promised...” (51). It definitely does not leave out how we are to respond. Preaching includes the command to obey, but it is only in response to Gospel facts. How we are to respond (imperatives) is not the foundation for Christianity. Religious instruction must surge forth from the declaration of Gospel fact, or else Christians will fade away into a social club of do-gooders with no distinction from the rest of moralizing and self-justifying religionists.
The indicative and imperative are unbreakable and irreversible. They must follow the Biblical order in our Preaching and Teaching and be fixed on the Gospel facts of God and His Son. We are neither moralists nor mere law keepers. However, we are responders to the great truths of God’s character and nature, His Gospel, His plan of redemption, and the age to come. Until then, let us be amazed with whom God is and what He has done and then respond with joyful gratitude, praise, and good deeds.