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The Indicative and the Imperative are grammatical moods. Mood tells you what the speaker thinks about what he is saying. The common moods in English grammar are the Indicative, the Subjunctive, and the Imperative.

The Indicative Mood declares that the speaker is viewing the thing as actual, as in “What I am telling you is true.” The Subjective says the speaker sees it as a potential reality, as in “This might be real, or it might not; it could become real, or it may not.” The Imperative says the speaker is giving a command, as in “You must do this.”

The Bible speaks in all three of these moods, plus at least one Greek mood that English does not have. That is the Optative Mood, which is sort of like the Subjunctive Mood on steroids.

With different moods and different tenses, a wide variety of nuance is available in either English or Greek.

“The Indicative Imperative,” however, is not so much a grammatical construction as a theological concept.

God is the ultimate Indicative. That is, He is the ultimate reality. He is REALITY! – in all caps with an exclamation point. All other reality derives from Him. He is the “ground of all being” since He is the source of all else. “In Him we live and breathe and have our being.” I include the Word of God who became flesh and the Holy Spirit in the word “God.”

The indicative imperative is a concept that says we become what God wants us to be before we can do what God wants us to do.

This is God’s Grace working in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure (cf. Philippians 3:13). The desiring comes before the doing – and being in relationship with God comes before the desire to do His will.

I grew up hearing preachers saying things like, “If we will just do what the early Christians did, we will become what they were.”

Do you notice how this statement makes our “becoming” depend on our “doing”? Thus, without realizing it, we constructed a “works based” plan of salvation. The emphasis was on the commandments God gives to us, not on what God does in us and for us.

We paid scant attention to how the commandments God gave relate to what He has done and is doing for us and in our lives.

It took me years to realize this.

The first step to realization was in observing the “therefore” passages. I noticed this first in the epistles of Paul, so I called this a “Pauline Characteristic.” I noticed how Paul would have a section of doctrinal instruction and follow it with “therefore.” Romans 12:1 gives us an excellent example of this:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.

The first eleven chapters of Romans are doctrinal. The “Therefore” in 12:1 shifts gears and gives practical instruction for Christian living we are to follow because of teaching Paul gave in chapters 1 – 11.

It was later that I realized Paul was not alone in this. Other writers of the New Testament (and even the Old Testament) wrote the same way. Take, for example, 1 Peter 4:1-2.

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.

I was making progress! At least, I was beginning to understand that practical, ethical teaching had a theological backbone to support it. We are to be ethical for theological reasons.

It was still later that I noticed that the theological teaching on which the therefore hinged was always what God has done or is doing for us in Christ through His Holy Spirit.

I cannot recall the exact time sequence, but I also came to realize that since that is the way the apostles wrote, perhaps I should preach and teach that way as well.

As you can well imagine, as my understanding changed, my preaching took on a different quality. I began to stress the goodness of God more – and to call on my audience to respond to His love. Before, I was more likely to threaten the audience with God’s wrath if they did not obey – which is the preaching I grew up hearing. I began to talk more about the work of the Holy Spirit in molding and shaping our lives so that we would become what God designed us to be.

Thus, gradually, the imperatives became “indicative imperatives.” I began to say things more like:

God loves you. His Son died for you. He called you out of darkness. He has made you His own. He has placed His Spirit within you. He is doing this to change you from what you once were to what He wants you to be. Now here is how you ought to live as a reflection of God who is living in you and working His grace in and through you.

Do you notice how the emphasis shifted to what God has done and is doing to make us what we should be? Paul taught Titus to teach this way:

I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone. – Titus 3:8

Look at Titus 2:11 – 3:7 to see what things Paul wanted Titus to stress. What a list is there!

Grace. Salvation. Hope. Jesus’ return. Redemption. Kindness & Love of God. Mercy. Rebirth. Renewal. Holy Spirit. Jesus. Justification. Heirs of God. Hope of Eternal Life.

Stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good.

This leaves no reason to harangue an audience. Hold up the crucified Christ. Let God draw men to His service by His love.

We become by God’s grace. Then because He makes us what He wants us to be, we do what He wants us to do – still by His grace. As Jesus said to the Jews:

“If you were Abraham’s children, then you would do the things Abraham did.” – John 8:39

“If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. – John 8:42

“You belong to your father, the Devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. – John 8:44

What you are determines what you do. You obey the commands of God because you love Him. You love Jesus because you are a child of God. You are saved by grace through faith to do the works God has prepared for you (Ephesians 2:8-10).

This is the indicative imperative of the gospel. This is the obedience of faith.


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