What Are Indicatives and Imperatives in the Bible?

In grammar, the indicatives and imperatives are verbs that denote mood. Indicatives are statements of fact or reality while the imperatives are used to give “orders, commands, warnings or instructions.”

In the Bible, the indicatives are what is already true in Christians even at the present time. The imperatives are usually the responses that are expected of Christians in view of what is already true in them (the indicative).

Unfortunately, some people tend to emphasize one or the other. Some may emphasize the indicatives more and dislike the emphasis on the imperatives and vice versa. The Bible on the other hand clearly shows that it’s not an “either/or” situation but “both/and.” It is clear in the Bible that both are important. The imperatives are our responses to what is already true in Christians. In view of the good news (indicative), we cannot but with joy and excitement respond positively, happily and with excitement (imperative) to God’s gift. This is our participation in what the Lord has already done on our behalf for our own good and for the good of all humanity.

It’s about relationships. God has initiated this relationship with us by reconciling us to himself (indicative). As a positive response to this loving relationship, we cannot but with joy welcome God’s loving embrace and participate by embracing the Lord in return (imperative)! This is not a mechanistic, legalistic response to the conditions of a contract devoid of loving relationship between God and the Christian. It is a loving response in a loving relationship between God and the Christian.

Paul said in that it is the grace of God that teaches us (indicative, the good news of grace) to say “No! to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:11-12). The good news (indicative) compels us to resist ungodliness and to live upright and godly lives (imperative).

We should have a balanced view about the indicatives and imperatives in the Bible and not tip to one side or the other. Both are important as shown in Scripture.

Examples of Imperatives and Indicatives

Example 1:

Indicative:  God has in Christ already reconciled all humanity to himself. That is our present reality in Christ (2 Cor. 5:18-19).

Imperative: Since this is already true that all have been reconciled in Christ, therefore we ought to be reconciled back to God! (2 Cor. 5:20). We are encouraged to not just accept the truth about our present reality in Christ but to also do something about it in our lives by actually getting reconciled back to God.

Example 2:

Indicative: According to Paul, Christians have already been raised in Christ (Col. 3:1). That is already their present status in Christ. It’s already a reality.

Imperative: Since that is already the truth and reality for Christians, therefore Paul urged them to set their hearts on things above. (Col. 3:1-2).

The indicatives of grace does bring along with it the imperatives of grace. Both go hand in hand and should both be emphasized.

Example 3:

Indicative: Christians have already died in Christ. Their life is hidden with Christ in God. Christ is the Christian’s life. Christians will appear with Christ in glory. This is the Christian’s truth and reality right now as well as their future destiny (Col. 3:3-4).

Imperative: In view of the Christian’s reality in Christ, Paul urged them to put to death their earthly nature or sinful nature. This is not sin management in order to be saved. Paul was reminding Christians to act according to who they really were in Christ. (Col. 3:5).

Example 4:

Indicative: Christians have already taken off the old self and have put on the new self (Col. 3:9-10). This is the status of Christians.

Imperative: Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you (Col. 3:12-13).

Example 5:

Indicative: Christians are already children of God. That is their present truth and reality in Christ. That is who they are in Christ. They will be like Christ with glorified bodies at his second coming — future reality (1 John 3:1-2).

Imperative: In light of who Christians are in Jesus Christ, in light of the hope of a future resurrection and glorification, John was urging them to purify themselves! (1 John 3:3). Those who are sinning are practicing lawlessness or wickedness (1 John 3:4).

These are just some examples I gathered randomly from the Bible. The Bible is filled with the indicatives and imperatives of God’s grace. Both are important. The indicatives of grace does indeed bring about the imperatives of grace.

For Further Reading: