Understanding the imperative and indicative statements found in the Bible is another key to getting a better overview of God’s intent and purpose for all of humanity. Some Christians get confused about the importance of good works in the life of a Christian. Some overvalue good works and say it is a requirement for salvation. While on the other hand, some may undervalue it and maybe lean towards de-emphasizing good works or the need for a Christian to respond and obey God in view of his great love for us. Some may think of it along these lines.
Imperative and Indicative Explained
So, what are imperative and indicative statements in the Bible? How are these two statements related? Well, simply stated, an indicative statement is a statement of fact. It tells us of what is already true. It is a statement of reality. An imperative statement on the other hand is more of a command. It tells us what ought to be, what ought to be done—or not done. And yes, these two are related in the Bible.
Here are some examples. Paul said that God has “justified us freely by his grace” (Romans 3:24). He also said that “we have been justified through faith” (Romans 5:1). These are statements of what is already true in Christians. That is what an indicative statement is. He was talking to believers.
In view of this fact, Paul then asked, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” (Romans 6:1) Of course not! That’s what Paul essentially said in verse 2 in answer to his own question. This is an indirect way of saying “Don’t continue sinning. That’s wrong. That’s not the way it ought to be.” That is the imperative side of the coin.
Paul then explained in the rest of the chapter the need for righteous living in view of the fact that Christians were already in Christ—justified by grace through faith. In view of what is already true in Christians (indicative), they ought to behave accordingly (imperative).
For another example in Romans 8, Paul continued to explain that these believers had already received the Spirit (Rom. 8:15)—the indicative statement—therefore they had an “obligation” to live according to the leading of the Holy Spirit and not according to the sinful nature (Rom. 8:12)—the imperative statement.
Become Who You Really Are!
Since Christians are already a new creation in Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), Paul is telling us to become who we really are!—as children of God, in Christ—Christians. Since we know that God’s love for us is so great and that we are his beloved children (indicative), the apostle John encourages us to purify (imperative) our selves (1 John 3:1-3).
Christians should not go on sinning (imperative) John added. They were supposed to be “born again” Christians and therefore they should not continue living and practicing sin as a way of life (1 John 3:9). It is incompatible for a Christian to live an ungodly life.
This is essentially what Paul is telling us when he said that “grace teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness (Titus 2:11-13). Grace (indicative) teaches us to say no to ungodliness (imperative).
In view of the indicative statements found in the Bible about who we already are in Jesus Christ, it is imperative upon us Christians to do that which is right before God. We don’t do “good works” in order to earn salvation. Rather, we do “good works” because in so far as God is concerned, he has already given us salvation and doing good works is just but the right thing to do as Christians! This is essentially the important point which some get confused over. Since we are already in Christ (indicative), let’s act like one not contrary to it (imperative).
For Further Study:
- What are Indicatives and Imperatives in the Bible?
- Clarifying Our Theological Vision, Part 1
- On Faith and Works
- Is Sin Transgression of the Law?
- George Hunsinger: Our Lives Are Hidden in Christ
- Chris Kettler: The Ministry of Ray Anderson
- Jeff McSwain: Helping Youth Experience Christ
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