The Imperative Follows the Indicative

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. On the other hand, some may undervalue it and and say that good works are not important. 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. This is usually the pattern we see especially in Scripture.

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) — based on who they were in Christ.

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 was telling them to become who they really were! — as children of God, in Christ — Christians. Since Christians know that God’s love for them is so great and that they are his beloved children (indicative), the apostle John encouraged them to purify (imperative) themselves (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 was telling Christians when he said that “grace (indicative) teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness (imperative) (Titus 2:11-13).

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 for us get reconciled back to God. Rather, we do “good works” because he has already reconciled us back to him! (2 Cor. 5;18-20).

We do “good works” because it is the right thing to do and the proper response to God’s love and grace that he has lavishly and freely given to us through Jesus Christ! 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:

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Updated: 8/8/17

2 Replies to “The Imperative Follows the Indicative”

  1. Well said, well written. Thanks, Pastor Len! It’s liberating, not burdensome, to do good when you know you are already saved. Not doing good works in order to be saved.

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