The imperatives are based on the indicatives

"The imperatives are based on the indicatives and the order is not reversible"

In June 2009, Bryan Chapell, the President of Covenant Seminary in St. Louis and the author of Christ-Centered Preaching, gave a lecture at the Advance09 conference in Durham, North Carolina titled "Communicating the Gospel through Preaching." Regarding preaching (which also applies to sharing and teaching the Bible), Chapell said, "The imperatives are based on the indicatives and the order is not reversible."

What does this mean?: To those who have not heard this before, it might not be readily apparent. Very briefly, imperatives in the Bible express commands which Christians must do, while indicatives are the basis of the imperatives in the Bible. A closely related statement would be: "What you do is based on who you are and the order is not reversible."

Some biblical imperatives: Just randomly, some common biblical imperatives are: love God (Dt 6:5), love your neighbor (Lev 19:18), fear God and keep his commandments (Ecc 12:13), preach the gospel (Mk 16:15), preach the word (2 Ti 4:2), make disciples (Mt 28:19), deny yourself and take up your cross (Mt 16:24, Mk 8:34, Lk 9:23), feed my sheep (Jn 21:15-17), ask, seek, knock (Mt 7:7), the ten commandments (Ex 20:1-17), repent and believe (Mk 1:15), give thanks (1 Th 5:18), look after orphans and widows (Jas 1:27), etc, etc.

Biblical imperatives are wonderful but ... Incidentally, all of these biblical imperatives are wonderful. But they are not primary. These imperatives are always based on the indicatives, according to the flow, and pattern, and stories through out the Bible, although the indicatives are often not readily obvious. For example, when God gave the Israelites the 10 Commandments, God did not say, "Obey them or you're dead!" Instead, God prefaced the 10 Commandments (imperatives) with an indicative, saying, "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery" (Ex 20:2). God did not say, "Obey the 10 commandments, and then I will deliver you from slavery in Egypt." Rather, God said, "I delivered you from slavery (the indicative), therefore, obey the 10 commandments (the imperative)."

Imperatives are primary in all religions of the world except Christianity: As I thought about imperatives and indicatives, I realized that Christians often communicate imperatives rather than indicatives, while thinking that they are being quite faithful to the teachings of the Bible. But if we communicate imperatives rather than indicatives, then we're really no different from any other religion in the world, which all communicate imperatives as the way to be righteous before God, for all religions in the world teach their adherents to be good, to be kind, to be selfless, to be loving and forgiving, to not take revenge, to be morally upright and not be a drunkard, liar, cheat, adulterer, murderer, etc. Only in Christianity is a man not righteous by what he does (or doesn't do), for in the Bible man is saved and is righteous only by faith alone, by grace alone, by Scripture alone, by Christ alone, and for the glory of God alone (The Five Solas). Titus 3:5 says, "he saved us, not because of righteous things we have done, but because of his mercy..." Ephesians 2:8,9 says, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith...not by works, so that no one can boast."

Our default is always toward imperatives: So how might we communicate imperatives when sharing the Bible? We might say or think, "If you don't shape up, how can God ever bless you?" Or, "If you don't repent, how can God forgive you?" Or, "Unless you obey God, God will punish you." Whether we're consciously aware of this or not, we have just communicated that God's blessings for us is up to us and on what we do (imperatives), and not on God (indicative).

We might even think on the basis of imperatives. We think, "God did not bless me day today, because I did not pray and read the Bible this morning." Or, "I better not give in to sin, so that God will bless my finals and give me an A." Or, "I better pray more and purify my heart more, so that I can preach better." Even if these thoughts seem to play out accordingly, we're still thinking and reasoning in terms of imperatives, and not indicatives.

The difference between the gospel and religion: Tim Keller, Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian church in New York, says it best in this way: Religion says, "If I obey, then I'll be accepted by God." But the gospel says, "You're accepted by God, therefore I obey." On the surface, both religion and the gospel look alike, because both believe in Jesus, both read the Bible, both want to obey the 10 commandments, both want to live by the "rules" of the Bible, both want to go to church and Christian fellowship, both want to serve the needy and the poor, etc. But in their hearts, their attitude is quite different. One does so in order to receive God's blessing and approval (religion); while the other does the same thing because they know that they have already received God's blessing and approval (gospel).

Conclusion: Religion, is what we do (or the imperatives we follow and live by), while the gospel is what God has already done for us in Chirst (or the indicative). As Bill Hybels said, "The gospel is done, not do."

If we regard what we do (imperatives) as primary, I will either become proud because I think I'm living up to it (and look down on those who are not), or I will despair because I'm failing to live up to it. So I will either become confident and not humble (because I think I'm doing well), or I will become humble and not confident (becuase I think I'm not doing well).

But when we base our Christian lives on the indicative, which is what God has done for us in Christ, then our entire lives will simply be an expression of what Jesus has done for me in spite of all my sins. When Jesus is our indicative, we can always be confident and humble at the same time, confident because it's not up to me but up to Christ, and humble because Jesus loves me in spite of all my sins.

We do not love in order to be loved by God or others. But 1 John 4:19 says, "We love because he first loved us."

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