But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ —by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus.
A little lesson in grammar taught me a large lesson on faith. It happened as I was learning a language other than my own, when I was introduced to the “indicative” and “imperative”. Every language has verb forms expressing the indicative and the imperative. The indicative form of a verb expresses a statement of fact, a reality, an actuality, such as, “She is going for a walk.” The imperative on the other hand, expresses a command, an order, a direction, such as, “You go for a walk.” It’s a simple distinction but critically important for the walk of faith.
I realized that the Bible is filled with indicatives, with statements of fact about an actuality, a reality of what God has done for us. These indicatives express the God side of faith. Then there are the imperatives, or what we are to do. These are the human side of the faith.
It is significant that in the Bible, as in the life of faith, the indicative always precedes the imperative. What God does for us comes before any command for us to do anything. The indicative-imperative dynamic is: “God has done this for you, therefore you do that for Him.” What God has done in the indicative becomes the basis for how we are to live.
We see this indicative-imperative relationship in the Old Testament: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:2-3). What God has done for the Israelites in redeeming them out of bondage (indicative) is the basis for the Israelites putting God first in their lives (imperative). We see the indicative-imperative relationship in the New Testament: “We love God because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). What God has done for us becomes the basis for what we do in response.
In this season of the Good News of Easter, I linger at the distinction between the indicative and the imperative. This lingering is because it is easy to slip into legalism and moralism. This happens when we make the Gospel into an imperative (Do!), rather than God’s triumphant indicative (Done!). The Gospel is by its very nature indicative, the declaration of a new reality, actuality, and fact. The Gospel is all about what God has done for us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ! (See 1 Corinthians 15:2-3)
Christ Jesus confronted the religious leaders of His time for putting first the imperative (Do!). Jesus knew that this results in either self-righteousness, thinking we have kept God’s commands, or despair in knowing we have not kept God’s commands. Christianity is at its core the indicative of the Easter Good News. It is not lessons in morality. “It is finished!” is Christ’s grand indicative.
Today’s Scripture text is from Paul’s letter to the Ephesian Christians, and is filled with indicative Good News. It is often noted that the first three chapters of Ephesians are in the indicative (all that God has done for us in Christ Jesus). From these three chapters flow the next three chapters in the imperative (How we now live for God in Christ Jesus).
I invite you to take time to savor and to delight in the indicatives of today’s text:
- “He loved us…
- “made us alive together with Christ…
- “raised us up with him…
- “seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…
Let’s keep our indicatives and imperatives straight, and not substitute one for the other. Because the essence of the Christian faith is grace (indicative); the essence of the Christian life is gratitude (imperative)!
Grace and peace,