Monday, March 26, 2007

Indicatives, Imperatives, and Grace

I'm passionately committed to what we often call the "grace distinctives." I think what we most often mean when we talk about the "grace distinctive" is best summed up in the phrase (was it from Ridderbos? Vos?) that the "indicatives come before imperatives and the order cannot be reversed."

The phrase sums up a lot of biblical truth. The "indicative" is what is true about us by virtue of what Jesus has done for us. Just like an indicative statement often has the word "is" in it ("Sean is a guy"; "Sean is married to Sara"; etc.), so an indicative statement theologically stress what Sean is by virute of God's unmerited, undeserved favor: Sean is united to Christ; Sean is justified, sanctified, adopted, glorified; Sean is hid with God in Christ, etc. These things are true no matter what--not because of my performance, but because of what Jesus has done in my place in God's sight; and they are received by faith alone.

So, indicatives come first--if you will, they are identity statements. But that doesn't mean that there are no imperatives. If indiciatives tell me who I am in Jesus, imperatives tell me what I must do: put to do death my sin; season your conversation with gracious words; flee immorality; keep my body under. The Bible and especially the NT is full of imperatives--I don't do these things in order to be saved or to please God per se (God is already pleased with me because he sees me in Jesus), but I do these things in the same way that a child does things their parents say: because I am God's child through Jesus, because of who I am, I live in certain ways.

If you put the imperatives first, what happens? Mainline Protestant moralism. The fancy historical category that Nancy Ammerman once used was "Golden Rule Christians." Christianity devolves done to "do unto others what you'd have them to do you" and this is the way to heaven. It is the obey part of "trust and obey."

Yet if you put the indicative first and forget the imperatives, what happens? Licentiousness or antinomianism, no doubt. But even worse, a loose, lifeless spirituality--a loss of repentance, a failure to recognize my own continuing sinfulness, and a concomitant tendency to become bored with the Gospel; a loss of holiness, or even a longing for it, a failure to put sin to death and the practices of the "old man."

Biblical Christianity, the gracious Christianity to which I aspire and to which I witness, stresses both the indicative and the imperative, in the proper order. Because God in Jesus by the Spirit pursued me, wooed me, and captured my heart and granted all the benefits of the Gospel to me, I am called now to love him, live for him, pray to him, fear him, speak for him, put my beloved sins to death for him, and even need be die for him.

Only such a Christianity truly gracious, because only such a Christian recognizes and lives out the costly nature of that grace.


Participation not imitation said...

that was indeed the Great Ridderbos

Russ R said...

Would you regard the indicative/imperative relationship as identical to Law/Gospel, or is there a shade of difference?

travis said...

yes, yes, yes. the difference and the place of indicatives and imperatives is the only thing that gives me hope. without the indicatives coming first i would just give in to despair over my continual failure. thanks for the encouragement and the reminder.

KelseyD said...

This is my first read of your blog, and I have to say my heart has been blessed. I am currently serving in the local church and it is so easy for all of us to forget this important key aspects of how grace affects our being and should affect our daily life!

Micky said...

About 3 years ago I dropped into a black hole – four months of absolute terror. I wanted to end my life, but somehow [Holy Spirit], I reached out to a friend who took me to hospital. I had three visits [hospital] in four months – I actually thought I was in hell. I imagine I was going through some sort of metamorphosis [mental, physical & spiritual]. I had been seeing a therapist [1994] on a regular basis, up until this point in time. I actually thought I would be locked away – but the hospital staff was very supportive [I had no control over my process]. I was released from hospital 16th September 1994, but my fear, pain & shame had only subsided a little. I remember this particular morning waking up [home] & my process would start up again [fear, pain, & shame]. No one could help me, not even my therapist [I was terrified]. I asked Jesus Christ to have mercy on me & forgive me my sins. Slowly, all my fear has dissipated & I believe Jesus delivered me from my “psychological prison.” I am a practicing Catholic & the Holy Spirit is my friend & strength; every day since then has been a joy & blessing. I deserve to go to hell for the life I have led, but Jesus through His sacrifice on the cross, delivered me from my inequities. John 3: 8, John 15: 26, are verses I can relate to, organically. He’s a real person who is with me all the time. I have so much joy & peace in my life, today, after a childhood spent in orphanages [England & Australia]. God LOVES me so much. Fear, pain, & shame, are no longer my constant companions. I just wanted to share my experience with you [Luke 8: 16 – 17].

Peace Be With You