This week, we’ll continue with the series I’m calling “Stuff Christians Should Know”. These are categories that were preached from the pulpit and taught via catechism for much of church history. What used to be “common knowledge” isn’t very common these days. In the last few years I’ve spoken to believers who have been raised in church (and some who held various leadership positions) who missed the mark wildly on these basic categories. I think we as mature believers are failing here. We aren’t studying them, we aren’t discipling new believers in them, and frankly we aren’t really even concerned about them. While they may be listed somewhere on the “What we Believe” statement of faith, they’re rarely discussed in “community” or delivered from the pulpit.
Speaking with several Christian brothers recently, I was made keenly aware of the problems caused by not understanding basic categories of our faith. There are many reasons for this, but I believe that the main reasons are that it’s not taught from many pulpits, and most Christians don’t read the Bible. Ouch. I know, but stick with me over the next few posts and see if I’m missing the mark on this.
Categories are important. REALLY important. Much of scripture deals with understanding of major categories, some of which I’ll cover over the next several posts; law and grace, justification and sanctification, indicative and imperative, already and not-yet. If you don’t understand these categories, you’re building on a bad foundation. I’ve seen where this leads, and it leads to a performance treadmill, “Do better, try harder”. It leads to focusing on your works instead of His grace. It leads to legalism. Ultimately it leads to focusing on you and your self-improvement program and not on God.
This week, we’ll continue with “Indicative and Imperative”
Indicative: of, relating to, or constituting a verb form or set of verb forms that represents the denoted act or state as an objective fact (Miriam-Webster Dictionary)
Imperative: expressive of a command, entreaty, or exhortation (Miriam-Webster Dictionary)
The gospel always, always, ALWAYS (you get that it’s always?) begins with indicative, which drives imperative. So what. So why throw out this theological terms. “Deeds not Creeds!” right?
Wrong. So wrong. If you lead with the imperative, you end up with legalism. You end up on the performance treadmill. Don’t believe me? Find your favorite “do this” and I’ll show you the more important “because of”. How about the Paul’s manifest… the book of Romans? Lots of imperative, right?
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (12:1-2). (Read forward from Chapter 12 and you continue with more well known imperatives.)
How about the great imperatives:
The Great Comission? (Mt 28) “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other”? (Eph 4), “Wive’s submit to your husbands, husbands love your wives”?(Eph 5), “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice”? (Rom 12).
All of them depend on the indicative. Every. Single. One. If you glaze over the indicative, the gospel, the grace, the WHY, you will land squarely on the WHAT. And then you climb on the performance treadmill and either feel self-righteous that you’re doing it, or despair that you aren’t. Does that sound anything remotely like the grace of the gospel?
We, as fallen human beings, will always look for the imperative (the law). It’s our nature. It puts us back in control.
How about looking at the imperatives above with their indicatives?
The Great Comission? (Mt 28) “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.“”Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other”? just as in Christ God forgave you.(Eph 4), “Wive’s submit to your husbands, husbands love your wives”? Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her(Eph 5), and finally, nearly everything after chapter 12 of Romans.
If you want to see great examples of how Christ designed us to live and rest in His finished work, read Romans 1-11. See how the indicative is beautifully laid out.. then, and only then, are the imperatives rolled out. Paul often uses “therefore”, “in light of this”, “just as”, “since”, etc.
Read Paul as he deals with problems in the church. Does he give the disaster of a church in Corinth more rules? A remediation plan? 5-steps to a more successful church seminar? Read it yourself, he gives them… the gospel. Indicative. Think they already knew the gospel? Of course they did! But they lost focus. The next time you hear “Deeds not Creeds!”.. run. It’s all law. There aren’t enough deeds to make up for the creed.
I challenge you to do this for the next week. Think of the the things you’ve been called to do… now think of the indicative behind them. Go from indicative, to doxology (praise), to imperative.
“For every look at self, take 10 looks at Christ!” – Robert Murray M’Cheyne
Rest in the grace of our Lord, praise him for that grace, and live out of that grace into love-driven imperative.
And a pertinent quote from A.W. Pink:
“There is a continual need to return to the great fundamental of the faith. As long as the age lasts the Gospel of God’s grace must be preached. The need arises out of the natural state of the human heart, which is essentially legalistic. The cardinal error against which the Gospel has to contend is the inveterate tendency of men to rely on their own performances. The great antagonist to the truth is the pride of man, which causes him to imagine that he can be, in part at least, his own savior. This error is the prolific mother of a multitude of heresies. It is by this falsehood that the pure stream of God’s truth, passing through human channels, has been polluted. Now the Gospel of God’s grace is epitomized in Ephesians 2:8-9,
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.”
All genuine reforms or revivals in the churches of God must have as their basis a plain declaration of this doctrine. The tendency of Christians is like that of the world, to shy away from this truth which is the very sum and substance of the Gospel.”