Have you ever read a passage of Scripture, felt convicted you should repent, but then immediately felt crushed by how difficult it was and despaired that you would ever change? Have you ever felt like you needed to clean your life up just a bit more before the Lord would really love you? Today let's explore a fundamental distinctive of the gospel, by taking a look at two technical grammar concepts.
In English grammar, the INDICATIVE is a statement of being. "The car is red." The IMPERATIVE is a statement of command, "Paint the car red." And the distinction between these two grammar concepts is one of the most glorious and empowering truths of Christianity, and it stands in contrast to culture & religion. The indicative comes first, then the imperative. Meaning, who you are comes before what you should do. Being, then doing. Identity, then activity. And it's dangerous to put it the other way around! Let's look at some Scripture to back this up:
- 1 John 3:1-3 "See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3 All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure."
We are loved children (indicative), and then purify ourselves (imperative).
- Ephesians 4:1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.
You have received a calling (indicative), now live a life worthy of it (imperative).
- Colossians 3:1-5 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature...
You have been raised with Christ, your life is now hidden with Him (indicative), so then, put to death what is earthly (imperative).
- Galatians 5:24-25 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
Living by the Spirit, then keeping in step. Indicative, then imperative.
- 1 Corinthians 5:7-8 Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
Wow! This is one of the most clear of all the Scriptures. We're presented first with the imperative: get rid of the old yeast! But it's backed up by the indicative: you really are a new batch! Wow. Paul is essentially saying, "BE who you ARE". And what's the power of this? The gospel: Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed in our place. That's what makes us new.
Usually in our meritocratic culture, the imperative comes first, and then the indicative is earned. Example: You do well on a test, and then you get a good grade. Or, you campaign well for a leadership spot, and then you get the title and position. It actually works just the same in religion: You work hard and obey all the rules, and then god awards you with the good place at the table. But the gospel is precisely the opposite! The NEW indicative (who you are) comes first and EMPOWERS the imperative (what you should do). Being, then doing! By grace we are adopted as sons, THEN called to live as sons. By grace we are forgiven of all sin, and THEN told to start living free of sin. Tim Lane and Paul Tripp summarize it well in How People Change, page 187, "When rightly understood, God’s love will propel you toward holiness and growth in grace. The order is essential: I am a new creation, accepted, adopted, and free; therefore I want to please God. We do not say: I will try to please God so that I may become a new creation, make myself acceptable, and hope that God adopts me and sets me free."
So, when you feel burdened by the call to change, the call to repentance, the call to a new life, remember who you are. You are a new creation, you are free from sin, you are alive by the Spirit. Now live like that. It isn't a crushing burden, it's an empowering reminder! You don't have to keep going back to the dirty dungeon of your sin. You've been liberated, so now walk in the freedom of a loved child. This is the great and fundamental difference between the gospel and religion! Remember this gospel, and THEN keep fighting.
Be who you are,
The Relentless Fight