Last week in our Connections class study of Ephesians we reached chapter four of Paul’s letter. This chapter is a transition in the book. Paul moves from primarily telling people what is true to telling people, in light of what I’ve told you up until now, this is how you should live.
Theologians call this a change from the indicative to the imperative. While that sounds like something out of a college English class, it’s really a very important concept for believers to understand.
Put succinctly, the indicative is what is true, the imperative is what you should do. One is a statement of fact, the other a command empowered by that fact. All of the Christian life flows out of indicatives. We can do nothing apart from God in Christ having first accomplished what we could not.
Mike Horton of the White Horse Inn puts it this way:
…imperatives – indicatives = impossibilities! Whenever we see an imperative in the Bible (what we must do) we need to look for the indicative that grounds it (what Jesus has done). Because, no matter how hard you try or how radical you get, any engine smaller than the gospel that you depend on for power to do what God has called you to do will conk out…most importantly, the Great Commission!
John Own in The Mortification of Sin says it like this:
What Gospel principles have not done, legal motives cannot do.
Meaning we cannot rely on moral teaching alone to effect godly behavior in ourselves or others. In Romans 6:14, Paul makes it clear that sin is no longer our master – not because we now know the rules, but because we are no longer under the law but under grace. This is why we often speak of preaching the gospel to ourselves. We don’t just trust in Christ and His finished work for our salvation but for everything we do as we live the Christian life.
As I’m reminded daily of my weakness and inability, I must remind myself daily of Christ’s strength and ability for because of that and that alone am I able, as Ephesians 4:1 says, to live a life worthy of the calling I have received.