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Indicatives and Imperatives

July 29, 2009


Indicatives and Imperatives

A little while ago I was taught to look at Scripture through the lense of indicatives and imperatives.  This method has proven very fruitful in my study of Scripture. Below are some explanations and examples of what each word means.  It is imperative (pun intended) that we understand what each means and not mix them up because that will leave us with a false Gospel.  I pray that this is as fruitful for you as it has been for me.

Indicatives Define Us
They are a declaration of:

  • who God is;
  • what He has done in Christ;
  • who we are in Christ as a result.

Imperatives Lead Us
They are how we respond to who God is in Christ and how He relates to us. (God’s Law)

Indicatives Empower Imperatives (Jonathan Edwards Principle)

The indicatives are the roots, the imperatives are the branches.

Examples from Scripture
Luke 6:36 “(imperative) Be merciful, (indicative) just as your Father is merciful [to you].”
Romans 15:7 “(imperative) Accept one another, then, (indicative) just as Christ has accepted you , in order to bring praise to God.”
1 John 4:12 “(imperative) If we love one another, God dwells in us, (indicative) and His love is matured in us.”
Leviticus 20:7-8 “(imperative) Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, (indicative) for I am the Lord your God. (imperative) Keep my statutes and do them; (indicative) I am the Lord who sanctifies you.”

Diagnostic Tool to Examine the Heart
We can tell what we truly believe most deeply in our heart about the way God in Christ relates to us, by the way that we relate to the Lord and other people.

  • If we believe that God is still angry at us and will pay us back for our transgressions(indicatives)-then we will have an angry, “pay back” attitude towards others(imperatives).

On the other hand:

  • If we truly believe that God is gracious, loving and merciful towards us in Christ (indicatives)- then we will normally act graciously towards others forgiving them when they wrong us (imperatives).

Two Possible Errors:

  1. Moralism occurs when we put the imperatives ahead of the indicatives.
  2. Cheap Grace occurs when indicatives are communicated with no mention of imperatives.

*Thank you Justin Curtis, Will Walker, and Covenant Seminary*

One Comment leave one →
  1. Julie Holz permalink
    August 4, 2009 8:11 AM

    Good thoughts on indicatives and imperatives. It gives me a lot to think about, especially when studying the Bible. Thanks for the lesson.

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