The Grand Indicative
An important pattern discernible from Scripture is that redemptive indicatives precede moral imperatives. An indicative is a statement of fact. It is reality. Consequently, the term “redemptive indicatives” refers to realities of our redemption, such as the fact we’ve been raised to new life through the blood of Christ and we’ve been empowered by the Spirit in our new lives. An imperative is a command. The term “moral imperatives” refers to commands given concerning how we live our lives. Put together, the phrase “redemptive indicatives precede moral imperatives” means that the truths concerning and associated with our salvation as Christians precedes and lays the foundation for what we’re commanded to do as a consequence. Stated another way, we do what we do because of who Christ is and what He did. A multitude of verses throughout Scripture exemplify and highlight this:
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.” – 2 Corinthians 5:10-11a
Because of the reality that everyone must “appear before the judgement seat of Christ”, therefore, we evangelize.
“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” – 2 Corinthians 5:18-20
Because of the reality that Christ reconciled us and gave to us the ministry of reconciliation, therefore, we evangelize.
“We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” – Romans 6:9-11
“For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” – Colossians 3:3-5
In fact, the entire book of Ephesians follows this indicative – imperative structure. The first three chapters of Ephesians discusses realities and truths related to salvation: the indicatives. Then the last three chapters discusses the implications of those truths and our appropriate response: the imperatives.
Redemptive indicatives precede moral imperatives. The truths pertaining to our salvation in Christ lay the foundation for what we're told to do as a consequence.
The reason I bring this up is because much contemporary preaching fails to adhere to this Biblical precedent. I have heard many preachers proclaim just imperatives from the text. Command after command is thrown at the listeners, all the while barely discussing the indicatives that are the foundation for those commands. The audience may glean truths for living their lives, but they will lack the foundational motivation upon which those commands are built. Such preaching may frequently result in theological malnutrition and in despair over one’s inability to keep the commands. It should be kept in mind that merely discussing and expounding on the indicatives doesn’t guarantee that Christians will keep the imperatives; however, it does provide them with a better theological foundation from which to strive to do so.
Even Jesus, in his last exhortation before the ascension, also exemplified such a structure:
“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’” – Matthew 28:18-20
The implications for us today is that we must always strive to make sure that all imperatives from Biblical preaching, teaching, and exhorting is adequately structured over the well exposited indicatives that are its foundations.
As we know from Scripture, all of Scripture points to Christ (See previous post for greater discussion):
“he said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” – Luke 24:25-27
“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me…Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” – John 5:39, 45-47
Because all of Scripture is about Christ, and the person and work of Christ are the very center of our salvation, ultimately, all indicatives in scripture will be rooted in Him.
Because Christ raised us up in new life, we have the ability to fight temptation. Because Christ is our just Lord, all will appear before his judgement seat. Because Christ died his death to sin and lives his life to God, we consider ourselves as dead to sin and alive to God. Because Christ gave us the ministry of reconciliation, we strive to evangelize.
Christ is the grand indicative of Scripture. He is the foundation, center, source, and goal of all Scripture. Any adequate discussion of imperatives must discuss indicatives. Any adequate discussion of indicatives must trace its source to Christ.
As Christians, whether in preaching, teaching, or exhorting, we must never discuss imperatives without indicatives, and we must never discuss indicatives without discussing Christ.