Category Archives: Imperatives + Indicatives

Indicatives, Imperatives, and Personal Holiness

C. F. D. Moule, “’The New Life’ in Colossians 3:1-17,” Review and Expositor 70:4 (1973), page 479 [ht]:

Christian existence is a strangely relaxed kind of strenuousness, precisely because the Christian gospel is what it is. Before ever any demand is made, the gift is offered: the announcement of good news precedes the challenge.

The indicative precedes the imperative as surely as the rope is made fast round a firm piece of rock for the climber’s security before he has to apply himself to the struggle. Moreover (if the parable may be extended one clause further), the climber must attach himself to the rope before starting his effort. So the gospel not only begins with the indicative statement of what God has done, before it goes on to the imperative: even the imperative is first a command to attach oneself (be baptized! become incorporate!), before it becomes a command to struggle.

The striving does come: strenuousness is indispensable for the Christian climber—but only in dependence on all that has first been given by God and then appropriated through the means of grace. And the attachment to Christ, which is what causes the tension and makes us “amphibian,” is also precisely what gives us our confidence and our grounds for hope, as it is also the source of forgiveness and renewed strength when we fail.

Related: Sinclair Ferguson on “Supporting the imperatives to holiness.”

Ferguson: Supporting the imperatives to holiness

Ferguson: Supporting the imperatives to holiness

At the 2007 Banner of Truth conference this Spring, Sinclair Ferguson made the following note after reading Titus 2:11-13 (“For the grace of God has appeared … training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions”). He says,

“The great gospel imperatives to holiness are ever rooted in indicatives of grace that are able to sustain the weight of those imperatives. The Apostles do not make the mistake that’s often made in Christian ministry. [For the Apostles] the indicatives are more powerful than the imperatives in gospel preaching. So often in our preaching our indicatives are not strong enough, great enough, holy enough, or gracious enough to sustain the power of the imperatives. And so our teaching on holiness becomes a whip or a rod to beat our people’s backs because we’ve looked at the New Testament and that’s all we ourselves have seen. We’ve seen our own failure and we’ve seen the imperatives to holiness and we’ve lost sight of the great indicatives of the gospel that sustain those imperatives. … Woven into the warp and woof of the New Testament’s exposition of what it means for us to be holy is the great groundwork that the self-existent, thrice holy, triune God has — in Himself, by Himself and for Himself — committed Himself and all three Persons of His being to bringing about the holiness of His own people. This is the Father’s purpose, the Son’s purchase and the Spirit’s ministry.”

- Sinclair Ferguson, message from the 2007 Banner of Truth Conference, Our Holiness: The Father’s Purpose and the Son’s Purchase.

Along with Titus 2:11-13, Ferguson cited 1 Peter 1:1-2, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, Romans 8:28-29 and 15:16. Ferguson preached from John 15:9 the next day where Jesus’ call for fruitful disciples is wrapped in His call for them to “Abide in my love.” Ferguson challenges preachers to root the commands to be holy in the grace of our electing Father, the work of His Son on the Cross and the ongoing work of the indwelling and filling Spirit towards our holiness. The challenge is not to avoid the commands, but make certain our indicatives are strong enough to support them. Preaching from the indicatives assumes the preacher is first living daily in the indicatives of God in his private study.

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