Completed by the Spirit Part 20: A Pattern of Indicative-Powered Imperatives

Ed Trefzger
Ed Trefzger
This is the 20th part of a series of posts adapted from a paper I presented at a New Covenant Theology think tank in upstate New York in July 2010.
As we noted from the writings of Thomas Schreiner in our previous installment, Paul doesn’t give us commands, or imperatives, in the form of laws, but rather as based in the indicative — that is, in our position in Christ. Paul exhorts us to be who we now are.
In addition to those previous examples, we can also look to Paul’s letters to the Ephesians and Colossians for imperatives grounded in the indicative.
Ephesians 4:1–3: [1] I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk,”(imperative), “in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, [2] with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, [3] eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” (indicative).
Similarly, Ephesians 5, which follows Paul’s indicative description of God’s forgiveness of us through Christ:
[1] Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. [2] And walk in love,(imperatives) as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (indicative).
[3] But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, (imperative) as is proper among saints (indicative). [4] Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving (imperative). [5] For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God (indicative). [6] Let no one deceive you with empty words (imperative), for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience (indicative). [7] Therefore do not become partners with them (imperative); [8] for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord (indicative).
(Ephesians 5:1–8)
In Colossians 2:8–15, Paul’s doxology establishes the indicative of Christ, while verses 16–23 (beginning with “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath,”) express the imperatives that flow from that. Then, chapter 3 begins with another indicative-driven imperative:
[1] If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. [2] Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. [3] For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. [4] When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1–4)
Paul’s pattern of indicative-empowered imperatives – which really means Spirit of Christ-empowered imperatives – continues throughout his epistles. Lee Irons writes:
The real substantive difference in the ethic of the new covenant lies not in the area of the content of this ethic, but in the antithetical contrast between the Law as a covenant of works and the dynamic of grace, with its indicative-grounded imperatives. The Law says, “Do this and live! Sinner, be something you are not!” Grace says, “You have been made alive, therefore be what you are!” The imperatives of the NT are laced with indicatives. … There are no imperatives in the NT that come to us apart from the indicative of our union with Christ, apart from the reality of what we have first become by grace. In the NT we find no sheer commands direct out of heaven from the throne of God, much less the naked ten commandments as an eternally static “moral law” binding on all men. To the extent that the ten commandments contain a just requirement founded on the holiness of God, we find those commands coming to us not from the hands of Moses, but from the hands of Christ who first kept those commands in our place and who calls us to see ourselves as having kept them in him, and to express that vision concretely in our lives.[1] How do we walk in light of the Gospel, in light of the indicatives? We’ll look at the application of these truths next time.
Next: Completed by the Spirit Part 21: Do Not Submit Again to a Yoke of Slavery
[1] Lee Irons, “Not Under The Law But Under Grace,” (, 2007), 11.

The Christian: Given the Spirit by God – 2 Corinthians 1:22

David Frampton
Dave Frampton
Our salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ is a great treasure. Many concepts are required to make it known. So desirous is God that we should have right ideas of him, he loves us better than we love ourselves. Since God wants us to know the joy of his glory, he labors by all godly means to assure us of his love to us. Unless we know his love to us, we cannot respond in love to him or rejoice in him or rest in his peace.  Three sessions previous we considered what we share in God’s present work of confirming us. Then we began to look at what God did at the time of our salvation. The apostle uses three aorist participles (anointed, sealed, and gave) to explain more about God’s saving grace. We have already considered how God anointed us and sealed us when he saved us. Now we come to the third participle. God gave the guaranteeing deposit of the Spirit in our hearts.
I. The action of God – he gave the Spirit in our hearts

It seems to me that most contemporary western Christians have confused views about their relationship with the Spirit of the Lord. Either Christians neglect him or Christians become overly passionate about his miraculous gifts. In such a situation, any preacher who strives to be Christ-structured in his teaching must avoid the trap of simply saying, “You’re all either spiritually frozen or insane!” Instead, he must seek to present accurate teaching about this great gift of the Lord to his new covenant people.
A. God gave a great gift to us.

1. This gift came through God’s exaltation of his Son, who then gave many gifts, including the Holy Spirit to those in him (Ac 2:32-33; Eph 4:7-10). The story of God’s glory in his people (1 Pt 5:14) always happens through the Lord Jesus Christ.

2. The presence of the Spirit in us is an incredibly, infinitely valuable gift. What kind of grace is this that God himself would come to live in us? Yet do we appreciate this gift of the Spirit? We have streams of living water flowing from within us (Jn 7:38). However, we too often live like we have only a trickle of the gracious Spirit. Or we ignore his presence to search for some miraculous sign of his power. Some long for God the Spirit to be like a great and powerful wind or an earthquake or a fire, when God might be acting like a gentle yet strong whisper that renews the soul (cf. 1 Ki 19:11-18). Others want to strut their theological insight, and so prefer the gentle whisper, but they seem to lack the power of godliness. Part of the problem is that we don’t prize the Person of the Spirit himself or live in faith in his power. What we need to believe is that the Holy Spirit has already appeared to and lives in the new covenant people of Christ.

B. God gave us his Spirit in our hearts—in the core of our inner persons

1. The Spirit has come right inside us that we might know Christ—Christ the crucified, Christ raised to endless life in power, Christ exalted to the right hand of the Father, Christ ruling over all things for the good of his church, Christ coming again in power and great glory, and Christ restoring all things to the glory of God to share endless joy with us. “The Spirit, we might say, is the matchmaker, the celestial marriage broker, whose role it is to bring us and Christ together and ensure that we stay together” (Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit, p. 66).

2. The presence of the Spirit of God in us is a shared reality and a dynamic experience of overflowing love.

  • The Spirit works in us to make, as it were, our hearts to beat in unison (Eph 4:3).
  • He fills us to make us united worshipers of God (Eph 5:19-20).
  • He strengthens internally (Eph 3:16),
  • and then we can work together for the progress of the gospel, regardless of worldly circumstances (Ph 1:19).

“All the privileges we enjoy, all the dignity and honor we are invested withal, our whole dedication unto God, our nobility and royalty, our interest in all church advantages and approaches to God in worship, our separation from the world, the name whereby we are called, the liberty we enjoy—all flow from this head, all are branches of this effect of the Holy Ghost” (Owen, Works, Vol. 2, p. 248).

Apply: Is the Spirit spreading the sweet fragrance of Christ into every area of your life? Is he remaking us so that we grow up together into Christ’s likeness? The Spirit is in us; are we yielding to him?

II. The purpose of God – the Spirit is the deposit that guarantees
A. The Greek word behind the NIV translation (αρραβων) has two basic meanings, both with a commercial usage.

1. It was the first installment of a purchase—a down payment that gave a legal claim to the item in question. Think of how we make a down payment on a house or car.

2. It was a pledge or a guarantee that made full payment obligatory. The word is used in the LXX of Gen 38:17-20, where Judah gives his daughter-in-law (who has concealed her identity) his seal, cord, and staff as a pledge that he would pay her.

3. It seems that Paul is using both meanings, which explains the NIV translation of “a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come”. The Holy Spirit is what God gives us to guarantee every spiritual blessing (cf. Eph 1:3, 14).

B. The Spirit himself is the deposit that guarantees.

1. As in other aspects of our salvation, the guaranteeing deposit is personal; it is God himself. We do not go through some rituals or keep some list of rules to gain security by ourselves. No, God gives the Spirit of God, who comes to live in us to let us know that our full salvation is secure. We must never lose touch with this personal aspect. True Christianity consists very much in a personal relationship with God through Christ by the Spirit. If we lose this friendship (fellowship) with the Spirit, we slip into a cold, formal religion in which we try to gain personal benefits by practicing the religion.

Illustration: The other day, I heard a sportscaster commenting on the removal of a BYU basketball player from the team for violating that school’s code of honor. He said among other things, “I’m not a practicing catholic… but that’s what religion is—a list of rules.”
Apply: In your daily experience, has your relationship with the Lord degenerated into a mere religion—doing a bunch of stuff, as a friend of mine would say? Part of your religious dreariness comes from forgetting that the Holy Spirit is a person who lives in you as the guaranteeing deposit of your full salvation.

2. The Spirit is in us so that we might know the certainty of completed redemption (Eph 1:13-14), maintain hope (confident expectation) in our journey through this world (Rm 5:5; 2 Cor 5:5), and have the outlook of an heir waiting to receive our full inheritance (Rm 8:17). New covenant believers live between the ages. All the ages past have ended, including the old covenant. The new covenant age has already begun, and we live in it. But we look forward to the coming ages (Eph 2:7).

Apply: So then, what is your daily experience of the Spirit’s presence? Are you living out this truth? To do so, we must keep in step with the Spirit!
III. The result from God – what the Spirit guarantees
Quote: “The present experience of Christ by the Spirit is a foretaste of the future fullness. Even in suffering and persecution Christians may enjoy this foretaste because the Spirit rests on them in his dual capacity as ‘the Spirit of grace and glory’” (Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, p. 180).
A. Our inheritance (Eph 1:14; 1 Pt 1:4)
B. The immeasurable riches of God’s grace to us (Eph 2:7)
C. Appearance with Christ in glory (Col 3:4; 1 Pt 5:10)
D. Marveling at his majesty (2 Th 1:10)
E. Shared perfection with God’s people (Eph 1:4; Heb 11:39-40)
F. Honor (1 Pt 1:7; cf. Rm 8:9)
G. Great joy (Jude 1:24)
Apply: Bask in the glory that we will share in Christ. Refresh your soul in this fountain of grace and peace. The day of our redemption is drawing near! And the Holy Spirit lives within as God’s great guarantee of the eternal riches of his grace. So let us watch and wait for our Lord’s return.