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,” (http://www.upper-register.com/papers/not_under_law.pdf, 2007), 11.