This is the 19th 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.

We cer­tainly are given imper­a­tives — com­mands — in the New Tes­ta­ment. Indeed, many imper­a­tives are included in Paul’s epistles.

But it is vitally impor­tant to under­stand that Paul’s imper­a­tives are not in the form of laws, but are imper­a­tives that are depen­dent upon the indica­tive of the gospel.

Pro­fes­sor and the­olo­gian Thomas Schreiner explains:

Paul’s exhor­ta­tions do not fall prey to legal­ism, for they are rooted in his gospel and the promises of God. Another way of say­ing this is that the imper­a­tive (God’s com­mand) is rooted in the indica­tive (what God has done for believ­ers in Christ). Believ­ers are saved, redeemed, rec­on­ciled, and jus­ti­fied even now, and yet we have seen that each of these bless­ings is fun­da­men­tally esc­a­ha­to­log­i­cal. Believ­ers are already redeemed, and yet they await final redemp­tion. Jus­ti­fi­ca­tion belongs to believ­ers by faith, and yet they await the hope of right­eous­ness on the last day (). Believ­ers would not need any eth­i­cal exhor­ta­tions if they were already per­fected. But in the inter­val between the “already” and the “not yet,” eth­i­cal exhor­ta­tion is needed. If the pri­or­ity of the indica­tive is lost, then the grace of the Pauline gospel is under­mined. The imper­a­tive must always flow from the indica­tive. On the other hand, the indica­tive must must not swal­low up the imper­a­tive so that the lat­ter dis­ap­pears. The imper­a­tives do not com­pro­mise Paul’s gospel. They should not be con­strued as law opposed to gospel. The imper­a­tives are part and par­cel of the gospel as long as they are woven into the story line of the Pauline gospel and flow from the indica­tive of what God has accom­plished for us in Christ.[1]

Schreiner gives two exam­ples of imper­a­tives rooted in the indica­tive of the gospel. He points first to in which a man has been caught in sex­ual immoral­ity with his father’s wife. Begin­ning in :

[6] Your boast­ing is not good. Do you not know that a lit­tle leaven leav­ens the whole lump? [7] Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleav­ened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sac­ri­ficed. [8] Let us there­fore cel­e­brate the fes­ti­val, not with the old leaven, the leaven of mal­ice and evil, but with the unleav­ened bread of sin­cer­ity and truth. ()

Schreiner notes that there is a coor­di­na­tion between the indica­tive and the imper­a­tive. Paul com­mands the Corinthi­ans to remove the man from the church because tol­er­a­tion of sin cor­rupts the entire church. He exhorts the church to “clean out the old leaven,” but grounds it in the words, “as you are really unleavened.”

The indica­tive of the church as believ­ers being free from evil demands the action to make it a real­ity in the here and now.[2]

Schreiner’s sec­ond exam­ple is : “[12] There­fore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my pres­ence but much more in my absence, work out your own sal­va­tion with fear and trem­bling, [13] for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

A quick read of would sug­gest that we are to save our­selves, but Schreiner explains that while the pas­sage reveals that obe­di­ence is nec­es­sary for sal­va­tion on the last day, “The imper­a­tive is grounded in the indica­tive. … All human obe­di­ence tes­ti­fies to God’s power and grace in the lives of his peo­ple.”[3]

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


[1] Thomas R. Schreiner, New Tes­ta­ment The­ol­ogy: Mag­ni­fy­ing God in Christ (Grand Rapids: Baker Aca­d­e­mic, 2008), 656.

[2] Ibid., 656–7.

[3] Ibid., 657.

 


For through the Spirit, by faith, we our­selves eagerly wait for the hope of right­eous­ness. (ESV)


5:1 It is actu­ally reported that there is sex­ual immoral­ity among you, and of a kind that is not tol­er­ated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arro­gant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.

For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pro­nounced judg­ment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assem­bled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruc­tion of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.

Your boast­ing is not good. Do you not know that a lit­tle leaven leav­ens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleav­ened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sac­ri­ficed. Let us there­fore cel­e­brate the fes­ti­val, not with the old leaven, the leaven of mal­ice and evil, but with the unleav­ened bread of sin­cer­ity and truth.

I wrote to you in my let­ter not to asso­ciate with sex­u­ally immoral peo­ple— 10 not at all mean­ing the sex­u­ally immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idol­aters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writ­ing to you not to asso­ciate with any­one who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sex­ual immoral­ity or greed, or is an idol­ater, reviler, drunk­ard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judg­ing out­siders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those out­side. “Purge the evil per­son from among you.” (ESV)


Your boast­ing is not good. Do you not know that a lit­tle leaven leav­ens the whole lump? (ESV)


Your boast­ing is not good. Do you not know that a lit­tle leaven leav­ens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleav­ened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sac­ri­ficed. Let us there­fore cel­e­brate the fes­ti­val, not with the old leaven, the leaven of mal­ice and evil, but with the unleav­ened bread of sin­cer­ity and truth. (ESV)


12 There­fore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my pres­ence but much more in my absence, work out your own sal­va­tion with fear and trem­bling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good plea­sure. (ESV)


12 There­fore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my pres­ence but much more in my absence, work out your own sal­va­tion with fear and trem­bling, (ESV)