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.

: [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, , 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).

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In , Paul’s dox­ol­ogy estab­lishes the indica­tive of Christ, while (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, 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. ()

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.



4:1 I there­fore, a pris­oner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a man­ner wor­thy of the call­ing to which you have been called, with all humil­ity and gen­tle­ness, with patience, bear­ing with one another in love, eager to main­tain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (ESV)


5:1 There­fore be imi­ta­tors of God, as beloved chil­dren. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave him­self up for us, a fra­grant offer­ing and sac­ri­fice to God.

But sex­ual immoral­ity and all impu­rity or cov­etous­ness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filth­i­ness nor fool­ish talk nor crude jok­ing, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanks­giv­ing. 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. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of dis­obe­di­ence. There­fore do not become part­ners with them; for at one time you were dark­ness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as chil­dren of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to dis­cern what is pleas­ing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruit­ful works of dark­ness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shame­ful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when any­thing is exposed by the light, it becomes vis­i­ble, 14 for any­thing that becomes vis­i­ble is light. There­fore it says,

“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

15 Look care­fully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 mak­ing the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 There­fore do not be fool­ish, but under­stand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauch­ery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 address­ing one another in psalms and hymns and spir­i­tual songs, singing and mak­ing melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giv­ing thanks always and for every­thing to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 sub­mit­ting to one another out of rev­er­ence for Christ.

22 Wives, sub­mit to your own hus­bands, as to the Lord. 23 For the hus­band is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is him­self its Sav­ior. 24 Now as the church sub­mits to Christ, so also wives should sub­mit in every­thing to their husbands.

25 Hus­bands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave him­self up for her, 26 that he might sanc­tify her, hav­ing cleansed her by the wash­ing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to him­self in splen­dor, with­out spot or wrin­kle or any such thing, that she might be holy and with­out blem­ish. 28 In the same way hus­bands should love their wives as their own bod­ies. He who loves his wife loves him­self. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nour­ishes and cher­ishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are mem­bers of his body. 31 “There­fore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mys­tery is pro­found, and I am say­ing that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 How­ever, let each one of you love his wife as him­self, and let the wife see that she respects her hus­band. (ESV)


5:1 There­fore be imi­ta­tors of God, as beloved chil­dren. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave him­self up for us, a fra­grant offer­ing and sac­ri­fice to God.

But sex­ual immoral­ity and all impu­rity or cov­etous­ness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filth­i­ness nor fool­ish talk nor crude jok­ing, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanks­giv­ing. 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. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of dis­obe­di­ence. There­fore do not become part­ners with them; for at one time you were dark­ness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as chil­dren of light (ESV)


See to it that no one takes you cap­tive by phi­los­o­phy and empty deceit, accord­ing to human tra­di­tion, accord­ing to the ele­men­tal spir­its of the world, and not accord­ing to Christ. For in him the whole full­ness of deity dwells bod­ily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and author­ity. 11 In him also you were cir­cum­cised with a cir­cum­ci­sion made with­out hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the cir­cum­ci­sion of Christ, 12 hav­ing been buried with him in bap­tism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the pow­er­ful work­ing of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your tres­passes and the uncir­cum­ci­sion of your flesh, God made alive together with him, hav­ing for­given us all our tres­passes, 14 by can­cel­ing the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nail­ing it to the cross. 15 He dis­armed the rulers and author­i­ties and put them to open shame, by tri­umph­ing over them in him. (ESV)


16 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. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the sub­stance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one dis­qual­ify you, insist­ing on asceti­cism and wor­ship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up with­out rea­son by his sen­su­ous mind, 19 and not hold­ing fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nour­ished and knit together through its joints and lig­a­ments, grows with a growth that is from God.

20 If with Christ you died to the ele­men­tal spir­its of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you sub­mit to reg­u­la­tions— 21 “Do not han­dle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (refer­ring to things that all per­ish as they are used)—according to human pre­cepts and teach­ings? 23 These have indeed an appear­ance of wis­dom in pro­mot­ing self-made reli­gion and asceti­cism and sever­ity to the body, but they are of no value in stop­ping the indul­gence of the flesh. (ESV)


3:1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 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. On account of these the wrath of God is com­ing. In these you too once walked, when you were liv­ing in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, mal­ice, slan­der, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, see­ing that you have put off the old self with its prac­tices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowl­edge after the image of its cre­ator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, cir­cum­cised and uncir­cum­cised, bar­bar­ian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

12 Put on then, as God’s cho­sen ones, holy and beloved, com­pas­sion­ate hearts, kind­ness, humil­ity, meek­ness, and patience, 13 bear­ing with one another and, if one has a com­plaint against another, for­giv­ing each other; as the Lord has for­given you, so you also must for­give. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds every­thing together in per­fect har­mony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thank­ful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach­ing and admon­ish­ing one another in all wis­dom, singing psalms and hymns and spir­i­tual songs, with thank­ful­ness in your hearts to God. 17 And what­ever you do, in word or deed, do every­thing in the name of the Lord Jesus, giv­ing thanks to God the Father through him.

18 Wives, sub­mit to your hus­bands, as is fit­ting in the Lord. 19 Hus­bands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. 20 Chil­dren, obey your par­ents in every­thing, for this pleases the Lord. 21 Fathers, do not pro­voke your chil­dren, lest they become dis­cour­aged. 22 Slaves, obey in every­thing those who are your earthly mas­ters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sin­cer­ity of heart, fear­ing the Lord. 23 What­ever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 know­ing that from the Lord you will receive the inher­i­tance as your reward. You are serv­ing the Lord Christ. 25 For the wrong­doer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no par­tial­ity. (ESV)


3:1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 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. (ESV)