Mark said during his sermon this past Sunday that: “You never ever ever ever ever want to detach the imperatives of the Bible from the indicatives of the gospel.” He went on to say that we should never give people the law of God without giving them the gospel as the motivation for keeping the law of God. Commentator Douglas Moo said that: “Rules must never take the place of Christ as the source of spiritual nourishment and growth; and any rules that we propose to follow must be clearly rooted in and lead back to Christ.” Sinclair Ferguson says that: “Sanctification flows from the gospel.” He goes on to say that: “When God urges us to be holy he is not throwing us back on our own resources to pull ourselves up by our boot strings and to do better. Rather he encourages us to swim into the sea of God’s love, to immerse our lives in his grace, and to live on the basis of the resources he has provided for us in Christ. To change the metaphor, growing in holiness and sanctification requires that we put down deep roots into the soil of gospel.”
Ferguson continues by helpfully telling us that: “Divine indicatives (statements about what God has done, is doing, or will do) logically precede and ground Divine imperatives (statements about what we are to do in response). This is true no matter the actual order in which the indicative and imperative statements appear in any given passage. Thus: Who God is, what God has done, is doing, and will do for us (indicative) provides the foundation for our response of faith and obedience (imperative). Thus his grace effects our faithfulness. This is the logic that explains the power of the gospel.”
Biblical Examples Of This
We can look at some Biblical examples of this. In 2nd Corinthians 8 Paul asked for financial generosity to the poor. The most important motivation that he gives us is the gospel. Tim Keller writes that: “When Paul asked for financial generosity to the poor, he pointed to the self-emptying of Jesus and vividly depicted him as becoming poor for us, both literally and spiritually, in the incarnation and in crucifixion.” This is what Paul wrote in 2nd Corinthians 8: “I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” Tim Keller describes how Jonathan Edwards helped him on this passage: “Jonathan Edwards noted that Paul’s introduction “I say this not as a command…For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” is significant, implying that if one truly grasps substitutionary atonement, one will become profoundly generous to the poor. The only way for Jesus to get us out of our spiritual poverty and into spiritual riches was to leave his spiritual riches and enter into spiritual poverty.”
Keller continues: “If it is the gospel that is moving us, our giving to the poor will be significant, remarkable, and sacrificial. Those who give to the poor out of a desire to comply with a moral prescription will always do the minimum. If we give to the poor simply because God says so, the next question will be “How much do we have to give so that we aren’t out of compliance?” This attitude is not gospel-shaped giving.
1 Peter 1
Another passage that recently hit me was 1 Peter 1. Peter was writing this letter to a church in modern day Turkey that was facing persecution. Sinclair Ferguson throws out this question: “How would you begin such a letter?” Basically, if we were writing to a persecuted church how would we start that letter? Ferguson then answers: “Perhaps with words of sympathy, saying how sorry you were that things had become so difficult? Not Simon Peter. He began first by reminding them of their identity in Christ and then by breaking into a doxology as he reflected on its implications.” Here is what Peter wrote to this persecuted church at the start of his letter:
“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:
May grace and peace be multiplied to you.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
Ferguson adds that: “Peter’s subliminal logic is: As you face life with all its trials do not lose sight of who you are and what you are for. Be clear about this and you will make progress. Forget this and you will flounder and fall…I need to be clear about who and whose I am, and what I am for in Christ. And Peter is teaching us how to answer them here. If you are a believer you are someone who has been chosen in grace, loved by the Father before you were born, and in your experience sanctified by the Spirit in order that you might become obedient to the Saviour who shed his blood to bring you into covenant fellowship with God…Peter says to believers in Turkey exactly what Paul said to believers in Corinth: You are not your own; you have been bought with a price―the sacrifice of Christ; you are his, so live for his glory because it is for this that you have been purchased.”
The Book of Romans
The last Biblical example I will mention on this post is the book of Romans. I am once again borrowing heavily from Sinclair Ferguson. In the first 11 chapters of the book Romans there are 315 verses. If we went through all 315 verses specifically looking for imperatives―’that is, every statement that is in the form of a command, telling the reader to do something.’ We would only find 7 verses that are imperatives. Romans 6:12, 13, 19; 10:4; and 11:18, 20, 22.
Sinclair Ferguson says: “In essence Paul devotes 308 out of 315 verses to sustained exposition of what God has done, and only then does he open up the sluice-gates and let loose a flood of imperatives. (There are more than 20 of them in Romans chapter 12 alone). Clearly Paul believed in the necessity of exhortations, commands, and imperatives. And his are all-embracing and all-demanding. But the rigorous nature of his imperatives is rooted in his profound exposition of God’s grace. He expects the fruit of obedience because he has dug down deeply to plant its roots in the rich soil of grace. The weightier the indicatives the more demanding the imperatives they are able to support. The more powerful the proclamation of grace the more rigorous the commands it can sustain. This is the principle that destroys both legalism and antinomianism. For this is how the gospel works:
I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation. -Romans 1:16
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. -Romans 12:1
Get this right and we have a strong foundation for growth in sanctification. Go wrong here and we may go wrong everywhere.”
When I Survey The Wondrous Cross
I will end with a portion of this powerful hymn written by Issac Watts. In that hymn Watts said:
“When I survey the wondrous cross, on which the prince of glory died”
As we ‘survey’ the cross, and as we meditate on the cross we are overwhelmed by the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. Then we will respond as Watts does in his hymn:
“My richest gain I count buy loss, And pour contempt on all my pride.”
Once again Sinclair Ferguson says: “Thus the motivation, energy and drive for holiness are all found in the reality and power of God’s grace in Christ. And so if I am to make any progress in sanctification, the place where I must always begin is the gospel of the mercy of God to me in Jesus Christ.” So let us all “immerse ourselves in appreciating the grace of God expressed to us in Jesus Christ…”