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Indicatives & Imperatives

My home is a wonderful place. It’s always a joy to walk in the front door. My wife waits for me to come home and often has dinner cooking, which fills the house with tantalizing smells. My children come running into the room, loudly battling for who gets to hug Daddy first. We have a lot of fun with each other! Sometimes, however, the fun wears off more quickly than I’d like to admit. The noisiness turns into chaos, I am unable to have a conversation with my wife, and the children do not listen to directions. On my best days, I spend time with the girls, explaining to them calmly how to behave, instructing them with Scripture, and giving them a rationale. On my not-so-good days, I have been known to throw my hands into the air and exasperatedly tell them to behave because I said so. Five times.

I learned years ago from a good friend that “because I said so” does not go far with kids. They are growing, learning, and figuring out how the world works. “Because I said so” exasperates them also! Thankfully, God the Father typically does not operate on a “because I said so” basis. We should be fascinated by that, because if anyone has the right to assume blind obedience, it is certainly Him. What we find in Scripture, however, is that it is exceedingly rare for God to demand something of us without explaining why. Instead, God teaches us about who He is and what He has done, and our behavior flows as a response to what He has revealed to us.

Last week, we took a look at how learning something makes us responsible to act. Knowledge demands action. Study of God’s Word that does not change our behavior is pointless and even unnatural. Those who would study in order to look down on others are not engaged in practical learning; they’re simply filling empty heads with empty knowledge. Theoretical learning is pointless, but practical learning is acceptable!

But we must go further. Practical learning is not only acceptable, but necessary. Vital. Indispensable. Why? Because sustained growth as a follower of Christ is impossible apart from what He has revealed to us.

That is the dynamic of God’s Word. He reveals to us, and we respond. He teaches us, and we grow. He does not say “because I told you so;” He says, “Here’s why.” He tells us who He is and what He has done, which we call indicative statements. Then He gives us instructions, which we call imperative statements, based on who He is and what He has done. The indicatives drive the imperatives.

For example, in Exodus 19 the Israelites were camped at Mount Sinai. God instructed Moses to tell the people that their obedience would allow them to be the kind of people He wanted them to be: a treasured possession, a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. This call to obedience was based on what He had already done: “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” God had acted to choose them, to free them, and to bring them to Himself. Now it was their turn to act, and if they did so, they would be what He had in mind for them.

Peter reiterates this line of thought in 1 Peter 2: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession,...” He tells his readers who they are and what God has called them to be, but he does not stop there: “...that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” In other words, he told them that God chose them. That’s wonderful, but it was not enough. Because they were chosen, they were to proclaim God’s glory!

You will find this pattern all through the Bible. God tells us who He is and what He has done, and we respond to His glory and grace. It is vital that we learn God’s Word, because what we learn gives us a reason to live in the manner God intends for us. The indicatives drive the imperatives. Psalm 111:4 declares, “He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered; the LORD is gracious and merciful.” How will you respond?

Have you ever considered the importance of learning as the basis for growth? Does this seem like a natural relationship to you? Please post your questions or comments on Facebook!

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