Imperative-Indicative and Performance-Acceptance

I read an article today discussing "imperative & indicative."

Imperative & indicative is the idea that all of God’s imperatives—his commands—go back to and are based on his indicatives—what he says about his love for us.

You can do this with all of Scripture. You can trace back all the imperatives back to, if it is not in the context of the chapter or the book, its in the bigger picture.

The example given is the first commandment in Ex. 20:2-3. God tells the Israelites that they must not have any gods before him; that’s the imperative. But first he tells them that he is God and he has rescued them; that’s the indicative. The imperative, that they must put God first, is based on the indicative, that God has rescued them.

He says, "You can do this with all of Scripture."

That’s a really sweet, nice idea, but no, you can’t.

At the very least, there are dozens of Scriptures you can’t do that with, and perhaps there are hundreds.

A Massive Conflict

Protestants are always coming up with falsehoods like this because they’re struggling so hard to defend their version of faith alone. It’s very easy to squash the overboard faith-alone theology that is rampant in modern Protestantism. It’s terribly unscriptural.

The problem is, there’s a point that Protestants—and, in the case of the article linked above, Darrin Patrick—are trying to make, and that point is valid.

We love him because he first loved us.

There’s no getting around that. People who are working their way to heaven by obedience to God are, in general, insufferable. They’re self-righteous, dishonest about their own weaknesses, and no one really wants to be around them. In that way, they’re nothing like Jesus himself. Sinners loved to have Jesus around, and it certainly wasn’t because he beat around the bush or hid his light under a bushel!

The people we want to be around are the people who know that they only love him because he first loved them. They know that there is none righteous, no, not even they themselves. They are full of mercy for us because they know the mercy they need themselves.

But that’s not the whole story!

Performance and Acceptance

God’s imperatives are not always based on indicatives except for the indicative that if we don’t obey, then we’re going to be punished.

The Bible doesn’t only say that we love him because he first loved us. Sometimes it says that if we don’t do what we’re supposed to do, we’re going to hell.

Jesus said that in Matt. 25:31-46. There the people who go to heaven are the nice people who helped others. Everyone else goes to hell even though they think they’re nice people. And the context doesn’t help. Jesus leads up to the judgment by telling the story of the 3 servants with the talents. There’s good and faithful servants who get a reward, and there’s a lazy servant who is thoroughly chewed out by his master for being wicked, and then he’s punished pretty severely.

Then there’s Rev. 3:4-5. There, Jesus comments that there’s people "even in Sardis" who haven’t defiled their garments.

That’s a pretty rough statement, don’t you think? "Even in Sardis"? It doesn’t sound like he’s pouring out love and acceptance on them, does it?

And he’s not! Those "few," "even in Sardis," will walk with him in white. The rest will have their name blotted out of the Book of Life unless they repent.

What’s a Soul To Do?

So what are we to do? Does God love us and lead us to love him, or does he threaten us so that we’ll love him?


Read through the Gospels some time. Jesus doesn’t care about whether you believe in works-righteousness or faith-righteousness. He cares whether you’re doing what you’re told. If he has to love you sweetly to encourage you, then he does that. If he has to threaten firebolts from heaven, then he’s not averse to doing that, either.

You can find Jesus comforting a woman caught in adultery, assuring her he doesn’t condemn her.

Don’t be fooled; that’s not for her faith! He did that because that would help her live righteously! That woman didn’t have any faith. She just had a distant hope that she wouldn’t be stoned that day and face a God whose laws she’d despised.

She looked in the face of Jesus, who, like his Father, always wants people to repent and live, and she found a love that transformed her.

The Pharisees, however, didn’t always find that same love. He wanted their repentance, too, and he got it by threatening the judgment of hell on them and calling them open graves and the children of snakes.

Comfort the Fainthearted; Warn the Unruly; Help the Weak

One good way to test a teaching is by looking at its conclusion. What does the teaching tell you to do? And does God tell you the same thing in the Scriptures?

For example, I did that the other day with evangelism. We cajole, coerce, and convict people into evangelizing over and over. Do the letters to the churches do the same? No, they don’t, so I taught a teaching that matches what we’re told to do in the letters to the churches.

That seemed better.

So do the Scriptures tell you to do what I’m talking about today?

They sure do. First they tell us that we are to treat different people differently:

Now we exhort you, brothers: warn the unruly; comfort the fainthearted; help the weak; be patient to everyone. (1 Thess. 5:14)

Okay three different things to do with 3 different people.

  1. It’s okay to warn those arrogant, “I don’t have to obey because Jesus died for me” people. You’re doomed. Jesus is going to enjoy sending you to hell. (Well, I don’t know about the enjoyment part, but he is going to send them to hell.)
  2. It’s important to comfort the fainthearted, or you’re going to discourage and destroy them. Don’t. Jesus loves those people.
  3. Help the weak. Give them any help you can! Love them, visit them, give them your time, and chew them out if you need to.

In the end, though, don’t miss the "patient with everyone" part. It’s okay to chew out pharisees; it’s not okay to give up on them. Pray for them, love them, and be patient with them … while you’re calling them snakes and telling them they’re sons of hell.

Have the right goal! God’s goal! That all would come to repentance and be saved!

Okay, finally, here’s one other proof that this is the way Jesus thinks:

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father in heaven

That’s what matters to Jesus, is that the Father’s will is done. Forgive the adulterer, condemn the Pharisee, be frustrated with the apostles and those in Sardis. Whatever it takes, help them do the Father’s will. It doesn’t matter what they’ve done; it matters what they will do.

Give them time, give them love, give them rebuke, give them forgiveness, promise them rewards (real ones, not made-up ones); do whatever you have to do, but help them live for Jesus, and pay the price of suffering and time to help it happen.

Anyway, that’s my take on it.

About Paul Pavao

I am married, the father of six, and currently the grandfather of two. I run a business, live in a Christian community, teach, and I am learning to disciple others better than I have ever been able to before. I believe God has gifted me to restore proper foundations to the Christian faith. In order to ensure that I do not become a heretic, I read the early church fathers from the second and third centuries. They were around when all the churches founded by the apostles were in unity. I also try to stay honest and open. I argue and discuss these foundational doctrines with others to make sure my teaching really lines up with Scripture. I am encouraged by the fact that the several missionaries and pastors that I know well and admire as holy men love the things I teach. I hope you will be encouraged too. I am indeed tearing up old foundations created by tradition in order to re-establish the foundations found in Scripture and lived on by the churches during their 300 years of unity.
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1 Response to Imperative-Indicative and Performance-Acceptance

  1. jeremiahbriggs says:

    That's a very good take. Especially that last paragraph. Can we make a sign or bumper sticker out of that? Help them live for Jesus. Halleluyah Rushie!

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