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New Covenant Indicatives

Dr. James Fowler

Let us define our terms, lest we have forgotten some of our grammar training from yesteryear. An imperative is a verb form expressing a command with an authoritative obligation to respond. For example, the teacher may have said, “Pay attention!” It is implied that the one so commanded is able to respond to the order. An indicative is a verb in the indicative mood that indicates a statement of fact. The indicative fact is: the students of the aforementioned teacher have the intelligence and ability to respond to the teacher’s command, and are therefore responsible to obey what she has commanded.

The new covenant literature of what we call The New Testament contains over one thousand imperative verbs, implying that the readers are responsible to respond in obedience to what is commanded. An example of such an imperative command is Jesus’ call to “Love one another” (Jn. 13:34; 15:12,17). If, in the new covenant, we are no longer called upon to attempt to perform in obedience to the imperatives of law and performance expectations, but to rely on God’s grace to implement the activity expected, how do we explain these imperatives? We note that there are many indicative statements that explain the provision by which we carry out the imperatives by God’s grace. For example: “The love of God has been shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:5). “The fruit of the Spirit is love…” (Gal. 5:22).

Jesus does not call us to do anything, but what He has already given us everything in Himself in order to perform what we He has asked us to do. Jesus is the dynamic of His own demands. The grace of God in Jesus Christ by His Spirit comprises the empowering by which everything in the Christian life is accomplished to the glory of God. “Apart from Me, you can do nothing, (Jn. 15:5), Jesus told His disciples.