Is the message of our salvation an indicative or an imperative statement? You may not be accustomed to thinking this way, but understanding the difference can help remove a burden when it comes to our relationship with God.
An imperative statement is a command or request. Examples are “you need to pay the bills to keep your credit good,” or “you need to pick up your shoes or the dog will chew them.” An indicative statement is one that describes a condition that is an objective fact such as, “the bills are paid,” or “the dog ate my shoes.”
Based on that, is the message of our salvation an imperative as in, “I must do the following things to be saved?” Or is it an indicative as in, “through Jesus, God has already saved me.” The freeing truth is that the message of our salvation is an indicative statement. We do not and cannot earn it; God has already secured it through Jesus’ work and the faith He has given us to believe.
This is highlighted in the letter to the Ephesians. The book is six chapters; the first three tell us who we are in Christ and the second three tell us what we should do as a result of God’s work. I would like to look at three passages that highlight that the work needed for our salvation has already been done by Jesus and is a gift of God.
Remember that you we> re at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
Paul tells us many things about who we were: separated, alienated, strangers, with no hope and without God. After this he says that if we are in Christ (Paul’s way of saying Christian), then we have been brought near to God by Jesus’ blood. As a result, we are no longer separated, alienated or strangers and we have hope and communion with God.
This is a very encouraging passage giving us assurance of our salvation and a restored relationship with God. Everything in the passage is a statement of fact – in other words, indicative. The work is done and there is no requirement for us to do anything.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.
Paul’s passage here is even more clear. He goes into detail about how we used to follow Satan and only cared about following our own passions. He then gives us the good news that God made us alive together with Christ. Why? It is solely because He is rich in mercy.
Just to be sure we do not think we did anything to earn God’s grace, he says that God did this while we were dead in our sin and emphasizes one last time that we were saved by grace. Everything Paul says here are statements of fact – the ugly truth of who we were, and the wonderful news that God has already done all that is needed to bring us into relationship with Him.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
This is perhaps the clearest example that our works are a response to the saving work of Jesus, not the cause of it. Paul is making it very clear that our salvation is all of work of God.
Transition to Imperatives
It is not until the beginning of the fourth chapter, halfway through the book, that Paul starts talking about what we are to do – the imperatives. He says, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called (Ephesians 4:1)” and then begins to describe the lifestyle of a Christian.
The key word in Paul’s transition is the word, therefore. It connects what he just said in the first three chapters with what he is about to say in the next three. It is because of all that God has done and how praiseworthy He is that drives the way in which we are to live our lives. Our works do not earn us our salvation but are a response to our salvation.
Understanding the difference between what God has done and what we are to do is more than an academic study of words. It is a blessing to understand that God has already secured our salvation in Christ. We can stop trying to earn our own salvation and instead seek to live a godly life so that God can be glorified in our lives.