Indicatives and Imperatives

Doug Wilson:

“There is a basic difference between the indicative and the imperative. The indicative is simply a statement of fact.  the imperative is a command. The indicative states, “The book is on the table.” The imperative commands, “Put the book on the table.” The former states what is; the latter attempts to control what will be.

Many Christians mishandle the Scripture because they do not properly distinguish between the two. The central example of this is the turning of indicatives into imperatives. The Bible tells us that something is so, and we attempt to change it into a command to make something so.

The imperatives of the Bible tell me what I must do. The indicatives of the Bible tell me what has been done. When I take the message of what has been done and turn it into something that I must do, I am twisting Scripture.

It is easy to see this confusion when others are guilty of it. For example, many non-Christians cannot understand the gospel. The gospel is simply the message of what has been done for us in Christ. Non-Christians tend to make the gospel into something we have to do. “Good teacher, tell me what I must do to inherit eternal life.” The gospel is the Grand Indicative. It is the message of what has been done. The imperatives that accompany the gospel are based on a proper understanding of it. Once I understand the gospel I am told to love my wife or pray without ceasing. These are imperatives.”

Peter serves as a pastor-teacher, at home and abroad, resourcing gospel-centred communities.

3 thoughts on “Indicatives and Imperatives

  1. The imperative of the gospel to sinners is to repent and believe. Saying the gospel is solely indicative is somewhat hyper-calvinistic.

    • Dear Kbm. Thanks for dropping by. The gospel is the news about what Jesus has done, through his death and resurrection, to accomplish salvation for sinners. The command to repent and believe the gospel is the required response to the good news. So the gospel is entirely the ‘indicative’ fact of Jesus cross-work on our behalf. Period! It is true that repentance and faith are entailments of the gospel, but in theological terms they stand apart from what Christ has done but depend upon it.

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