Getting the Order Right
When you see the message of grace unfolding in the Bible a pattern emerges. God is gracious to us, and then expects us to respond. It is never the other way around—we respond in obedience and then somehow God decides to be gracious to us. There is always this order of the “who” and the “do”. We are loved; we are the children of God. Therefore we respond in what we do. God never says, “You obey me and then I’ll love you.” He is always saying, “Because I have loved you, because I have claimed you, you are mine. Now walk in my ways.”
This is the pattern of the ten commandments themselves. There are certainly many things we’re told to do in the ten commandments. But before God tells us to do anything he says, “I am the God who brought you out of the land of Egypt. I am the God who brought you out of the house of bondage. Now walk with me in these ways.”
Recognize that he did not say, “You obey me and I’ll let you out of slavery.” Instead God said, “I have freed you. You are my people. Now this is how you walk with me.”
What we recognize is that the imperative—what we are to do—always follows the indicative—who we are by the grace of God. The order is not reversible. Almost all of human life is the other way around—we do something and then we get love in response. The way most of human life is lived is contractual. But the gospel is not contractual, it’s covenantal.
God makes a prior decision to love and be gracious towards us and then we respond to his love in the way that we love him back. It’s one thing to state that truth abstractly, but it makes a difference in almost every aspect of our lives when we understand that the imperative rests on the indicative and the order is not reversible.