Imperatives and Indicatives

I hated grammar during my elementary school days, and dreamed of the day when I would no longer have to diagram sentences, mark subjects and predicates, and make sure that all my “whos” and whoms” were correct. However, when I entered Lamar University during the Presidency of Richard Nixon (yes, I am that old), and found that fourteen hours of a foreign language was required to graduate with a degree in history, I once again entered the world of infinitives, tenses, and moods in order to pass Dr. Urbano’s Spanish Class. To be perfectly honest with you, I have never really escaped from that world. Grammar has become a part of my life as I have sought to “rightly divide the Word of Truth” over the last twenty-eight years as a pastor.


Grammar, particularly the understanding of mood, has been used in describing important portions of God’s Word. For example, much of God’s Word is written in the imperative mood (the mood of command). We are commanded not to have any other gods before the true and living God, not to worship the true God using images, and not to take God’s name in vain. We are also commanded to remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy, to honor our father and mother, not to murder, not to commit adultery, not to steal, not to bear false witness, and not to covet our neighbor’s possessions. We also see imperatives in the New Testament such as “husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church,” and “wives, be submissive unto your husbands as unto the Lord,” etc. We call all of these commands, “Law.” The Law is very important because it shows us the character of God, teaches us the definition of sin and righteousness, and, maybe, most importantly (from our perspective anyway) drives us to the cross of Christ, because it is clear to see that we can not keep God’s Law.


Although God’s Law is vital in the living of our Christian lives, if we are not careful, our Christian lives can become totally absorbed in Law. Our lives become filled with “do this” and “don’t do that” and we forget about the indicatives in Scripture. The indicative mood (according to Webster’s) is the mood of the verb used in ordinary objective statements. This is the portion of Scripture that we call, “Gospel.” What is the Gospel? Paul described it for us in 1 Corinthians 15:


Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand,  2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you- unless you believed in vain.  3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,  4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,  5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.  7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.  8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.  9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.  10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain.


The indicatives of Scripture remind us that we have not been justified by the Law, but by the Gospel. We have not been redeemed through anything that we have done; but our eternal life rests entirely upon what Christ has done on our behalf, for “it was not by the works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” Yes, we should always “press toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” but as we do, always remember to rest in His marvelous grace.



  1. March 31, 2009 at 7:31 PM

    Despite the shivers running down my anti-grammar spine, it’s comforting to know that God’s grace is a statement of fact, regardless of my efforts. Speaking of grammar and such, I’ve taken all that I can stand in online classes. If all goes according to plan, I’ll be starting full time at Southwestern in August. I’ve already had Hermeneutics. Where would you suggest going from there? I’m thinking of starting the OT and NT survey classes and avoiding Greek and Hebrew until later. Is that a good idea, or should I hit the languages first and get them out of the way?

    • cliftonr said,

      March 31, 2009 at 7:47 PM

      If it was me (and it is not), I would do the languages first. Having the Greek and Hebrew language background will help immensely as you begin your surveys and book studies. I wish I had taken more language classes in seminary; it makes exegesis so much simpler.

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