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Friday, March 11, 2005

Indicative and Imperative

Several of my professors here at seminary like to say, "The indicative drives the imperative." What the heck does that mean anyway?

What they are pointing out is that God repeatedly grounds his commands (what we should do) in what he has already done. We actually see this all over scripture (both new and old testaments). And I've heard it for years. But what difference does that make?

I didn't make the connection until just recently...

I've been studying through the book of Deuteronomy, where Moses lays down God's laws to the people - this is how they must live as the people of God; this is what will distinguish them from all the other nations. And in the midst of all this law (do, do, do), Moses does something extremely surprising: he calls Israel not to remember what God has done for them. Remember! Don't forget!

We see this clearly in Deut 32, where God tells Moses to teach Israel a song that will be a witness against them. The climax comes in vs 46, where God says, "Take these words to heart that you may keep all these commands and teach them to your children." That's the imperative. But we we look at the previous 45 verses we see God telling them to "remember" (vs 7) and then he proceeds to recount the great and mighty deeds that he has done in bringing them out of Egypt into the land of promise. That's the indicative.

God evidently thinks that the key for Israel's "doing" is not simply to try harder, but rather to start by "remembering" what he has already done.

That's the theory, the theology. But it has always seemed so abstract. Until recently.

You see, even though I have a beautiful, loving, godly wife, over the years I have struggled with the flesh, I have had a whoring heart, I have been faithless in my desires. And no matter how hard I tried to do what I knew that I should do, I could not change myself (Rom 7:15+).

So fool that I am, I bared my soul to the very woman this truth would hurt the most. I told my wife just how powerless I felt. I confessed everything. I got very, very specific about my sin. All of it.

I'm pretty sure Dr. Laura says you are NEVER supposed to say this kind of thing to your spouse. But I did anyway, and then I waited for the condemnation which I justly deserved.

Yet it never came.

You see, my wife saw me just like God saw those Israelites - enslaved, powerless. She did not love me because I had my act together. She loved me because she is my bride. Because she had made a promise to me. To be there through thick or thin. And so she forgave me.

And I can't tell you what that did for my heart. Forgiveness is a powerful thing. I felt just like Despereaux Tilling's father, Lester. Because forgiveness changes everything. It resurrects love from the grave, and when you truly love someone, you will do anything for them - not because you should, but because you want to.

But forgiveness only comes after repentance, and repentance comes only when I admit that I am messed up. And that very act which seems to be the greatest concession - when we finally admit that we have fallen short up and can not fix it ourselves - that act of ultimate weakness is actually the moment of our greatest faith, because we have nothing left to cling to but faith.

And that is why God calls us to remember. That he why he tells us not to forget. Because the more we realize how much God has done for us in Christ, the more we will love him and the more we will desire to keep his laws, to please him.

And if that's how God deals with us, that's how we should deal with one another (1 Jo 4:11).

That is how the indicative drives the imperative.


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