“We love him, because he first loved us.”
1 John 4:19
A little grammar lesson has taught me one huge lesson about God! And I want to share the lesson with you because it has made such a difference in my life. It is a simple lesson, as simple as knowing the difference between an indicative verb and an imperative verb. An indicative verb expresses a statement of fact: “The sun is shining.” An imperative verb expresses a command: “Put on sunscreen.”
From Genesis to Revelation the Bible uses the indicative to express what God has done for us, and the imperative to express what we do for God. Note the order! This is the lesson: the grammar of grace. The indicative always precedes the imperative. What we do for God comes in response to what God has first done for us. God through Christ initiates a relationship with us, as declared in Romans 5:8: “God proves His love for us in that while we were sinners Christ died for us.” As God has initiated the relationship, so we respond in Christ to God’s initiative: “We love him, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
We live as Christians in response (imperative) to God’s action in Christ (indicative). What God commands (imperative) is based on the foundation of what God has done and is doing for us (indicative). The imperatives and commands of Scripture always flow from the indicative of what God has done. To put the imperatives before the indicatives is another gospel (See Galatians 1:6-9). To preach “Do!” rather than “Done!” is a false gospel.
Let’s illustrate God’s grammar of grace from the Old Testament book of Exodus, where we see the indicative preceding the imperative. Consider Exodus 6:6-8 and the indicative statement of fact about what God does:
“6Say therefore to the Israelites, ‘I am the LORD, and I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians and deliver you from slavery to them. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. 7I will take you as my people, and I will be your God. You shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has freed you from the burdens of the Egyptians. 8I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; I will give it to you for a possession. I am the LORD.’”
Did you notice the repeated “I will” statements by God? “I will free you…I will redeem you…I will take you…I will be your God…I will bring you…I will give”. It’s indicative! It’s all about what God does!
Now flow the imperatives in The Ten Commandments, for example:
“1Then God spoke all these words: 2I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3you shall have no other gods before me. 4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth…’”
I wish that when I was a boy I had learned the grammar of grace. Because I learned the imperatives of The Ten Commandments without first having learned the indicative of what God had done: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt”! That would have told me why we would want to put God ahead of anyone and anything! The imperative makes sense when it flows from the indicative. We respond to what God has done for us!
I think theologian G. C. Berkouwer said it well: “The essence of the Christian faith is grace, and the essence of Christian living is gratitude.” That’s keeping the indicative before the imperative. We love God because He first loved us! The Gospel does not say, “Do!” The Gospel declares, “Done!” That is the grammar of grace!
A fellow traveler,
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