Imperatives and Indicatives

February 07, 2014Filed under theology#devotionsMarkdown source

I have made it my goal to write short posts reflecting on my devotional reading every day. These posts are composed off the cuff, in 30 minutes or less. The following is one such post. Before writing this post, I read: Colossians 1–4, Psalm 38, Ecclesiastes 7.


Paul’s typical format for his letters is to lay out a series of doctrinal statements in the first half of the epistle and then follow it up with a series of exhortations flowing out of those truths in the second half. This is not a hard rule with him. He has letters like 1 and 2 Corinthians in which the content moves back and forth more freely between the two kinds of material, and he also mixes imperatives in with indicatives and vice versa in all his letters. On the whole, though Colossians follows this pattern fairly closely: chapter 1 and the first part of chapter 2 are statements of theological truth (and among the highest and weightiest such in Scripture), and the rest of the book moves into the Christian response to these truths.

In a mere 44 verses (fewer if one leaves out the introduction), Paul traverses enormous depths of theology. Christ is the author of Creation, the one in whom all things hold together. He is before all things. He is the head of the church. He is the image of the invisible God. He is the heir (“firstborn”) of creation; it belongs to him in its entirety. He is the firstborn (and heir) of the resurrection from the dead.

It is no surprise, then, that the consequences range over all aspects of human life. There is nothing that goes untouched: not our family life, nor our economic behavior, nor our religious activity, nor our thoughts or actions in any area. Paul enjoined the Colossians to set aside all “sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry…. anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth” (Colossians 3:5,8). As Abraham Kuyper put it of culture, there is no part of life over which Christ does not shout, “Mine!” So it is in our lives as well: we are his wholly and utterly, fight it though we often do at times. We may foolishly cling to our sins, or we may seek to be sanctified in every area of our lives.

Note well the constant return to the foundational truths on which that call to holiness is built. Paul not only lays out these exhortations as following the indication of all Christ has already done, but points again and again to the reality that sanctifiaction can happen only as we are joined with Christ. We died with Christ (2:20) and have been raised with Christ (3:1). He is our life (3:4) and our life is hidden with God in Christ (3:3). Christ is all, and in all (3:11). His peace rules in our hearts (3:15); his word dwells in us richly in the context of song and psalm (3:16).

These are not small things, or light matters. These are magnificent and holy, and they call us to be holy likewise. God is very great—very far beyond us— but he draws us near in his loving kindness and calls us out of our selfishness and sin and into his holy ways. Hallelujah.