Php 3:12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.
Gal_5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Col 3:1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Col 3:2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. Col 3:3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
The subject of indicatives and imperatives and their use in the Bible might be familiar with us but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of them from time to time. Simply put, an indicative is a statement of truth, the reality of something that already is. An imperative is a command to do something or in this case to act on the indicative statement. The above passages give examples of this. Since God has done something for us and in us then act on this. In the Philippians verse the indicative follows the imperative in the verse but Paul is saying I press on because of what Christ has already done. Paul doesn’t teach us to behave out of duty but always by being what we already are in Christ.
This is important because all false religions and especially false Christian cults get the Bible’s order backwards. The Bible teaches us that God has first acted; he has done something for us and effected a change in us (This is the truth) and this is to affect the way we live (That is the command). All false religions which are basically religions of good works to earn acceptance from God or through human effort attain Nirvana or some sort of happiness get the order wrong. They give a command and then say that this will bring about the desired effect. So do something that pleases God and he will do something for you. Whereas the Bible teaches that God has done something for us so we are to live in light of that truth out of thankfulness and love.
So we cannot downplay what is going on here. The most obvious example in Scripture is the book of Romans. In the first 11 chapters there is not a command given to us; there are no imperative statements. Paul spends the first half of the book explaining what God has done in saving us and who we are as a result. It isn’t until we get to chapter 12 that we get our first imperative command to act on the truths of chapters 1-11. Rom 12:1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Rom 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
This is important not just because if you get the order wrongly you will end up trying to work your way to merit God’s favor, but it can also save a Christian from a legalistic, miserable life. For many Christians there is the idea that if I behave God will bless me (meaning: give me goodies or not do something bad to me) and if I do wrong then God is going to punish me somehow or if I sin badly enough he will even let me fall from grace entirely. And so they live in a system of works anyway, not grace. It’s the idea that God is ready to give us stuff or take it away all depending on how well we obey the rules. This is miserable because none of us can live up to such an arrangement and it puts us at the center of our lives; life is about reward and punishment, not being satisfied and fulfilled in God for who he is and what he has done for me.
When Joel Osteen tells us if we will live a certain way and God will give us successful lives he is actually placing us under a miserable system in which we are doomed to fail. Or when a preacher tells us we better not sin or God is going to hammer us with some awful thing so we better behave, he isn’t preaching grace but works. He is saying to live rightly but for the wrong reason.
Paul tells us that in Christ all the promises are yes and amen. We already have every good spiritual blessing and position; we are already seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. God isn’t going to take that away. We are told to live in light of what he has already done for us. He has already given us our best possible life in Christ so enjoy it in the pursuit of loving God with all our heart.
I am not denying that there are benefits for living for the Lord and that when we continue in sin God will chasten us to rid us of that sinful pattern. But in Christ we have been made God’s children. We have peace with him and perfect security. God isn’t standing over us with a paddle waiting for us to mess up. He is teaching us what a wonderful Father he is and telling us that to find pleasure in anything else will not bring happiness only pain. In one sense he doesn’t have to punish us when we sin because the fruit of sin is punishment in itself.
So we have been given all sorts of commands on how to live for the Lord, but it isn’t to get a blessing. It is because we have already been blessed that is to motivate us. One mindset is law; the other is grace. One rests in God’s work; the other trusts in our works.