The other day I took my son to the doctor, and in the course of the visit, the diagnosis of an earache was confirmed. The doctor prescribed some antibiotics be taken twice daily over the next week. After returning home, I put reminders on my phone to make sure he took medicine according to the schedule. Because his health is important to us and our life can get busy, my wife and I knew we needed to be intentional to administer the medicine.
In his book Devoted to God, Sinclair Ferguson believes there is an ongoing prescription given for Christians to be spiritually healthy. It should be administered on an at least daily basis. And far too often we forget to take it.
What’s the medicine Ferguson prescribes? It’s a dose of the indicative medicine.
Let me explain. Ferguson emphasizes the need for Christians to remember that the indicatives (what God has done in Christ) precede the imperatives (what we must do in response to what God has done). Whatever God calls us to do (law) is anchored in the truth of what God in Christ has done for us (gospel). The trouble is we love us some law. Too often, we zoom past the indicatives while picking up a bucket full of daily imperatives. For some of us, our spiritual grammar is worse than our written grammar.
To this, Ferguson writes us a script. “Thus the motivation, energy, and drive for holiness are all found in the reality and power of God’s grace in Christ. And so if I am to make any progress in sanctification, the place where I must always begin is the gospel of the mercy of God to me in Jesus Christ.”
- Take an old Bible or download the text of Paul’s letter to the Romans.
- Have a pen or marker handy. For the medicine to work properly it is essential for you to note the occurrence of a single feature of Paul’s letter to the Romans.
- Read slowly through the text of Romans chapters 1 to 11. As you do, have one object in view—it is very important not to lose your focus here: Mark every statement that occurs in the imperative mood—that is, every statement that is in the form of a command, telling the reader to do something.
- Note that Romans chapters 1-11 contains 315 verses.
- Write down the number of verses containing an imperative in these chapters. (Again, remember that imperatives are verbs telling the reader to do something, i.e. they contain commands.)
- Check your answer.
What do we find? Ferguson writes,
Of course we can draw all kinds of implications for and applications to our lives from these eleven chapters. But in terms of actual imperatives? You will find them in an English translation such as the ESV only in Romans 6:12, 13, 19; and 11:18, 20, 22. In essence Paul devotes 308 of 315 verses to a sustained exposition of what God has done, and only then does he open the sluice-gates and let loose a flood of imperatives.
What should we make of this?
Clearly Paul believed in the necessity of exhortations, commands, and imperatives. And his are all-embracing and all-demanding. But the rigorous nature of his imperatives is rooted in his profound exposition of God’s grace. He expects the fruit of obedience because he has dug down deeply to plant its roots in the rich soil of grace. The weightier the indicatives the more demanding the imperatives they are able to support. The more powerful the proclamation of grace the more rigorous the commands it can sustain.
This is the type of medicine that will help us to grow and get better spiritually. Forgetting the gospel is deadly, but basking in the indicatives will be glorious. Remember to take your indicative medicine. It’s more important and helpful than you might initially think.