Our heavenly Father has a wonderful way of using language in order to encourage us and give us hope. It is the use of Imperatives (verbal form) and Indicatives (verbs).
Here is an illustration that gave hope to believing Israel for centuries:
“And God spoke all these words, ‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no others gods before me.” (Ex. 20)
For generations Israel could reflect on how and what it took for God to plan/prepare/execute their deliverance from Egypt. By the use of a “past indicative” “I brought you,” hope and encouragement were engendered. God and God alone did this. No human hand could have pulled this off.
The imperative is “You must not have any gods before me.” One has only to look briefly at the history of Israel to realize that they repeatedly did not accomplish their human responsibility to “not have” any other gods. As they leave behind the waters of the Red Sea the golden calf awaits them.
Paul is a master of the use of Imperative/Indicatives. He uses them in two ways. We will look at how he encourages and gives hope to the new Israel in just a minute. But first he uses this verbal construction to absolutely frighten us into hope and encouragement.
“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence – continue to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his will.” (Phil. 2).
You must work out your redemption. If you are honest (like believing Israel was honest in the wilderness) your response would be, “I have been trying to save myself in many different ways in my old life, but I can’t do it. This is hopeless! I am in despair! (See Romans 7 and the expression of the mature apostle Paul: “the very thing I do not want to do, I practice doing – oh wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from this body of sin!”)
But now that Paul has your attention in Phil. 2 he states the indicative,
“for (because) it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”
I can work because God is at work. I can try to do this! It is not hopeless.
Let us consider one more:
“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace my increase? By no means! We died to sin, how can we live in it any longer? (Rom. 6)
In Romans 3-5 Paul has described the great transaction. Christ is substituted for us. We died with Christ on the cross. He is our representative.
And having the comfort of this substitutionary death:
“In the same way, you must count yourselves death to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore, do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.”
After all Christ has done for me, why would I not serve him. I want to. I try. I repent when I fail. I fail regularly – daily. I run away to Christ again and again. And commit my efforts to Him again and again, daily.
I must become who I already am. I must remember who I am and Whose I am.
We serve Christ in obedience not in order to make the Father smile…we serve Christ in obedience because the Father is smiling at me.
He is dancing over me! My sins have already been commuted on the Cross.
Thus “You must be holy, for I, the Lord, your God am holy.”
The Older Testament saint says: “But I can’t! That’s why I and the priest repeat the same sacrifices daily. All the blood of all the bulls, goats and doves look forward to a perfect, single Sacrifice.” See Hebrews 9:12ff.
“He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves, but He entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!”
God has delivered Israel out of Egypt.
I am dead to sin by virtue of the Cross plus….. nothing.
God is working out my salvation for His own good purpose.
God Has cleansed me by virtue of the Cross plus…. nothing.
I can work hard to have no other idols before His face.
I can strive to put to death the sin in my members.
I can work out my own salvation.
I can serve the living God!
The futile monotony has ended:
“Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties, again and again he offers the same sacrifices which can never take away sins. But when this Priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time He waits for His enemies to be made His footstool, because by the one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (Heb. 10:11-14).
I am in the One perfect sacrifice – Christ in His death, resurrection, ascension.
I am being made holy. I am conformed more and more to the image of the Son.