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A general principle used when interpreting the New Testament letters of Paul and other authors is:
“The Indicatives come before the Imperatives.”
Before you stop reading this because you forgot Latin or grammar lessons from years ago, think of the principle this way: The facts of what Jesus has done for a person come before what a Christian is commanded to do in response.
As Tim Keller has put it so succinctly: Religions says “I obey, therefore I am accepted.” The gospel says, “I am loved and accepted by God, therefore I obey.”
For example: the general flow of the entire book of Ephesians is this: Chapter 1-3 (What God has graciously done and is doing in Christ Jesus through the Holy Spirit), then Chapters 4-6 (How God expects and urges us to live in light of what Christ has done)
In Colossians 1:9-12 Paul prays that the Colossians would live a life fully pleasing to the Lord. What does that look like? He then lists four outcomes as the hope of his prayer:
Bearing fruit in every good work;
increasing in the knowledge of God;
being strengthened according to his glorious might for all endurance and patience with joy,
giving thanks to the Father…
These are not four areas in which we are to “strive harder” to earn favor with God. Instead- we strive according to his power at work within us, because God has promised to bring to completion the good work He started in our hearts. (Philippians 1:6) We are new creations, and God has prepared good works in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)
As we choose to obey Christ, and we seek to follow Him, we can rest in the finished work of Christ, and the sovereign plan of God: “who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:12-14 ESV)
Colossians 1:12-14 are the indicatives which fuel our obedience to the imperatives given by the King of Kings. We can pray these outcomes for one another as we follow our Good Shepherd day by day.