-Wir sein pettler. Hoc est verum.--"We are beggars. This is true."--Martin Luther-

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Friday, January 9, 2009

The Indicative and Imperative Nature of Faith and New Life

This is a section out of my senior thesis on sanctification. What it addresses is the seemingly conflicting scriptural portrayal of rebirth and renewal as being, at one time, solely the work of God, and at another, an imperative placed on man to conform to God's will. It is a matter of resolving indicative and imperative. Various Lutherans have addressed this issue, namely, Paul Althaus, Helmut Thielicke, Adolf Köberle, and to a certain extent, David Scaer. Helmut Thielicke, though, is the one who really hits the nail on the head in the first volume of his Theological Ethics. I have previously written on this topic in my post The Word, Communication, and Sanctification.

We heard a little on this topic from Paul Althaus in the post Althaus on Faith and Command. There are a couple of things in his portrayal that are not quite correct. 1) Althaus talks of: "Insofar as it is God's gift." When talking of indicative and imperative, we cannot say: insofar as it is indicative/ insofar as it is imperative. We have to affirm that it is, at the same time, fully indicative and fully imperative. 2) Another problem with Althaus' portrayal is that he talks of rebirth and renewal (faith and new life) as being, from the standpoint of God, indicative, and from the standpoint of man, imperative. Indicative and imperative is not a matter of perspective, as if man simply acts and thinks as if it were all his work, while in reality it being solely the work and fruit of God. Paul makes it clear that when man acts in autonomy from acknowledgment of his total reliance on God's grace, he acts in rebellion to God. We hear from Paul:

"Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:12-13).

"So, then, it is not of the one willing, nor of the one running, but of the One showing mercy, of God" (Rom. 9:16).

God tells us: "My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9).

When God says "weakness," he does not mean, those who are especially deficient in themselves, rather those who recognize that without Christ, the Vine, they can do nothing (John 15:5). But we, at the same time affirm, "[We] can do all things through him who strengthens [us]" (Phil. 4:13). When we look at the subject of Christ's beatitudes compared to, say, the Pharisees, the difference is not that the Pharisees are stronger, etc., rather, it is the poor in spirit, the mourning, the meek who recognize their total dependence on God's grace, this is why they are called blessed; we are all πτωχοι, literally, beggars in spirit, and yet, in this, we are blessed!

The Lutheran understanding of faith is a perfect example of the indissoluble connection of indicative and imperative. Emil Brunner writes: "The Word of God and the word of faith are inseparable. It is not God who believes but I myself who believe; yet I do not believe of myself, but because of God's speech." (Man in Revolt: A Christian Anthropology, trans. Olive Wyon (Cambridge: Lutterworth Press, 2002), 67.) Faith is at one and the same time completely the work and fruit of the Spirit of God, working through the Word, and yet, it is also my response to God's Word, God's claim on me. Faith is never, whether at the outset, in the midst, or at the end, a fruit of anything that is in me, and yet it is I who believe, it is I who say "yes." The Formula of Concord can even say that we "accept the offered grace." (SD Art. II, Par. 83) This is not inappropriate language if, and only if, the relation of indicative and imperative are understood correctly.

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The Indicative and Imperative Nature of Sanctification

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