Theologians have long recognized that when Scripture speaks of the Christian life and sanctification, the imperative is grounded in the indicative. In other words, Apostolic commands (the imperative) are based upon present realities of who we are in Christ (the indicative). The Word of God does not command us to do or be something before it says that we are that something; rather, it tells us we are something before it tells us to do or be that something. For example, we are not told or commanded to “be holy” as if we are not, in reality, already set apart unto God as holy. On the one hand, for instance, Jesus commands us to “be perfect [that is, holy], as your heavenly Father is perfect [holy]” (Matt. 5:48). On the other hand, He tells those who rest and rely on Him alone that they “are clean [that is, holy]” (John 13:10). Similarly, Paul exhorts us to offer our bodies as living and holy sacrifices (Rom. 12:1) while also referring to us with the word saints, which literally means “holy ones” (Eph. 1:1). In sum, then, the commands to be holy are imperatives to be what we already are, to live out what we are in Christ by grace.
Practically speaking, this gives us hope and confidence that we can make progress in the Christian life and successfully work out our salvation in fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12). We are God’s holy children already, and we have all the resources we need to put into practice what we possess by virtue of our union with Christ through the Holy Spirit and according to the Father’s will. The fundamental resource is, as today’s passage tells us, “the word of life” (Phil. 2:16). This living word is nothing less than the gospel itself, which in the power of the Spirit brings us forth as God’s children (James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:22–25).
God has made us to be lights that shine in the midst of this “twisted generation,” and we fulfill this calling when we cling to the gospel with all our might. This means trusting in Christ, following His commands, and repenting when we fail, thereby shining forth the light that is ours in Jesus. It means honoring that life-giving word by practicing its implications. If we honor the gospel, we will want to live in a manner reflective of the gospel. John Calvin comments, “We do injustice to the word of God, if it does not shine forth in us in respect of purity of life.”