As we continue our study of Romans, a book that is all about getting the gospel right, today's passage provides us with a great opportunity to discuss again the importance of understanding the relationship of the indicative and the imperative in the Christian life. If we get this relationship wrong, we have missed what the gospel tells us about the outworking of our salvation. The indicative refers to what we are and the imperative is what we are called to do or to be. Scripture tells us that the imperative is grounded in the indicative. That is, we are not commanded to be something before God says that we are that something. The indicative comes first—because we are something, the Lord calls us to be that something. We are to become what we already are.
The indicative saves us because it is how God regards us in Christ. In Christ, we are righteous (2 Cor. 5:21). In Christ, we are holy (Heb. 10:10). In Christ, we are children of God (Eph. 1:5). There is a practical and experiential sense in which we become righteous and holy, and live as children of the Lord, but we do not do any of those things to achieve a righteous, holy, or adopted status before God. That status is ours by gracious declaration. If we think we have to become righteous, become holy, or otherwise reflect God in our actions before the Lord will see us as righteous, holy, or His sons and daughters, we are driven to despair and compromise the gospel of redemption by God's work alone for His glory alone (Isa. 42:8; John 12:27-28).
Today's passage features one of the indicatives that grounds the imperatives that Paul gives us throughout Romans 8. Recall that in verse 13, the Apostle says that we will live if we mortify the deeds of the flesh—if we follow the lead of the Holy Spirit and stand against the remnants of the fallenness that plagues us. But it is not this mortification that merits our eternal life, for verses 14-15 tell us that we already have this life as a permanent possession through the Spirit of adoption who enlivens us. Having given us His Spirit once for all, God tells us to walk in the Spirit. Our possession of the Spirit ensures that we will come into the inheritance of eternal life, for we are adopted in Christ (Eph. 1:5), and in Him the Father loves us perfectly because He loves Christ perfectly. He will never cast us out of His family. He is not waiting for us to cross the finish line before He signs the adoption papers and makes us His children forever. We are His children in Christ, and just as He will never cast out Christ, He will never cast us out (John 6:37).
The Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of adoption, which is a great comfort to us particularly as we fight sin. Outside of Christ, we are in a state of fear. Despite our best efforts to suppress the truth, every sin provokes terror, for we know our end is hell. Once we are in Christ, however, we know God will never kick us out of His family. The Spirit does a sweet work of conviction in Christians. In the midst of bringing repentance for our sin, He assures us that we are still His.