The preceding discussion has made clear how much the new life is a work of God. This life finds its origin in the death and resurrection of Christ, comes into being through the Holy Spirit, and in its realization in the individual man is new creation, regeneration, etc., that is to say, the fruit of the working of divine power. The farthest thing from the apostle’s mind is the notion that this new life is to be explained on the basis of man himself, as an ethical transformation that is realized from the slumbering powers for good in him and which thus can be denoted as a new birth and can be related to the death and the resurrection of Christ by way of resemblance. On the other hand, it is evident that this new life is not to be understood as a transcendent stream of life that pours into man from the outside and which develops in him eo ipso and whereby there would no longer be any place for human responsibility and decision in the real sense of the word. For Paul also describes the new life in all sorts of ways as the new humanity, the illumination of the nous, the renewal of the heart, and as the body and the members becoming subservient to the will of God. This nature of the new life has become clear to us in particular from the significance of faith in it, as the way in which the new creation of God is effected and communicated in the reality of this earthly life, and is to be characterized as new obedience. From this same point of view we shall now attempt to deal with the moral content of Paul’s preaching.
Again it is primarily a matter of the inner relationships and structures of his preaching and doctrine. We face here specifically the phenomenon that in the more recent literature is customarily designated as the relation of the indicative and imperative. What is meant is that the new life in its moral manifestation is at one time proclaimed and posited as the fruit of the redemptive work of God in Christ through the Holy Spirit — the indicative; elsewhere, however, it is put with no less force as a categorical demand — the imperative. And the one as well as the other occurs with such force and consistency that some have indeed spoken of a “dialectical paradox” and of an “antinomy.”
This confluence of indicatives and imperatives is so general in the epistles of Paul (as in the whole of the New Testament3) that we may confine ourselves to a few characteristic examples. So far, first of all, as the relationship of Christ’s death and resurrection is concerned, the indicative is here fundamental, that those who are in Christ have died to sin (Rom. 6:2). This whole pronouncement, however, is directed toward stimulating human responsibility and arousing to activity: “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body… and do not present your members any longer as weapons of unrighteousness in the service of sin…” (vv. 12, 13). The redemptive indicative of dying and rising with Christ is not to be separated from the imperative of the struggle against sin. No less striking in this respect is Colossians 3:3ff., where in response to: “For you have died, and your life is hid in God, ” the command at once resounds: “Put to death therefore your members which are upon the earth: fornication, uncleanness,” etc. Having once died with Christ does not render superfluous putting to death the members that are on earth, but is precisely the great urgent reason for it. The same applies to the categorical pronouncements concerning life in and by the Spirit. On the one hand it can be said of that life in the manner of the indicative: “the law of the Spirit of life has made you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and of death” (Rom. 8:2, 9); on the other hand, in the manner of the imperative, which subsequently seems to make the first categorical redemptive pronouncement conditional: “so then, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh: for if you live after the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you shall live” (vv. 12, 13). The imperative thus is founded on the indicative (“therefore, ” v. 12). But the succession of the imperative is also a condition (“if, ” v. 13) for that which has first been categorically posited with the indicative. In the same way the pronouncements in Galatians 4 and 5 which in a categorical manner attest to the receiving of the Spirit (4: 6ff.), being born after the Spirit (4:28ff.), living by the Spirit (5:25), are followed by the summons to walk after the Spirit (5:16, 25), and the warning not to go astray because God will not suffer himself to be mocked and what a man sows he will also reap, whether corruption from the flesh, or eternal life from the Spirit (6: 7ff.). And finally, so far as the pronouncements are concerned that have reference to the new life as a creation of God, here again we find the same duality. At one time it is said of the new man that he has been created in Christ (Eph. 2:15; 4:24), and exists in him (Gal. 3:28); then again, that those who are in Christ “have” (active) put off the old man and “have” put on the new man (Eph. 4:21ff.; Col. 3:9ff.); and this “putting on” of the new man now signifies receiving a share in Christ sacramentally through baptism (Gal. 3: 27); then again a mandate as the daily responsibility of the church: “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 13:14).