Posted by: John Adams | March 4, 2010

Why Verb Tense Matters

1 John 2:3 is the death knell to legalistic readings of Scripture. It reads, “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.”

“We have come to know” in the Greek is a verb in the aorist subjunctive tense. Aorist means that it is an event occurring at a fixed point in the past with implications extending into the future. Subjunctive refers to the aspect – the speaker is speaking of a condition from the perspective of possibility, rather than indicating as a fact. What on earth does that mean?

It means this. If we have come to know Jesus Christ at a fixed point in the past, that is an event that has implications for our lives that extend into the present time. The implications are that we obey Jesus’ commands. Indeed, we can verify that that event in the past has happened to us by the fact that we are obeying Jesus’ commands.

The reason I said that this is the death knell for legalism is that the event itself is not rooted in our obedience. Rather, the obedience proceeds from the prior event, which is that we came to know Jesus Christ. The new birth makes obedience possible, but the new birth is not a result of obedience. Rather, obedience is the result of the new birth.

This is what the author of Hebrews meant by having your heart “strengthened by grace” (Heb. 13:9). When you are low and swamped by your own sin, preach the Gospel to yourself. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst” (1 Tim. 1:15), but “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).

Because you have been born again, you have everything you need to stop sinning: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” (2 Pet. 1:3-4).

The fixed point in the past whose implications carry on through life will end up by taking us into glory and “participation in the divine nature.” Hallelujah!


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