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Thankful For the Active Obedience of Christ

J. Gresham Machen on the Active Obedience of Christ:

“Do you see? Christ has passed the test. He has earned the reward. Heaven has been secured by his perfect obedience to God’s law. And he did not do all this for himself as if he needed to earn heaven for himself. He did all this for his people – even for you, O believer! On your behalf, he actively obeyed, thereby saving you and placing you beyond the possibility of ever becoming unrighteous again. Your status is secured eternally – what a great hope!” So when you comprehend the full obedience of Jesus Christ – both active and passive – you understand why Dr. Machen had such great hope as he lay upon his deathbed. In his own words, “How gloriously complete is the salvation wrought for us by Christ! Christ paid the penalty, and He merited the reward. Those are the two great things that He has done for us.” No hope without it! Complete hope with it!”

The Active Obedience of Christ – Wayne Grudem:

“If Christ had only earned forgiveness of sins for us, then we would not merit heaven. Our guilt would have been removed, but we would simply be in the position of Adam and Eve before they had done anything good or bad and before they had passed a time of probation successfully. To be established in righteousness forever and to have their fellowship with God made sure forever, Adam and Eve had to obey God perfectly over a period of time. Then God would have looked on their faithful obedience with pleasure and delight, and they would have lived with him in fellowship forever.

For this reason, Christ had to live a life of perfect obedience to God in order to earn righteousness for us. He had to obey the law for his whole life on our behalf so that the positive merits of his perfect obedience would be counted for us. Sometimes this is called Christ’s “active obedience,” while his suffering and dying for our sins is called his “passive obedience.” Paul says his goal is that he may be found in Christ, “not having a righteousness of [his] own based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Phil. 3:9). It is not just moral neutrality that Paul knows he needs from Christ (that is, a clean slate with sins forgiven), but a positive moral righteousness. And he knows that that cannot come from himself, but must come through faith in Christ. Similarly, Paul says that Christ has been made “our righteousness” (1 Cor. 1:30). And he quite explicitly says, “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19).”


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  1. Nick

    Thank you for this quote from Grudem. Unfortunately, it seems theological presumptions are controlling his exegesis, causing him to read unBiblical concepts into the text.

    No mention is made of Christ’s Active Obedience – in regards to us needing it for ourselves – in Scripture. Key justification texts like Romans 3:21-26 make no mention of anything except Christ’s death being necessary for God to be “just and justifier”.

    The Power of the Cross is all we need for salvation:
    “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor 1:23)

  2. Did Christ not fulfill the law at every point in His life, from beginning to end? Is not the entire record of His perfect life lived credited to our account by the imputation of His righteousness to our account? What you are asserting defies what the reformers clearly laid out and articulated from Scripture. I would ask you to consult what they said concerning what Scripture clearly says.

  3. Nick


    Thank you for those links, I have not read them yet.

    In response to your second post:

    Yes, Christ fulfilled the law at every point in His life, but that record is nowhere said to be imputed nor is it required for salvation. In Galatians 2:21, Paul says if righteousness came by the law, then Christ died for nothing – note the contrast of keeping the law versus Christ dying; not keeping it in our place.

  4. Robin Westerfield

    Nick, you are certainly correct that salvation from sin came through the death and resurrection of Christ. But what did His atonement save us from? Obviously it is the breaking of God’s law. In order to be made perfect forever as children of God, we needed to perfectly keep the law. Christ’s fulfillment of the law in His life on earth was in our stead, so that God can receive us not only as those whose sins are atoned for, but as perfect keepers of the law in Christ. Recall His exchange with John when coming to him for baptism in Matt 3: “Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. But John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” But Jesus answering said to him, “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he permitted Him.” Why did Jesus say this and why was He baptized when He didn’t need to be? He was completely righteous.

  5. Nick


    I agree, the Atonement was due to the breaking of God’s Law (Heb 9:15), but that is precisely why having a demand to keep the Law perfectly doesn’t make sense. The Law is abolished, and breaking it is atoned for. As for Matthew 3:15, I think you are misunderstanding the situation. It was a Theophany, marking a formal start of Jesus’ public ministry. The Righteousness here is God’s plan of deliverance unfolding (e.g. Jer 33:14-17).

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