I mentioned a few things recently in my Hebrews series about Christ’s active and passive obedience. I received some blowback for these comments as well as some questions, so I figured it would be best to take this opportunity to quickly clarify a few things.
First, the terms “active” and “passive” are terms we use to identify Christ’s sinlessness (law obedience) and His death.
Secondly, we wouldn’t need to differentiate and divide His law obedience and His death had the progressive sanctificationists, the Lordship Salvationists, the hypothetical universalists and
Covenant Theology not insisted that the pardon resulting from the imputation of Christ’s death is insufficient to make His people righteous.
If the pardon resulting from the imputation of Christ’s death is insufficient to make His people righteous, then His death is not enough to save the elect. A resultant wedge is thereby driven between Christ’s active and passive obedience. In response, we find ourselves now forced to talk about His death apart from His sinlessness, because it is the efficacy of His death rather than His sinlessness that is under attack. The argument is that if Christ’s resurrection required a history of law obedience (covenant keeping), then so does ours. The death is not enough.
Lastly, we cannot ignore this fact. We cannot continue to think that we can answer the doubt and confusion these men have injected into the efficacy of Christ’s sacrificial death while refusing to differentiate between His sacrifice and His sinlessness. We aren’t addressing the doubt when we do this. We are only fueling it.
Most Calvinists today falsely believe that Antinomianism rather than Arminianism is the main threat to Christianity today. This is why so many Calvinists count Arminians as brothers even while castigating every sovereign grace believer who refuses to bend the knee to Lordship Salvation and progressive sanctification. And this isn’t a new tragedy either. Many of the Puritans held to the same false belief. The Marrow Controversy was born of it.
This is why we find so few Puritans from yesterday and so few Calvinists today talk about the imputation of the elect’s sins to Christ. Tolerant Calvinism does not want to talk about it. Covenant Theology does not want to talk about it. Lordship Salvation certainly does not want to talk about it. They all want to ignore it, because if we make this imputation a major part of our gospel, then where do works fit in? I mean, think about it. If all my sinning has been imputed to Christ, all my past, present and future sinning, if it’s all been imputed to Christ, then what might that mean for my motivation to change my behavior? The bogeyman of Antinomianism might rear its ugly head. We can’t have that.
My response to this silence has consistently been and continues to be that the elect do not even need His sinless imputed to them. What they need instead is His death imputed to them. I do not think I am overreacting here either. I think we have enslaved ourselves to the tradition of always just saying for a long time without even bothering to give it a second thought that we need His law obedience and His death both imputed to us. John Owen himself made this very mistake.
Consider Owen’s essay concerning those who denied the imputation of Christ’s active obedience. Nowhere in it does he address the imputation of the sheep’s sins to Christ. In addition, his arguments often beg the question. For example:
“As our Lord Jesus Christ owed not in his own person this obedience for himself, by virtue of any authority or power that the law had over him, so he designed and intended it not for himself, but for us. This, added unto the former consideration, gives full evidence unto the truth pleaded for; for if he was not obliged unto it for himself,–his person that yielded it not being under the law,- -and if he intended it not for himself; then it must be for us, or be useless.”
Here, Owen argues that since Christ did not owe Himself the obedience of His law, He must therefore have meant His obedience to be for us. This is all well and good except that it begs the question. The Scriptures state that the law was given so that sin might abound; and elsewhere that the law was given so that it might imprison everyone under sin. The Bible tells us why God designed the law. He designed the law to imprison everyone under sin and to also make every sinner want to sin more should there be anyone who thinks they can use it to establish themselves as righteous. We don’t need to speculate then about why He designed the law as Dr. Owen does. God told us why He designed it. It wasn’t for the same reason Dr. Owen says it was.
Another example –
“It is said, ‘That this obedience was necessary as a qualification of his person, that he might be meet to be a mediator for us; and therefore was for himself.’ It belongs unto the necessary constitution of his person, with respect unto his mediatory work; about this I positively deny. The Lord Christ was every way meet for the whole work of mediation, by the ineffable union of the human nature with the divine, which exalted it in dignity, honour, and worth, above any thing or all things.”
Here again, Dr. Owen begs the question. Scripture again states clearly that He inherited a name more excellent than angels, and that He did learn obedience through what He suffered. While I confess He was from eternity always the Son, yet I cannot deny Scripture and confess with Dr. Owen that He was in every way meet for the criterion of mediation by the mere fact of His incarnation. Christ became the perfect Savior. He was not born the perfect Savior. He became the perfect Savior. He was not always the perfect Savior. He became the perfect Savior by taking the form of a servant and then learning obedience through what He suffered.
While Christians are quick to talk about the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to His elect, they are far too often forgetting the flip side of that coin – the imputation of their sins to Christ. Consider the following argument taken from the notes of a sermon:
“Here we have it (Hebrews 10:14): by Christ’s one offering, the believer is made or constituted ‘permanently perfect’. This is far more than being pardoned.”
One of the problems with this argument is the fact it ignores everything that has preceded this verse. From chapter 1 onward, the author’s argument has been that Christ’s sacrifice was a superior sacrifice that has forever perfected His people, because His priesthood was a superior priesthood to that of Aaron’s. It was never the quality of the priest’s law obedience that provided the efficacy which made the people perfect, but rather the quality of the priest’s sacrifice. The deaths which Aaron offered daily could never atone for the people’s sins, while the death which Christ has offered once for all did.
Here is the question Christians need to start asking and answer. What exactly did His sinlessness purchase for His elect that His death didn’t? His death accomplished His people’s redemption. It redeemed them from God’s wrath and the just penalty for their sins. It atoned for their sins. It propitiated God’s wrath that had stood against them for their sins. It expiated their sins. It purchased their faith, their resurrection, their new birth, their sanctification. His death is His righteousness. He who had learned obedience through what He suffered and had obeyed His Father perfectly, now obeyed even to the point of death. His death is the fulfillment of His perfect obedience. So what do His elect need from His sinlessness that they did not get from His death?
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Tell you what, let me know if you think of something.