What is Christ’s Active Obedience?

I came across the following quote:

“If not for Christ’s active obedience and righteousness, received through faith alone, no one would receive eternal life”

A professor at Reformed Theological Seminary said it. So, let’s analyze the theology by looking at some words.

Reformed:
Since the professor teaches at Reformed Theological Seminary, we can safely conclude we are hearing Reformed Theology from him. “Reformed” basically means “Calvinist.” I’m sure there are more ins and outs to it, but basically, that’s what it means. This will give us a foundation upon which to analyze what we’re hearing.

Tip #1 in analyzing theology: Figure out who said it. Who are they? What do they believe? Where did they say this?

Active Obedience:
This is a theological term; it is not a biblical term. Therefore, in order to define what it means, we must go to that theological camp to figure out what the term means.

Tip #2 in analyzing theology: Define your terms using people who use that term. Don’t use opposing theological camp definitions. This is a Reformed Theology term, so use Reformed Theologians to define it.

Here is a quote from Wayne Grudem in an article on Monergism.com, a place to find all things Reformed.

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 . . .
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.”

The primary verse used to defend Active Obedience is Romans 5:19, “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

Tip #3 in analyzing theology: Look up key verses listed in support of the doctrine. Does the Bible say what they say the Bible says?

OK, now we analyze the parts.

Tip #4 in analyzing theology: Think critically about what you are being told.

The initial quote from the professor says Christ’s active obedience and righteousness is what grants us eternal life through faith.

Active obedience refers to Christ’s sinless life on this earth. Christ’s actual righteous deeds are counted to us, so we pass as righteous.

Therefore, being justified (being made righteous) seems to rest solely on Christ’s active righteous deeds done during His life.

Here’s the strange thing about this: the resurrection is completely unnecessary. Click on the link above to the Monergism.com article written by Grudem. He wrote this article to define active obedience. He does mention “passive obedience” and says that refers to Christ’s “suffering and dying for our sins,” so at least the first half of the Gospel gets mentioned! But there is no mention of Christ’s resurrection in this article about being made righteous.

Here’s why this is problematic for me, and others. Romans 5:19 is the key verse for active obedience, it’s the verse that gets the closest to sounding like it.

The disobedience is talking about Adam’s sin in eating from The Tree. It’s not referring to his entire life of active disobedience, but rather a one-time act. The same is true for Christ’s obedience. The verse is not referring to every single obedient thing Christ did in His earthly life, but is rather referring to a one-time act: more than likely His death–“Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him” (Romans 5:9).

I do not think a person can legitimately take the Greek to mean that Romans 5:19 refers to Christ’s active obedience. It’s referring to one thing.

Furthermore, according to the same context, Paul speak of our justification (justification means being made righteous). He never says our righteousness was achieved by Christ keeping the law for us, but notice what he does chalk our righteousness up to:

who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.
–Romans 4:25

Justification was accomplished not by Christ’s life, nor even His death alone, but also by His resurrection.

One of my main problems with the teaching of Active Obedience is that it

1) Makes justification based on works. Paul is adamant on the point that works of the law don’t justify. If that’s the case, why do we think Christ’s works of the law justify us? If righteous come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain!

2) Makes the resurrection pointless. The entire Monergism definition of Active Obedience  never once mentions the resurrection. It gets skipped. The reason why is because they don’t really need resurrection, yet Paul says Christ’s resurrection is what justifies us!

The quote above by the professor does not even mention any aspect of the Gospel and yet is about how to receive eternal life! If we’re saved by Christ’s active obedience, then the Gospel is not needed.

I know Reformed Theology is not trying to undermine the Gospel, but frequently, in order to support their ideas, it does.

Be sober and watch and pray.

One thought on “What is Christ’s Active Obedience?”

  1. …if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins (1 Cor 15)

    It seems like that overlooked resurrection might have some importance.

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