Active Obedience

Dear Sirs:
While appreciating most of what you teach regarding justification, I'm
concerned about your teaching that the pre-cross obedience of Christ is
imputed to our account (if I am understanding your position correctly).
Please help me to understand how you support this position Biblically.

Dear Brother Z:

Thank you for your question regarding our Lord's active righteousness. Here are a few texts that you may want to consider:

Romans 5:18-19 Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. 19 For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.

Here Paul is contrasting the sin of the First Adam to the spotless righteousness of the Second Adam. It is only because our Lord lived a sinless life that He was able to offer His spotless life and atoning death to the Law of God so that atonement might be made for the transgressions of the whole world. Christ's sinless life "fulfilled all righteousness" (see: Matt 3:15) for us who have no righteousness to offer to the Law of God which would be acceptable. We must always remember that the place of atonement (the mercy seat) in the temple service was above the holy Law of God which demands a spotless righteousness to make atonement. The lamb had to be without spot and perfect in order to be an acceptable sacrifice. That is why our Lord had to be without sin.

Hebrews 4:14-16 Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. 15 For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 9:14 How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

Our Lord is now our great High Priest in the heavens mediating His sinless life and atoning death to the Father for us. Without His mediation for us none of us could boldly approach the throne of grace to be accepted before God. Thus the merits of Jesus which He offers to the holy Father must include not only His substitutionary death on the cross but also His substitutionary sinless life.

Hebrews 4:15-16 For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

The word "therefore" in Hebrews 4:15 tells us why we can come boldly to the throne of grace— because of His sinless life in that He never yielded to temptations of the Devil to sin.

John 8:46 Which of you convinceth me of sin? And if I say the truth, why do ye not believe me?

1 Peter 1:18-19 Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; 19 But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:

1 Pet. 2:22 "Who (Jesus) committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth".

The "blood of Christ" is a metaphor which represents the forfeited sinless life given for the sins of the world to pay our debt to the Law of God. As the high priest stated at Christ's trial:

John 11:49-52 And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, "Ye know nothing at all, 50 Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not." 51 And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; 52 And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.

The final text that I would like to refer you to is:

2 Cor. 5:21 For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.

Here we are told most plainly that Christ, who was not a sinner, was reckoned to be a sinner so that we, who are sinners, might be reckoned to be the righteousness of God in Him. Paul is making the point that it is only because of Christ's sinless life that we sinners are able to be reckoned as sinless in the merciful reckoning of God.

Philippians 2:5-10 5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. 9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth,

And so it is with these texts in mind that we teach on our website that we are justified by both Christ's active righteousness (obedience) and His passive righteousness (obedience). See the following from our website:

Because of His infinite love for the fallen sons and daughters of Adam, God Himself in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ has come into this sin darkened world, lived a sinless spotless life by perfectly obeying and fulfilling the Law of God, and then He died for our sins, in our place, as our atoning sacrifice upon the cross of Calvary. As the Second Adam, our Lord took upon Himself the guilt, punishment, penalty, and death which we all deserve. The curses pronounced at the Fall of the First Adam fell in full measure upon the Second Adam, the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the sin bearer, substitute, and redeemer for the entire human family.

Active obedience The Law of God requires of all perfect obedience to all of its holy commandments, and absolute holiness and sinlessness of life. This perfect righteousness Jesus performed for us as the sinless Second Adam.

Passive obedience The Law of God also requires punishment and death to all who sin and come short of its righteous demands. This penalty Jesus bore for us when He suffered and died for us, in our place, at Calvary. The guilt of all the world was reckoned and imputed to Him while He hung upon the cross.

In His sinless life and atoning death He became the divine Substitute, Representative, and Second Adam for every fallen child of Adam. He was reckoned and treated as a sinner in the eyes of Divine justice so that by God's unmerited grace alone, in Christ alone, atonement and redemption and reconciliation have been accomplished for all. He ransomed all by paying the debt of all. Jesus lived, died, arose again from the dead, and ascended into Heaven where He ever lives to make intercession for us as the one and only mediator between God and Man. On the Last Day He will come again to save all who eagerly await His return. 

Before closing I would also add the following text for you to consider regarding the active righteousness of our Lord:

Hebrews 5:4-5, 7-10 4 And no man takes this honor to himself, but he who is called by God, just as Aaron was. 5 So also Christ did not glorify Himself to become High Priest, but it was He who said to Him: "You are My Son, Today I have begotten You." ... 7 who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, 8 though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. 9 And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, 10 called by God as High Priest "according to the order of Melchizedek,"

This text refers to the fact that Christ's life of sinless obedience throughout His life, not merely on the cross, perfected (qualified: see NLT translation—"In this way, God qualified Him as a perfect High Priest, and He became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him.") Him to be the one Elected of God to be our holy substitute.

God bless you, brother, as you seek to proclaim the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to all the world.

Yours in Christ,

Bill Diehl, editor
Fallbrook, Ca.