Understanding the Active Obedience of Christ

Can there be any greater blessing than being forgiven of our sins? The answer is, “Yes!” The man or woman whom the Lord does not count their sin against them is blessed indeed. However, as wonderful as forgiveness is, and how necessary it is for our salvation, we must not stop there in our understanding of what Jesus has done for us. Specifically, in our understanding of justification. In Christ, we are more than forgiven.

We must recall that all men and women are born under a covenant of works. The same covenant under which Adam found himself. The covenant of works is conditional. If Adam fulfilled it by walking in perfect obedience to God, he would live. This potential for eternal life is why there was a tree of life in the garden. It was the reward for obeying the covenant. However, if he violated the covenant and sinned against God, he would die. Adam failed, and immediately he, along with Eve, experienced spiritual death. Their bodies also began to die.

Every one of us is born under a similar requirement. Either we obey God and live, or we disobey and die. Blessing and cursing are held out before us. However, if Adam did not fulfill the covenant in paradise without a sinful nature, neither will we in a fallen world with spiritually dead souls.

Therefore, Scripture is clear that all have fallen short of the glory of God, and the wage of sin is death, but there is still hope. One glimmer of hope appears at first to be a curse. We see in Romans 5 that we are all counted guilty because of Adam’s sin. Our guilt in Adam may not appear to be a good thing, but it tells us something important; it tells us another person can be our representative.

Not only have every one of us fallen in sin and deserve the penalty of death, but Adam is our representative head (Romans 5:18). We are guilty in ourselves, but we are also counted guilty in him. Here is where that turns into good news. If we can be declared guilty in Adam, perhaps we can be declared righteous under another representative head.

Immediately, at the fall, God had promised that a child would be born who would crush the head of the serpent and set his people free (Genesis 3:15). This promised seed is the last Adam, and, as the angel told Joseph, his name was to be Jesus, and he was going to save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).

Jesus, the Son of God in whom the fullness of Deity dwells, took on flesh and became human (Colossians 2:9). As one of us, he placed himself under the covenant of works. This is why Scripture says Jesus came to fulfill the law (Matthew 5:17). Not only would he fulfill every type and shadow in the law, but he would also satisfy every legal requirement, thus fulfilling the covenant of works.

Theologically, this is called the active obedience of Christ. Jesus actively lived a righteous life without sin. The other aspect of Christ’s obedience is called his passive obedience. When we think of Jesus and our salvation in him, his passive obedience is what we usually have in mind. Though he had not sinned and did not deserve to die, he did not resist and took upon himself the punishment for our sin. He died for the sins of his people on the cross and then rose to life for our justification (Romans 4:25).

Understanding these elements, we can now put it all together. For those who have faith in Jesus, he is our representative head. Our sins are imputed to him, and he atones for them on the cross. Here is where we find our forgiveness in Jesus. However, we are more than guilty sinners who can no longer be punished. His righteousness is also counted as ours. We are declared righteous in Christ as if we had fulfilled all that is required to inherit eternal life (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Here is an illustration to explain why the active obedience of Christ is so important.

Imagine a dad walks into his son’s room one morning and lays down the law. He tells him his room is a mess and must be cleaned by 4:00 p.m. If the son completes the job on time, the dad will buy him movie tickets to go out with his friends. If he does not finish on time, he will be grounded for a week. In essence, dad has explained the law and its accompanying blessing and cursing. However, at 4:00 p.m., he returns to see the room still a mess, so the son is grounded.

Now try to imagine the son a week later, after he has satisfied his punishment, walking up to his father and saying, “My punishment has been paid, now give me my movie tickets.” Every parent would chuckle at that request because, though he can no longer be punished, he never fulfilled what was required to receive the reward.

Jesus accomplished both. He not only paid our penalty but also earned the reward for us. Because of this, we are not simply sinners who can no longer be punished. Instead, we are counted as those who had fulfilled the law with perfect righteousness, and we become co-heirs with Christ. Even now, he is keeping an inheritance for us: one that can never perish, spoil, or fade (1 Peter 1:4).

Every human who has ever lived has either the first or last Adam as their head. In the first Adam, all die. In the last Adam, Jesus Christ, all will live (1 Corinthians 15:22). There is only one thing that separates those under the first Adam from those under the last Adam, and that is faith (Romans 3:28). All who believe on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ will be saved, and they will be more than forgiven.

Can there be any greater blessing than being forgiven of our sins? Yes, being forgiven and declared righteous.

-D. Eaton

3 thoughts on “Understanding the Active Obedience of Christ

  1. In Luke 24:47-49 Jesus told His disciples that repentance and remission of sins are to be preached in His Name beginning at Jerusalem and wait for the promise of the Father.
    Acts 2:38 is the fulfillment of this command. This also fullfills Jesus command in John 3:5 being born again of water and Spirit. Baptism in Jesus Name and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost evidenced by speaking in tongues.


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