Rebecca Stark is the author of The Good Portion: God, the second title in The Good Portion series, a series written to encourage women to immerse themselves in the depths of Christian doctrine.

The Good Portion — God explores what Scripture teaches about God in hopes that readers will see his perfection, worth, magnificence, and beauty as they study his triune nature, infinite attributes, and wondrous works. 

Rebecca also blogs at Out of the Ordinary.


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Theological Term of the Week

passive obedience of Christ
Jesus Christ’s satisfaction of the claims of justice on behalf of those who believe in him, accomplished by his bearing all the sanctions of the law due to their transgressions; his receiving in his own person the penalty due for our sins. Also called penal obedience. (See active obedience of Christ.)

  • Christ’s passive obedience in scripture:
    Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us…. (Romans 8:3 ESV)
  • From the 1689 London Baptist Confession:
    Chapter 11: Of Justification
    1. Those whom God effectually calleth, he also freely justifieth, not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; not by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing Christ’s active obedience unto the whole law, and passive obedience in his death for their whole and sole righteousness by faith, which faith they have not of themselves; it is the gift of God.
  • From this blog. (I’m not happy about quoting myself, but I couldn’t find a short explanation of this elsewhere.)
    Christ’s passive obedience refers to his bearing the curse of the law for us in his death on the cross. The word passive as used here does not mean that Christ’s sacrificial death was simply something done to him, and that he played no active role in it. (We know that’s not the case, for Jesus tells us clearly in John 10:18 that he laid down his life of his own accord and authority, making him an active participant in his own death.) Rather, the term passive in passive obedience comes to us from the Latin obedentia passiva, in which passiva refers to Christ’s suffering. You’ve seen the pass root used like this elsewhere, as in the term passion used to refer to refer to Christ’s suffering and death..
  • From John Murray in Redemption Accomplished and Applied:
    The real use and purpose of the formula [of the active and passive obedience of Christ] is to emphasize the two distinct aspects of our Lord’s vicarious obedience. The truth expressed rests upon the recognition that the law of God has both penal sanctions and positive demands. It demands not only the full discharge of its precepts but also the infliction of penalty for all infractions and shortcomings. Is is this twofold demand of the law of Christ which is taken into account when we speak of the active and passive obedience of Christ. Christ as the vicar of his people came under the curse and condemnation due to sin and he also fulfilled the law of God in all its positive requirements. In other words, he took care of the guilt of sin and perfectly fulfilled the demands of righteousness. He perfectly met both the penal and preceptive requirements of God’s law. The passive obedience refers to the former and the active obedience to the latter.
  • From The Active and Passive Obedience of Christ by Loraine Boettner:
    Calvary presents a spectacle such as had never been seen before and can never be seen again. For Jesus did not suffer and die passively, as one helplessly submitting to the inevitable, but actively, as one keeping a schedule or as one fulfilling a purpose. Had we been able to have looked within the soul of Christ we would have witnessed the most colossal struggle that the universe has ever known. Far from being the passive sufferer that He appeared to those who witnessed the crucifixion, He was upholding the pillars of the moral universe by rendering full satisfaction to divine justice. For as the sinner’s substitute and in his stead Jesus stood before the awful tribunal of God,—before the Judge who abhors sin and burns against it with inexpressible indignation. Justice severe and inexorable was meted out. As He endured the break in the spiritual relationship with the Father He literally descended into hell; for hell is primarily separation from God, a condition the exact opposite of the blessed environment of the divine presence. This does not mean that His soul suffered remorse or any sense of guilt, which is one of the torments of lost souls; for He had no personal sin. Nor does it mean that this condition continued after His death. All was completed on the cross. When the allotted suffering was finished the divine light again broke in upon His soul, and we hear His triumphant cry, ‘It is finished’ (that is, the atonement, God’s objective provision for man’s salvation, was completed); and that was followed almost immediately by the affectionate words, ‘Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.’ Every detail of the account is so presented that we are compelled to recognize the full price of our redemption was paid for by Christ alone, without human assistance of any kind. And thus through the infinite mercy of God and in a manner that shall forever bring glory to His name there was made available a way, the only possible way, through which sinners might be saved.

Learn more:

  1. John Gill: A Body of Doctrinal Divinity: Of the Passive Obedience of Christ
  2. Loraine Boettner: The Active and Passive Obedience of Christ
  3. S. Lewis Johnson: The Imputation of Human Sin to Jesus Christ (mp3)

Do you have a a theological term you’d like to see featured here as a Theological Term of the Week? If you email it to me, I’ll seriously consider using it, giving you credit for the suggestion and linking back to your blog when I do.

Clicking on the Theological Term graphic at the top of this post will take you to a list of all the previous theological terms in alphabetical order.

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