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Saturday's Old Post: Christ's Active and Passive Obedience and Our Justification

Since I usually don’t have time for blogging on Saturday, I’ve decided to occasionally feature a favorite old post from the archives. This might be the post I like best of all the ones I’ve written in the seven years I’ve been blogging. It was originally posted in July of 2007.

Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness 
My beauty are, my glorious dress….

(Nicolaus Zinzindorf, 1700-1760,
translated by John Wesley, 1703-1791)

Recently, everywhere I look I see the mention of the active and passive obedience of Christ, and what (or whether) both aspects of Christ’s obedience contribute to our justification. The concepts of the active and passive obedience of Christ were included in the last three questions from the Westminster Larger Catechism that I’ve posted, although those particular terms weren’t used. But the ideas are there, with the catechism clearly teaching that both the active and passive obedience of Christ are necessary for the justification of sinners. And one of the books I read and reviewed recentlyBy Faith Alone, dealt a bit with the active and passive obedience of Christ and whether both are necessary grounds for our justification. So I’ve been thinking about the two kinds of obedience and what they contributed to our justification, and if I’m thinking about it, you know I’m going to write about it.

Passive Obedience
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.

Christ’s passive obedience—his obedience in bearing the curse of the law for us—is the basis upon which our sins are forgiven. His death was an atoning death, and he was our substitute. Our sins were placed upon Jesus Christ on the cross and he endured the penalty for our sin in our place. This payment of our penalty through Christ’s suffering and death on our behalf is the reason we can be pardoned.

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Round the Sphere Again: Apologetics

Answering Objections
A collection of Common Objections to Christianity from Skeptics answered by Steve Hays. Like, for instance,

How can it be just to send people to hell when they have never had the opportunity to believe in Jesus?

No one goes to hell for disbelieving in Jesus. Disbelief is an aggravating factor. But the hellbound are already lost. Refusing the gospel isn’t what renders them damnable.

In Christian theology, nobody can be saved unless he knows and accepts the gospel. This doesn’t mean nobody can be damned unless he knows and rejects the gospel. Rather, to be lost is the default condition of sinners. To be lost is not a result of spurning the gospel. To the contrary, it’s because sinners are lost in the first place that they desperately need to be saved.

From Monergism.com.

Presuppositional Apologetics
Listen to Dustin Segers and Sye Ten Bruggencate engage two atheists using presuppositional apologetics. The whole thing is 3 hours long, but you’ll get the idea if you listen to the first hour or so. 


The Cross of Christ: Self-Understanding and Self-Giving

This week’s reading from John Stott’s The Cross of Christ for Reading Classics Together at Challies.com is Chapter 11, Self-Understanding and Sefl-Giving. Instead of summarizing the whole chapter, I’ll just highlight a few points from it.

The self-understanding Stott writes of is not self-absorption, but a means to self-giving. The community of the cross will be “marked by sacrifice, service and suffering’ which works itself out in the home, the church, and the world.

The Christian Home
The Christian home should be marked by the self-giving love of the cross, but, says Stott, it is husbands who are particularly singled out. “[T]hey are to love their wives with the love which Christ has for his bride the church.” If our homes were distinguished by self-giving love Christian homes would be be more fulfilling and more solid.

The Church
Those in the church are to love one another.

We have only to remember that our fellow Christian is a “brother [or sister] for whom Christ died,” and we will never disregard, but always seek to serve, their truest and highest welfare. To sin against them would be to sin against Christ.

The World
Christ sends us out into the world.

Mission arises from the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus. His birth, by which he identified himself with our humanity, calls us to a similar costly identification with people. His death reminds us that suffering is the key to church growth, since it is the seed that dies which multiplies. And his resurrection gave him the universal lordship that enabled him both to claim that “all authority” was now his and to send his church to disciple the nations.

Next up is chapter 12, Loving Our Enemies.


Thankful Thursday


  • I’m thankful for the garden potatoes that I’m baking for supper. I guess I’m thankful that we all like our potatoes baked, too.
  • I’m thankful that my son replaced a couple of light fixtures for me this afternoon, because I’d rather not have to learn how to replace light fixtures for myself. I’m thankful for son’s patience when the old electrical box prooved difficult to attach the new fixture to. I’m thankful that the light fixtures I chose look even better than I thought they would. Sometimes things don’t work out like that for me.
  • Still thankful for Natalie, who is becoming so reponsive and social. What fun she is! 
  • I’m thankful that I have everything I need and more. Because sometimes I forget that.
  • I’m thankful for a busy and productive day.
  • I’m thankful for the historic creeds and confessions and for those who drafted them. 

Throughout this year I’m planning to post a few thoughts of thanksgiving each Thursday along with Kim at the Upward Call and others. 


Book Review: 40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law

by Thomas R. Schreiner.

This is another book in the excellent 40 Question Series edited by Benjamin Merkle and published by Kregel Academic & Professional. (See my previous review of another book in this series, 40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible.) This time round, the subject is biblical law, a tricky subject, if you ask me.

According to Tom Schreiner, it’s also an important one, because the way we put the whole Bible together depends on our understanding of the law. What’s more—and relatedly—those who study the law can better evaluate the theological systems. In addition, the law relates to justification. How we understand the law affects how we understand salvation. And last, those who want to please God need to understand how the law relates to them as believers.

To work through these issues Schreiner answers questions about

  • The Law in the Old Testament
  • The Law in Paul (This section makes up over half the book, because “Paul’s theology of the law is the most crucial in determining one’s view of the law canonically….”) 
  • The Law in the Gospels and Acts
  • The Law in the General Epistles
  • The Law and Contemporary Issues

When it comes to his view of the law, Schreiner is not a typical Covenant Theologian. He argues that while the categories of civil, ceremonial and moral law may be useful in some ways, the scripture doesn’t divide the law this way, and sometimes exact distinctions are difficult to make. He disagrees with the common view that the ceremonial and civil law have been done away with in Christ while the moral law remains binding, teaching instead that the whole Mosaic law is no longer in force since the coming of Christ.

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