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 recently, By 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.
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.