If “active” obedience is imputed, it is not to make up with an insufficiency in the passive

I want to make a few comments about “the imputation of the active obedience of Christ,” or the rhetoric about it or the way people are treated who do not affirm it.

  • The Roman Catholic Error is not about denying the imputation of the active obedience of Christ.  The reason why Roman Catholic theology lacks assurance is because they don’t fully affirm the imputation of the passive obedience of Christ. They think believers must pay for their sins in Purgatory by their suffering.  So the imputation of the active obedience is not the issue.
  • I don’t see how active can be separated from passive since Christ was a willing sacrifice. I can’t figure out a way that Christ’s passive obedience can be isolated from his active obedience so that only the former is imputed to sinners.  So I do not deny the imputation of Christ’s active obedience.
  • People who claim that we can have no assurance of salvation without the imputation of the active obedience of Christ sound like they have no confidence in the efficacy of Christ’s sufferings. Why wouldn’t the blood of Jesus be a sufficient source for assurance of salvation?  Why must I declare the bitter suffering and death of Christ insufficient for being assured that I am saved?  I don’t get it.
  • If Christ died to forgive our sins, then there is no obedience left to be demanded of us as a condition for our salvation. Why do we keep hearing that, without the imputation of Christ’s active obedience, we must produce our own perfect obedience in order to be saved?  That makes no sense at all. It is true God hates sin and demands perfect obedience. But God has satisfied the penalty of violating that demand by carrying out the full curse for sin on his own son.  There is no demand left.  Jesus paid it all.  Consider the hymn, Nothing but the Blood. When congregations sing this hymn are they being encouraged to to believe that we must produce perfect obedience? No, we are convinced that God has dealt with the penalty for all such disobedience so that there is no such demand on us anymore as a condition for salvation. If God killed his own son to save you what more assurance can you ask for?

Again, I don’t see any way that we can separate out the active and passive obedience.  But neither do I see any way that we must say that one supplements the other or that each does a different job in our salvation.  The curse on sin is satisfied; their can be no further demand for perfect obedience unless the blood of Christ is useless.

To sum up: If you trust Jesus as Lord and Savior then all the demands that God’s holy nature places upon you as a condition for fellowship with himself have been met by Jesus.  The penalty for all disobedience has been paid so there is nothing left to demand of you. Faith itself is not something you offer to God to become good enough to be worthy of his friendship, but rather a means by which you are united to Christ so that his sacrifice applies to you.  Your sins of omission have been forgiven as much as your sins of commission.  God has no further obedience that he could demand of you to escape the penalty of death because the penalty has been satisfied in Christ and by Christ.

For further consideration: Zacharias Ursinus and the Imputation of the Active Obedience.

6 thoughts on “If “active” obedience is imputed, it is not to make up with an insufficiency in the passive

  1. pentamom

    Ooooh, I like that last point. I hadn’t thought of it before, but the argument from the other side makes it seem as though it’s somehow possible to fail in obedience without actually sinning, as though “not obeying” is some kind of neutral state of failing to rack up additional brownie points, rather than sin, as everyone acknowledges that it is. So really, it makes no sense to say your sins are forgiven but it’s possible to be in a state of not having sufficient obedience, and therefore not be accepted. Huh?????? Isn’t “being in a state of not having sufficient obedience” no more and no less than “sin?”

  2. mark Post author

    Thanks. I have seen arguments that forgiveness only gets us to “neutral” with God. I don’t believe there is ever neutral territory for a creature with his God.

  3. pentamom

    Not only does neutral seem Deistic, it seems subhuman in some way. The instant you start acting, or relating, or whatever you want to call it, you’re off neutral, and that’s on both sides — God is either being gracious or wrathful, you are either being faithful or sinning. The idea of some kind of spiritual suspended animation, even though I realize they’re looking at it as a construct, not a real state, doesn’t seem to fit with being human.

  4. pduggie

    That’s a good point about purgatory. People often point to the ongoing doctrine of purgatory to show that RCs have not ‘really’ changed. But no doctrine of Purgatory I know of has the soul performing enough good works in purgatory to finally get out. Its just suffering.

  5. Nick

    I have a more important question: Where does the Bible say anything about Christ’s “Active Obedience”?

    I see nothing of the sort in Scripture, and in fact the only thing ever said to be the grounds of our salvation is Christ’s Death and Resurrection. The closest thing anyone has ever shown me was Romans 5:18f, but that’s reading quite a bit into the text. Further, Greek experts like Daniel Wallace say Romans 5:12ff is not talking about justification:


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