Is Doing the Precept the Righteousness, and the Death Only Paying the Penalty?
A focus on “the active obedience” of Christ can become a distraction from the death of Christ as that which frees the elect from sin and law and death. I have no big problem saying that Christ’s life of obedience also is imputed. But I am looking for texts, not only for what tradition says.
This question makes me uncomfortable. because Norman Shepherd and federal vision and NT Wright deny the active obedience. But I think the debate about the active obedience being imputed CAN BE a distraction from three big facts. It doesn’t have to be.
1. It CAN BE a distraction from Adam’s sin imputed to humans. Wright does not have any place in his theology for original sin as Adam’s original guilt. Who does? We should be talking about that more.
2. It’s a distraction from the sins of the elect being imputed to Christ. This is the main thing. This is more important even that saying that Christ’s death is only for the elect or saying the Christ’s death is effective to save all for whom He died. This is about justice, about the justifying of God not only the justifying of sinners.
This also makes us think about the difference between the atonement itself and the justification which happens in time when the atonement is imputed to the elect. The atonement and justification are not the same thing.
Of course it’s true that, if God only imputed the sins of the elect to Christ, then Christ only died for the elect. But we need to think not only about Christ’s successful death but also about the justice of Christ’s death.
Focusing on “active obedience” CAN sometimes distract from this. Because lots of folks who are all currently heated up about the “active obedience” almost never talk about Christ’s just death for the elect only. I think of Piper and Sproul and many in the PCA.
To be distracted from the truth that the atonement was only for the elect is also to be distracted from the truth that justification is not conditioned on faith as its preliminary cause. Many of the same folks who fight with NT Wright about faith not being the “active obedience” then turn around and say that God counts faith as the righteousness, and teach that the righteousness is “appropriated” by the condition of faith.
On the one hand, I don’t want to be a distraction by debating “active obedience as vicarious law-keeping” (or by debating if there was a “covenant of works” with Adam.) I want to take sides with these folks against the new perspective.
But on the other hand, most folks on both sides of that debate don’t even believe in Christ’s just death only for the elect. If they did, they would teach it.
3. A focus on doing as the righteousness CAN imply that the death of Christ is not the righteousness. I don’t think active and positive should be split up, not only because the death was active and the obedience passive, but because I want to get away from any idea that the remission of sins is because of the death and that the positive blessing is because of the life.
I see two serious problems with the tradition. 1. The supposed proof texts don’t show vicarious law obedience. They show law obedience. As for ”saved by his life” in Romans 5:10 that’s “saved by his resurrection”.
Problem 2. Which law is being obeyed, which we were supposed to obey? Christ kept the Mosaic law, which none of us were ever under. And more than that, Christ was under unique (only for Him) requirements from God when He became incarnate.
The “new perspective” only wants justification to be about our status and not about the legal record of Christ’s obedience to death (His merits, the righteousness). I don’t think the texts in question (Romans 4, Philippians 3) say that we share only in Christ’s verdict. We share in the obedience that lead to that verdict. Not only the verdict, but the righteousness (the legal value of Christ’s death) was for the elect.
If you don’t want to say that the death of Christ was imputed, since that’s not the exact wording of Scripture, use Romans 6 language and say “placed into the death”. God the Father putting the elect into Christ’s death results in the verdict—–justified, dead to sin, and dead to the law.