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.

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16 Comments on “Is Doing the Precept the Righteousness, and the Death Only Paying the Penalty?”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    Piscator says that Paul excludes all of our works from justification “whether they be done by the strength of free will or by grace.” Consequently, Piscator could readily agree with theWestminster Confession of Faith XI.1 that says that God does not justify sinners “for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness.”

    What, then, is the source of man’s righteousness? It is Christ’s satisfaction imputed to the believer. “God accepts Christ’s satisfaction for the elect…imputes the same unto them; and thereupon receives them into favor, and adopts them for sons and heirs of eternal life.” Many objected to Piscator’s view –they said that to have forgiveness of sins is not the same as being accounted righteous. They said that to have forgiveness only is to only be back where Adam began before sin.

    If Christ’s active obedience is not accounted as our righteousness, then how can Christ be our righteousness? Piscator responds that when sins are forgiven, someone is counted not only as not having done any sins but also as having done all things required. “Man’s justification consists in remission of all sins: and therefore not only of sins of committing,but also of sins of omitting.” Piscator would not agree that if only Christ’s passive obedience is imputed to us, then we ourselves must supply positive righteousness. Rather, once Christ’s satisfaction is imputed to us, we are in a state of having done everything required because our sins of omission are forgiven. Thus, for Piscator, the source of our righteousness in justification is only Christ’s satisfaction imputed to us.

    Piscator emphasizes that faith itself is excluded as a part of our righteousness before God. The consequence is that all of our works are excluded from our justification. While Christ’s satisfaction imputed to us is the sole source of our righteousness, we are by nature unrighteous. Further, even the righteous acts that we do after grace and faith are excluded from our justification, which, according to Piscator, continues to rest solely in the satisfaction of Christ imputed to us. He argues against Bellarmine that all of our works are excluded from our justification before God. He argues from the fact that Paul “speaks of works in general, whether they be done by the strength of free will or by grace,because Romans 4 speaks of Abraham’s works, those which he had done of grace and faith” Even those works that flow out of faith are clearly excluded from our justification.

    The same pronunciation that gave us comfort in this life that we have a righteous standing before God will then be pronounced openly by the Lord Jesus Christ: “You are righteous on the basis of My satisfaction imputed to you.”

    What are the results of this justification? For Piscator, we are not only forgiven of our sins, but we also have a right to eternal life, for when someone is justified, God “receives them into favor, and adopts them for sons and heirs of eternal life.” The reason why this can occur, according to Pisactor, is because God has said, “Do this, and you will live” (Lev. 18:5, Mt. 19:17, Gal. 3:12). “It comes about that he to whom God forgives sins, is so accounted as if he had not only committed nothing which God has forbidden in his law, but also omitted nothing of that which he has commanded: and therefore, as if he had perfectly fulfilled the law of God.”

  2. markmcculley Says:

    Getting away from the ‘imputed works’ of Christ and emphasizing grace only (or faith) as opposed to works, gets us away from the “finished work” that is the basis of our justification, which is the only way that a righteous God can be gracious. Of course this is something different from saying we must insist of the imputation of the perfect life (before the death) of vicarious law-keeping

    because the death of Christ itself

    is a. active, willed by Christ himself
    b. the righteousness, not something else besides the righteousness

    which is not to deny that the vicarious law keeping is also part of the righteousness but
    1. the true gospel does not depend on that debate, as long as we agree that the result of righteousness imputed is not only forgiveness but also positive security (not still under a test, probation). I agree with Piscator on this

    2. my hesitation is the lack of a clear prooftext—if we say Romans 5, then are we saying that the one act of death is NOT a positive act of obedience?

  3. markmcculley Says:

    Tom Nettles: “A second error is subtle in nature and involves a shift in the understanding of the sacrificial death. Although Jesus’ death is spoken of as passive obedience–and though the concepts of reconciliation and propitiation are defined as activities accomplished in the Father’s setting forth God the Son–when the sufficiency of the death of Christ arises, the emphasis shifts from the Son’s passive obedience to what he actively accomplished by his infinite divine nature.”

  4. markmcculley Says:

    Tianqi Wu 1, Law requires perpetual obedience. How is Christ’s law obedience perpetual? In fact, scripture says one act of obedience makes the elect righteous. The death is the one act of obedience.
    2, Scripture says that the elect who have been justified have died to law when they are placed into the death of Christ, which is also a death to law. If on top of the death taking away sins, law obedience is also needed, then isn’t this saying instead by the death the elect are brought to a new life under law, which then needs to be vicariously kept by Christ?

  5. markmcculley Says:

    Chris p—-Christ’s perfect obedience to the Law makes Him the Lamb without spot or blemish, not the one keeping the law for me. He alone is worthy to be the propitiation, to die for the Father’s flock. His death satisfies the righteous requirement of both the law and the Lawgiver (our death) on behalf of elect, yet unrighteous sinners, as He is the perfect “law-keeper”, which testifies of His sinless perfection, not ours. The righteousness imputed to the saints is His death satisfying the law, not His perfect keeping of that law.
    Hebrews 10: 10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all…………….
    14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
    It is the same regarding sanctification, His death alone sanctifies the “sanctified ones”, i.e. the elect saints.
    It’s too late to keep a law that I have already violated. Too late to have it kept for me by Christ for the same reason. The command once violated demands only our death.
    Romans 6:14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
    Romans 6, . We have died to sin in Christ, as we have died to the law in Christ, and are now alive to God in Christ.
    Galatians 2:
    19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.
    20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives with regard to me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
    21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.
    Romans 7:
    4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.
    5 For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.
    6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive

  6. markmcculley Says:

    Scott F. Sanborn teaches that Christ’s death is not His righteousness, and that only Christ’s life of vicarious law-keeping life is His righteousness. In this thinking, the death of Christ is not imputed to us, but only the life of Christ is imputed to us. According to this “active/passive”distinction, we don’t receive His death by imputation, and His death is not part of His righteousness. “It is not death that is the ground of life in Christ. Rather, it is the righteous life of Christ that is the ground of our life.

    Sanborn — “God had an end for creating the world apart from the fall and redemption.Jonathan Edwards had this in mind when he wrote his work The End for Which God Created the World…… only the end of creation was revealed in creation, not the end of the fall and redemption. The end of redemption was not revealed in the person of Adam at that time .Adam was not a type of Christ at that time….The infralapsarian position suggests that we cannot assert that God intended to create Adam in such a way as to be a type of Christ later. ”

  7. markmcculley Says:

    Engelsma–Highlighting the difference between Hoeksema and the men of the Federal Vision is the fact that, although they deny that Adam could have merited higher, eternal life, the advocates of the Federal Vision allow that Adam might, nevertheless, have obtained the higher life for himself and the race by “maturing” into that life through his obedience. Hoeksema would have condemned this notion as heartily as he did the notion of earning. He would have charged that there is no difference between a mere man’s meriting the higher, eternal life by his work and a mere man’s obtaining the higher, eternal life by his work.
    The appeal to Hoeksema’s rejection of the covenant of works by the men of the Federal Vision is mistaken because Hoeksema’s fundamental objection against the covenant of works was different from that of the proponents of the Federal Vision. Hoeksema objected to the notion that Adam by his obedience could have
    earned a higher, heavenly, eternal life. Although Hoeksema couched his objection in terms of Adam’s being incapable of meriting higher life, his objection held against Adam’s obtaining higher life for himself and the human race in any manner whatever. Viewing the covenant with Adam in light of God’s eternal decree to glorify Himself by realizing His covenant in Jesus Christ, Hoeksema insisted that only the Son of God in human flesh could obtain the higher and better heavenly and eternal life for Himself and elect humanity, in the way of His cross and resurrection.

  8. markmcculley Says:

    does “could have and should have” theology offer ‘two plans of salvation”?
    dispensationalists say, Israel should have accepted the kingdom, and then Jesus would not have needed to die”
    covenant theologians say, Adam should have kept the covenant of works and saved us by his vicarious obedience, and then Jesus would not have needed to die”

  9. markmcculley Says:

    Is it only the suffering before His death which is the righteousness imputed to the elect, or is His death also the righteousness, and is His death also imputed to the elect? At this point, I do disagree with Calvin, who wrote—-
    Calvin: “If Christ had died only a bodily death ,it would have been ineffectual. No—it was expedient at the same time for him to undergo the severity of God’s vengeance, to appease his wrath and satisfy his just judgment.” 2.16.10.
    NOTHING HAD BEEN DONE if Christ had only endured corporeal death. In order to interpose between us and God’s anger, and satisfy his righteous judgment, it was necessary that he should feel the weight of divine vengeance. Whence also it was necessary that he should engage, as it were, at close quarters with the powers of hell and the horrors of eternal death. … … Hence there is nothing strange in its being said that he descended to hell, seeing he endured the death which is inflicted on the wicked by an angry God. It is frivolous and ridiculous to object that in this way the order is perverted, it being absurd that an event which preceded burial should be placed after it. But after explaining what Christ endured in the sight of man, the Creed appropriately adds the invisible and incomprehensible judgment which he endured before God, to teach us that not only was the body of Christ given up as the price of redemption, but that there was a greater and more excellent price—that he bore in his soul the tortures of condemned and ruined man. (Calvin, John. “Institutes of the Christian Religion.” Book 3:Chapter 16.

  10. markmcculley Says:

    Jesus was not a Christian
    Torrance argued for an “active obedience” in which Christ repented for us, believed for us, was born again for us, was converted for us, and worships for us. “We must think of him as taking our place even in our acts of repentance” (The Mediation of Christ, p 95)
    Donald Macleod responds (Christ Crucified, 2014, p 219)—There is a great discontinuity between Christ and those he came to save. They were sinners and Christ was not. Christ could not trust in God’s forgiveness because he had no need of forgiveness. He could not be born again because he required no changed of heart. He could not be converted because His life demanded no change of direction.
    If we move from the idea of Jesus as a believer to the idea of Jesus as the one who is believed IN, does Jesus believe, vicariously, in Himself?….It is not his faith that covers the deficiencies of our faith (as it is given to us by God). It is Christ’s death that covers the deficiencies of our faith…Our faith is not in the Son of God who believed for us, but in the Son of God who gave Himself for us.

    p 214, Donald Macleod, Christ Crucified, IVP, 2014—-Christ never fell, had not guilt, and knew no sin. Human nature as individualized in Christ was not fallen. Christ did not suffer from the disease of sin. In what sense then did Christ heal human nature by becoming the patient and taking the disease? As Christ faced temptation and suffering, Christ did so with a mind unclouded by sin…

    Human nature after the cross remains as it was before the cross. If Christ healed our humanity by taking our humanity, then Christ was crucified by the very nature he had healed….

    According to Torrance, Christ condemned sin by saying no to the flesh and living a life of perfect faith, worship and obedience. But this would mean that the condemnation of sin did not take place on the cross, but in the daily life of Christ. But Romans 8:3 says that it not Jesus but God the Father who condemns sin in the flesh. While it was indeed in the flesh of his Son that God condemned sin but it was not only in his Son as incarnate, but in his Son as a sin-offering.. God condemned sin by passing judgement on his Son.

    Theosis (participation in the divine nature, II Peter 1:4) is NOT the reason for God being reconciled to us. We are justified as ungodly (Romans 4:5), not as partakers of a nature which has been united with the divine.

  11. markmcculley Says:

    which verses in the Bible teach the “atoning life” of Jesus? Why shouldn’t we consider the death of Jesus “active obedience”? The one act of obedience was about to be “accomplished”, we are told in the story of the Transfiguration.

  12. markmcculley Says:

    If Christ’s “atoning life” is the righteousness, then what does that make His “atoning death”?

  13. markmcculley Says:

    do you have to also believe in definite atonement in order to be “Reformed”, or is believing in vicarious obedience enough to be “Reformed”? Or do you need to believe both to be “Reformed”

    Are these people “reformed”?

    Myron S. Augsburger

    C. Fitzsimmons Allison

    Kay Arthur

    Bill Bright

    Tony Evans
    Jerry Falwell
    Billy Graham
    Stan N. Gundry

    Jack W. Hayford
    Paul Hiebert
    Ed Hindson
    Bill Hybels

    Woodrow Kroll
    Beverly LaHaye
    Tim LaHaye

    Bill McCartney
    Beth Moore

    Pat Robertson
    Adrian Rogers

    Ronald J. Sider

    Joseph Stowell

    Charles Swindoll

  14. markmcculley Says:

    No. God never commanded Adam to die for the sins of others. Being punished by the law is not the same as obeying the law. But does that mean I should not boast in the death of Christ but instead say my only hope is His law-keeping? I disagree with the following quotation from Charles Spurgeon:
    “The promises in the Word of God are not made to suffering; they are made to obedience. Consequently, Christ’s sufferings, though they may remove the penalty of sin, do not alone make me the inheritor of the promise. “If You will enter into life,” said Christ, “keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17). It is only Christ’s keeping the commandments that entitles me to enter life. “The Lord is well pleased for his righteousness’ sake; he will magnify the law, and make it honorable” (Isaiah 42:21). I do not enter into life by virtue of His sufferings – those deliver me from death, those purge me from filthiness; but entering the enjoyments of the life eternal must be the result of obedience

  15. markmcculley Says:

    Reformed people think that the cross without “active obedience imputed” is doing an end-run around the law

    Reformed person—Many people tend to think that when the Father sent the Son to die on the cross to forgive sins, he was in some sense “breaking the law.”Like, because of Jesus, God is letting our law-breaking somehow slide. The god preached in this kind of scenario can only forgive sins by in some way compromising his holiness. In other words, he sort of tips the scales towards his mercy and away from his righteousness. A lot of Christians tend to think of God’s work like that — bending the rules. He sacrifices one part of his self (holiness) in order that we might take advantage of another (love).

    Reformed person—God has declared that he will by no means clear the guilty So God instead makes guilty people righteous! But to do this in a way that is just, God must make a righteous person guilty. And he accomplishes this, the Bible reveals, by punishing our sin by punishing his son Jesus. In this way, all sin is accounted for. Whether by the wrath of hell or by the wrath of the cross, every single sin is accounted for. W hen you do a bit of “reverse engineering” on the atonement, you can see that it wouldn’t be very loving at all for God to have broken his own laws to save us. An atonement made by a law not perfectly satisfied is no atonement at all. If God broke his law to save me, I am not saved.

    Mark—sounds good, correct? It is good. But because the person is confessional Reformed, he can’t stop there, but goes on to add vicarious law-keeping into the mix. Sure, all wrath for the sins of the elect have been taken care of by Christ’s death. But then however, there are still the sins of omission, the sin of not doing what Adam was supposed to do to earn his own immortality. Despite all the talk of the cross, that additional merit is not added to the equation by the Reformed formula. Because, at the end of the day, the law given to Adam did not say anything about anybody’s death being the cause of salvation. Even if you die, or if somebody dies for you, the law still expects you to produce.

    Reformed person—The Christian God is both just and justifier, not only forgiving sinners but also by making them righteous not by their obedience (because they could never obey well enough) but by Christ’s obedience, which is perfect and thus perfectly fulfills the perfectly holy law of God. Christ’s perfect obedience to the law of God is considered as my own perfect obedience to the law of God.

  16. markmcculley Says:

    Tianqi Wu. The view that we also need Christ’s record of law-keeping imputed is often explained in this way: Christ’s death paid for our debt, giving us an empty bank account, but we also need a positive amount of money in our bank account, and this is by Christ’s law-keeping imputed to us.
    This view sees law as a system of achievement. My view is that EVEN the “positive commands” of law are still regulative standards rather than goals to achieve above and beyond some neutral position.

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