Some Notes on Atonement

I took a few notes during the communion service today and thought I’d post them here.  The topic is timely for Palm Sunday…

Atonement

Atonement is reparation for an offense.

    • Old Testament History
      • Meaning: to purge, cleanse, make appeasement for a broken relationship
      • Day of Atonement
        • See Leviticus 16
        • Before Day of Atonement, blood sprinkled before curtain
        • On Day of Atonement, blood sprinkled on the mercy seat
          • Ark of the Covenant had two parts: (1) chest with contents and (2) the cover (or mercy seat)
          • God’s special glorious presence dwelt between the cherubim above the mercy seat (or atonement cover)
        • The two goats:
          • First: sacrificed and blood sprinkled before the mercy seat — Atonement
          • Second: sins confessed over and it was sent away into the wilderness: the scape goat — Expiation
    • Christ’s Atonement
      • “Once for all…” (Heb 7:27, 9:12-10:10) – not a repeating sacrifice; contrast Catholicism and Judaism
      • Christ’s New Covenant Atonement is the anti-type of the Old Covenant Atonement
        • Christ himself is the high priest who offers the sacrifice (Heb 2:17)
        • Christ himself is the very sacrifice: “but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” (Heb 9:26)
        • Christ himself is the altar on which the sacrifice was made. (Heb 13:10)
        • Christ himself is the mercy seat on which the blood was poured (compare Rom 3:25 with Heb 9:5, 11-15)

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
(Rom 3:24-26)

The Aim of the Atonement, part 3

There are generally two primary views on the Atonement in Protestant Evangelical circles: (1) that the aim of the atonement was to make all men savable, and (2) the aim of the atonement was to save some men. Theologian Louis Berkhof frames the issue this way:

The question with which we are concerned at this point is not (a) whether the satisfaction rendered by Christ was in itself sufficient for the salvation of all men, since this is admitted by all; (b) whether the saving benefits are actually applied to every man, for the great majority of those who teach a universal atonement do not believe that all are actually saved; (c) whether the bona fide offer of salvation is made to all that hear the gospel, on the condition of repentance and faith, since the Reformed Churches do not call this in question; nor (d) whether any of the fruits of the death of Christ accrue to the benefit of the non-elect in virtue of their close association with the people of God, since this is explicitly taught by many Reformed scholars. On the other hand, the question does relate to the design of the atonement. Did the Father in sending Christ, and did Christ in coming into the world, to make atonement for sin, do this with the design or for the purpose of saving only the elect or all men? That is the question, and that only is the question.

In discussing these issues with folks who have a high view of man, you hear it stated that the Calvinist view is based purely on inference and logic and has no Biblical support. My intention here is not to cover everything the Bible says about Atonement, there are too many quality works that do that, but rather to provide a handful of Biblical passages that assert that Christ’s First Coming and Death had a definite purpose.

God Has a Purpose

The first thing, in my opinion, that must be dealt with is the understanding that God has an eternal plan and purpose for the things that happen in this world.


In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will... (Eph 1:11)

What things does God work according to his will? All things. What about bad things or things we don’t like? Well, the Scriptures teach us that God is good and that He doesn’t like bad things either. But, either bad things happen because they are a part of God’s larger plan for good, or they happen randomly, without purpose, and not in accordance with God’s purpose and plan. When we come to the realization that God is God and that His authority and purpose rules sovereign over all things, it transforms the way we see God, Scripture, and ourselves!

The People Christ Redeemed (Purchased) Are His Elect

Who does god justify? Those who He has predestinated. And for those he will provide everything essential to their salvation and sanctification.


Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?
(Rom 8:29-32)

Continuing with Romans 8, we that Christ died for, loves, keeps, and makes intercession for us believers.


Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution...

The Good Shephard lays down his life for his sheep.


I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep ...As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. (John 10:11-15)

Christ gave Himself for the church.


Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. (Acts 20:28)


Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. (Eph 5:25-27)

Christ gave Himself for Believer’s Sins


[Christ] gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father (Gal 1:4)


But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. (Rom 5:8-9)


[Christ] gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. (Tit 2:14)


Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. (John 15-13-14)


For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. (2 Cor 5:21)


For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God (1 Pet 3:18)


Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us (Gal 3:13)


[Christ] bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed (1 Pet 2:24)

The Definite Scope of Christ’s Priestly Work

The priestly role of Christ is not limited only to providing a sacrifice, but also providing intercession. For whom does Christ intercede?


Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. (Rom 8:33-34)


I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word. ...I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine. ...Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are. ...Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word... (John 17)


But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. (1 John 1:7)

Many

Several verses in the New Testament appear make applicability of Christ’s atonement to the world, but there are many that specifically limit it to ‘many’.


Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. (Mt. 20:28)


For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. (Mt 26:28)


And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance. ...So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation. (Heb 9:15-28)

Conclusion

Perhaps the Arminian would not be convinved by these arguments, clinging tenaciously to 1 Jn 2:2 as overthrowing all, at least let him not say we have no Scriptural basis for our argument. I found these in about 15 minutes of work. MUCH more could be said, but this should be sufficient for the present cause.

The Aim of the Atonement, part 2

In part 1 of the series, I described how that the evangelical debate regarding the atonement does not concern: the nature, value, or benefit of the atonement, but simply the design or intent. There are several positions regarding the aim of the atonement:

  • Semi-Pelagian – The Semi-Pelagian view is that man failed under his first arrangement to maintain his righteousness; so God gave him a new covenant, based on easier and more gracious terms, in which salvation is attained on the condition of faith and repentence (which man has the natural capacity to provide) as a new form of obedience. In this view, then, Christ’s atonement applies equally to every man and every man has an equal chance to attain it (or lose it).
  • Weslyan – The Weslyan view is that the Atonement of Christ removes original sin from every man and secures the drawing work of the Holy Spirit for every man. Those that cooperate with the drawing work of the Spirit are led to salvation
  • Lutheran – The Lutheran view is that Christ made actual satisfaction for the sins of all men; on this basis the gospel is to be preached to all. Grace is offered in the sacraments, which if unresisted, aid the sinner to have faith and accept the gospel
  • Amyraldian – This view is that Christ made a full satisfaction for all men, but all men are fallen in sin and unable and unwilling to receive it. Since the gospel would be universally rejected, God elects some to eternal life and gives them the grace to believe
  • Calvinist – According to the Calvinist, all men are spiritually dead in their sin and unable to do anything for the benefit of their souls. God determined before time to show his mercy and grace on some and provided the needed atonement for them and enables them to receive it.

Each view sees man as sinful and unable to be saved apart from God’s grace. Each sees Christ’s atonement as having an infinite value. Each limits the atonement to a portion of sinners either by the choice of man or the choice of God. Lutherans, Amyraldians, and Calvinists base (at least in part) the cause of some coming to faith in eternal election. Semi-Pelagians and Weslyians tend to put more faith in human effort and free-will. Calvinists and Amyraldians see Christ’s atonement as ‘saving’, the other views see it as making men ‘savable’.

The Aim of the Atonement, part 1

I recently participated reluctantly in a small debate on a fundamentalist website about Calvinism.  Sadly, I spent most of my effort attempting to undue the many fallacious and shallow strawman arguments the author was putting forward in his defense of his own personal Weslyianism (which he called ‘biblicism’).

In this post I’d like to lay out a few of the different views on the atonement within modern fundamentalist and evangelical Christianity and summarize why I think the Calvinist view is best.

A few important remarks first (summarized from Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology text):

  1. The debate does not concern the nature of the atonement. The atonement is a sacrifice which makes satisfaction for sin. This is agreed upon by all conservative Bible students
  2. The question does not concern the value of Christ’s atonement. Both Calvinists and proponents of a general atonement admit the infinite value of Christ’s shed blood (the only exception are some groups of hyper-calvinists and a small group of hyper-dispensationalists who have mystical views of Christ’s literal blood). If it were possible for God to elect 10,000 additional souls, no single additional drop of Christ’s blood would need to be shed.  His sacrifice is of sufficient value to atone the sins of all mankind if that were to please God.  Augustine said “sufficient for all; efficient for the elect”.
  3. The question doesn’t concern who benefits from the atonement of Christ. Both Calvinists and Arminians agree that Christ’s atonement only ‘savingly’ benefits those who believe. Only universalists (outside the scope of this debate) would argue that Christ’s atonement ‘savingly’ benefits all men. So, if the atonement does not save all men, it is limited in some way. Was it limited by God’s intent and design – intending that for those whom He chose before time, He would provide everything necessary for their justification? Or, is it limited by man? Did God ‘intend’ to save some or to make all men ‘savable’?

With the question framed, future posts will focus on differing views concerning the ‘intent’ of the atonement and Biblical evidence for the particularist view.

 

Click the link to see older posts regarding Christ’s Atonement;

 
 

[Calvinists] are often told that we limit the atonement of Christ, because we say that Christ has not made a satisfaction for all men, or all men would be saved. Now, our reply to this is, that, on the other hand, our opponents limit it: we do not. The Arminians say, Christ died for all men. Ask them what they mean by it. Did Christ die so as to secure the salvation of all men? They say, “No, certainly not.” We ask them the next question—Did Christ die so as to secure the salvation of any man in particular? They answer “No.” They are obliged to admit this, if they are consistent. They say, “No; Christ has died that any man may be saved if”—and then follow certain conditions of salvation. We say, then, we will go back to the old statement—Christ did not die so as beyond a doubt to secure the salvation of anybody, did He? You must say “No;” you are obliged to say so, for you believe that even after a man has been pardoned, he may yet fall from grace, and perish. Now, who is it that limits the death of Christ? Why, you. You say that Christ did not die so as to infallibly secure the salvation of anybody. We beg your pardon, when you say we limit Christ’s death; we say, “No, my dear sir, it is you that do it.” We say Christ so died that He infallibly secured the salvation of a multitude that no man can number, who through Christ’s death not only may be saved but are saved, must be saved, and cannot by any possibility run the hazard of being anything but saved. You are welcome to your atonement; you may keep it. We will never renounce ours for the sake of it. (CH Spurgeon)

Who Limits the Atonement?

Our post today is taken from Charles Spurgeon’s Sermon: Particular Redemption, delivered on Morning, February 28, 1858.

Now, you are aware that there are different theories of Redemption. All Christians hold that Christ died to redeem, but all Christians do not teach the same redemption. We differ as to the nature of atonement, and as to the design of redemption. For instance, the Arminian holds that Christ, when He died, did not die with an intent to save any particular person; and they teach that Christ’s death does not in itself secure, beyond doubt, the salvation of any one man living. They believe that Christ died to make the salvation of all men possible, or that by the doing of something else, any man who pleases may attain unto eternal life; consequently, they are obliged to hold that if man’s will would not give way and voluntarily surrender to grace, then Christ’s atonement would be unavailing. They hold that there was no particularity and speciality in the death of Christ. Christ died, according to them, as much for Judas in Hell as for Peter who mounted to Heaven. They believe that for those who are consigned to eternal fire, there was a true and real a redemption made as for those who now stand before the throne of the Most High.

[Calvinists] are often told that we limit the atonement of Christ, because we say that Christ has not made a satisfaction for all men, or all men would be saved. Now, our reply to this is, that, on the other hand, our opponents limit it: we do not. The Arminians say, Christ died for all men. Ask them what they mean by it. Did Christ die so as to secure the salvation of all men? They say, “No, certainly not.” We ask them the next question—Did Christ die so as to secure the salvation of any man in particular? They answer “No.” They are obliged to admit this, if they are consistent. They say, “No; Christ has died that any man may be saved if”—and then follow certain conditions of salvation. We say, then, we will go back to the old statement—Christ did not die so as beyond a doubt to secure the salvation of anybody, did He? You must say “No;” you are obliged to say so, for you believe that even after a man has been pardoned, he may yet fall from grace, and perish. Now, who is it that limits the death of Christ? Why, you. You say that Christ did not die so as to infallibly secure the salvation of anybody. We beg your pardon, when you say we limit Christ’s death; we say, “No, my dear sir, it is you that do it.” We say Christ so died that He infallibly secured the salvation of a multitude that no man can number, who through Christ’s death not only may be saved but are saved, must be saved, and cannot by any possibility run the hazard of being anything but saved. You are welcome to your atonement; you may keep it. We will never renounce ours for the sake of it.

And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.
– Matt 1:21

The Comforting Doctrine of God’s Providence

According to the Baptist Catechism of 1677, “God’s works of providence are His most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all His creatures, and all their actions.”  A robust Calvinistic understanding of the Absolute Sovereignty of God is the greatest comfort for his people in times of distress.

In Book 1, Section XVII (Use to Be Made of Providence), Para 11 of the Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin summarizes the great comfort that this doctrine provides to the believer:

But when once the light of Divine Providence has illumined the believer’s soul, he is relieved and set free, not only from the extreme fear and anxiety which formerly oppressed him, but from all care. For as he justly shudders at the idea of chance, so he can confidently commit himself to God. This, I say, is his comfort, that his heavenly Father so embraces all things under his power—so governs them at will by his nod—so regulates them by his wisdom, that nothing takes place save according to his appointment; that received into his favour, and entrusted to the care of his angels neither fire, nor water, nor sword, can do him harm, except in so far as God their master is pleased to permit.

Ps 31:14-15

14But I trusted in thee, O Lord:

I said, Thou art my God.

15My times are in thy hand:

deliver me from the hand of mine enemies,

and from them that persecute me.

Ps 118:5-8

5I called upon the Lord in distress:

the Lord answered me,

and set me in a large place.

6The Lord is on my side;

I will not fear:

what can man do unto me?

8It is better to trust in the Lord

than to put confidence in man.

Christ’s Death is Our Death

Those for whom Christ died (and by ‘for whom Christ died’ I mean, those for whom Christ made atonement) have also died in and with Christ in His crucifixion.

  • Rom 6:3-11

    “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him”

  • 2 Cor 5:14-15

    “For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.”

  • Gal 2:20

    I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”

2 Cor 5 states that Christ died for ‘all’, but Rom 6 and Gal 2 and other scriptures make plain that the ‘all us’ for whom Christ died are those who have been baptized into his death and who have their life in Christ (i.e. those who have been born again). Our ‘old man’ (that is, our old sinful nature) has died with Christ so that it has been, is, and will be destroyed. Even though we have died with Christ (at least the old ‘us’ has), we continue to live – no longer as slaves to sin – but we live in and through the resurrected Christ.

Says John Murray

All for whom Christ died also died in Christ. All who died in Christ rose again with Christ. The rising again with Christ is a rising to newness of life after the likeness of Christ’s resurrection. To die with Christ is, therefore, to die to sin and to rise with him to the life of new obedience…

Concerning the ‘extent’ of the atonement, the preceding proposition is very clear: those for whom Christ has died are those who are believers who have died to sin and live a life of obedience. I hasten to add that it is not because of any goodness in them that they are saved, but rather they are obedient because they have been freed from the power of sin and have spiritual life by the power of Christ working in them. As it is obvious that not all have died in Christ, so it must be obvious that Christ has not died, in a vicarious sense, for all.

The Contrary Opinion

The contrary opinion can be best expressed by the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part 1, Section 2, Article 4 :

God takes the initiative of universal redeeming love

604 By giving up his own Son for our sins, God manifests that his plan for us is one of benevolent love, prior to any merit on our part: “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins.”408 God “shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”409

605 At the end of the parable of the lost sheep Jesus recalled that God’s love excludes no one: “So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.”410 He affirms that he came “to give his life as a ransom for many”; this last term is not restrictive, but contrasts the whole of humanity with the unique person of the redeemer who hands himself over to save us.411 The Church, following the apostles, teaches that Christ died for all men without exception: “There is not, never has been, and never will be a single human being for whom Christ did not suffer.”412


408 1 Jn 4:10; 4:19.
409 Rom 5:8.
410 Mt 18:14.
411 Mt 20:28; cf. Rom 5:18-19.
412 Council of Quiercy (853): DS 624; cf. 2 Cor 5:15; 1 Jn 2:2.

The Baptist Confession

Although most Baptists currently agree with the Roman opinion, this has not always been the case. The 1689 London Baptist Confession, Chap 8, Of Christ the Mediator, para 5 –

The Lord Jesus, by his perfect obedience and sacrifice of himself, which he through the eternal Spirit once offered up unto God, hath fully satisfied the justice of God, procured reconciliation, and purchased an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for all those whom the Father hath given unto Him.

( Hebrews 9:14; Hebrews 10:14; Romans 3:25, 26; John 17:2; Hebrews 9:15 )

The Aim of the Atonement

Introduction

What was the aim (or goal) of the atonement? In other words, what exactly did Christ intend to accomplish by offering up Himself as a sacrifice for sin? Two answers are commonly put forth in modern Evangelicalism: 1) to make all men savable, and 2) to actually save a definite people.

Reconcilliation

There is a sense in which Christ’s death is for every man – “for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt 5:45). Certainly God would pour no blessing on a sin-cursed world except that He had a foreknown kindness through Jesus Christ to redeem it; and that the Earth is the dwelling place of the people He will redeem. Indeed, because of Christ, the Earth has been preserved until the final day of judgement (consider the Noahic Covenant and 2 Pet 3:7).

The question we are asking here is, whose sins have been expiated by the death of Christ? That is, whose sins have been actually taken away? On whose behalf has Jesus propitiated the just anger and judgement of God? Who are the ones who have been reconciled to God on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice of atonement?

  • (Col 1:20-22) And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight
  • (Rom 5:8-11)being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.

These Scripture passages refer to mankind as being ‘alienated’, ‘enemies’, and ‘wicked’ workers. But now, those who have ‘received the atonement’ are ‘justified’, ‘saved’, ‘reconciled’, at ‘peace’, ‘holy’, ‘unblameable’, and ‘unreproveable’. The reconciliation which Christ wrought makes men at peace with God. Those who have not received it stand apart from God and are under His curse. As not all men are justified by the atonement of Christ, it is logical to conclude that Christ’s death reconciles a definite number of people to God. The only question left to ask is, was this Christ’s aim in the atonement or has he been foiled? In other words, did Christ achieve what He set about to achieve, or has He lost out on a great number of those whom he has atoned and redeemed.

Says John Murray,

Did Christ come to make the salvation of all men possible, to remove the obstacles that stood in the way of salvation, and …to make provision for salvation? Or did he come to save his people? Did he come to put all men in a savable state? Or did he come to secure the salvation of all those who are ordained to eternal life? Did he come to make men redeemable? Or did he come effectually and infallibly to redeem? The doctrine of the atonement must be revised if, as atonement, it applies to those who finally perish…

Can the Gospel Be Preached If Christ Death’s Atones a Definite People?

Says John Murray,

It is frequently objected that this doctrine is inconsistent with the full and free offer of Christ in the gospel. This is grave misunderstanding and misrepresentation. The truth really is that it is only on the basis of such a doctrine that we can have a free and full offer of Christ to lost men. What is offered to men in the gospel? It is not the possibility of salvation, not simply the opportunity of salvation. What is offered is salvation. To be more specific, it is Christ himself in all the glory of his person and in all the perfection of his finished work who is offered. And he is offered as the one who made expiation for sin and wrought redemption.

The Atonement is Perfect

One of the primary discriminators between Romanists and Protestants regards the ‘sufficiency’ of the work of God.  RCs believe the Bible is the Word of God, but also rely in tradition and the teaching office of the church as equal authorities. Protestants learn from great teachers of the past and present, but ultimately, our confidence depends on the ‘sufficiency’ of the Scriptures and their ability to clearly communicate everything needful for our salvation.

Another area where Roman Catholics and Protestant disagree is on the sufficiency of the atonement. Roman Catholics believe that Christ’s death removes the guilt of sin, but that the sinner must endure the temporal (post-baptismal) punishments for our sins, either in this life, or the next.  The Protestant on the other hand, believes that Christ’s atonement is ‘sufficient’ of itself, and provides a perfect satisfaction for both our eternal guilt and temporal punishment for sin.

Says John Murray

Protestants rightly contend that the satisfaction of Christ is the only satisfaction for sin and is so perfect and final that it leaves no penal liability for any sin of the believer.

No Remaining Guilt of Sin in Believers

Those that have received the Spirit of God in regeneration, have no condemnation before God. Christ made satisfaction for our guilt and removed our condemnation.

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. …But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. (Romans 8:1-9)

The Atonement Was Made Once For All

Christ’s atonement was made once for all. There is no need for a continual sacrifice, the work has been perfected and is complete!

Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption [for us]. …Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. …So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.
(Hebrews 9:12, 25-26, 28)

By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool.

For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before, This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.
(Hebrews 10:10-18)

What Do Baptists Believe

London Baptist Confession of Faith, Chapter 8, Para 5 states –

The Lord Jesus, by His perfect obedience and sacrifice of Himself which He, through the eternal Spirit, once offered up to God, has fully satisfied the justice of God, has procured reconciliation, and has purchased an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of Heaven for all those whom the Father has given to Him.

The Active Obedience of Christ

Introduction

I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, …For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures.” (1 Cor 15:1-3)

According to this passage and many others, we understand that Christ, the Lamb of God, died for our sins. Christ, by his sacrificial death, bore the penalty of our sins and appeased the holy wrath of God (see ‘Passive Obedience‘). Those who have this sacrificial gift imputed to their account stand un-condemned (just) from their legal trespass. But, is that all that is required in Justification? Is a sinless record all that we require to be adopted as sons of God, or must we have a record of positive merit applied to our account also? In other words, does Christ merely purge away our sins by His death, or does He also impute His infinite merit and holy righteousness to our account as well? Was Christ our representative and substitute in both life and death? If so, then every aspect of Christ’s life, obedience, suffering, and battle and victory over sin and temptation are all on our behalf – every aspect of Christ’s life – is an element of the gospel and our justification.

Made Under the Law

  • “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law” (Gal 4:4)
  • “I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law [is] within my heart.” (Ps 40:8)
  • “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.” (Rom 5:10)

J. Gresham Machen

Says J. Gresham Machen –

I have not merited eternal life by any obedience of my own, Christ has merited it for me by His perfect obedience. He was not for Himself subject to the law. No obedience was required of Him for Himself, since He was Lord of all. That obedience, then, which He rendered to the law when He was on earth was rendered by Him as my representative. I have no righteousness of my own, but clad in Christ’s perfect righteousness, imputed to me and received by faith alone, I can glory in the fact that so far as I am concerned the probation has been kept and as God is true there awaits me the glorious reward which Christ thus earned for me. …How gloriously complete is the salvation wrought for us by Christ! Christ paid the penalty, and He merited the reward. Those are the two great things that He has done for us.

Louis Berkhof


From Dr. Berkhof’s ‘Summary of Christian Doctrine‘ –

[Christ’s atonement] included Christ’s active and passive obedience. It is customary to distinguish a twofold obedience of Christ. His active obedience consists in all that He did to observe the law in behalf of sinners, as a condition for obtaining eternal life; and His passive obedience in all that He suffered in paying the penalty of sin and discharging the debt of His people. But while we distinguish these two, we should never separate them. Christ was active also in His suffering, and passive also in His submission to the law. Scripture teaches us that He paid the penalty of the law,

  • Isa. 53:8; “By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who [among them] considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people to whom the stroke [was due]? (Isaiah 53:8)”
  • Rom. 4:25; “who was delivered up for our trespasses, and was raised for our justification. (Romans 4:25)”
  • Gal. 3:13; “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us; for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: (Galatians 3:13)”
  • I Pet. 2:24, “who his own self bare our sins in his body upon the tree, that we, having died unto sins, might live unto righteousness; by whose stripes ye were healed. (1 Peter 2:24)”

and merited eternal life for the sinner,

  • “that the ordinance of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. (Romans 8:4)”
  • “For Christ is the end of the law unto righteousness to every one that believeth. (Romans 10:4)”
  • “Him who knew no sin he made [to be] sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)”
  • “…but when the fulness of the time came, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, that he might redeem them that were under the law…”

Phil Johnson

When a controversy over active obedience arose in the FIRE Fellowship, Phil Johnson wrote a paper to FIRE members addressing the errors of those influenced by Dallas Theological Seminary. That full letter may be found HERE. Segments of Phil’s letter are reproduced below (Full Scripture quotations added by me):

…those who deny Christ’s active obedience are teaching that redemption is accomplished by the setting aside of the law’s absolute demands, not by Christ’s perfectly fulfilling the law on our behalf. That overturns the clear teaching of Christ in Matthew 5:17: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.”

2 Cor 5:21 – For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” 

Second Corinthians 5:21 teaches that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to believers in exactly the same sense that our guilt was imputed to Him. In other words, justification involves a double imputation: Just as our violation of the law was imputed to Christ, His fulfillment of the law is imputed to us. Any other view destroys the parallelism of that verse.

Rom 5:19 – “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.

Romans 5:19 clearly teaches that Christ’s obedience is the ground of our righteous legal standing. …the “obedience” of Christ in this context must include the whole course of His lifetime of obedience to God. …righteousness and obedience are inextricably linked in Scripture. A perfect righteousness clearly requires something more than just the forgiveness of sin.

To deny the role of Christ’s active obedience in justification is to distort what Paul meant when he described believers as “in Christ”—united with Him in such a way that our very life is hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3). We are clothed in His perfect righteousness—not merely stripped of our guilt (Isaiah 61:10). Indeed, Christ is our righteousness (Jeremiah 23:6; 1 Corinthians 1:30). Furthermore, Christ’s “righteousness” consists not merely in His sufferings, but in all his actions (1 John 2:29).

Phil 2:8 – “And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

Philippians 2:8 suggests that Christ’s obedience only culminated in His death. The full scope of the obedience He rendered on our behalf was manifest in His whole life, not merely in His dying. See also Romans 8:3-4.
Christ became man for us, not for Himself (2 Corinthians 8:9); and therefore the obedience He owed to the law was for us, not for Himself (Galatians 4:4).

Scripture teaches that God’s own righteousness involves numerous positive elements—His goodness, His love, His mercy, and so on. So God’s righteousness (Romans 10:3) is certainly something more than merely the absence of guilt.

The law’s promise of life to those who obey would seem to be pointless if Christ somehow obtained life for us without obeying the law on our behalf. Why else would the law promise life for obedience (Leviticus 18:5; Ezekiel 20:11; Luke 10:28)? Note that the law promises life not to the one who suffers, but to the one who obeys. If Christ’s active obedience has no relevance to our justification, those promises would add up to nothing but an empty, pointless bluff.

The context of Philippians 3:9 makes clear that the ground of the believer’s justification is an alien righteousness, not any degree of righteousness we obtain for ourselves. To deny that this is the righteousness of Christ is to diminish His unique role as our proxy, our mediator, and our substitute.

Conclusion

If we then, as sinners, stand in need of not only Christ’s vicarious sacrifice, but also his positive righteousness applied to our account, then the Scriptures absolutely exclude any and all merit of our own applied to our account in our justification. Truly, when we consider the full obedience of Christ, it shows us our utter helplessness, complete dependence on Christ for grace and mercy, and it magnifies not only the death and resurrection, but the sinless and perfect life of our Saviour and Lord!

My hope is built on nothing less,
than Jesus’ blood (passive) and righteousness (active).