This is an article by David VanDrunen, of WSC, on the active obedience of Christ. The article is entitled “To Obey Is Better Than Sacrifice,” subtitled “A Defense of the Active Obedience of Christ in the Light of Recent Criticism.” I wonder just a tad about the title. The article is outstanding. However, I wonder how many FV proponents and/or NPP proponents would deny that Christ was actively obedient to the law. Is it not the part of Christ’s active obedience in imputation that is at stake? Gundry (not a FV or NPP proponent) denies that Christ’s active obedience was imputed to the believer. However, he does not deny that Christ was actively obedient to the law. It makes Christ a perfect sacrifice. That, however, is usually where Christ’s active obedience ends with regard to salvation of sinners. VanDrunen’s focus is obviously on the part of Christ’s active obedience in imputation, since he says, “but also fulfilled all of the positive obligations of the law on their (His people’s) behalf” (pg. 127).
He notes that the denial of the active obedience of Christ in justification is common to both the NPP and the FV (127). His thesis is stated on page 128: “I argue that, despite recent claims to the contrary, God does demand perfect obedience to his law and that Christ has indeed provided this obedience on behalf of his people.”
The first major section deals with the Reformed tradition in the light of critiques. Shepherd, for instance, denies that Christ’s active obedience plays any part in justification (see page 128 and footnotes for quotations and sources in Shepherd’s theology). VanDrunen shows that Calvin, the 3FU, the WS, Turretin, Witsius, Hodge, Vos, Murray, and Berkhof all hold to the active obedience of Christ imputed to the believer. The selection of quotations is quite apt, in my judgment. Then, VanDrunen shows that various proponents of FV theology deny this: Jordan, Shepherd, Lusk, Sandlin; and NPP authors Wright and Dunn also deny this doctrine. One small criticism: Dunn deserves more than the one throw-away comment at the end of the paragraph on pg. 133. Either he shouldn’t have been mentioned at all, or been given his own paragraph.
The second major section defends the two absolutely necessary doctrines that form the basis for the imputed active obedience of Christ: the necessity of perfect obedience to the law for righteousness, and the doctrine that Jesus fulfilled such requirements on our behalf. As such, this section is exegetical in nature. The first part proves from Scripture that perfect obedience was always required. VanDrunen starts from the very character of God: “He will never permit his justice to be compromised” (pg. 134). VanDrunen affirms the covenant of works in the first chapter of Genesis. His exegesis of the commands given to Adam (yes, as a matter of fact, there is more than one command!) shows that they are legal in character: לֹא תֹאכַל “This is not simply imperative, but law” (pg. 135). The very same form appears in the Decalogue. Furthermore, “The fact that a single sin ushered in the curse means that perfect obedience was the standard” (pg. 135). This is a very telling argument. The analogy of a boy needing to do his homework is quite apt. The point is that, after the Fall, “the commands given to Adam in Genesis 1-2 still remain unaccomplished” (pg. 136).
Obedience is better than sacrificed. The meaning of this Scriptural statement is not limited to a forbidding of insincere hearts. Rather, obedience is actually separated from sacrifice (this would be contrary to Sanders’s claims, for instance). Jeremiah 7:23 says “Walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you. Sacrifice cannot replace obedience. Jesus’ conversation with the scribe in Mark 12 says the same thing (pg. 137). Paul, in modifying Dtr 27:26 in Galatians 3:10 makes the same point: he addes the word “all” in order to underline the fact that perfect obedience is required for life (pg. 138).
Then, VanDrunen exegetes the Scriptures that prove that Jesus did fulfill the entire law on our behalf. Gal 4:4-5, Heb 5:8 show that Christ’s positive obedience means more than that He became a perfect sacrifice (pg. 139). Rather, they show us the “necessity of Christ’s active obedience if we are to be saved” (pg. 139, emphasis original).
Then follows an exposition of the phrase “the righteousness of God” in Paul. He notes that “Reformed theologians have associated the righteousness of God with the obedience of Christ that is imputed to Christians and upon which the justifying verdict is rendered” (pg. 140). He argues that “the righteousness of God comes to be identified with the active obedience of Christ by the apostle Paul” (pg. 140). Against Wright, Romans 1:17-18 speaks of unrighteousness as moral, rather than as having to do with covenantal status. The logical corollary is that righteousness also has to do with morality, not with covenant status. This argument is iron-shod, and casts Wright’s argument to the ground all by itself. “Furthermore, when Paul speaks about the righteousness that does not justify, he spaeks in moral terms and not in terms of being in or out of the covenant” (pg. 141). He cites Titus 3:5-7, Romans 10:3, and Phil 3:9 in support. In citing Philippians 3:9, I could wish that a footnote would have dealt with Wright’s distinguishing between τὴν ἐκ θεοῦ δικαιοσύνην and δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ (as found, say, in Romans 3:21). I do think Wright is incorrect to draw such a huge distinction between these two phrases. However, it might have been good had VanDrunen addressed the issue.
The human predicament, therefore, is that we do not have a perfect righteousness, but need one. Therefore, the Gospel is that Jesus has provided us with a perfect righteousness, which can stand the utmost scrutiny of the law. The Gospel, of course, is not limited to this. But anything less than this is no Gospel.
VanDrunen has an absolutely brilliant exposition of Romans 5, and the oft-quoted objection to the active obedience of Christ found in the one, single, solitary, lonesome act of obedience to which all objectors point. He notes that Christ’s passive obedience was no more a single act than his active obedience was (pg. 143). See, for instance, Heb 2:10, 17-18; 5:7-10. Therefore, “there must have been some reason for Paul’s emphasis on the oneness of Christ’s righteous action other than the isolation of a single discrete event” (pp. 143-144). That reason is that Christ’s obedience is seen in its “compact unity” (Murray’s phrase, quoted ibid.). “In context, the ‘righteous act’ of christ surely cannot be dissociated from the positive righteous obedience that Adam was required by God to accomplish in the garden” (pg. 144).
Philippians 2:8-9 also clearly show the active obedience of Christ. μέχρι θανάτου means “up to and including death,” thereby forbidding us to isolate one part of Christ’s obedience from any other part (pg. 145). Then, the particle διὸ is causal: “God exalted Christ on the basis of his obedience” (pg. 146). He notes the etymological fallacy that Lusk and Jordan commit when they note the word ἐχαρίσατο, saying that since it is from charis, therefore grace was meant in giving Christ the reward. Hogwash. This commits the root fallacy. “The precise meaning of the verb must be established in context, and the context of Philippians 2:9 is clearly one of ‘work rendered and value received'” (pg. 146, note 40). This is an outstanding article that not only sets the historical stage for the active obedience of Christ imputed to the believer, but also argues the point exegetically. He is triumphantly convincing, in my opinion.