Sunday, December 30, 2007

Defending the doctrine of Active Obedience against New Covenantal Theologians (part 3)

[continued from here and here]


The main focus of this article is focused on attempting to disprove the doctrine of the Imputation of the Active Obedience of Christ to believers. The authors firmly believe that Christ's 'passive obedience' is sufficient to save believers, and firmly believe that this is what the Scripture teaches. However, is this truly the case, or is it another case of the authors denying the hermenuetical principle of Necessary Consequence?

The first proof-text used by the authors to attempt to disprove the doctrine of Active Obedience is Heb. 10:11-14, which states thus:

And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Heb. 10:11-14)

Since it is here stated that Christ's sacrifice on the Cross, his passive obedience, perfects all believers, the authors firmly believe that the text teaches that Christ's passive obedience is sufficient for believers. Instead of putting us in neutral, and thus we must be saved by Christ's active obedience, they believe that this text teaches the sole sufficiency of Christ's passive obedience without the need to invoke the doctrine of active obedience. However, is that so?

It would do well to note the context of this particular passage., and the later one in Heb. 10:15-22. This passage is from the book of Hebrews with its theme of the supremacy of Christ and His sacrifice over that of the Old Testament types and shadows. As such, the author of Hebrews was hardly looking to discuss such issues, and thus to infer that Christ' passive obedience was what the author of Hebrews had in mind when he penned down those words is wrong. The contrast here is being drawn between the inability of the Old Testament multiple sacrifices offered by priests to save and perfect the OT saints as compared with the one sacrifice offered by Jesus which is effective in its working. Therefore, the whole issue was related to the theme of priesthood, not to forensic issues such as the active and passive obedience of Christ. The failure to notice the context and interpret accordingly to the context and genre of the book lead Lehrer and Volker to interpret the passage wrongly. Forenstic issues are frequently alluded to in the book of Romans, so they should look to places like Romans instead of Hebrews with regards to this topic.

And to this, the authors have directed us to. In Rom. 3:21-4:12, the authors wrote pages of exegesis to prove that the righteousness of God here is mainly talking about Christ's passive righteousness, and there is no necessity of 'positive' law-keeping involved or mentioned in this passage. Indeed for the latter, there are absolutely correct, for salvation is through believing in Christ apart from works. However, to say that this righteousness is talking about Christ's passive righteousness is to read into the text something which is not stated. The fact of the matter is that the righteousness spoken in this passage here is talking about both active and passive righteousness. We can note that nowhere in this passage are we told as to what exactly this righteousness of Christ refers to. Although the passage talks about the sacrifice of Christ and His propitiation for our sins, this still dos not say anything about the reality of Christ's righteousness except that it includes His passive obedience. Therefore, Lehrer and Volker's point will only hold true if the texts were isolated from the entirety of Scripture. Of course, the question will be legitimately posed to to where I have gotten the idea that Christ's righteousness here encompasses both active and passive obedience, and this would be shown later in the exegesis of 2 Cor. 5:21, the most explicit verse teaching that concept.

The authors followed up with analyzing passages such as Rom. 5:18-19, Phil. 3:9, 1 Cor. 1:30, 2 Cor. 5:12 and Rom 8:3-4. We will reserve 2 Cor. 5:21 till later, but we can immediately note that passages such as Rom. 5:18-19 and 1 Cor. 1:30 suffer from the same problem as Rom. 3-4 passage they were analyzing, in their use of the term 'righteousness'. The righteousness in the passage in Phil. 3:9 also talks about both active and passaive obedience, and the reason why this is so can be seen when we talk about the Law, which was mentioned there in contrast. Similary, in Rom. 8:3-4, it is strongly disputed that only passive obedience is taught here, but both active and passive obedience. This can be clearly seen when we look at the Law.

The Law stated here, and the reference to its righteousness in the phrase 'righteousness under the law' always refer back to the laws instituted under the Mosaic Covenant. Paul's frequent comparison of Law compared to Gospel, and the righteousness or salvation derived from them, shows that the Gospel can save while the Law can't. Also, Paul made it clear in Gal. 3:10-13 that salvation through the Law can only be gotten if all the Law was fulfilled without even one small violation. Also, in Jas. 2:10, we can see that salvation via the Law must involve keeping the whole of it. (This of course shows the error of the New Covenantal Theologians who reject the fact that the Mosaic Covenant has a salvific or gracious character to it.) Nevertheless, the fact of the matter is that salvation can only be acheived by total obedience to God. Therefore, Paul by contrasting the righteouss under the Law as compared with the righteousness that comes from faith was showing that this righteousness that comes from faith delivered what was obliged by Man under the Law; perfect law keeping and sinlessness. The sinless part was satisfied by Christ's passive obedience, while the law keepig part was satisfied by Christ's active obedience. Seen in this way therefore, Phil. 3:9 and Rom. 8:3-4 actually do not help the NCT position but rather undermines it.

Of course, the New Covenantal Theologians would ask for support for the Mosaic Law being taken into account here. Note however that Paul is the one who uses it, and a consistent reading of the text would show that Paul, the Pharisee and Hebrew of Hebrews, have that in mind when he penned those words down. The entire neglect of the Law is a result of the NCT position of the 'discontinuty of covenants' position, which we have already dispose of earlier on when discussing the Covenant of Works. Such Dispensational tendencies are certinaly not helpful and it is seriously doubted whether Paul have such thoughts when he mentioned the Law. Certinaly, he did not think that the Mosaic Law was obselete since he told the Judaizers that there can be saved through works, in the impossible event that they are perfect keepers of the Law that is (Gal. 3:10-11).

Lastly, let us discuss the text of 2 Cor. 5:21, the most explicit proof-text for the Active Obedience of Christ, and Double Imputation, outside of a consideration of the Covenant of Works. If the Covenant of Works, which we have already shown to be biblical, is added, then the Active Obedience of Christ is firmly grounded and self-evident, based on the parallel drawn between Adam and Christ in Rom. 5:12-21 and 1 Cor. 15:21-22. Nevertheless, let us now exegete 2 Cor. 5:21, to show that this verse does teach the Active Obedience of Christ and the doctrine of Double Imputation.

[to be concluded]

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