The â€œActive Obedienceâ€ of Jesus Christ In The Justification of Sinners
The following is an excerpt from Brian Schwertly's book Auburn Avenue Theology: A Biblical Analysis
The doctrine that a perfect obedience or a positive righteousness is necessary is easily deduced from Scripture. Note the following observations.
The moral law of God is based on Godâ€™s own nature and character (Lev. 11:44; 1 Pet. 1:16). Therefore, the law of God (i.e., the moral law) can never be abrogated, set aside, annulled or circumvented as an eternal, unchangeable obligation upon all men. Jehovah would have to deny Himself in order to set aside the obligation of the moral law on the rational beings that He created. God cannot deny Himself (2 Tim. 2:13). Therefore, the moral law as a rule of obedience will always be in force and enforced by the LORD. What does this eternal unchangeable law require? A perfect, perpetual obedience on the part of man in thought, word, and deed! The law prohibits any sin; it requires sinless perfection. How does this truth relate to the doctrine of justification? It means that God must justify sinners in a manner that is consistent with His own nature. In order for sinners to be justified the curse of the law (e.g., the guilt and liability to punishment) must be removed; but, Godâ€™s requirement of obedience which is founded upon His nature must also be fulfilled. If Jehovah simply eliminated the penalty without the fulfillment of the positive obligation then He would be setting aside a crucial aspect of His own moral law. Such a thought is a theological impossibility. The biblical doctrine of justification upholds Godâ€™s righteousness and His holy law in every possible manner.
In order to clarify the previous point a brief examination of a common error relating to justification is in order. Classical Arminianism teaches that faith itself is reckoned or imputed for righteousness; that God accepts our faith and our imperfect obedience (commonly called evangelical obedience) in the place of the perfect obedience required of Adam in the garden and required by Godâ€™s law. This view is largely based on Romans 4:3, â€œAbraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.â€ Is Paul teaching that faith and a â€œfaithfulâ€ but imperfect obedience is the ground of justification? No, absolutely not! The Arminian view should be rejected for the following reasons.
First, it contradicts the immediate context. The preceding verse says that Abraham had no reason to boast before God. This statement presupposes that Abraham was justified gratuitously. In other words, the patriarchâ€™s works had nothing to do with his justification. He was not saved because of faith as a meritorious ground but through faith as an instrument which lays hold of the righteousness of God.
Second, it violates the broad context of Scripture. There are several passages in the Bible which explicitly deny that the ground of justification is founded upon our own good works or faith. Nothing that we do contributes to our salvation. When anything other than our Lordâ€™s perfect righteousness (e.g., faith, repentance, covenant faithfulness, obedient faith, evangelical obedience, perseverance, etc.) is said to be a ground or co-ground of justification, the covenant of grace is turned into a new covenant of works. Ironically, those who reject the active obedience of Christ in justification always seek obedience from some other source. Such righteousness, however, is always imperfect.
Godâ€™s Word explicitly teaches that our justification is grounded solely upon Christ and His righteousness. â€œFaith must either be the ground of our acceptance, or the means or instrument of our becoming interested in the true meritorious ground, viz., the righteousness of Christ. It cannot stand in both relations to our justification.â€ Further, Scripture repeatedly teaches that we are saved through faith or by means of faith (Rom. 3:25, 28, 30; 5:1; Gal. 2:16; Phil. 3:9), not because of faith. Paul is asserting that by means of faith Abraham was accounted or reckoned as righteous by God. Hodge writes: â€œIt is very common to understand faith here [i.e., Rom. 4:3], to include its object, i.e., the righteousness of Christ; so that it is not faith considered as an act, which is imputed, but faith considered as including the merit which it apprehends and appropriates.â€ The classical Arminian position irresponsibly interprets the Bible in a manner which makes it contradict itself. Whenever one interprets Scripture, the clear portions of the Word must be allowed to interpret the less clear.
Third, any view of justification which sets aside the moral law and settles for an imperfect, partial obedience contradicts Godâ€™s nature and many explicit passages of Scripture. Because Godâ€™s character cannot change, the righteous requirements of the law cannot be set aside. Further, if God could set aside the obligation of obedience to the law (as if the moral law were positivistic or arbitrary) in the gospel era so that a partial obedience (i.e., an obedience mixed with sin and filth) was acceptable to enter heaven, then why demand a sacrifice of infinite value to eliminate the guilt and penalty for sin? If the moral law can be relaxed with regard to obligation, then why can it not also be relaxed with regard to its curse? If God can relax, abrogate or modify the positive requirement of the law then could He not also relax or modify the negative aspect of the law â€“ i.e., the curse of the law? It is totally arbitrary and inconsistent for Arminians to proclaim a relaxation of the law for obedience while teaching the absolute necessity of blood atonement to eliminate the curse from the same law. If obligation is removed, then how can a curse remain upon those who have broken the very same law? Clearly, then, we need both a perfect fulfillment of the obligation as well as an elimination of the curse. Further, the New Testament says that Jesus did not come to set aside or relax the law but to fulfill it (Mt. 5:17). â€œThis is, to yield full perfect obedience unto the commands of the law, whereby they are absolutely fulfilled.â€ â€œDo we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the lawâ€ (Rom. 3:31).
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