"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)


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    The “Active Obedience” 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 God’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, God’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 God’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 God’s law. This view is largely based on Romans 4:3, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Is Paul teaching that faith and a “faithful” 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 patriarch’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 Lord’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.

    God’s Word explicitly teaches that our justification is grounded solely upon Christ and His righteousness. “Faith 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.”[8] 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: “It 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.”[9] 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 God’s nature and many explicit passages of Scripture. Because God’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 – 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). “This is, to yield full perfect obedience unto the commands of the law, whereby they are absolutely fulfilled.”[10] “Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law” (Rom. 3:31).

    For more informtion on this book click here

    Posted by John on June 7, 2006 06:53 PM


    I think much of the Auburn Avenue debate is based more on semantics than anything. This is why many say that the Auburn crowd is trying to "hold to two different sides." The Auburn crowd is not saying that everyone has had it wrong, but what they are saying is that we have been heading in a direction of theological reductivism. The gospel itself is eschatological. How can we deny this? We can't keep separating and compartmentalizing the gospel. And of course, justification is the pinnacle of the gospel, but John, it is also the very body, the ocean, of the gospel. Justification intersects with every other doctrine known to Christianity. It is eschatological, ecclesiological, sotereological, pneumatological and so on. If it weren’t, than those doctrines that I just mentioned cannot exist.


    I wasn't sure if the response to the post was a response to something in the essay itself or a more general statement about FV. Was there something in the essay itself that gave rise to the comment? Something the essay said that was misrepresenting Auburn?

    I would be delighted if it were only semantics, but having spent time reading through FV, it would appear that, sadly, it is not that easy. Among other things, having the capacity to lose ones new birth (regeneration) after having been granted is not merely a matter of semantics, but a real difference and it radically changes things. While some persons may indeed "compartmentalize", as you say, but the vast majority do not and would take union with Christ and these other aspects multiperspectivally and very seriously.

    I wonder, can't we disagree on something without saying that it is a misunderstanding and that all is merely sematics? Maybe there are real differences. People are speaking up because it is worth pointing out possbible erros poeple are slipping into.

    We view those who believe differently here with charity, yet conclude this theology is in error and will speak of it unless convinced otherwise. We can have diffences over this, no?


    Nothing in the essay, except for the fact that he reduces justification to small categories such as "active obedience" and so forth.

    "Differences" is not a neutral subject, though. When someone says they are in error, then this is a serious charge.

    From studying FV and personally spending time with FV pastors, I can say that there is in fact an argument of "theological words." They don't say someone can "lose their salvation." What they say is that one can lose their covenantal status. That's a huge difference. John 15 and Hebrews 6 talk about this kind of thing.

    Anti-FV men refuse to look at the broader picture of salvation; the fact that it is eschatological in nature. When does "salvation" really happen? When you die! Well...let's back up here...okay, it actually happened on the cross, which makes it an historical event. But it is also a future event (read Piper’s Future Grace), as in when we die. And of course there is a present aspect also, which is where we all get lost. Justification is not about jumping through intellectual hoops.

    When Paul and Christ said to believe, they were not giving an intellectual and systematic approach to salvation, they were rebuking and exhorting. They were rebuking the Jews so that they would stay committed to the covenant – but through Christ, of course - and they were exhorting the Gentiles to believe through Christ to enter the covenant. But entering the covenant through baptism does not mean that one has to recite something or make a public profession. Those who use Romans 10:10, where Paul says to “confess with the mouth,” forget that Paul was speaking about the Jews who were already covenant people and simply needed to repent of following the Pharisees. He was not giving a prerequisite for baptism. He was rebuking and stating that all must believe through faith, and that it must actually manifest through their very speech, but not just once, as a new ceremony of coming forward to a stage to recite a prayer (what is made up to be the “altar call”). He was simply stating that a true belief involves a life of manifestation, as the rest of the Scriptures clearly proclaim.


    Losing covenantal status and loosing one actual regeneration are different animals altogether. Reformed folk certainly agree that persons can loose covenant status. It is the affirmation that one can be regenerate and the loose that regeration.

    1 Peter says that God, "according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain n inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you,
    who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time."

    The new birth, according to this passage, is not something that can be lost. It is not merely election that cannot be lost but regeneration as well. This is a real difference bewtween us.

    This "intellectual" approach to salvation stuff is really a straw man.

    you said >>>He was rebuking and stating that all must believe through faith, and that it must actually manifest through their very speech, but not just once, as a new ceremony of coming forward to a stage to recite a prayer (what is made up to be the “altar call”). He was simply stating that a true belief involves a life of manifestation, as the rest of the Scriptures clearly proclaim.

    I don't know what Reformed circles you go around with but I have never heard "altar calls" or one time confessions as being a common practice among Reformed persons. So to posit this against what the non-Auburn Reformed people are doing is another strawman. And again, this is not where Auburn differs from others - it sounds like where you may differ from Billy Graham, but not other Presbyterians.

    Sorry, that last paragraph was a paste from a post to another christian. But even with that, most Presbyterians do not have altar calls but they do believe in a sort of "one time conversion," which is almost the same thing. I think Calvin was right when he said that it is the Church that gives birth to the Christian.

    And again, John, "regeneration"? That term has been used in a very reductive manner in the past decades. I am not sure the term was even used by pre-reformed. This term, in today's circles, implies that a person is "born again" in a moments flash, when they have that psychological awareness of the theological term that we have taken and turned into something that amounts to a majic formula.

    When one becomes born again, they are being reborn through their new mother: the church. As Christ says, we are born again, "through water [baptism] and the Spirit [who works through the word and sacrament]. That was all I meant when I included the altar call thing; same principle.

    John, many, or even most in our day, are stuck in the birth canal (Hebrews 6; John 15). Just because one finally discovers and believes in THE DOCTRINE of justifiation by faith alone deos not constitute them as being "Born again." We are born again through believing in Christ, through the means of His Church, not by believeing in an apologetical doctrine. We are saved BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH, not by believing in grace through faith. Belief is much more demanding than a couple of sentences or a rhetoric, which is waht many have made the doctrine out to be.


    Perhaps the reaction against Auburn is first and foremost the kind of caricature that you paint on the other side. It sounds exactly like NT Wright's critique of some unknown phantom opponent and so I do not know who you are talking about frankly.

    you said>>>>THE DOCTRINE of justifiation by faith alone deos not constitute them as being "Born again." We are born again through believing in Christ, through the means of His Church, not by believeing in an apologetical doctrine. We are saved BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH, not by believing in grace through faith. Belief is much more demanding than a couple of sentences or a rhetoric, which is waht many have made the doctrine out to be.

    Sounds like something copied right out of NT Wright's book. That last paragraph you wrote is frankly dishonest and absurd. That you paint others as believing that nonsense is perhaps the reason for your groups' being marginalized. It is simply ridiculous.

    Show me anywhere in the writing of this blog where we would promote such erroneous hogwash. The fact that you bring it up means that you must really believe it. And, as such, you create division over a strawman that does not exist.

    We are declared righteous as we are united to Christ by the Holy Spirit. This is a lifelong work, not a one time thing, and He causes the regenerate to persevere. But as pointed out in the previous scripture, it cannot be lost...

    This forum is not the venue for debate, however. You can express your differences but this is not a message board to go back and forth on forever. Other venues are more appropriate.


    I've been in the Reformed ministry long enough to now that most do believe in an instantanious justification. That's what putting most your dice in "active obedience," like this book does, points to.

    And as far as the debate thing...well I didn't know that this blog was "Pastor John's Question and Answer Forum." I'm just trying to have an honest conversation. Sorry if I rained on your parade.


    Again, you are boxing the air against a phantom opponent. Why do you speak in such stark either/or terms? (no answer necessary)

    Perhaps you are objecting to some kind of crass antinomian, once-saved-always-saved-no-matter-what-even-if-you-turn-out-to-be-a-raving-heritic-or-athiest thing that Zane Hodges promotes? Seems like you're barking up the wrong tree... I have rarely met any reformed folks that would advocate a dead faith. And certainly don't know people who advocate faith in justification as opposed to faith in Christ. Not sure who you are opposing here especially since you have provided no evidence for your accusations.

    You say about us, "Most of [our] dice in active obedience" ... your knees must be buckling under the weight of the strawmen are holding up and the "either/or" statements you paste on us without warrant.

    Speaking of honestym with due respect, it is not honest AT ALL to describe us as or the non_auburn folk in gerneral as affirming faith in faith or faith in justification [rather than faith in Christ] without providing evidence to where we teach (or even hint at) such nonsense. It is an opponent that your have created in your imagination.

    You claim you are "just trying to have a conversation?" Do you mean those commments which tell me what I (we) believe without proving a shred of evidence from my statments? C'mon there isn't a shed of honesty about that ... And that is why almost all conversations with reconstructist/FV & "I am more Reformed that anyone else" types rarely go anywhere. Why is it so difficult to have a real conversation with this group I wonder.

    That Christ fulfilled the law (active obedience) drives us continually back to Christ, to look to Him, even as Christians. So, contrary to your erroneous assertions that it nullifies a living faith, I would contend that it does the opposite of what you claim because it makes our sanctification gospel centered rather than self-centered.

    again a blog is not a message board. Comments are good (agree or disagree) for this venue, but as for debate it rarely, if ever, generates worthwhile fruit. Already the spirit you bring to the discussion makes this an unfruitful exchange and to further it, as far as I can see, can only serve no good purpose.

    Thanks for the excellent article John. Here's a quote by Jeremiah Burroughs from "Gospel Remission" (on page 21, published by Soli Deo Gloria) that's worth reading too:

    OBJECTION: Aye, but the Scripture says that God imputes faith for righteousness. Thus, when God enables us to believe, is it not our own?

    ANSWER: Yes, when we have it, it is our own; and when we are justified, it is imputed to us for righteousness. But mark what I shall say, it will be useful for understanding that text in Romans 4:22 where it says, faith was imputed to him for righteousness. You must not understand it to say that God, through the grace of Christ, now accepted Abraham's faith as his righteousness whereby he should stand to be justified by it in the sight of God. He did not thus accept faith for righteousness. No, not through the mediation of Christ, nor by virtue of any covenant made by God with Christ. God never made any covenant with Christ that, whereas man owed obedience to all the Law, such should have been his righteousness had he continued in it. But now man, being unable to perform it, finds God so favorable to him that He accepts faith for righteousness. That is not the meaning of it. The word in the original translated "for righteousness" is "imputed unto righteousness." It is the same word used in Romans 10:10, "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." Now confession with the mouth is not made salvation itself, but unto salvation; so faith is not the righteousness itself, but unto righteousness; that is, by faith we come to get righteousness.

    If I am understanding what is being said, it would follow the debate over the issue in various verses like Romans 3:22 of Faith in Christ or the faithfulness of Christ. Are we Justified by believeing or by the faithfulness of Christ (Active obedience). Is this correct?


    Mr. Gipson

    Great hearing from you again. The active obedience and the passive obedience of Christ are two apsects of Christ's righteousness imputed to us. The active obedience emphasizes that Jesus Christ, who was "born under the law" actuually "fullfilled" the law on our behalf. That is, He Himself perfectly obeyed the covenant of works. Thus the righteousness of Christ is not merely something He gave to us from His essence but something he wrought for us by His obedient life. Those why deny the active obedience of Christ could thereby conclude that Herod could have killed Jesus as an infant and it would have had the same effect because he was sinless. His sinless essence is absolutely necessary to our salvation YES!(passive obedience) but so is His his active obedience. It seems to me that to demphasize his active obedience is also to deemphasize his humanity and need to fulfil the covenant from our side.

    I believe that persons like Tom Wirght and some Auburn folk are complaining that some people are emphasizing justification so much that our faith is in the intellectual concept of justification rather than Jesus Christ...that is faith in justification rather that faith in Christ. It is not so much over whether it is faith in Christ or his faithfulness, at least not this battle.

    I notice that people tend to often have either/or mentalities rather than both/and. We should emphasize our both the active and passive obedience of Christ. Both the instantaneous and eschatological aspect of our justifcation. We go into error when we overwmphasize and tramble the other.

    Auburn believes a person can be regenerate and yet fall away (becoming unregerate). But to be fair, they still believe in eternal election even though others may go in and out of the regerative state. They seem to emphasize our covenant faithfulness, which, in my view, takes our eyes of Jesus where they belong...

    The active obedience of Christ is a doctrine that so-called New Covenant Theology (NCT) among Baptists and Federal Vision or Auburn (among Presbyterians) either deny altogether or heavily de-emphasize.

    grace and peace

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