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Douglas Kelly – Christ’s Active Obedience (His Sonship)

Posted On February 5, 2015

In the beginning, God created Adam to be a loving son, and love is always shown by obedience (cf. John 15:10, 14). Adam failed to render loving obedience, and in due time, God raised up Abraham and Israel to live as his obedient sons, but they too failed. So, ‘in the fullness of the time’ (cf. Gal. 4:4), God sent his own Son to live a life of deepest and fullest loving obedience. In so doing, the incarnate Son of God obeyed from the heart, in every thought, word and action, all the holy will of the heavenly Father, thereby fulfilling the original intentions of God in his creation of Adam and his posterity. By his active obedience, Christ fulfills the original purpose of the ‘Adamic Administration’ (or as the Puritans called it, ‘covenant with Adam,’ ‘covenant of life,’ ‘covenant of works.’)

Part of the good news of the Gospel is that Jesus has done, as my covenant representative, all that I ever needed, or ever shall need, to be and to do. This is a liberating truth to the human spirit, which can otherwise be oppressed by constantly unmet obligations.

In the previous chapter we saw that the first stage in the Humiliation of Christ was his incarnation. There (in chapter seven) we considered the first aspect of his incarnation: (a) his virgin birth.

Now, in this eighth chapter we must pursue: (b) his active obedience, or his life of sonship, and its meaning for our salvation. We trace obedience and sonship through the Scriptural history of redemption especially in terms of the Two Adams. We think of the First Adam as a son, Israel as a son, and finally Messiah as the true Son.

In this regard, we note (i) the necessity of Christ’s active obedience (or true Sonship) for our salvation, and (ii) the accomplishments of his active obedience (or Sonship) for us. Scriptural evidence will be marshaled to support the concept of Christ’s active obedience (Sonship), in our place, as essential to our salvation, opening us up to God and to others.

Active Obedience (or Life of Sonship)

It would appear that the terminology of ‘active’ and ‘passive’ obedience came to the fore during the seventeenth century, especially among British Puritans. However, the concept of Christ’s life, and not just his death, playing a significant role in our salvation goes far back in Christian theology. Peter Lombard clearly taught in the twelfth century that Christ’s obedient life enters into the salvation of his people. He expounds reasons why ‘Christ merited for himself the same things from his conception as through his passion.’

The Reformed Theology traditionally summarized the experience of Christ’s incarnation under the concepts: active obedience and passive obedience. In order to fit into the scheme of the ‘Two States’ of Christ, one could place his active obedience under his sufferings, as an aspect of them, but the reasoning of John Owen leads me to place it before the sufferings of Christ. He writes, ‘That the obedience of Christ cannot be reckoned amongst his sufferings, but is clearly distinct from it, as to all formalities. Doing is one thing, suffering another; they are in diverse predicaments, and cannot be coincident.’

Suffering and contest were constantly involved in Christ’s life of holy devotion to the Father in our humanity. It is appropriate to consider his active obedience in our humanity as the true Son of the Father immediately after his virgin birth, and prior to the intense sufferings of his final passion, in order the better to see how the miraculous conception and birth prepared the way for the truly cosmic event of the triumphant grace of God, through which Christ as the Last Adam restored all that the first Adam had lost, and thereby fulfilled the original purposes of the creation of humankind in the divine image.

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