Theology: The Doctrine of God

I Heard a Preacher Talk About Christ Having Two Kinds Of Obedience, Active And Passive. What Does That Mean?

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
Although these terms not found in the Bible itself, they express key Biblical truth about what Christ did for sinners.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Jesus exhibited what theologians term both active and passive obedience. Although these specific terms are not found in the Bible, they do express an essential Biblical truth about what Christ did for sinners, and what qualified Him to do it.

Romans 5:18 speaks of the obedience of Christ as "one righteous act" -

"Therefore, as through one man's offense [that is, Adam's] judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man's righteous act [Christ's] the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life."

In context, and in light of the rest of Scripture, we understand that this phrase speaks of two kinds of obedience on the part of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus' Active Obedience

The first kind of obedience is referred to as Jesus' active obedience. Christ's active obedience was manifested in His perfect law-keeping throughout His earthly life, and His perfect performance of the will of God the Father (John 8:46, 17:4-5; Hebrews 7:26).

Christ's active obedience qualified Him as both the perfect High Priest to atone for sin (Hebrews 4:14-15, 7:26-27), and it also merited and manifested a perfect righteousness that is imputed to sinners in their justification (Romans 3:21-22, 4:5-8; 2 Corinthians 5:21). As Romans 5:18 tells us, Christ in His active obedience did what Adam failed to do. As Adam's disobedience of God and His moral law plunged the human race and the entire created order into sin and death, so Christ's perfect obedience provides the means of justification - sinners being declared "not guilty" by God not on the basis of any merit of their own, but entirely on the basis of the righteousness of Christ imputed to them (Philippians 3:9).

Jesus' Passive Obedience

The second kind of obedience is referred to as Jesus' passive obedience. Jesus' passive obedience was manifested in His going to the cross to pay the penalty for sin. The term "passive obedience" derives from passages such as these -

"He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth." (Isaiah 53:7)

"He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, 'O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.' " (Matthew 26:39)

Jesus' passive obedience forever propitiated the wrath of God against sinners, which is a consequence of both their possession of original sin as descendants of Adam, and of their own individual sinful acts (Romans 3:25, Hebrews 2:17, 1 John 2:2 and 4:10).

The Two Are Inseparable

These two kinds of obedience - Christ's active obedience qualifying Him to die for sinners and providing a righteousness for them that is not their own, Christ's passive obedience taking the wrath of God on their behalf - are inseparable for our salvation. This is why Romans 5:18 speaks of Christ's obedience as "one righteous act."

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