Thoughts on the Active Obedience of Christ (b)

Why did Jesus live? In my last post, I indicated a popular answer among Reformed folk: Jesus came to obey the covenant of works (active obedience), thereby to merit eschatological life for believers. I think that the Bible gives a far more comprehensive answer to that question---namely, that Jesus had a mission to fulfill as the second Adam/Israel. His mission was to recapitulate in himself the history of Adam/Israel in order not only to undo the sins of Adam/Israel, but to inaugurate, through the complex of his death and resurrection, the cosmic and glorious eschatological age promised to Adam/Israel.

One individual in support of this comprehensive paradigm is Michael S. Horton, of Westminster Seminary in California. Though I often cringe at Dr. Horton’s popular books, I find his academic books invigorating, if not at times brilliant. He seems to have a solid grasp of the current trends in theology and wonderfully incorporates a lot of biblical theology into his arguments, all the while showing a firm commitment to Reformed theology. The book I have in mind, in particular, is Horton’s Lord and Servant: A Covenant Christology.

After presenting biblical data in support of this recapitulation motif in Christ's life and ministry, Horton writes, “For the first time, the world has an Adam and Israel has a king who will do only what he hears the Father say” (p.222).

Later he writes,

"Although traditionally classified as his active and passive obedience, both should be seen together as one active self-offering. There is no passive suffering in Christ’s ministry. Not only must sacrifice be correlated to the other important aspects of Christ’s work; sacrifice itself cannot be reduced to Christ’s death. Even in the most charitable reading of Anselm, the most the atonement accomplishes is forgiveness. This is largely due not only to the absence of the resurrection from his account, but of Christ’s incarnation and obedient life, the covenantal recapitulation of Adam and Israel. Yet ironically,‘forgiveness’ is part of the weakness of the law. E.P. Sanders is surely correct to remind us that Israel’s faith cannot be reduced to ‘legalism’; there were provisions for transgression of the law, particularly the sacrifices. As the writer to the Hebrews especially emphasizes, however, 'forgiveness’ is not the same as reconciliation, and the sacrifices could never bring about the positive obedience that God’s covenant and character required” (p.223).

Once again,

If our atonement theology focuses only on the cross, we will be more likely to see Christ’s work one-sidedly, in exclusively judicial-legal terms. Yet it was not only the case that Jesus was on trial throughout his ministry; he was in that life-long trial recapitulating and restoring what was lost in Adam”(p.226).

Still later,

“Far from diminishing the significance of our own obedience, then, the covenantal approach I have been advocating affirms that the ‘alien righteousness’ of Christ’s active obedience is only ‘alien’ in the sense that is not the outcome of our obedience” (pp.230-231).


Horton presents a lengthy quotation from N.T. Wright’s The Climax of the Covenant:

The place ‘where sin abounded’ (v.20b) is undoubtedly Israel, the ‘place’ where ‘the law came in that the trespass might abound.’ Adam’s trespass, active though unobserved until Sinai (vv.13-14, cf.7.9a), found fresh opportunity in the arrival of Torah. Again it could be display its true colours as trespass, the flouting of the commands of God. And it was there that grace abounded. This point, thus far, is frequently noted. What is not usually seen is the line of thought which, beginning here in Romans, runs on through 7.13-20 and 8.1-4. Here, near the end of a key Christological passage, we find perhaps the most important of all Paul’s beliefs about Torah . . . . The Torah, possesses, Paul asserts, the divinely intended function of drawing sin on to Israel, magnifying it precisely within the people of God (7.13-20), in order that it might then and thus be drawn on Israel’s representative and so dealt with on the cross (8.3). This is, as it were, the positive reason for the negative role of Torah. As a result, for our present purposes, it becomes clear that the obedient act of Jesus Christ was the act of Israel’s representative, doing for Israel what she could not do for herself. Adam’s sin and its effects are thus undone, and God’s original intention for humanity is thus restored in the Age to Come, which has already begun with the work of Jesus Christ (v.21).
Following this lengthy citation, Horton concludes, “Thus the story of Adam (humanity generally) is concentrated in the story of Israel, particularly focused on the active obedience of Christ” (p.239).

I agree . . . completely.

Popular Posts