Rarely, if ever, do I make two posts on the same day but this is important.
I'm becoming increasingly concerned about the lack of attention paid to Christ's active obedience in the so-called "Young, Restless, and Reformed" crowd-of which I am a happy part. There's a lot of talk about "Cross-Centeredness" as if the death of Christ (his passive obedience) is more important than the life of Christ (his active obedience). The truth is, however, that our redemption depends not only on Christ's substitutionary death, but his substitutionary life as well. In fact, J. Gresham Machen's last recorded words (sent by telegram to his friend and colleague, John Murray) were, "So thankful for Christ's active obedience; no hope without it!"
In his excellent book, Redemption: Accomplished and Applied, John Murray writes:
The real use and purpose of the formula (active and passive obedience) is to emphasize the two distinct aspects of our Lord's vicarious obedience. The truth expressed rests upon the recognition that the law of God has both penal sanctions and positive demands. It demands not only the full discharge of its precepts but also the infliction of penalty for all infractions and shortcomings. It is this twofold demand of the law of God which is taken into account when we speak of the active and passive obedience of Christ. Christ as the vicar of his people came under the curse and condemnation due to sin and he also fulfilled the law of God in all its positive requirements. In other words, he took care of the guilt of sin and perfectly fulfilled the demands of righteousness. He perfectly met both the penal and the preceptive requirements of God's law. The passive obedience refers to the former and the active obedience to the latter.
Christ's life, in other words, is just as central to our rescue as his death. Apart from his law fulfilling life, there is NO righteousness to impute. As I've said before, we are not saved apart from the law. Rather, we are saved in Christ who perfectly kept the law on our behalf. This is nothing new…it's been a stamp of historic Reformed theological conviction for centuries!
So, Christ's death is not the center of the Gospel anymore than Christ's life is the center of the Gospel. One without the other fails to bring about redemption. It's much more theologically accurate to say that Christ himself is the center of the Gospel (incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension, session, and promised return). I think this is a really big deal because the practical life implications of neglecting the totality of Christ's person and work are disastrous.
I had the opportunity to point this out recently on a panel discussion in Orlando. I think much more work needs to be done in this area.
Just thinking out loud…and raising a warning flag!