Two Kinds of Obedience
“[Jesus] committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (vv. 22–23).- 1 Peter 2:21–25
We will conclude our brief study of the atonement today with a discussion of the distinction between the passive obedience and the active obedience of Christ. The obedience of the Lord was essential for making the atonement effective, as Jesus understood His death to fulfill the will of God, to be the supreme act of obedience He rendered to the Father (Luke 22:39–46; John 19:28–30; see Phil. 2:5–11). But the obedience of Christ that makes the atonement effective goes beyond His death.
The passive obedience of Christ refers primarily to the crucifixion and what Jesus endured there. He was the victim of earthly authorities at the cross, and there He also received the wrath of God due to the sins of His people. We call this the passive obedience of Christ not because Jesus was inactive; He purposefully and actively laid down His life for His flock (John 10:1–18). Instead, calling it the passive obedience of Christ stresses the fact that He did not resist the cross, that while He chose to lay down His life, things were done to Him.
The active obedience of Christ refers to the things done by Him. Here we are stressing His sinless life and perfect obedience to the Father. Christ committed no sin, as we see in today’s passage (1 Peter 2:21–25), and not even His contemporaries were able to convict Him of transgression (John 8:46). This active obedience is as important to our salvation as the passive obedience of Christ’s death on the cross. If the death of Jesus were all that we had, we would simply be restored to a place of neutrality. Our sins would be wiped away, but we would have no positive record of righteousness to present to the Father. This was the state of Adam before the fall. He had no positive righteousness, no good works that he did, but he also had no sin. He had to obey God, doing good by taking dominion of the earth and not eating the forbidden fruit (Gen. 1:28; 2:16–17), and if he had done this, he would have secured eternal life for himself and his offspring. We understand this from Paul’s stress on the obedience of Christ and its parallel to the disobedience of Adam in Romans 5:12–21. Christ accomplished what Adam should have done, and in so doing He secured the righteousness that Adam would have secured had he been faithful. When we trust in Jesus alone for salvation, the perfect righteousness of Christ that He obtained by His active obedience is placed on our record, and we receive its reward—eternal life (2 Cor. 5:21).
Jesus not only died for His people, but He lived for them as well. The perfect active obedience of Christ means that all who trust in Him have full citizenship in the kingdom of God. We do not need to be afraid that there is anything lacking in us if we have trusted in Christ alone, for His obedience covers us and guarantees our salvation. Let us therefore have full assurance of our redemption if we have believed in Jesus.
Passages for Further Study