Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Self-Identity in a Protean Age

"The Heidelberg Catechism puts it this way: 'Since, then, faith alone makes us share in Christ and all his benefits, where does such faith originate? The Holy Spirit creates it in our hearts by the preaching of the holy gospel, and confirms it by the use of the holy Sacraments' (Question 65). On one side, we are faced with the naturalist or Pelagian, who sees religion as little more than morality. A Christian is simply someone who has made a decision to submit to the life-style Jesus models. On the other side, we face the enthusiast, who sees religion in terms of private experience that requires no mediation through the preached Word, the truth of the Gospel proclaimed in clear doctrinal and historical terms. However these two types may seem contradictory, they both represent the 'Nicodemus syndrome,' the desire to attain salvation by the flesh rather than to be given salvation by the Spirit. The liberal Protestant cannot see the kingdom of God because it is heavenly and things heavenly are regarded as simply out of bounds for real knowledge, while the enthusiast cannot see the kingdom of God because he or she insists on climbing up into heaven instead of receiving the Word who has come down to earth and is made known in earthy forms of ink and paper, human speech, water, bread and wine.

After leading off his famous Institutes with the quote cited in the beginning of this article, Calvin observes that it is impossible to contemplate self-identity apart from God. First, God is our Creator in whom 'we live and move and have our being' (Acts 17:28). And yet, we can begin also with ourselves and before long we realize that we are not only created with amazing dignity, but sinking in 'miserable ruin, into which the rebellion of the first man cast us.' 'Thus,' writes Calvin, 'from the feeling of our own ignorance, vanity, poverty, infirmity, and--what is more--depravity and corruption, we recognize that the true light of wisdom, sound virtue, full abundance of every good, and purity of righteousness rest in the Lord alone.' This leads us once more to contemplate God:

we cannot seriously aspire to him before we begin to become displeased with ourselves . . . Again, it is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God's face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinize himself. For we always seem to ourselves righteous and upright and wise and holy--this pride is innate in all of us--unless by clear proofs we stand convinced of our own unrighteousness, foulness, folly, and impurity.

Theology, not psychology; the external Word, not internal self-identity, must give us our definition. We are created, not self-creating; sinners, not innocent spirits; redeemed in Christ, not striving after our own selfhood.

So what does this have to do with the Protean self, the tendency we have described above? Actually, it has a great deal of relevance. First, the answer to the perpetual, anxious, and feverish process of constantly re-inventing our 'self' is met with the realization that our self-identity is not something we achieve, but something we are given."

Dr. Michael S. Horton, Who Am I...Really? (The "New Self" in an Age of Self-Transformation), Modern Reformation Nov/Dec 1996 (italics original).

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Creeds and Confessions—Servants of the Gospel

"In making its confession, the church lifts up its voice to do what it must do—speak amazement of the goodness and truth of the gospel and the gospel's God. Creeds and confessional formulae exist to promote that act of confession: to goad the church towards it, to shape it, to tie it to the truth, and so to perpetuate the confessional life and activity of the Christian community. In this way, creeds and confessional formulae are the servants of the gospel in the church."

John Webster, Confessing God, 69 (italics original).

"It is not that the authority of the confessions is 'very nearly tantamount to that of Scripture,' but it is tantamount to that of Scripture, assuming that a given confession is biblical and intended to be subscribed because (quia) it is biblical. If a confession is not biblical, it should be revised so that it is biblical, or it should be discarded in favor of a confession that is biblical."

R. Scott Clark, Recovering the Reformed Confession, 178 (italics original).

Friday, March 26, 2010

"Bad Things" Don't Happen to Good People

That's because there are no "good" people. Most of the suffering that people endure come about as a result of being part of a fallen human race that inhabits a fallen universe. Degrees of suffering are not predicated upon the relative goodness of individuals but upon the gracious will of God; that is to say that your level of suffering now as compared to those in Africa is not due to the fact that you are a better person than the mass of brutalized Africans living in their native land.

So the more appropriate phraseology that describes the actual state of affairs would be: "good things happen to bad people" (No, I haven't read Rabbi Kushner's book. LOL). What could be a better thing than languishing in the pit of suffering and then being told that it doesn't always have to be this way, and that the real solution to the problem is not a change in circumstance but a change in perspective—one that looks to a Person, Jesus Christ?

We will all suffer in this life, both the "good" and the "bad" people. Job was by all accounts a "good" person, but then he had eyes enough to see the vileness that festered within his own heart for him to cry out, "For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God" (Job 19:25—26). It is unlikely that you and I would ever suffer to the degree that Job did. But if we are to rise above our suffering, we must be one with him in crying out for Christ, our hope in this life and the life to come.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Simul Justus Et Peccator

"We are not either carnal Christians or spiritual Christians; rather, all Christians are simultaneously sinful and spiritual—not because of their 'surrender,' but because of Christ's. We are all in the same category, simply at different points along the way.

The message of the Reformation has been salve in the wounds of many, including this writer. I am not a Christian with great faith or with praiseworthy character, but a Christian who is confident that I share with every regenerate Christian 'every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ' (Eph. 1:3). I am simultaneously sinful and justified, as I am simultaneously at peace with God because of Christ's imputed righteousness, but at war with myself because of Christ's imparted righteousness. I am not a 'successful runner,' but I am 'looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of [my] faith' (Heb. 12:2). I trust and obey Christ (however feebly), and I know that I will continue trusting and obeying until the day I die—not because I have appropriated Christ, but because he has appropriated me."

Dr. Michael S. Horton, Christ the Lord (The Reformation and Lordship Salvation), 33.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Beasley on Success

"How do you define success? Many people define success in terms of this world's possessions and positions. Unfortunately, many Christians have joined them in the materialistic 'rat race.' I, too, have been caught up in the same thing.

When I was a brand-new Christian over twenty-five years ago, I told God, 'Lord, you were smart to save old Beasley! I'm going to cut a wide swath for You in the real estate development business. And, I'm going to cut Your church in on a big share of the profits!' Who was I kidding? Certainly not God. I was in it for Beasley, using God as my 'ace in the hole' to assure my 'success' in the world.

God then proceeded to take me not to profitability but to deep indebtedness. It took over 20 years to get my financial head above water again. But I found success! 'Where?' some one asks. In the discipline of my heavenly Father.

Those who love the world system plow vainly ahead, seeking the treasures that the world has to offer. But I found out that what the world has it gives begrudgingly, if at all. And once you have its treasures, at least four things happen. First, the 'treasure' is never as good as you thought. Second, you become addicted, as a little treasure causes you to seek more and more. Third, you worry about losing what treasure you've achieved. Fourth, you realize that you can't take your treasure with you when you die. I call it the 'short view' of life.

God's view is the 'long view.' First, God's treasure is better than advertised. Second, it brings contentment. Third, God's treasure brings peace and assurance. Fourth, His treasure is eternal. You can take it with you! Seek God's treasure, and let Him define 'success' for you."

Robert C. Beasley (graduate of Westminster Seminary California and church elder. Founder of COMPS InfoSystems, where he was CEO until he retired to devote more time to teaching and writing), The Commandments of Christ, ch. 8, pp. 95-96.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Self-Communication of God's Love

When mention is made of the love of God, it often is the case that this love is made to be grounded on the worthiness or comeliness of the object. We have heard it spoken that, "Even if you were the only person on Earth, Christ would have still come down and died for you." Of course, such musings about alternate universes are neither predicated upon good reasoning nor are they productive, as if counterfactuals had the being of actual facts themselves. What the phrase simply indicates is the sentimental, self-centered, humanistic notion of love that has captured the wider audience. It served Norman Vincent Peale well in his crusade for self-esteem but it does no good for the Christian fully devoted to the 5 solas of the Reformation.

Simply put, when we affirm that God is love, and how this bears upon its object, what we are really saying, if we are to be faithful to Scriptural import, is that God loves Himself as He sees Himself in the object. For humans to claim the same is the height of narcissism—though it is but an all too common instance of total depravity that we love those like us and hate those that differ—but for God it is the necessary corollary of His perfections. For God to be God, His love must always entail the proclamation of His glory. Indeed, for a person to truly say that he loves another, he must desire God's glory to be manifested in that person.

God's love then is "...that perfection of God by which He is eternally moved to self-communication. Since God is absolutely good in Himself, His love cannot find complete satisfaction in any object that falls short of absolute perfection. He loves His rational creatures for His own sake, or, to express it otherwise, He loves in them Himself, His virtues, His work, and His gifts. He does not even withdraw His love completely from the sinner in his present sinful state, though the latter's sin is an abomination to Him, since He recognizes even in the sinner His image-bearer. John 3:16; Matt. 5:44,45. At the same time He loves believers with a special love, since He contemplates them as His spiritual children in Christ. It is to them that He communicates Himself in the fullest and richest sense, with all the fulness of His grace and mercy. John 16:27; Rom. 5:8; 1 John 3:1." — Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, ch. 7, p. 71. 

The Inspiration of Inspiration

If the Scripture be of divine inspiration,
then be exhorted to,

Study the Scripture.
Prize the written Word.
Believe it.
Love the written Word.
Conform to it.
Contend for it.
Be thankful to God for it.

Adore God's distinguishing grace, if you have felt the power and authority of the Word upon your conscience.

Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity, 34-38.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Some Theobloggers on Preaching

I came across the following blog posts, written by stellar theologians, on the topic of preaching:

A Teaser on Preaching
The Mystery Source Is....
More on Barthian preaching
Preaching again...
Slouching to Bethlehem
Running to Bethlehem
Don't Disagree but....

You have to read them in the same order as they are posted here for the message's coherence to be maintained.

Initially, we have Carl Trueman quoting Karl Barth's polemic against boring and unbiblical preaching. He rightly asserts the juxtaposition of Osteenian speech-making to biblical preaching. But then he inserts a light jab at supposedly "entertainment-driven" preachers that are "confessional in subscription", the latter ascription I take to mean confessionally Reformed. Not content with rightly pointing out the errors of unbiblical and pragmatic/entertainment-driven preaching, Trueman then proceeds to rail against redemptive-historical preaching. Derek Thomas joins him in bewailing the "Reformed error" of being too hung-up on trying to squeeze Christ out of the biblical text, describing most manifestations of this exercise as "flat." Somehow, all this reminds me of Trueman's prior debate with Graeme Goldsworthy, wherein he tries to pit systematic theology against biblical theology, with his dog being the former, and with Goldsworthy counting him out in the corner with the former's rightful insistence that the relationship between the two theological disciplines is perichoretic.

Sean Lucas then comes into the picture, injecting the anti-venom to what has become a toxic mix of what I would consider as a caricaturing of what Reformed preaching is about. Lucas justifiably brings what it means to be a herald of the Gospel to the forefront by reminding us that the whole of Scripture speaks of Christ and of what God has done, is doing, and will do in redemptive history through Him, and that this is to be the crux of all Gospel preaching—indeed, all preaching! Trueman inquires that must this be the be-all and end-all, a confounding of the indicative with the imperative? To that I would remark that the Gospel is the foundation of all truly God-pleasing responses to the imperatives. Anything less is legalism or moralism.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Election and Looking to Christ

A story told by Dr. Michael Horton in one of the sessions of his "God and Suffering" lectures really made an impression on me. He tells of the time when he and his mother were discussing—or, probably more aptly, debating—theological issues, as they were wont to do, when his father, perhaps having had the day's quota of "Calvinism", blurted out the very common question of, "How do I then know if I am elect?"

Dr. Horton made the point that inward-curving reflection is never the way to make this determination. The key has always been: LOOK TO CHRIST. If you are constantly looking to Christ, then it must mean that the Spirit of Christ is moving in you to engage in such a looking; and it is so that only the elect are led by the Spirit to look to Christ—therefore it is not in an assessment of one's moral fortitude that the assurance of election is to be had, for if one is brutally honest (Law-honest!), it would always be the case that one would find the filthiest of sinners within, but it is in the appropriation of Christ's double-benefit (justification and sanctification) in the daily act of faith.

Look to Christ for "...the righteous shall live by faith" (Hab. 2:4)!

A Theology of Resignation

I just received word that my younger sister has decided to leave her current spot at the leading telecommunications company in the country. The reason given was that she was "not happy" anymore. This got me thinking: what does it mean when someone says that they are not happy on the job anymore? Is there some objective standard by which one can measure career happiness? The usual replies would be the pay, the environment, the stress, or the ability to express creative output. Of course, other reasons abound, but the ones mentioned seem to me to be indicative of the Zeitgeist—the subjective, "I am the determiner of my fate and reality" spirit that is so much the S.O.P of most individuals in our time. Would civilization and culture be able to maintain its ground if every one of its constituents suddenly had a flash of inspiration and decided that they were not happy with their vocations anymore and ran off to more "fulfilling" pursuits? I think hardly. What we would have is chaos.

Jesus Christ is God. There was never a time when He wasn't and there will never be such a time. We could say that He had the best "job" of all! The Persons of the Trinity, in their aseity and impassibility, were (and are!) in perfect fellowship with each other and needed nothing else to complete their happiness. There was no room  for improvement in the essence of God's being. But from eternity the plan was to create and bring about redemption. God would showcase to a created universe the splendor of His perfections, and this meant that Christ had to leave a "well-paying, perfect environment, stress-free, creative" job for an antithetical one, in a manner of speaking. He "...though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." (Phil. 2:6-7). This was the job description, and what a job it was! God became man—what fitting analogy in the corporate world can we find for the Incarnation? The CEO becoming a janitor? Not even close. The radical humility and self-effacement of Christ is the wonder of all wonders, and this fact shall stand for all eternity.

What if more people, I should say Christians, had more of Christ's willingness to take on a "lousy job" (rhetorically-speaking) when the need demands it, instead of making their "happiness" the chief criterion for their state of being? Perhaps more of God's will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven then.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Word of God Creates

While it is indeed the profession of many Christians that the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God, the essence and luminosity of the latter phrase has somehow lost its shine and sheen. These days, one can find Scripture being used in all sorts of ways as a "guide" to many schemes: from getting rich, to staying healthy, to developing leadership savvy, all the way to attracting a prospective mate!

In light of these misappropriations,

"...we will also have to recover the Reformation view that the Word of God is not only a canon that regulates our beliefs and practices...but that it is actually alive, accomplishing everything God intends. While upholding the reliability and authority of Scripture, conservative Evangelicalism has tended to reduce God's Word to a sourcebook for timeless doctrinal and ethical laws, missing the crucial point that the Bible itself underscores from Genesis to Revelation: namely, that God's speaking is acting, and this acting is not only descriptive but creative. God's Word is authoritative not only because of what it is (God's utterance), but because of what it does (God's utterance).

The Word of God written and preached is not simply legally authoritative and binding, but is the primary means of grace, through which the Spirit ordinarily creates communion with Christ and therefore the communion of saints: ekklesia. In other words, in this conception, the Word is not merely something that stands over us. It is also 'the implanted word' (James 1:21) that 'abides in you' (1 John 2:14), and is to 'dwell in you richly' (Col. 3:16). 'So then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ' (Rom. 10:16).

Thus the Word is not only the church's norm for faith and practice, but the primary means of grace, often referred to as the 'sacramental Word.' Although there can be no saving, personal, covenantal encounter apart from information and assertions of fact, the Word in this sense is much more 'living and active' than that. It not only tells us what God has done; it does what God tells.

Life is found only in God, located in Christ, mediated by his Word. Specifically, the gospel is that part of God's Word that gives life. Not everything that God says is saving. Sometimes God's speech brings judgment, disaster, fear, warning, and dread, Calvin reminds us. God's majesty is so terrifying that we would either be overwhelmed with despair or driven to idolatry and self-justification in an attempt to avoid the God who actually exists. The only safe route, therefore, is to receive the Father through the incarnate Son. Christ is the saving content of Scripture, the substance of its canonical unity. Calvin notes, 'This is the true knowledge of Christ: if we take him as he is offered by the Father, namely, clothed with his gospel. For as he himself has been designated the goal of our faith, so we shall not run straight to him unless the gospel leads the way.'

As Christ gives himself to us through creaturely elements of water, bread, and wine, so too he gives through the words of Scripture and the proclamation that is derived from it. As with baptism and the Supper, the Spirit creates a bond between the sign (proclamation of the gospel) and the reality signified (Christ and all his benefits). That is why the Heidelberg Catechism (Q. 65) answers the question, 'Where does this true faith come from?' by saying, 'The Holy Spirit creates it in our hearts by the preaching of the holy gospel and confirms it by the use of the holy sacraments.' Through such preaching, sinners are actually reconciled to God.

Dr. Michael S. Horton, 'Creature of the Word' (A Liberating Captivity), Modern Reformation, March/April 2007.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Gospel Holiness

Moral reform is not of the essence of Christian spirituality, though many teachers in our day seem to give off this impression. Some even ground supposed "blessing" and "victory" upon a manifestation of heightened moral virtue—a sort of divine payback for excellent performance. This is not the Christian life as pictured in Scripture.

There is no other foundation upon which holiness in a believer's life is built than the work of the triune God in redemption, as declared and proclaimed in the gospel. The love of the Father, enfleshed in the atonement and mediation of the Son, as applied and made real by the Spirit in the person's life is the driving force, the engine, behind the "machinery" of sanctification, and thus holiness. It is to this truth that the Christian will find himself returning perennially in times of doubt, despair, defeat and despondency "for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13).

"Real spirituality is therefore not fundamentally about self-improvement but about intimacy and communion with the triune God who transforms the believer's life."

Dr. Kelly Kapic, 'Evangelical Holiness: Assumptions in John Owen’s Theology of Christian Spirituality', WSC Convocation Lecture, 02/25/10.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Double Benefit of Christ and the Struggling Christian

"After explaining how, 'as through one man's offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man's righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life' (Rom. 5:18), Paul concluded his treatment of justification by saying, 'But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord' (20-21). Paul was well aware of likely objections to what some of his readers (then and now) could only regard as the most blatant form of antinomian preaching. In the very next verse he anticipates the reaction:

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized in Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we were buried with him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:1-4).

There are two approaches that the Apostle's logic here rules out. First, a Christian cannot actually be an antinomian-that is, someone who rejects the continuing validity of the law in the life of the believer and insists that genuine conversion can be present where there is no genuine repentance. 'Shall we sin that grace may abound?' is the right question, but 'No' is the right answer, Paul says. But it also means, second, that a Christian cannot be a legalist, since the basis for this freedom from sin's power is the same as the basis for freedom from sin's guilt: Christ's victory.

Paul does not say, as many of us have heard growing up in 'victorious Christian life' circles, 'You certainly don't have to live in defeat.' No, Paul puts it all in the indicative: 'How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?' This is not only indicative, it's past tense: this is something that has happened already. Christians are not, upon conversion, brought to a place where they can now choose to live 'Spirit-filled' lives 'in victory' or 'carnal' lives of defeat. Paul is not pleading with us, as if to say, 'How can you possibly live in sin after all that God has done for you?' He is saying something entirely different: 'How is it possible for you to live in sin after all that God has done for you?' In other words, it is not possible. 'Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized in Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?' This is not a victory to be achieved, but a victory to be received. Christ has already defeated sin and dethroned it as a reigning principle in our lives. He has done this! We do not 'put Jesus on the throne' or 'make Jesus Lord of our life.' He is on the throne and he is Lord of our life. This is why he can say, as he introduces the Ten Commandments, 'I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. [Therefore] you shall have no other gods beside me.' It is because he is Lord that he is able to save to the uttermost.

This is an essential point, because many of us are quite willing to allow that justification is by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone. But then we come to the question of the Christian life and move to a different basis. Some choose the high road, others the low road. But Paul is telling us that there is only one road and it flows naturally out of the one gospel that is God's power unto salvation for everyone who believes. To be baptized into Christ is to be forever free of the guilt and tyranny of sin. This is why, in 'Rock of Ages,' the hymn writer Augustus Toplady wrote, 'Be of sin the double-cure, free from sin's guilt and its power.' Christ in the gospel does not do away with sin's guilt only to leave it up to us whether we will gain victory over its power. He has crushed the serpent's head, rendered the law's condemnation null and void because of our substitute, taken death's sting away, and subdued our wills so that for the first time we now love the things of God, despite our continuing struggle to obey (Rom. 7).

You may be a closet pervert. Nobody knows what you think, what you savor, what you allow yourself to dwell upon but you-and God. The problem, of course, is that the one who does know your heart even better than you do is also the holiest being in existence and is your judge. But the good news is that Jesus Christ, who was tempted in all points as you are but without sin, kept his mind, heart, and body pure so that his obedience could count as yours and so that, in this marvelous exchange, you would be clothed in his righteousness. But it doesn't stop there: the gospel is the double-cure. It is sufficient not only for the sexually immoral; it is sufficient to break the grip of sexual immorality in the lives of believers.

The complexity of its continuing power is not undervalued, as Paul goes on to point out in Romans 7. The normal Christian life is a struggle-neither a surrender to sin nor a freedom from sin, but a constant battle. Repentance is never complete in this life, any more than is faith. We turn from our sins and then find ourselves repeating them. But we get back up and keep carrying our cross, knowing that it is not our cross that saves us but Christ's. This life, therefore, may not look like sterling victory, but it is nonetheless the daily outworking of that victory that has already been accomplished. Paul's argument, then, is this: Christ has saved you to the uttermost, from both sin's guilt and dominion. Therefore, why do you continue to live as if this were not the case? You are not a defeated slave of sin, so why do you act like it so often? Today, we are already as believers baptized into Christ's death and raised in the newness of his life. One day, we will finally be free from the very presence of sin. Only then will there no longer be struggle."

Dr. Michael S. Horton, Sin and Sins, Modern Reformation, Nov/Dec 2001.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

J. Gresham Machen's Hope in Death and the Imputation of Christ's Righteousness

The following were J. Gresham Machen's last words: "I'm so thankful for the active obedience of Christ. No hope without it."

These words reflect the existential import of the profound truth that Christ's life of sinlessness and perfect obedience to the Father earned for His elect the privilege of the imputation unto them of the merits thereof, thereby gaining their acceptance before the Father who demands no other than perfect obedience to His law as the ground for this acceptance.

It would not be unreasonable to assert that any claim of "perfectionism" in the present Christian life is a blasphemous affront to this truth.

"Why did Machen find so much satisfaction in clinging to this promise on his deathbed?

First, it is quite easy for us to believe that God is lenient. We conceive of him as Santa Claus: 'He knows when you are sleeping, he knows when you're awake. He knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.' But who would think of jolly 'ol St. Nick punishing people for their sins? And yet, that is what the Bible insists God will do at the end of history. The same Jesus who emptied himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross, will return to judge the living and the dead. It will be a trial of strict justice and nothing short of perfect righteousness will be required of each of us. Either it will be our own, or borrowed from the host, but God will not be lenient on that dreadful day.

Second, it is quite easy for us to believe that God's grace makes up for what we lack. We even hear justification defined as 'just-as-if-I'd-never-sinned.' But surely this would not be sufficient for our salvation. God not only requires an absence of sin, but a positive possession of the righteousness his nature requires of us. 'It is finished,' our suffering Savior cried out, not only concerning this final trial, but as the capstone to the whole life that he so willingly lived to God for us. While his passive obedience on the cross canceled our sins, it is his active obedience throughout his life that provides the ground upon which God can declare us righteous. This perfect obedience does not merely make up what we lack, but satisfies God's just wrath against even the imperfection of our best works as believers. The Father 'so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son,' so it is not as if the Father is a harsh, demanding taskmaster who must be persuaded by the Son to have mercy. Rather, it is the Father himself who sends the Son to save the world by his voluntary obedience in life and death.

Finally, it is good to know--especially when facing the next world--that for every time we have failed to conform to God's will in thought, word, and deed, by actively sinning or failing to conform to his revealed will, his Son has fulfilled the obedience that we owe. By never once giving in to the lust, pride, sloth, greed, selfishness, and malice that are so often allowed space in our overcrowded hearts, Jesus Christ becomes our Savior not only in his atoning death but throughout his life. In this way, every day of his life was as necessary for our salvation as that dark afternoon on Golgotha. He was the only 'fully surrendered, victorious, sold-out,' Christian who ever lived! Our surrender is halfhearted and partial; our victories seem always to be sullied by pride. Even if we could live the 'higher life,' could God not smell our smugness? Wouldn't our best works be sabotaged by our own depravity? These good works would be corrupt enough to condemn us on the last day, so what we require is the obedience of someone else to stand in for us. It is not only Christ's atoning death, but his saving life during the thirty-three years of his conformity to the Father's will that shelters us from God's just sentence. 'This is why,' wrote Charles Hodge, 'the believer, when arrayed in this righteousness, need fear neither death nor hell. This is the reason why Paul challenges the universe to lay anything to the charge of God's elect.'

May we proclaim this hope while we have breath, and then may it find its way to the center of our vision when God calls us home. For it is the only reason we will hear those welcome words, 'Well done, thou good and faithful servant.'" (Dr. Michael S. Horton, A Dying Man's Consolation (The Active Passive Obedience of Christ), Modern Reformation, March/April 1996.)

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