I suppose that I could just shorten this article by explaining with the oft quoted words of Dr. J. Gresham Machen, who on his deathbed uttered, “I’m so thankful for the active obedience of Christ. No hope without it.” Indeed it is every Christians duty to be thankful, no, “so thankful” for the active obedience of Christ because there is certainly no hope without it.
But we are seeing again a denial of this most precious truth. People seem to deny this truth but be thankful for their “covenant faithfulness” or as it has come to be understood “covenantal nomism.” The idea that we are justified by faith in Christ and in our justification includes our faithfulness to the covenant laws. Of course proponents of this view may word it differently. But they insist that Christ did not keep the laws and commands of God to credit to the account of all who belong to Him but to prove and show His sacrifice was and is acceptable to God the Father. As a Lamb without spot or blemish.
But if my hope, in some way by whatever way you wish to word it, is to rest in my “covenant faithfulness” then I should be as Luther before his salvation- miserable, depressed, grieved and without hope. I would have to concur with Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones when preaching on Romans 1:17:
The gospel is the power of God. It does not depend upon me and my faithfulness. If it did we would all be lost. It is God’s power to keep, to justify and to sanctify and to glorify – to take us right into heaven itself. . . nothing can stop it. It is certain. The gospel works and will work, until all that God has purposed by its means shall have been completed.*
No person will ever stand before God and point back to their own faithfulness. Nor, do I believe that anyone claims that. But the assertion that Christ’s righteousness is not imputed to anyone, leads to that. Not only does God demand punishment for sinning against Him but he also demands we be clothed and not seen bare (Gen. 3:21). You should note two things about that passage in Gen. 3:21- “And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them”- there is a sacrifice for their sin; an animal had to be killed, blood was shed to provide atonement (that’s where the animal skins came from) and they were clothed with those skins. Now of course that was all to foreshadow the Christ, the Lamb Of God. Everyone except the liberals will admit to the sacrifice on Gen. 3. But what of the clothing? What are believers clothed with? “Covenant faithfulness?” That would not be very comforting. If God calls our own righteousness “filthy rags” (Is. 64) do we really think any “covenant faithfulness will fare any better? I’m not staking my salvation it! If you deny the imputation of Christ’s righteousness then you must replace it with something else- infusion (Rome), or some sort of law keeping on the Christians part.
Others would simply have us forgiven but naked before an infinitely holy God. Oh, Adam and Eve couldn’t endure that madness why would we be any different? The only comfort we have is the imputed righteousness of Christ.
What do we mean “active obedience of Jesus? By that is meant:
When Dr. Machen talked about the active obedience of Christ, he was speaking of the entire and thoroughgoing obedience of Christ to the commands, laws, decrees, and ordinances of his heavenly Father. In short, Jesus obeyed the entire law of God in every respect, doing all that God required. As Scripture reminds us, Jesus Christ fulfilled all righteousness, and did everything that his father had given him to do.*
What is meant by “imputation?” We mean this:
If the Bible’s use of the Word”impute” or “reckon” in the key passages we’ve been studying means something like “change someone inwardly so that he is pleasing to God,” then most everything we have seen so far is irrelevant, since all the work of salvation falls back upon man and his ability to maintain some state into which justification places him. But if “reckon” means “credit to one’s account and treat them accordingly,” everything is different. The righteousness of Christ, then imputed to a believer, becomes the basis upon which God can and does treat the believer as just, even though the believer well knows that he continues to experience sin and failure in this life… “Impute” is a small word, but the sin-wearied soul who realizes what it really means finds it to be a true source of hope and constant encouragement.*
The imputation of the righteousness of Christ is the action of the merciful Father who sees the accomplishment of His Son in behalf of His people as sufficient and complete.*
The glorious and comforting truth of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness is that it is a perfect one. One that cannot be revoked, matched or maintained by anyone. It gives assurance to those in Christ that not only are they forgiven but also declared and seen by God as “righteous!” It is how God justifies the ungodly (Ro. 4:5). It is a righteousness with divine fingerprints. As John Murray writes:
It is not, of course, the divine attribute of justice or righteousness, but, nevertheless, it is a righteousness with divine attributes or qualities and therefore a righteousness which is of divine property.
The righteousness of justification is the righteousness and obedience of Christ (Rom. 5:17, 18, 19). Here we have the final consideration which confirms all of the foregoing considerations and sets them in clear focus. This is the final reason why we are pointed away from ourselves to Christ and his accomplished work. And this is the reason why the righteousness of justification is the righteousness of God. It is the righteousness of Christ wrought by him in human nature, the righteousness of his obedience unto death, even the death of the cross. But, as such, it is the righteousness of the God-man, a righteousness which measures up to the requirements of our sinful and sin-cursed situation, a righteousness which meets all the demands of a complete and irrevocable justification, and a righteousness fulfilling all these demands because it is a righteousness of divine property and character, a righteousness undefiled and inviolable.*
I glory in the imputed righteousness of Christ because it gives believers rest, comfort, consolation and there is, as Machen said, “no hope without it.”
*Ibid, p. 115
*John Murray, Redemption Accomplished And Applied (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955), pp. 127-28