Thank God that we are perfectly obedient before Him!

Now the first reaction to the title of this piece might be ‘WHAT! How can anyone say that they stand as perfectly obedient before God!’ At one level, this is the right reaction. How can anyone claim such a thing knowing the place of sin in the human heart?

Yet, in order to be declared right before God we need to be perfectly obedient before Him. God demands nothing less than complete obedience to His law (Deut 4:25-27, 12:28, 27:26; Rom 2:13; Gal. 3:10; James 2:10). This is a truth the Reformers knew well. To quote the 17th century theologian Turretin, ‘God cannot show favour to, nor justify, anyone without a perfect righteousness’.[1] Similarly, Calvin also states that ‘righteousness consists in the observance of the law’.[2]

However, we know that no one can obey God’s law and standard perfectly. The Scriptures are clear ‘There is no one righteous, not even one’ (Rom 3:10). As Calvin so vibrantly comments ‘away then with those who confidently lay claim to the righteousness of works, which cannot otherwise exist than when there is a full and complete observance of the law; and it is certain that this is nowhere to be found’.[3] As 1 John 1:8 declares ‘if we say, “We have no sin,” we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us’.

So what of the title of this article! Well, the answer lies in the extraordinary doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness (I know, that’s a bit of a mouthful). We can stand as perfectly obedient people before God because Jesus’ life of perfect obedience is credited to us in Christ. This is how the believer can be justified. Again, this is how the Reformers saw it. Calvin taught that justification ‘consists in the remission of sins and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness’.[4] Similarly, Turretin declared that ‘God justifies us because the righteousness of our surety, Christ, is imputed to us’.[5] This imputation of Christ’s righteousness is simply a reality of the believer’s union with Christ. As Calvin wrote ‘our righteousness is not in us but in Christ…we possess it only because we are partakers in Christ’.[6]

The answer therefore to the necessity of perfect obedience on the one hand, and the problem of sin on the other, is the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer. It could be no other way. As the 17th century Anglican bishop John Davenant explains, it is only the righteousness of Christ that could possibly stand ‘before the scrutinising eye of God’.[7] Any other notion of righteousness, be it inherent or infused righteousness, is imperfect, or (as Davenant puts it) inchoate[8] and ‘renders only inchoately righteous’.[9]

Thank God that we stand as perfectly obedient before him because of Christ and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. Thank God that ‘when I am called into judgement, and the debt of the law required from me, I show that my bondsman has paid the debt, and thus delivered me’.[10]

This truth both frees us and fuels us. Firstly, it frees us. As people who belong to Christ and are ‘in Christ’, we no longer need to wallow in guilt. We no longer have an evil or guilty conscience that sits over us (Heb. 10:22). We are also freed from needing to slave away at trying to earn our own righteousness. Indeed, having the righteousness of Christ fuels us to truly serve and love others. We serve not for our own gain, but purely for the good of others and for the sake of Christ. This is actually what we are created to do (Eph. 2:10).

Praise God that in his Son we are declared to be perfectly obedient children!

[1] Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 647.

[2] Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 533.

[3] Calvin, J., & Owen, J. (2010). Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans (p. 213). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[4] Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 727. (emphasis added)

[5] François Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology (ed by. James T. Dennison; trans by. George Musgrave Giger; vol. 2; Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Publishing, 1992), 647.

[6] Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 753.

[7] Fuller, Life, Letters and Writings of John Davenant, D.D. (1572-1641), Lord Bishop of Salisbury, 372.

[8] Look it up – I had to!

[9] Davenant, ‘A Treatise on Justification or the Disputatio De Justitia Habituali Et Actuali’, 252.

[10] Davenant, ‘A Treatise on Justification or the Disputatio De Justitia Habituali Et Actuali’, 248.

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