Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering…
he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
It has taken me a long to come back to this topic because of the busyness of this last school year and work, but I finally have some time to sit down and write the next part in this little series (for part 1 click here; and for part 2 click here). In this post I want to discuss the next essential part of Christ’s work in atoning for His people: His passive obedience.
As I have previously discussed, Christ’s active obedience is His perfect fulfillment of God’s Law while He was on the earth, accomplishing what we are all completely incapable of. It is on the basis of Christ’s perfect obedience as our substitute that God imputes His righteousness to us. The obedience is active in the sense that He was “doing” all the things required by the Law and resisting temptation to deviate from God’s perfect standard.
The passive obedience of Christ is what Christ allowed to be done to Himself on our behalf–taking the curse and punishment for our disobedience upon Himself in our place. While His active obedience fulfilled the living requirements of the Law, His passive obedience satisfies the wrath of God that would rightly be applied to us. In order for justification of sinners to be possible, there must be true righteousness given to us (Christ’s active obedience), but that would not be enough. We cannot simply receive righteousness, we must also have the penalty of our sin removed. Atonement necessitates a spotless sacrifice and a complete transfer of the penalties of sin from the rightful recipient to the sacrifice.
We see the sacrifice of Christ typified in the Old Testament sacrificial system. Indeed, in order to be forgiven for sin, the Old Testament required the offering of a spotless animal on behalf of the sinner to satisfy God’s judgment and grant forgiveness, however temporary, to the individual for whom the sacrifice was offered. Now, this is not to say that the death of the animal itself was what provided forgiveness. In the sacrifice, the principle that there is no forgiveness of sin apart from the shedding of blood (Heb. 9:22) is illustrated, but the forgiveness of sin was found in the faith that God has and will provide grace to His people by their faith in Him. Let it be known that Old Testament saints were not saved by the sacrifice of lambs or bulls, but by the sacrifice of Christ which their previous sacrifices only represented. The sacrifices of the Old Testament provided a covering, so to speak, for the sins of the people until a more perfect sacrifice could be made. It was faith in the provision of God by grace and the coming Messiah that saved Old Testament believers. It is for this reason that the Church and the Jewish saints are both referred to as Israel—spiritual Israel. Together, Christians and believing Jews are God’s people, not simply the physical descendants of Abraham:
…not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary… it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise (ie. those who are adopted because of faith) who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.
In this sense, Christianity cannot be viewed as the manifestation of a new religion, but the fulfillment of the eternal purpose of God. The worship and practice of Israel, as defined by the Old Testament, served as a “copy and shadow” of the eventual and perfect fulfillment that was coming in Christ (Heb. 8:5).
Because the Old Testament sacrifices were imperfect, the sacrifices had to be made again and again. But, this is not the case with Christ’s death. His is the true sacrifice, the one which contained all the power of God for salvation to those who believe. And, unlike the priests of old who were sinful and needed to offer sacrifices for themselves, Christ stands as a shining pillar in contrast to all that was old, decaying, and incapable: “He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself” (Heb. 7:27); “he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:12).
In addition to rendering our sin as fully paid before God, the death of Christ provides the personal execution of every person who has faith in Christ. Our sinful man and depraved nature is slaughtered on the Cross of Jesus Christ because, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are unified with Him in His death. As Paul makes clear in Romans 6:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
The death Christ died on the Cross, carrying the penalty of our sin with Him, is the very death that He invites us into and secures, signified and applied in baptism. Our Lord gave Himself so that He might truly have us—our life is His to do with as He pleases, and He is pleased that we die to all that we were apart from Him so that we can live a new life in Him.
This is the terrible beauty of the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our great God and Savior took on the form of a man and humbled Himself to death, even death on a Cross, so that we might also die and be freed from the condemnation and bondage of sin that is ours apart from Him. This is the good news that we share. Because He died, we may live. Because He died, our evil nature died with Him. Because He died, we are assured of our acquittal. Because He died, we see that God’s love for us is unquestionable and unstoppable.
In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
(1 John 4:9-10)
Praise God for the death of Christ. To You, O Lord, do we owe our all. Create in us clean hearts and willing spirits that we might live a life that is worthy of the calling we have received.