The Fundamentals of New Covenant Theology
Part 20: NCT Characteristics (III-C)
“3. The imputation of Adam’s first sin to all mankind (Rom. 5:12d, 18a-19a), the elect’s sin to Christ (II Cor. 5:21), and Christ’s righteousness to the elect (Rom. 5:18b-19b) are vital for the Christian faith. Without the doctrine of imputation the whole doctrine of the substitutionary atonement and justification by faith alone in Christ alone are undermined (Rom. 5:12-19)” (Long, New Covenant Theology, NCT Characteristics).
As stated in the past two posts, New Covenant Theology unabashedly affirms the threefold doctrine of imputation: (1) the imputation of Adam’s first sin to all mankind (i.e. original sin), (2) the imputation of the elect’s sin to Christ, and (3) the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the elect. In this blog post, we shall focus on the third aspect of the doctrine of imputation – Christ’s perfect righteousness being reckoned to the elect. When theologians speak of Christ’s righteousness being imputed to the elect, they typically make a distinction between Christ’s passive obedience and His active obedience. The former refers to Christ’s submission to the plan of God in dying on the cross for the sins of the elect, while the latter refers to Christ’s perfect, unwavering obedience to His Father’s Will (John 5:30; 6:38; Matt. 3:15; Heb. 4:15) and the Law of Moses (Gal. 4:4; Matt. 5:17-18). Some theologians (e.g. Johannes Piscator – d. 1625) drew too sharp distinction between the two, insisting that only the former constitutes Christ’s righteousness imputed to the elect.
Although it is undoubtedly true that Christ’s perfect active obedience was necessary in order to qualify Him as our perfect substitute (Rom. 8:3; Heb. 4:15; 10:14; 1 Pet. 1:18), Scripture is undoubtedly clear that this same obedience is not only imputed to the elect but also indispensable to their justification. Romans 5:18-19 does not distinguish between Christ’s passive obedience and active obedience: “…even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life….so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. 19For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” Therefore, there is no Scriptural justification to restrict Christ’s obedience to His passive obedience, to the exclusion of His active obedience. Romans 8:4 speaks of “the righteousness of the law” being “fulfilled in us.” How is the righteousness of the law fulfilled in us? In short, God’s imputation of Christ’s obedience – both active and passive – to the elect. The Bible does not distinguish between Christ’s active obedience and His passive obedience. Furthermore, 2 Corinthians 5:21 declares that believers are “made the righteousness of God” in Christ. Again, I ask, how? God’s imputation of Christ’s obedience – both active and passive – to the elect. Theologically speaking, if only Christ’s passive obedience is imputed to the elect, believers would merely be morally neutral with their guilt removed. However, the elect are declared wholly and completely righteous before God because Christ’s active obedience is imputed as well to their account.