When God looks at us, our heavenly Father no longer sees us in our lies, or lusts, or those things that have shamed us from the past. He doesn’t see us as sinners who need to have our acceptance card stamped or our churches grow in impressive ways. The record of Christ’s perfect obedience is dripping off of our souls because of what Christ accomplished. And when God looks upon us, that’s why he sees. That’s all he sees.
In 1929, professor of theology J. Gresham Machen parted ways with Princeton Theological Seminary as it embraced the theological liberalism of the day. He, along with some friends, founded my alma mater, Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.
Eight years later as Dr. Machen lay dying, he dictated a telegram to his longtime friend John Murray, professor of systematic theology at Westminster. Short and simple, Machen said, “I’m so thankful for the active obedience of Christ. No hope without it.”
When I read that story, this thought popped into my mind. Why would a dying theologian, with an expansive intellect that could access innumerable doctrinal truths at that moment, look specifically to the obedience of Christ as a source of hope?
The answer, I found, was quite spectacular. Because Christ’s obedience on earth makes all the difference in life and death.
One Man’s Obedience
In Romans 3, Paul makes a sweeping statement–we’ve all fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). The entire book of Romans is a theological tour de force celebrating the what and why of God’s answer to that problem. Drawing from the Old Testament, Paul helps us see the broader storyline of God’s intention to slay his Son to save sinners.
In the early chapters of Romans, Paul lays out the reality of why we have fallen short of God’s glory. He also explores why we’re unable to solve the problem ourselves. Chapter 5 provides a fascinating angle on God’s solution through a contrast between Adam, our selfishly ambitious forefather, and Jesus, the humble Messiah.
“For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (v. 19).
By one man’s obedience . . . many will be made righteous. What does Paul mean? Paul is making a comparison, setting up Christ’s perfect obedience against Adam’s disobedience. But why is this comparison of obedience report cards so important to Paul?
When we think about Christ’s obedience, we often think first of his death. Certainly Christ’s obedience culminates at the cross. John Piper once called the crucifixion, “the crowning act of his obedience.” His willingness to pray, “Not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42) and then to carry that conviction through the agony at Golgotha is—well, it’s utterly incomprehensible.
But Christ’s obedience also included a life in which he obeyed all of God’s law, in all things, at all times.