The Passive Obedience of Christ (Murray)

In Reformed theology we sometimes talk about the passive obedience of Christ. This is a reference to Jesus’ suffering in the place of and for sinners. But we do need to know what “passive obedience” means and what it does not mean. Here’s a nice explanation of this phrase by John Murray:

The term “passive obedience” does not mean that in anything Christ did was he passive, the involuntary victim of obedience imposed upon him. It is obvious that any such conception would contradict the very notion of obedience. And it must be jealously maintained that even in his sufferings and death our Lord was not the passive recipient of that to which he was subjected. In his sufferings he was supremely active, and death itself did not befall him as it befalls other men. “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of myself” are his own words. He was obedient unto death, Paul tells us. And this does not mean that his obedience extended to the threshold of death but rather that he was obedient to the extent of yielding up his spirit in death and of laying down his life. In the exercise of self-conscious sovereign volition, knowing that all things had been accomplished and that the very moment of time for the accomplishment of this event had arrived, he effected the separation of body and spirit and committed the latter to the Father. He dismissed his spirit and laid down his life. The word “passive,” then, should not be interpreted to mean pure passivity in anything that came within the scope of his obedience. The sufferings he endured, sufferings which reached their climax in his death upon the accursed tree, were an integral part of his obedience and were endured in pursuance of the task given him to accomplish.

Murray, John. Redemption: Accomplished and Applied. Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1955.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

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