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The Obedience of Christ (1)

J H Brown, Peterhead


The perfect obedience of our Lord Jesus Christ is a delightful facet of His moral glory, and its loveliness is the more appreciated against the sombre background of disobedience which had become the hallmark of mankind. Obedience is such an attractive character trait, especially when rendered, for example, by a child to parents who have made their child the object of their love and care. The glad unforced obedience of the child will naturally be deeply satisfying to the parents. We may be sure that the obedience of Christ in manhood, unbroken and complete, brought infinite delight and satisfaction to the heart of God.

Disobedience in others

Such obedience was unprecedented in the long history of mankind. In fact the dawn of human history was marred by disobedience with tragic consequences. Adam, unlike Eve, was not deceived, but he was disobedient, and we can only conjecture what sorrow and pain must have filled his heart as he lived to see the awful outworking of that disobedience. "By the offence of the one death reigned by the one" (Rom 5.17, JND). Much later in Bible history, Saul, the first king of Israel, was another who learned by bitter experience the heavy price to be paid for disobedience. Reflecting upon his career one would need to have a stony heart not to have deep feelings of pity and regret for Saul, and certainly Samuel did. Saul had started off so well, with such bright promise, yet his reign was soon marred. 1 Samuel 13 tells the story of how impatience led to foolishness, ch.14 speaks of hasty and ill-conceived judgment, and finally ch.15 records rank disobedience to the command of the Lord through Samuel whose heart must have been heavy as he asked Saul, "Wherefore then didst thou not obey the voice of the Lord?" (1 Sam 15.19). And what must have been the feelings of Saul when he heard further, "Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry" (1 Sam 15.22,23).

The contrast in the life of the Lord

The character of our Lord Jesus stands in striking contrast to that of Saul, particularly in regard to the latter’s rebellion and stubbornness. We read of the Lord Jesus: "The Lord God hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back" (Is 50.5). His spirit was ever submissive, steadfastly moving forward to do His Father’s will. He never had a rebel spirit, turning backward. These statements concerning the Perfect Servant are exactly opposite to those envisaged in Deuteronomy 21.18 concerning a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother. The phrase is sometimes used, "stubborn as a mule", but never so with our blessed Saviour. Isaiah 53 tells us that "he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter" (v.7). He is quietly "brought" in meek submissiveness, never forced against His will.

His obedience in Romans 5

Scripture has much to teach us concerning the obedience of Christ. We learn of the obedience of the Saviour, of the Servant, and of the Son. On thinking of the obedience of the Saviour our minds turn to Romans 5.12-21. In this passage Paul is writing of two men, both of whom are in headship, i.e. they exercise dominion, and their actions have consequences for all within their dominion. Within the parenthesis (vv.13-17) an important point of the teaching is that what is done by the one has vital consequences for the many. For example, in v.15, by the offence [trespass] of one, many died, whereas in contrast, and in greater degree "has the grace of God, and the free gift in grace, which is by the one man Jesus Christ, abounded unto the many" (JND).

Beyond the parenthesis, in v.18, Paul makes a very important statement, which of course follows on directly from the truth of v.12. "Therefore", at the beginning of v.18 creates this direct link. In v.12 we find that "death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned". The further explanation of v.18 allows us to see that when Paul states that all have sinned he means that all sinned in Adam. Whilst it is obviously the case that all have sinned personally, that is not the point of v.12. No, the point at issue is that when Adam sinned every member of his race sinned in him, for as head, Adam is a representative man. The AV rendering of v.18, "as by the offence of one", and, "by the righteousness of one", makes the word "one" refer to Adam and to Jesus Christ respectively. Perhaps the rendering of JND better fits the context, and more accurately presents the thrust of Paul’s argument. "So then [or, therefore] it was by one offence towards all men to condemnation, so by one righteousness towards all men for justification of life". The word "one" is now seen to refer to the offence and the righteousness, focussing our minds upon the one offence and the one righteousness, and their respective results - condemnation and justification of life. Because of one offence the sentence of death, both physical and spiritual, has been passed upon the entire human race. What a tragedy it was! But God has provided a glorious means by which the tragedy is overcome in triumph. The triumph is secured by the "one righteousness" of our verse, and we know that that this one righteousness is that of our Lord Jesus Christ. Furthermore it is clear that the one offence was an act, the act of disobedience on the part of Adam when "he did eat" (Gen 3.6). Similarly, the one righteousness was an act on the part of our Lord Jesus Christ, namely His death upon the cross, and it is important to understand this.

Many Scriptures affirm His righteous character. Isaiah wrote of "my righteous servant" (53.11), Luke recorded that the centurion present at the Lord’s crucifixion said, "Certainly this was a righteous man" (23.47), the Psalmist, quoted by the writer to the Hebrews, wrote, "Thou lovest righteousness" (Ps 45.7; Heb 1.9), and both Old and New Testaments tell us that He will judge righteously. In Romans 5 however the emphasis is not upon character but upon an act, and whilst it is true that every act of His is absolutely righteous, Paul in v.18 concentrates upon one single momentous act, and upon its consequences - justification and life. The statements of the verse are objective, i.e. the offence has an actual result towards all men, and the act of righteousness has a potential result towards all men. The teaching is developed in v.19 but now rather subjectively. Observe that while in v.18 we read "all", in v.19 we read "many". Furthermore the "one accomplished righteousness" (Newberry margin) in v.18 is stated in v.19 to have been an act of obedience, by means of which the many, i.e. all who believe on Him, will be made, or constituted righteous.

Thus ultimately there is set in stark contrast two actions, the first an offence, an act of disobedience, the second an act of righteousness and obedience. Let us deeply appreciate that the death upon the cross of Jesus Christ our Lord was an act of supreme obedience by the second Man by means of which the great purpose of God for the salvation of sinners has been accomplished. Apart from His obedience all would have been lost, but, praise God, because of it all who believe are brought into that realm where grace reigns through righteousness unto eternal life. Such truth is an integral part of Paul’s unfolding of the gospel of God concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, of which he states, "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth" (Rom 1.16).

Salvation demands obedience

Believing the gospel is itself an act of obedience. It is fitting that in ch.6 of Romans Paul wrote that "ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you" (v.17). Later in the epistle it is written of Israel that "they have not all obeyed the gospel" (10.16), while Peter takes up the theme in his rhetorical question, "What shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?" (1 Pet 4.17), all of which makes it clear that eternal destinies of bliss and woe are determined by obedience or disobedience.

Being justified by faith we have peace with God. We rejoice in a right standing before Him, everything resting entirely upon that perfect righteousness accomplished upon the cross. God is satisfied! He hath raised from among the dead Jesus our Lord. Well may we rejoice in the obedience of our Saviour apart from which we would have remained "sunk in ruin, sin, and misery".

To be continued.


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