I am becoming more and more irritated by the double-standards of much of Calvinist theology. One of the more outrageous instances involves the Reformed view of Christ's work on the Cross. I've heard James White make the repeated accusation that Catholics "deny the sufficiency of the Cross," and yet as truth would have it, White and other Reformed have it exactly backwards! In this post I will quote an short article by Calvinist R.C. Sproul advocating for the doctrine of the Imputation of Christ's Active Obedience, which will also show that it is Calvinists who reject the sufficiency of the Cross. Sproul's comments represent the majority of Reformed theologians, so this isn't just his lone opinion.
On Sproul's blog he has an excerpt titled Jesus and His Active Obedience from a series he has done on Christ's life. Since the excerpt is only four brief paragraphs, I will quote it all and comment between each (with my emphasis in red). Sproul begins by saying:
I don’t think there’s any more important text in all the New Testament that defines the work of Jesus than this one. [Matthew 3:15] That Jesus was sent to fulfill all righteousness. And what that meant to the Jew was to obey every jot and tittle of the Law. Because now Jesus is not acting in His baptism for Himself, but for His people. And if His people are required to keep the Ten Commandments, He keeps the Ten Commandments. If His people are now required to submit to this baptismal ritual, He submits to it in their behalf. Because the redemption that is brought by Christ is not restricted to His death on the cross.
In this paragraph I note four serious theological/exegetical errors: (1) That the Jews interpreted "righteousness" or "fulfilling all righteousness" to mean "obey every jot and tittle of the Law". This is totally false and has no basis in the text, and I've made a brief post showing that the term "fulfill" does not mean "obey perfectly," but rather have something reach its full potential (e.g. a prophecy being fulfilled). (2) The idea that Jesus keeps the Ten Commandments (or any other Commandments) in place of believers is never taught in the Bible, and that's why Calvinists have historically appealed so heavily to Matthew 3:16, since it's the only thing that could even possibly be read that way. That's very telling in itself. (3) Sproul contradicts himself by showing (rightly) that baptism was not part of the Mosaic Law, but that it is "now required". Thus, Jesus equating "fulfilling all righteousness" with "getting baptized" at that moment, could not have meant to the Jewish audience 'obey the Mosaic Law perfectly'! (4) Last but not least, Sproul shows that redemption requires more work than just the Cross. In other words, Sproul is saying the Cross is insufficient!
We’ve seen that in the work of redemption God didn’t send Jesus to earth on Good Friday and say, “Die for the sins of your people and that will take care of it.” No. Jesus not only had to die for our sins, but He had to live for our righteousness. If all Jesus did was die for your sins, that would remove all of your guilt, and that would leave you sinless in the sight of God, but not righteous. You would be innocent, but not righteous because you haven’t done anything to obey the Law of God which is what righteousness requires.
This is the 'money quote' that totally exposes the double-standard of people like White in his rush to condemn Catholic soteriology. Sproul plainly says that Jesus' death would only remove guilt, it wouldn't actually save you! Sproul and other Calvinists have said that Jesus' death alone would merely put the believer back to the status of Adam before he sinned; the believer would be "innocent, but not righteous". Look how Sproul and the Reformed community have totally stripped away the saving power of the Cross! What's just as embarrassing is the idea that the believer with only sins forgiven is now (or could be) stuck in some weird legal state in which they cannot ever be condemned to hell (i.e. are not really like innocent Adam), and yet they lack what it takes to get to heaven. So what then? Christ keeping the Law in their place so they can be righteous turns into a way that God 'saves face' rather than some integral part of salvation. And I suppose this absurdity could be inverted: Sproul's logic also necessitates that a believer could have Christ keep the law in their place but not die for them, thus giving them the righteousness which qualifies for heaven but still have sin not atoned for.
So we have a doctrine in theology that refers to the active obedience of Jesus, as distinguished from the passive obedience of Jesus. And this doctrine is in great dispute right now particularly among dispensational thinkers, which I find extremely, extremely unsettling. The passive obedience of Christ refers to His willingness to submit to the pain that is inflicted upon Him by the Father on the cross in the atonement. He passively receives the curse of God there. The active obedience refers to His whole life of obeying the Law of God whereby He qualifies to be the Savior. He qualifies to be the Lamb without blemish. He qualifies for the song, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,” through His total righteousness. He fulfills the Law’s demands, and if you remember the covenant with Moses, everybody who fulfills the Law receives the blessing, those who disobey the Law receive the curse.
In this paragraph, Sproul gives the standard active/passive distinction which is common to all but a tiny minority of Reformed theologians. Aside from the fact Sproul falsely teaches that Jesus was under the Father's wrath on the Cross, Sproul plays fast and loose with his explanation of active obedience. To "qualify to be the Savior" is not the same as saying Jesus kept the Law in our place. This is important. Jesus did keep all commandments perfectly, and Jesus never did sin, but this was to qualify Himself to be a perfect sacrificial Lamb. Yet Sproul falsely conflates this with Jesus keeping the commandments in our place, which he also falsely equates with "fulfilling the Law" of Moses. The Mosaic Law never demanded perfect obedience; some sins excommunicated from the Mosaic Covenant while other sins had to be atoned for by Sacrifice. Never is 100% sinlessness taught nor demanded in the Mosaic Law. And, finally, the Mosaic Law never offered eternal life, so even if Jesus kept it perfectly (in our place), that would not entitle anyone to eternal life.
What does Jesus do? He obeys the Law perfectly, receives the blessing, and not the curse. But there’s a double imputation that we will look at later at the cross, where my sin is transferred to His account, my sin is carried over and laid upon Him in the cross. But in our redemption, His righteousness is imputed to us—which righteousness He wouldn’t have if He didn’t live this life of perfect obedience. So what I’m saying to you is that His life of perfect obedience is just as necessary for our salvation as His perfect atonement on the cross. Because there’s double imputation. My sin to Him, His righteousness to me. So that, that is what the scripture is getting at when it says Jesus is our righteousness.
Now Sproul touches upon the issue of Imputation. Note that never does the Bible teach imputation the way Sproul describes; never does Scripture mention Christ's Righteousess is imputed; and never does Scripture teach "double imputation". The closest verse Calvinists have ever come to finding the notion of our sin being "transferred" (imputed) to Christ is in 2 Corinthians 5:19, which says God does not impute our sins to us. The Calvinists argues that since sin isn't reckoned to us then it must be reckoned to someone else, namely Christ. But that's fallacious and bogus. For God to "not reckon sin" simply means to forgive sin (cf Romans 4:7-8). If only Sproul, White, and others had simply studied the Biblical word Logizomai, they probably wouldn't make such claims in the first place. And not to repeat myself, but Sproul says again that Christ's perfect obedience is "just as necessary for salvation" as the Cross, which amounts to saying the Cross alone is insufficient.
As the average reader can easily see, the teachings that Sproul is advocating (on behalf of all Calvinists) are neither logical nor biblical. These four paragraphs are a prime example of theological presuppositions dictating one's exegesis. What Catholics need to do is boldly challenge these presuppositions, because this is the key to getting Calvinists to see what they are doing is both unfair and wrong. And when one is rejecting the sufficiency of the Cross, then something is very wrong.