Book Review: The Imputation of the Active Obedience of Christ by John Reisinger

The Active Obedience of Christ, by John Reisinger, an article from the magazine Sound of Grace, published by the Sound of Grace ministry, Issue 17, May 2011. You can view this article on the Sound of Grace website (


This is a difficult review to write since I owe so much to John Reisinger. It is his teaching ministry that has helped me immensely in understanding New Covenant Theology. He has been a faithful teacher of God’s word for many years. So, it is with this in mind that I enter into a critique of his article on The Active Obedience of Christ. This article appeared in the May 2011 issue of the Sound of Grace, the monthly publication of the Sound of Grace ministry. In so many ways I wholeheartedly recommend this ministry, but friends must be jealous for each other, and I am jealous that John remain true to God’s word in all matters.


We are discussing the issue of the imputation of the active obedience of Jesus Christ. There is already an extensive article on the In-Depth Studies website ( regarding this issue. The view of John Reisinger says that the imputation of the active obedience refers to the perfect obedience of Jesus to the Mosaic Law. When someone trusts in Jesus alone to save him he needs something more than his sins forgiven. The perfect law keeping of Jesus earns eternal life (imputation of the active obedience of Jesus) for all those who have their sins forgiven by the cross of Christ. I do not hold to this view. I would say that the cross of Jesus does everything that is needed to purchase our salvation. The cross pays for our sins and purchases a changed life (Hebrews 10:14-18, Romans 8:3-4). The perfect law keeping of Jesus was absolutely necessary for our salvation since it qualified Jesus to be our substitute on the cross. He had to be a lamb without blemish in order to be our redeemer (1 Peter 1:18-19).


John begins his article by describing 3 views of imputed righteousness, Covenant Theology, Plymouth Brethren and a New Covenant Theology. John’s view is described as A New Covenant Theology and it is quite similar to the view of Covenant Theology except that he does not base his understanding of the requirement of the imputation of the law keeping of Jesus in the supposed Covenant of Works in the garden of Eden but rather in the Old Covenant made with Israel on Mt. Sinai. John’s understanding of the Old Covenant is that Jesus purchased eternal life by his perfect law keeping of the Mosaic Law.


The law under which Jesus was born was the Mosaic law—the covenant God made with Israel at Mount Sinai. This law covenant promised life and righteousness upon the grounds of perfect obedience. Jesus lived a sinless life according to that covenant’s definition of sin. He thus earned the life and righteousness it promised. He then died under that covenant’s curse. The righteousness imputed to sinners who believe the gospel is the righteousness promised in the Mosaic Covenant.


John’s understanding of what Jesus secured from the Old Covenant is an interesting theory but I believe it has no biblical support. Galatians 3:13 states that Jesus redeemed us from the curse of the law. Jesus was born under the Mosaic law and he kept it perfectly (Hebrews 4:15). We are born under the law of Christ (1 Corinthians 9:21).  When we do not keep the law of Christ perfectly we come under the sentence of spiritual death (Romans 6:23). But there is no Scripture that speaks of Jesus earning eternal life by his perfect law keeping of the Mosaic law under the Old Covenant. What Scripture does say is that the work of Jesus on the cross paid for our sins and as a result of that gave us a standing with God as though we had obeyed perfectly (Romans 8:3-4, Hebrews 10:14). If you get your sins forgiven you get a clean record. If you have a clean record you are righteous. If you are righteous then the Father accepts you. This is the truth of justification.


It is also brought up in the article that as a result of Jesus keeping the demands of the Old Covenant all the blessings of that covenant come to believers. Again, I do not believe that this is so. Under the Old Covenant it is security in the land of Palestine, the promise land, that is promised to those who perfectly obey the Mosaic law. Under the New Covenant we get a land that does not end, which is heaven and then the new heavens and new earth (Hebrews 4:1-11). The Old Covenant served only as a picture of what the work of Jesus was going to accomplish by his death on the cross which is the New Covenant.


I am disappointed in the lack of biblical argumentation in John’s article. John is presenting a theory that is never grounded in clear Scripture in context. He never addresses the major texts of Scripture that are used to defend the imputation of the law keeping of Jesus. I might expect this from an article defending the theory of Covenant Theology, for John has always faithfully reminded us that theological truths must be established by clear Scripture in context and not theological inference.


The view of the Plymouth Brethren is basically my view. John does say that we all agree that Scripture does not distinguish Christ’s law-keeping life, his death on the cross, and his resurrection from the dead as three essential self-contained entities that meet three separate requirements for the full redemption of sinners.


I would say that Scripture is quite clear in stating that it is the work of Jesus on the cross alone that accomplished everything for our salvation. Nothing more needed to be done. I would encourage all to read Hebrews 7-10 where the work of the cross in purchasing our salvation is described in great detail and there is no mention of the law keeping of Jesus. One should also examine Romans 5:18-19. In this section of Scripture the apostle Paul is describing to us the method that God used to justify. His method is representation. Adam represented all mankind and when he ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil the guilt of this one sin is given to all of us. Jesus represented all those for whom he died. By his “one act of righteousness” he saved a people for himself. It is an argument from symmetry. The one sin of Adam and the one act, the cross, of Jesus. Through representation both Adam and Jesus by one act condemned and saved a people.


John brings up the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16) and the two goats in order to make a point regarding the reasonableness of needing two things imputed or placed into the account of the believer in order for him to be accepted or justified. His point is that just as it took two goats to describe what was accomplished by the Day of Atonement for the nation of Israel, so it should not surprise us that two different works of Jesus are needed for our justification. The problem with this reasoning is that the two goats were used to describe what happened when Jesus died on the cross. First, Jesus died in order to satisfy the wrath of the Father. Second, as a result of his death the sins of all those who believe in Jesus are paid for and they never will come back to haunt the believer (Romans 8:34). The Day of Atonement describes what was accomplished on the cross.


My last point of critique addresses the statement that every part of the life of Jesus was imputed to the account of the believer.


Our Lord did not become our substitute and surety when he went to the cross. He was our

Substitute the moment that he stepped out of heaven. He was born for me, he lived for me, he was buried , and he was raised from the dead for me. He lives for me at the Father’s right hand. He was as much my substitute in the womb of the virgin as he was on the cross.



Once again, I do not agree with this. It is the death of Christ on the cross and that alone that secures our acceptance by the Father (Romans 4). The bible is quite specific regarding what we get from Jesus Christ and it only mentions salvation from the cross work of Jesus and nothing else (Romans 5:18-19).


As I conclude this review it is hard for me to believe that I have had to disagree so completely with the thought of John Reisinger on such a basic biblical issue. But as always, let us put this disagreement into perspective. We both believe that Jesus did everything necessary for our salvation. We are both trusting in Christ alone for our salvation. It is a disagreement among brothers who shall have fellowship together for all eternity.

9 thoughts on “Book Review: The Imputation of the Active Obedience of Christ by John Reisinger

  1. Amen Geoff. I too am surprised John believes IAO since he has championed the hermeneutic of basing our doctrine on explicit verses instead of alleged logic.

    IAO was not even defined explicitly until the 16th century. How can denying any new, 16th century doctrine “undermine the gospel” which was defined in the 1st century?…

    ““Advocates of IAO often insist that it is integral to evangelical orthodoxy. The implication being, to reject it is to forfeit the right to the label evangelical, or at least, orthodox evangelical. Of course the burden of proof lies with those who so claim to prove their case and it appears an exceptionally hard case to prove. Indeed, from what I have read to date, it seems an impossible task…To be fair, those who argue for IAO normally date and define ‘evangelical orthodoxy’ from the Reformation…The evidence from the Magisterial Reformers (early reformers supported by the ruling authorities) is mixed…In summary, Luther taught imputed righteousness but cannot really be clearly aligned with current IAO orthodoxy. Calvin is much more closely aligned but IAO does not have in him the emphasis it has in later formulations and present orthodoxy. He often identifies forgiveness of sins through Christ’s righteous death as the sum of justification in a way that few IAO advocates would today. Zwingli tended to moralism in justification…The case for IAO as orthodoxy in the first fifteen centuries is virtually non-existent. The case for a hard and fast IAO as a uniform part of orthodoxy among the initial reformers it would appear is far from compelling…Though it is entirely absent from the previous LBC of 1644…The truth seems to be that while many Reformed folks in the C16/17 (to say nothing of Evangelicals outside the confessionally Reformed side of Protestantism) affirmed IAO, a significant number did not and the early divines were not inclined to make the differences of the substance of the faith IAO was not considered a matter of orthodoxy thus confessions allowed for differing views on the subject…Again the case for insisting on IAO as a matter of historical evangelical orthodoxy is seen to be weak, indeed found to be wanting.”

    Christ’s death is SUFFICIENT for righteousness. God imputes Christ’s righteousness to us by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, based on His substitutionary death alone.

  2. I would agree that the teaching passages in the NT do not mention anything concerning the necessity of Christ’s “active obedience.” What I am a little confused about is whether or not you mean that the resurrection of Christ would not be a necessity for our justification? I think that we would all agree that is assumed that Christ is raised from the dead in the Hebrews passages above but is it not also clear that there is a need for Christ’s resurrection in cooperation with his work on the cross to bring about our justification (forgiveness of sins and eternal life) in Romans 4:25 (part of the context for Romans 5) and 1 Cor 15 (particularly vv14-17)? I realize this specific question that is raised here needs a sufficient reponse to magnify Christ’s work on the cross (in comparison to is there a need for his active obedience to fulfill a covenant of works with Adam or the Old Covenant?). Yet, (historical arguments not withstanding) I do not think the argument is weakened by including the resurrection of Christ, but would be well served and moved forward by including the resurrection of Christ as necessary for our justification as well (which is also an eschatological fulfillment of the OT; Acts 2:25-36; 13:28-39). If the resurrection of Christ is not necessary for our justification then how are we to interpret these passages (Rom 4:25; 1 Cor 15:14-17)? Thanks so much for your labors and help with my (many) questions. 😉

  3. Joe, your point is well taken. The resurrection is crucial to our justification, but it is not what secured our acceptance by the Father. The resurrection revealed that Jesus was who he claimed to be and that what he did on the cross accomplished something for all eternity. Thanks for taking the time to write.

  4. Geoff, I was anxious to ask you about John Reisinger’s article. I humbly dare to add some of my thoughts about it (in my poor English).
    It is surprisingly and sad that a NCT proponent doesn’t see all the implications of IAO?! We go back to the old debate between the Magisterial Reformers and Anabaptists about the purpose of the Law.
    First, where it is mention in the Bible that the purpose of the Law was to give directly (or indirectly by a substitute) life to someone? As long as all the persons (except Christ), because of Adam’s sin, were already dead and condemned before God it was impossible for ANY law to do this. Actually the whole argument from Gal. 3:10-14, where Paul is contrasting the righteousness that comes from the Law with the righteousness that comes by faith, is that no one is justified before God by the law. In Scriptures we find that the purpose of the Law was to revealed sin, condemn and kill the sinner. I’m not aware of any clear Scripture passage that says that the Law was designed in God’s plan to offer life through Christ’s obedience to it.
    Second, why the specific Scriptures that explain God’s method to justify the ungodly are saying that ” … the righteousness of God has been manifested APART of the law …” and “… the one is justified by faith APART from the works of the law” (Rom. 3:21,28; see also 4:9,10)? Why apostle Paul is not simply saying that Christ’s perfect obedience to the law in the place of the lawbreaker make him righteous? This way he could stop at least a part of the debates around the functionality of the Law. Contrary, he says that Christ death for the sins of the believer make him righteous.
    The reason why Christ was born under the Law was not to provide a ‘positive’ righteousness for His own by His perfect obedience to it. The main reason why He was born under it was to die under its curse as the perfect substitute. The ‘sin is not counted where there is no law’ (Rom. 5:13), so Jesus had to be born under a judicial official system where sin was accounted and condemned publicly.
    As a High priest He was appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins … and being made perfect (by his obedience in sufferings!) he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him (Heb. 5:1-10).
    So, I ‘decided to know nothing … except Jesus Christ and him crucified’ (1 Cor. 2:2)

  5. Greetings, I am not a theologian just a “commoner” with a few thoughts. Jesus “fulfilled” the law. I take that to mean that He walked in love therefore fulfilling the law(Romans 13:8,9). I believe that Jesus did not keep the law as a code of ethics but that He “walked in love” therefore fulfilling the law. Jesus would have lived the way He did even if there was no law!! He IS our righteousness. If this is true and I believe it is, then Jesus did not keep the law for us, but lived righteously by LOVE! NOT Law. AND because of WHO He is, he is our righteousness by baptism into Him(Union) by faith..
    P.S. Love is NOT something we do, but love IS. Love in itself fulfills what the law commands, but Love would look the same even if there was no law!! Righteousness does not come by the law, even for Christ. Righteousness is present “in walking in love”, always.

    Just a thought to chew on. We must not look at “fulfillment” as “keeping” the law, but walking in love(by His Spirit). This is real freedom and liberty.
    In Love,

  6. Richard,
    Much thanks for your comments. I do not share your point of view. The book of 1 John would seem to make a very strong case for obedience to God’s law as the evidence of ones love for God.

    “The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” 1 John 2:4

  7. Richard,
    Much thanks for your comments. I do not share your point of view. The book of 1 John would seem to make a very strong case for obedience to God’s law as the evidence of ones love for God.

    “The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” 1 John 2:4
    Yes, that is what love will ALWAYS do.
    Romans 13:10 Love does no wrong to his neighbor……
    1Cor 13 states that I can sell all my goods and give to the poor or even give my body to be burned and have not love etc…… The ONLY way to fulfill the law is to walk in love(abiding)(Romans 13:8-10) as Christ did, otherwise we are only Pharisees at the best.

    Just a few thoughts!
    No reply required!!


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