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Evangelicals believe their Faith-Alone Gospel (FAG) to be ironclad. However, like the Death Star, this formidable foe hides several fatal flaws. Those possessing the plans to the Death Star are able to expose such flaws and not only destroy it, but the evil Evangelical empire that has used the FAG to destroy countless lives.

The plans to the Death Star = The FAG message:

Salvation is earned through perfect obedience to God’s Law. Since however this is humanly impossible, salvation requires that we put faith (alone) in the God-man Jesus Christ, who not only died to pay for our sins, but lived to fulfill our obligation of obedience. God therefore imputes to those who put faith in Christ, both His propitiatory death, and the merit of His perfect life. As a result, the Christian is afforded a justification that requires no duty to the Law. Christians obey only as a consequence of their regeneration and the indwelling Spirit.

The 3 fatal flaws revealed in the Death Star’s plans (i.e., FAG):

1. The Merit of Perfection

“Salvation is earned through perfect obedience to God’s Law. Since however this is humanly impossible, salvation requires that we put faith (alone) in the God-man Jesus Christ Who not only died to pay for our sins but lived to fulfill our obligation of obedience. God therefore imputes to those who put faith in Christ, both His propitiatory death, and the merit of His perfect life.”

“Man’s relationship to God in creation was based on works. What Adam failed to achieve, Christ, the second Adam, succeeded in achieving. Ultimately the only way one can be justified is by works.” – R.C. Sproul (Getting the Gospel Right, p.160)

Fatal Flaw: The merit of perfection (or the Covenant of Works) is taught nowhere in the Scriptures.

2. The Imputation of the Active Obedience of Christ

“…the God-man Jesus Christ…not only died to pay for our sins, but lived to fulfill our obligation of obedience. God therefore imputes to those who put faith in Christ, both His propitiatory death, and the merit of His perfect life.”

2.1. The second fatal flaw of the FAG is the assumption that the imputation of Christ’s death for our sins (His “passive obedience”) was not enough to get us to heaven. We also need the imputation of His perfect obedience – or perfect law-keeping which He accomplished during His earthly life. In theological circles this is referred to as the imputation of the active obedience of Christ.

2.2 Though communicated among Evangelicals as if this assumption originates in Scripture, in reality it is the product of its predecessor (the merit of perfection). The impossibility of perfection makes necessary the possibility of Christ’s obedience for us.

2.3. Given this essential connection, it is no surprise then that like the merit of perfection (most specifically, the Protestant Reformer’s doctrine of the Covenant of Works), there is no mention of the active obedience doctrine before the 16th century. French theologians John Calvin and Theodore Beza seem to be the first to write explicitly to the subject: 1) Calvin (1554), “Because we cannot attain to righteousness, but by fulfilling the law in all points, and by being discharged before God: it behooved our Lord Jesus Christ to be subject to the law, to the intent that his obedience might now be imputed unto us, and God accept thereof as though we brought the like obedience of our own.”. 2) Beza (1570), “We are justified before God, that is, held to be and declared righteous, because the obedience of Christ is imputed to us, which consists of two distinct parts, the satisfaction for our sins, and the full observance of all legal righteousness.” 1

2.4. Lack of historical evidence prior to the Reformation, has caused some Evangelical scholars to go on the defensive when discussing its validity to the doctrine of justification (i.e., salvation): “Informed Protestants would not want to say that the Reformation invented their understanding of justification.” – D.A. Carson (“The Vindication of Imputation in Justification: On Fields of Discourse and Semantic Fields,” in Justification: What’s at Stake in Current Debates)

2.5. To be fair, not all the Reformers embraced the Active Obedience doctrine (e.g., Kargius, Piscator, Gataker, Twisse, and Vines). The same is true today. There are those within Evangelicalism who reject the imputation of the active obedience of Christ as necessary to justification or salvation (e.g., Evangelicals holding to New Covenant Theology, Evangelicals holding to Federal Vision). In large part however, this was the doctrine held by the Protestant Reformers and remains the popular position within Evangelicalism today. Like the Covenant of Works, examples of this teaching abound in Evangelical confessionals, books, articles, correspondence and social media:

2.5.1. Heidelberg Catechism (16th century Protestant Confessional), Question and Answer, #60:

“Question: How are thou righteous before God?

Answer: Only by a true faith in Jesus Christ; so that though my conscience accuse me, that I have grossly transgressed all the commandments of God, and kept none of them, and am still inclined to all evil; notwithstanding, God, without any merit of mine, but only of mere grace, grants and imputes to me, the perfect satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ; even so, as if I never had had, nor committed any sin: yea, as if I had fully accomplished all that obedience which Christ has accomplished for me…”

2.5.2. Patrick Gillespie (late pastor of the High Church of Glasgow, principal of the University of Glasgow), The Ark of the Covenant:

“Christ is a doer and fulfiller of the covenant of works most exactly in all points, both the command, and the curse and penalty of the Covenant, is satisfied by him; this is works, and this was the condition required upon his part…”

2.5.3. William Cunningham (late Anglican priest and church historian), Historical Theology:

“And as there is no perfect righteousness in men themselves to be the ground or basis of their being accepted or admitted to favor and happiness—as they can no more render perfect obedience than they can satisfy for their sins—Christ’s perfect obedience must become theirs, and be made available for their benefit, as well as His suffering,—His merit as well as His satisfaction.”

2.5.4. Louis Berkhof (late Reformed theologian, Systematics professor and president of Calvin Seminary), Systematic Theology:

“If He (Christ)had merely paid the penalty (for the believer) without meeting the original demands of the law (for the believer), He would have left man in the position of Adam before the fall, still confronted with that task of obtaining eternal life in the [impossible] way of obedience [the merit of perfection]. By His active obedience, however. He carried His people beyond that point and gave them a claim to everlasting life.”

2.5.5. J. Gresham Machen (late Reformed theologian and scholar, founder of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church), “The Active Obedience of Christ”: “If Christ had merely paid the penalty of sin for us and done nothing more we should be at best back in the situation in which Adam found himself when God placed him under the covenant of works… [As a result our] attainment of eternal life would have been dependent upon our perfect obedience to the law of God [and we would be certain to fall]. [Christ was therefore] our representative both in penalty paying and in probation keeping. [And that for those who have been saved by him, the probation is over since] Christ has merited for them the reward by his perfect obedience to God’s law.”

“SO THANKFUL FOR THE ACTIVE OBEDIENCE OF CHRIST. NO HOPE WITHOUT IT.” (Dying words to John Murray via telegram)

1 Calvin: Sermons On Deuteronomy; Beza: Quaestionum et responsionum Christianarum libellus; For further study see Bill Berend’s essay, “Christ’s Active Obedience in Federal Theology”

2.5.6. Wayne Grudem (Evangelical theologian), Systematic Theology: “If Christ had only earned forgiveness of sins for us, then we would not merit heaven. Our guilt would have been removed, but we would simply be in the position of neutrality. For this reason, Christ had to live a life of perfect obedience to God in order to earn righteousness for us. He had to obey the law for his whole life on our behalf so that the positive merits of his perfect obedience would be counted for us. Sometimes this is called Christ’s ‘active obedience’ while his suffering and dying for our sins is called his ‘passive obedience.’” (“The Active Obedience of Christ”; Systematic Theology)

2.5.7. Kim Riddlebarger (Reformed theologian and author), “Telling People the Truth in Love: A Reformed Approach to Evangelism”:

“The only ground of salvation is the finished work of Jesus Christ–both in his active and passive obedience. In Christ, God satisfies the demands of the law. And in Christ’s sacrificial death, God removes the guilt of our sin.” 2.5.8. Tullian Tchividjian (pastor of Sanctuary Church, FL, and Evangelical author), Jesus + Nothing = Everything:

“God imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ, as if I had never committed any sin, and myself had accomplished all the obedience which Christ has rendered for me.”

2.5.9. Pat Abendroth (pastor of Omaha Bible Church, NE), “COVENANT THEOLOGY FOR THE UNINFORMED, UNSYMPATHETIC, AND MISINFORMED”:

“For justification (the declaration that sinners are righteous) requires more than the removal of guilt by atonement as essential as atonement is. A positive upholding of the law is the required standard of righteousness. The work of Jesus provides both the payment of the law’s required penalty as well as fulfillment of the positive demands.”

(Tweets) 2.6.0. Scotty Ward Smith (pastor emeritus of Christ Community Church, TN) “I’m such a mess it took Jesus’ life of perfect obedience & his substitutionary death on the cross to redeem me.” 2.6.1. Tullian Tchividjian “The good news of the gospel is that my standing with God is not dependent on my obedience but Christ’s obedience for me.” 2.6.2. Paul Tripp (Evangelical counselor and author)

“You’ve been called to submit, but rest is never found in your submission, but Christ’s willing submission to the Father on your behalf.” 2.6.3. Elyse Fitzpatrick (Evangelical writer) “For every time I’ve stamped my foot and say, ‘This isn’t what I want!’ the Father hears the Son’s, ‘Not my will but Thine’ instead.’” 2.6.4. Steve Lawson (president of OnePassion Ministries and professor of preaching at The Master’s Seminary) “Not only did Christ die in our place, He also lived in our place.

2.7. Verses massacred by Evangelicals in their attempt to support this doctrine include:

2.7.1. (Mat 5:17) “fulfill” = Jesus came to see that the prophecies concerning the Davidic King and God’s law were fulfilled (Eze 37:24 w/Isa 2:1-3)

2.7.2. (Rom 5:10) “His life” = We are reconciled by His death and saved (get eternal resurrection) b/c of His resurrected “life” (1Pe 1:3; 1Co 15:19-22)

2.7.3. (Rom 5:18-19) “Therefore = Drawing a conclusion based on the previously established truth (v9); “one’s man’s disobedience” (literally one act of disobedience = Adam’s fall into sin) is compared to Christ’s one act of obedience (“one man’s obedience” – i.e., His obedience in death – Phi 2:8)

2.7.4. (Rom 8:3-4) “the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us” = According to prophecy (Eze 11:19-20, 36:25-27), Christ’s propitiation brings the regeneration and renewal (see ch 6), that now empowers us to faithfully obey God (“who walk not according to…”).

2.7.5. Righteousness passages (1Co 1:30; 2Co 5:21; Rom 10:3-5; Phi 3:9) “righteousness” [δικαιοσύνη] = Justification (e.g., Rom 1:17). The justification (righteousness) secured by Christ is exclusively tied to His death (and never His life) (e.g., Rom 3:21-26, 4:25, 5:9; Heb 10:14).

2.8. Implications: the implication of the active obedience doctrine may be worse than the Scriptures they massacre to support it.

2.8.1. it negates Christ’s cross-work.

If righteousness is gained through the obedience of Christ’s life, Christ died in vain. After living the perfect life, Jesus should have simply ascended back to heaven having completed what (according to Evan), can not only be imputed to our account, but serves as the only thing that truly makes righteous before God (i.e., what God requires is perfection not propitiation). 2

“If we are made just (righteous) through (Christ’s) life, there would be no compelling reason why he would die for us… If [however] we obtain perfect righteousness through the imputation of Christ’s passive obedience [His death], we certainly do not obtain it through the imputation of his active obedience, since you can add nothing to what is complete (Heb 10:14).” – Johannes Piscator (Epistle 68; Apologia)

2.8.2. it makes God unjust.

Evangelicals also believe Christ’s death to be penal (i.e., God punishing Christ for our sins). Assuming both this and the doctrine of active of obedience are true, places God in the position of being unjust since punishment is no longer required for those who are (now) perfectly righteous.

“Indeed, the justice of God does not allow that the righteous be punished… If Christ by the obedience of his life had satisfied God [by making us righteous]… it would follow that God is unjust, who -in addition, required to be satisfied through the obedience of [His] death…” – ibid (Epistle 68)

2.8.3. it removes the believer’s obligation to obedience.

The imputation of Christ’s active obedience renders our obligation to obedience null and void.

“If Christ satisfied for our sins by obedience performed to the law, so that such obedience is imputed to us by God as if we had performed it, it follows that we have been freed from obedience to the law, since Christ hypothetically performed it for us or in our place; just as we correctly say with the Apostle “we are freed from the curse of the law because Christ was made a curse for us” [Gal. 3: 13]. However, we are not freed from obedience to the law, but we have to perform it to God for ever. Therefore, Christ did not satisfy for our sins by the obedience performed to the law.” (Epistle 68)3

2.8.4. it violates God’s prohibition against vicarious imputation

God’s law makes it clear that the good or bad of another human being cannot be transferred to the account (moral standing) of another (Eze 18:1-32).

2.8.5. it reestablishes the Catholic doctrine of neutrality with respect to the creation of man.

One of the few highpoints of the Protestant Reformation was its rejection of Catholic anthropology (Adam and Eve were created morally neutral) in favor of the biblical view: God created our first parents as morally righteous (Gen 1:31) (a position they therefore needed only to maintain – not merit). Through the introduction of the active obedience doctrine, this position was reversed (Grudem, “we would simply be in the position of neutrality”).

2.9. The Skywalker shot: the verse that destroys both assumptions: the merit of perfection and the imputation of the active obedience of Christ (Gal 2:21).

2 Though John Owen attempted to refute this argument by saying that chronological order need not be followed by God in the process of imputation (The Doctrine Of Justification By Faith), it fails on two fronts: 1) it violates one of God’s most important principles for determining truth (i.e., the chronological order of events – e.g., Gen 1; Evan’s argument re: the place of works w/respect to justification). Which begs the question, even if God could violate it, why would He – especially given the importance of the active obedience doctrine if it were true? 2) it entirely misses the ontological truth established by the argument. If Christ’s obedience can be imputed – and we the recipients afforded the merits of perfect righteousness through it, then the sin previously committed hypothetically no longer exists (removing the need for atonement).

3 In his book Blown by the Spirit, David Como makes the connection between the active obedience of Christ doctrine and the emergence of an antinomian underground in 17th century England, “Those who earn the epitaph ‘antinomian’ all saw demands for godly living as a new form of works righteousness and outward, literal, and legalistic religiosity that nurtured a slavish devotion to the law. Hence, godly preachers were routinely likened to Jews, Rabbis or Papists, while antinomian preachers often claimed to be the ones promoting the true Christian message of free grace and justification by faith apart from works, any works, legal or otherwise. Outward godliness and the demand for moral reformation were seen by them as Pharisaical error. The antinomians stressed the passivity of the believer in relation to moral obligations. Their freedom from the law was the result of the fact that they believed the law had been fulfilled…already by the believer’s identify with Christ. By virtue of this, believers were free from any obedience to the law. Believers were not inherently pure but rather rendered imputatively perfect via the holy life [obedience] of Christ.”