Lust and Christ’s Active Obedience

This spring, I’m taking St. Paul’s High School students through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  A couple weeks ago we came across this doozy:

Matthew 5:27-28  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Here Jesus up’s the ante and shows us the true intent of God’s law and it’s terrifying.  Purity rings, “TV Guardian,” and Ted Mosby’s “Sensory Deprivator 5000”  are of no help here because Jesus is dealing with our hearts.  As Martin Luther writes in his preface to Romans:

“God judges according to what is at the bottom of the heart, and for this reason, his law makes its demands on the inmost hearts and cannot be satisfied with works, but rather punishes works that are done otherwise than from  the bottom of the heart, as hypocrisy and lies.”

In other words, much of this portion of Scripture is Jesus showing us the true intent of God’s law and in doing so he dissects the true condition of our hearts which the Apostle Paul echoes when he writes:

Romans 3:10-12  “None is righteous, no, not one;  no one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”

Because of this, I view much of the Sermon of the Mount as Jesus’ merciful impasse (phrase from Paul Zahl) designed to show us the reality of our situation which then leads us to fall into the arms of the same Jesus who proclaims in Mark 2:17, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

So what’s this have to do with Jesus’ active obedience?  For those of you unfamiliar with the term, Jesus’ active obedience has to do with his entire life lived for God the Father on our behalf.  Defining both active and passive obedience, Justin Taylor writes:

“Christ’s “passive obedience” and his “active obedience” both refer to the whole of Christ’s work. The distinction highlights different aspects, not periods, of Christ’s work in paying the penalty for sin (“passive obedience”) and fulfilling the precepts of the law (“active obedience”).

Being a master of simplifying things Tullian Tchividjian sums it up best when he writes that Jesus, “lived the life we couldn’t live and died the death we should have died.”

Circling back around to around to lust here’s the good news of Jesus’ active obedience.  In the Sermon on the Mount we discover that when it comes to lust it’s already to late for you and me.  No amount of good advise or strategies (although these can be helpful…  but that’s for another time and post) will do us any good, but rather we need complete salvation.  In Christ’s active obedience we get exactly that.  The author of Hebrews writes:

Hebrews 2:17-18 “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.  For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

So, when the reality of your lust problem surfaces remember this, Jesus faced the exact same thing and overcame it on your behalf.  When you cling to him for salvation his obedience is yours.  He withstood the temptation to lust so that you wouldn’t die in your sin of lust.  This is important, not only is the price of your sin paid on the cross (passive obedience), but the law is also fulfilled in Jesus’ life (active obedience) and this obedience is given to you.  Celebrating this beautiful gospel reality Tchividjian writes:

Who you really are has nothing to do with you–how much you can accomplish, who you can become, your behavior…, your strengths, your weaknesses, your sordid past, your family background, your education, your looks, and so on.  You identity is firmly anchored in Christ’s accomplishment, not yours; his strength, not yours; his performance, not yours; his victory, not yours.  Your identity is steadfastly established in his substitution, not in your sin…

In other words, the determining factor in your relationship to God is not your past or present, but Christ’s past and his present.  Can anything be more liberating!  For anyone who struggles with lust, or any sin for that matter, there is no better news in the world!!!


For more on Christ’s active obedience:

John Calvin “Institutes of Christian Religion” I.XVI.V

Michael Horton “Lord and Servant” & “The Christian Faith

Justin Taylor “What is the Difference Between the Active and Passive Obedience of Christ (Blog)

Tullian Tchividjian “Jesus + Nothing = Everything


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