In discussions concerning how Christ forgives our sins and renders us acceptable unto God the Father, the focus is often (and rightly so) upon the atoning death of Christ.
Unquestionably, the Cross of Christ was central in all the Apostles preaching and teaching concerning the forgiveness of sins (e.g., Matt. 20:28; Jn. 1:29; Rom. 3:24-25; 4:25; 1 Cor. 1:18; 2:2; 15:1-4; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 1:4; 3:13; 1 Pet. 2:24a).
Unless the Cross of Christ is kept central, there is no Gospel, no forgiveness of sins and no means of justifying sinners (cf., Rom. 3:25-26; Heb. 9:22).
But, often overlooked in the discussion is another important aspect of Christ’s work, namely His obedience.
To be sure, as Calvin notes, the Scriptures more certainly define the mode of salvation and ascribe it peculiarly and specially to the death of Christ (Institutes, 2:16.5).
“…we must hold fast to this: that no proper sacrifice to God could have been offered unless Christ, disregarding his own feelings, subjected and yielded himself wholly to his Father’s will.”
Yet, without Christ’s willing, obedient submission to His Father’s will, His death would have been in vain and justification would be impossible. His willing, voluntary obedience was necessary so that He could offer Himself as a proper sacrifice to God.
Consider the following selections from John Calvin:
“When it is asked then how Christ, by abolishing sin, removed the enmity between God and us, and purchased a righteousness which made him favorable and kind to us, it may be answered generally, that he accomplished this by the whole course of his obedience. This is proved by the testimony of Paul, “As by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous,” (Romans 5:19.) And indeed he elsewhere extends the ground of pardon which exempts from the curse of the law to the whole life of Christ, “When the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law,” (Galatians 4:4, 5.) Thus even at his baptism he declared that a part of righteousness was fulfilled by his yielding obedience to the command of the Father. In short, from the moment when he assumed the form of a servant, he began, in order to redeem us, to pay the price of deliverance,” (Institutes, 2.16.5).
“For this reason the so-called “Apostles Creed” passes at once in the best order from the birth of Christ to his death and resurrection, wherein the whole of perfect salvation consists. Yet the remainder of the obedience that he manifested in his life is not excluded. Paul embraces it all from beginning to end: “He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant,…and was obedient to the Father unto death, even death on a cross.” [Phil. 2:7-8]. And truly, even in death itself his willing obedience is the important thing because a sacrifice not offered voluntarily would not have furthered righteousness,” (Institutes, 2.16.5).
“My righteous servant. He shews that Christ justifies us, not only as he is God, but also as he is man; for in our flesh he procured righteousness for us. He does not say, “The Son,” but “My Servant, that we may not only view him as God, but may contemplate his human nature, in which he performed that obedience by which we are acquitted before God. The foundation of our salvation is this, that he offered himself as a sacrifice; and, in like manner, he himself declares, “For their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also may be holy.” (John xvii. 19.) (“Commentary on Isaiah,” Chap. LIII. 12., p. 129 in Calvin’s Commentaries, vol. VIII).
In our zeal to uphold and contend for the death of Christ, let us also not forget the importance of the obedience of Christ. For, had Christ not lived a perfect, sinless life of obedience, He could not have rendered a perfect atonement for sin on the Cross.
It was in the Garden of Gethsemane that Christ’s obedience, through an unspeakable struggle (Lk. 22:44) was severely tested and proven righteous. Were it not then for the Garden, Calvary would have been in vain.
Thus, Calvin writes,
“…the Gospel history relates that he went forth and met the soldiers [John 18:4], and that before Pilate he did not defend himself, but stood to submit to judgment [Matt. 27:12, 14]. Not, indeed without a struggle; for he had taken upon himself our weaknesses, and in this way the obedience that he had shown to his Father had to be tested! And here was no common evidence of his incomparable love toward us: to wrestle with terrible fear, and amid those cruel torments to cast off all concern for himself that he might provide for us. And we must hold fast to this: that no proper sacrifice to God could have been offered unless Christ, disregarding his own feelings, subjected and yielded himself wholly to his Father’s will. On this point the apostle appropriately quotes this testimony from a Psalm: “It is written of me in the Book of the Law [Heb. 10:7]… ‘that I am to do thy will, O God [Heb. 10:9]. I will it, and thy law is in the midst of my heart’ [Ps. 39:9, Vg]. Then I said, ‘Lo, I come” [Heb. 10:7],” (Institutes, 2.16.5).