Christ’s Obedience

By the obedience of the life of Christ, I intend the universal conformity of the Lord Jesus Christ, as he was or is, in his being mediator, to the whole will of God; and his complete actual fulfilling of the whole of every law of God, or doing of all that God in them required.

John Owen, Of Communion with God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, Part 2, Chapter 61

John Owen distinguishes between the actual obedience of Christ, and the root of this obedience.

Habitual Righteousness of Christ

Owen calls the root the habitual righteousness of Christ. By this, he means “the absolute, complete, exact conformity of the soul of Christ to the will, mind, or law of God; or his perfect habitually inherent righteousness.”2 This righteousness describes who Jesus is, rather than what he does.

I wish I knew better firsthand what this is like! I have fleeting glimpses of this in my own life. However, I’m often halfhearted. I want to obey the Lord, but I also want other things. I sometimes begrudge the sovereign plan God has for me. I grumble and complain—inwardly, if not outwardly. Jesus, however, did none of these things. He wants exactly what his Father wants. He loves what God the Father loves. He hates what God hates. I’m so impressed by Jesus’s character.

Actual Obedience of Christ

From that perfect character flows the obedience Jesus actually rendered unto God. Owen defines it this way:

his willing, cheerful, obediential performance of every thing, duty, or command, that God, by virtue of any law whereto we were subject and obnoxious3, did require; and [his obedience], moreover, to the peculiar law of the mediator.4

Jesus obeyed both the laws of nature that were applicable before humanity’s fall into ruin, and laws that God added later.

I appreciate how careful John Owen is in how he thinks about various categories of righteousness and obedience.

1 Owen, John. Of Communion with God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Public domain. Republished by CCEL. Accessed April 10, 2021.

2 Ibid.

3 This used in an archaic sense. I’m not positive what Owen means by the word. He may mean that we, being subject to the law, are harmed by it because we don’t keep it. Or perhaps he just means that the law carried with it the threat of punishment for disobedience.

4 Owen, John. Of Communion with God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

How to Grieve the Holy Spirit

When we make creatures or creature comforts — any thing whatever but what we receive by the Spirit of Christ — to be our joy and our delight, we are false with Christ.

John Owen, Of Communion with God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, Part 2, Chapter 51

John Owen says this is one the ways we can grieve the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ gave us the Spirit for our sanctification and consolation2. Finding our consolation in other things goes against one of the very purposes for which God sent his Spirit to us.

Scripture condemns Demas, who was “in love with this present world” (1 Tim 4:10).3 God also instructs us:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.

1 John 2:15–16

Indulging sinful cravings, or taking a self-righteous pride in the things we have or do, are sins that grieve God. They involve acting in unbelief. They can even elevate created things to a status only God should have in our lives. This is a violation of the First Commandment, which says we’re not to have any gods before God.

Not only so, but loving “this present world” is foolish. 1 John 2:17 says, “And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” Finding our joy in perishable things is a poor investment of our affections. Owen comments that the daily work of Christians “is to get their hearts crucified to the world and the things of it, and the world to their hearts; that they may not have living affections to dying things….”.4 Let us stir up our affections for God, who lives forever!

How can we reconcile some of these truths with other Bible verses that encourage an enjoyment in created things? Ecclesiastes commends finding joy in our work or our possessions (5:18–19). God speaks approvingly of the ability to enjoy the work of our hands (Isaiah 65:22).

First, we should not interpret 1 John 2 to mean that physical matter is evil. God created it and called it good.

1 Timothy 4 can help us here. Some people were forbidding marriage and eating certain foods. God says this was wrong. Why? “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer” (v. 4–5). We can enjoy the things God made without being guilty of idolatry when we thank him. It pleases God when we recognize that he is the source of every good thing (James 1:17), and when we express our affections to the Lord through thanksgiving, and we pray. Failing to recognize God when we enjoy his gifts is unbelief, and Scripture says “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6).

1 Owen, John. Of Communion with God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Public domain. Republished by CCEL. Accessed April 3, 2021.

2 Ibid.

3 Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

4 Owen. Of Communion with God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Part 2, Chapter 5.