In my last post I argued that Christ’s kingly office is perhaps his most misunderstood office among reforming Calvinists. In my experience, Calvinistic Baptists distinguish Christ’s priestly office as exercised solely for us, from his kingly office which is all about our response. Their message is summarized like this: because Christ is king, he needs to be obeyed - and if you are not obeying him, then you are not saved! This seems to be a reaction to the Arminian and antinomian circles out of which many Baptists come, where it is posited that all that matters is that you have made a decision for Christ and how one lives is optional. Disturbed by this kind of teaching, Calvinistic Baptists are zealous to point out that because Christ is king he must be obeyed or you’re not his!
While it is certainly true that Christ as king must prompt a response of obedience from us, yet what is missed by many Calvinistic Baptists is that Christ exercises his kingly office precisely to save us from our disobedience so that we do respond to him in obedience. Listen again to the word of the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith: “and in respect of our averseness and utter inability to return to God, and for our rescue and security from our spiritual adversaries, we need his kingly office to convince, subdue, draw, uphold, deliver, and preserve us to his heavenly kingdom” (2LCF 8.10). By virtue of his kingly office, Christ provides the obedience that his once dead and enslaved subjects need. He does this in two ways: 1) by an external obedience imputed to us, and 2) by an inward obedience imparted to us
First, Christ as king means that he supplies the perfect obedience to the whole law that we need in order to stand before God. We see this from the Old Testament where the kingdom people were either blessed or cursed on the basis of their king’s actions. The most vivid example of this is perhaps in 2 Samuel 24. King David gave in to satanic temptation to take a census of his people. David realizes his sin and acknowledges to the Lord that he had acted very foolishly (v. 10). The Lord punishes David for his sin by putting the people in his kingdom to death - seventy thousand of them (v. 15)! Greatly distressed by this, David cries out “Behold, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly. But these sheep, what have they done?” (v. 17). What David learned that day, however, is what theologians have termed federal headship. As Americans, we are familiar with the term “federal” from our federal government. The federal government consists of representatives who represent our designated areas in Washington. While different in many respects, the idea of representation is behind federal headship. The federal head represent the kingdom people before God. Thus, the people were punished for their king’s sin. Their king’s sin was imputed to them - that is, they got credit for it. This is how God works - through representation. And it is the king who functions as the representative head of all his people.
Well, Christ, as our king, represented us before God. The good news is that Christ perfectly obeyed the whole law in our place, even under a test in the wilderness by the devil. Because Christ our king represented us, his obedience is imputed to us - we get credit for his obedience. Paul explicitly teaches this in Romans 5:19: “For as by the one man's [Adam’s] disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made [lit. “appointed”] righteous.” This is federal headship. The first Adam represented us and therefore his sin is imputed to us - we get credit for his sin and bear its consequences. Thankfully, however, Christ represented his own and his perfect righteousness is imputed to us who believe - we get credit for his obedience and enjoy the reward of it, which is eternal life. So, Christ, as king, provides the external, imputed righteousness we need in order to stand before God by having represented us in his perfect life of obedience.
The second way in which Christ our king delivers us from our disobedience and supplies the obedience we need is by delivering us from sin’s dominion and causing us to obey him. We gain an understanding of what God’s appointed king does from 1 Samuel 10:1 where Saul is anointed as king: “Then Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it on his head and kissed [Saul] and said, ‘Has not the LORD anointed you to be prince over his people Israel? And you shall reign over the people of the LORD and you will save them from the hand of their surrounding enemies.’” The king saves God’s people from their enemies. We see this time and again in the Old Testament where the king fights against and conquers the enemies of God’s people in order to deliver them and keep them safe. Well, the New Testament makes clear who are true enemies are: sin, death, and the devil. Contrary to what the Jews thought when Christ came riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, he did not come to fight against physical enemies, but spiritual ones. He came to bind the strong man (Matt. 12:29; Mar. 3:27), which is Satan, and evidenced this by casting out his minions from spiritually oppressed people. He also came to set the captives free by delivering them from the prison of their sin and redeeming them from a greater Egypt - a greater house of slavery, a spiritual one. By his death and resurrection we, who are united to him, have been set free from sin’s dominion (Rom. 6:3-7). And it is by his death on the cross that death was defeated. As the Puritan, John Owen, titled one of his works, “It was the death of death in the death of Christ.” Paul in no uncertain terms calls death an enemy (1 Cor. 15:26). Jesus has already conquered this enemy for us as our king by being swallowed up by it, but rising again from the grave. We do not, however, yet see all things submitted under his feet (Heb. 2:8). But in the new heavens and the new earth death will finally be no more!
So, Christ as our king means that he provides the obedience we need that we are unable to supply ourselves. It is because we are totally depraved and helpless in our sin that we need Christ’s kingly office to conquer our great enemy of sin (Rom. 6:3-7), of our spiritual deadness (Eph. 2:1), and of captivity to Satan (Eph. 2:2; 2 Tim. 2:25-26). It is understanding his kingly office properly that we avoid sounding like Arminians where it is up to us to respond to Christ as king, or else! Rather, as true Calvinists, we acknowledge our utter inability and helplessness and thank God for a King who alone has conquered the spiritual enemies that we never would, nor could.
Brian Onstead is pastor of Trinity Bible Church in Powell, WY (https://tbcwyoming.com/). He was born and raised in Omaha, NE where he was saved and met his wife Jackie. He then spent three years in San Diego, CA where he attended Westminster Seminary California and the Institute for Reformed Baptist Studies. After graduating in 2015, he moved to Montana where he pastored a church for 4 years. In 2019, he moved to Powell, WY where he currently resides. He and his wife have been married for 10 years and have two young children. You can find his sermons on sermon audio and follow him on Twitter (@brianonstead).