Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Why is Union with Christ so Important?

Over at Green Baggins, Darryl Hart asked:
[M]aybe you can help me out here. Every time I read the law, it brings me up way short. Apparently, when you read it you feel exonerated. How DO you do it?
I answered:
Union with Christ. That is the only way to feel exonerated in the face of the law.
Darryl Hart asked:
Tfan, how can I, a sinner, be united to Christ, the righteous one? Your answer leaves me unconsoled.
I answered:
By repentance from sin and faith in His name.
Darryl Hart asked:
Tfan, where do our standards say that I am united to Christ by faith? If you look at the Westminster Confession (you know, 1646), the chapter on saving faith does not mention union.
I answered:
Our standards explain this in WLC 65-67.

Q. 65. What special benefits do the members of the invisible church enjoy by Christ?

A. The members of the invisible church by Christ enjoy union and communion with him in grace and glory.[269]

Q. 66. What is that union which the elect have with Christ?

A. The union which the elect have with Christ is the work of God’s grace,[270] whereby they are spiritually and mystically, yet really and inseparably, joined to Christ as their head and husband;[271] which is done in their effectual calling.[272]

Q. 67. What is effectual calling?

A. Effectual calling is the work of God’s almighty power and grace,[273] whereby (out of his free and special love to his elect, and from nothing in them moving him thereunto)[274] he doth, in his accepted time, invite and draw them to Jesus Christ, by his Word and Spirit;[275] savingly enlightening their minds,[276] renewing and powerfully determining their wills,[277] so as they (although in themselves dead in sin) are hereby made willing and able freely to answer his call, and to accept and embrace the grace offered and conveyed therein.[278]

See also WCF 9:
Of Justification.

I. Those whom God effectually calleth, he also freely justifieth: not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; not by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on him and his righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.

II. Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification; yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love.

III. Christ, by his obedience and death, did fully discharge the debt of all those that are thus justified, and did make a proper, real, and full satisfaction of his Father’s justice in their behalf. Yet inasmuch as he was given by the Father for them, and his obedience and satisfaction accepted in their stead, and both freely, not for any thing in them, their justification is only of free grace, that both the exact justice and rich grace of God might be glorified in the justification of sinners.

IV. God did, from all eternity, decree to justify the elect; and Christ did, in the fullness of time, die for their sins and rise again for their justification; nevertheless they are not justified until the Holy Spirit doth, in due time, actually apply Christ unto them.

V. God doth continue to forgive the sins of those that are justified; and although they can never fall from the state of justification, yet they may by their sins fall under God’s Fatherly displeasure, and not have the light of his countenance restored unto them, until they humble themselves, confess their sins, beg pardon, and renew their faith and repentance.

VI. The justification of believers under the Old Testament was, in all these respect, one and the same with the justification of believers under the New Testament.
I hope that helps.
Darryl Hart asked:
Tfan told me that my hope came from being united to Christ. I asked how I a sinner could be united to a righteous God-man. Tfan, told me by faith. What I’m trying to understand is why union would be so important to Tfan’s response to me. Since most of what he quotes makes effectual calling more explicit than union, I’m still puzzled. And Jeff, I think it is curious that if union were so important (again) why does the chapter on saving faith not mention it?
I dropped the thread at that point, but now I answer, quoting Charles Hodge:
Union with Christ

The first effect of faith, according to the Scriptures, is union with Christ. We are in Him by faith. There is indeed a federal union between Christ and his people, founded on the covenant of redemption between the Father and the Son in the counsels of eternity. We are, therefore, said to be in Him before the foundation of the world. It is one of the promises of that covenant, that all whom the Father had given the Son should come to Him; that his people should be made willing in the day of his power. Christ has, therefore, been exalted to the right hand of God, to give repentance and the remission of sins. But it was also, as we learn from the Scriptures, included in the stipulations of that covenant, that his people, so far as adults are concerned, should not receive the saving benefits of that covenant until they were united to Him by a voluntary act of faith. They are “by nature the children of wrath, even as others.” (Eph. ii. 8.) They remain in this state of condemnation until they believe. Their union is consummated by faith. To be in Christ, and to believe in Christ, are, therefore, in the Scriptures convertible forms of expression. They mean substantially the same thing and, therefore, the same effects are attributed to faith as are attributed to union with Christ.

Justification an Effect of Faith.

The proximate effect of this union, and, consequently, the see. ond effect of faith, is justification. We are “justified by the faith of Christ.” (Gal. ii. 16.) “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. vii. 1.) “He that believeth on him is not condemned.” (John iii. 18.) Faith is the condition on which God promises in the covenant of redemption, to impute unto men the righteousness of Christ. As soon, therefore, as they believe, they cannot be condemned. They are clothed with a righteousness which answers all the demands of justice. “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.” (Rom. viii. 33, 34.)

Participation of Christ’s Life an Effect of Faith.

The third effect of faith, or of union with Christ, is a participation of his life. Those united with Christ, the Apostle teaches (Rom. vi. 4-10), so as to be partakers of his death, are partakers also of his life. “Because I live, ye shall live also.” (John xiv. 19.) Christ dwells in our hearts by faith. (Eph. iii. 17.) Christ is in us. (Rom. viii. 10.) It is not we that live, but Christ liveth in us. (Gal. ii. 20.) Our Lord’s illustration of this vital union is derived from a vine and its branches. (John xv. 1-6.) As the life of the vine is diffused through the branches, and as they live only as connected with the vine, so the life of Christ is diffused through his people, and they are partakers of spiritual and eternal life, only in virtue of their union with Him. Another familiar illustration of this subject is derived from the human body. The members derive their life from the head, and perish if separated from it. (Eph. i. 22; 1 Cor. xii. 12-27, and often). In Ephesians iv. 15, 16, the Apostle carries out this illustration in detail. “The head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” As the principle of animal life located in the head, through the complicated yet ordered system of nerves extending to every member, diffuses life and energy through the whole body; so the Holy 106Spirit, given without measure to Christ the head of the Church, which is his body, diffuses life and strength to every member. Hence, according to Scripture, Christ’s dwelling in us is explained as the Spirit’s dwelling in us. The indwelling of the Spirit is the indwelling of Christ. If God be in you; if Christ be in you; if the Spirit be in you, — all mean the same thing. See Romans viii. 9-11.

To explain this vital and mystical union between Christ and his people as a mere union of thought and feeling, is utterly inadmissible. (1.) In the first place, it is contrary to the plain meaning of his words. No one ever speaks of Plato’s dwelling in men; of his being their life, so that without him they can do nothing; and much less, so that holiness, happiness, and eternal life depend upon that union. (2.) Such interpretation supposes that our relation to Christ is analogous to the relation of one man to another. Whereas it is a relation between men and a divine person, who has life in Himself, and gives life to as many as He wills. (3.) It ignores all that the Scriptures teach of the work of the Holy Spirit and of his dwelling in the hearts of men. (4.) It overlooks the supernatural character of Christianity, and would reduce it to a mere philosophical and ethical system.

Peace as the Fruit of Faith.

The fourth effect of faith is peace. “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom. v. 1.) Peace arises from a sense of reconciliation. God promises to pardon, to receive into his favour, and finally to save all who believe the record which He has given of his Son. To believe, is therefore to believe this promise; and to appropriate this promise to ourselves is to believe that God is reconciled to us. This faith may be weak or strong. And the peace which flows from it may be tremulous and intermitting, or it may be constant and assured. (Hodge, Systematic Theology 3:16:8)
I wonder if, once Hart understands the Faith, Union, Justification, Peace connection, this kind of comment from him will cease:
In the presence of God’s law I experience great terror and dread because of its holy standard and my guilt. And yet you think I should run frolicking through the streets about God’s law?

Perhaps then he will be able to join in singing Psalm 119:

Psalm 119:97 O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day.

Psalm 119:165 Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them.



Perhaps I would be remiss if I completely omitted Westminster Confession of Faith 26:1:
All saints that are united to Jesus Christ their head, by his Spirit and by faith, have fellowship with him in his graces, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory: and, being united to one another in love, they have communion in each other's gifts and graces, and are obliged to the performance of such duties, public and private, as to conduce to their mutual good, both in the inward and outward man.


Underdog Theology said...


I'm a bit puzzled myself as to why D.G. Hart would cringe at the notion of union with Christ as being forged through faith.

I blogged about "Unionism" last week: http://underdogtheology.blogspot.com/2011/07/westminster-wednesday-unionism.html

Turretinfan said...

It ought to be uncontroversial. Some Federal Visionists suggest that union is by baptism, but I can't believe DGH would be numbered amongst them.

Underdog Theology said...

There's an unconfessional, ahistorical way to approach union with Christ, as this quote from Berkhof explains:

"The mystical union in the sense in which we are now speaking of it is not the judicial ground, on the basis of which we become partakers of the riches that are in Christ. It is sometimes said that the merits of Christ cannot be imputed to us as long as we are not in Christ, since it is only on the basis of our oneness with Him that such an imputation could be reasonable. But this view fails to distinguish between our legal unity with Christ and our spiritual oneness with Him, and is a falsification of the fundamental element in the doctrine of redemption, namely, of the doctrine of justification. Justification is always a declaration of God, not on the basis of an existing condition, but on that of a gracious imputation, — a declaration which is not in harmony with the existing condition of the sinner. The judicial ground for all the special grace which we receive lies in the fact that the righteousness of Christ is freely imputed to us." (Systematic Theology, 452, emphasis mine)

Ryan said...

//Justification is always a declaration of God, not on the basis of an existing condition, but on that of a gracious imputation, — a declaration which is not in harmony with the existing condition of the sinner.//

Having studied this recently, I've found it to be a false dichotomy which leads to nominalism. I have to respectfully disagree with Berkhof in favor of (ironically) Turretin:

"...by our legal and mystical union, he becomes one with us, and we one with him. Hence he may justly take upon him our sin and sorrows, and impart to us his righteousness and blessings. So there is no abrogation of the law, no derogation from its claims; as what we owed is transferred to the account of Christ, to be paid by him." (The Necessity of the Atonement)

"...when the sin of another is said to be imputed to any one, it is not to be understood that the sin is, purely and in every sense, foreign to him but that, by some means, it pertains to him to whom it is said to be imputed; if not strictly his own, individually and personally, then (communiter) conjointly, on account of community between him and its proper author. For there can be no imputation of the sin of another, unless it is based upon some special union of the one with the other." (Instit., Locus I. Q. ix. §§ 10, 11.)

Ryan said...

//Their union is consummated by faith.//

Exactly. This is a point I had difficulty understanding, and I've really come to appreciate Hodge for his preciseness. Union encompasses both death and resurrection, regeneration and faith (Romans 6:4-5; cf. Colossians 2:11-12). It isn't an either/or.

The Puritan said...

I didn't read the thread, but might not Hart be axe-grinding against theonomy in some sense in this? (Or speaking in the context of the Radical Two Kingdom debate.) I mean, being snarky towards what he sees as a too-comfortable, and perhaps unself-aware, self-righteous cosiness with the law?

Turretinfan said...

A.A. Hodge, "Outlines of Theology," Chapter "Union of Believers with Christ"

1. To whom are all men united in their natural estate ?

To Adam. Our union with him includes, 1st, his federal headship under the covenant of works. — Rom. v. 12-19. 2d. His natural headship, as per force of ordinary generation, the source of our nature, and of its moral corruptions. — Gen. v. 3 ; 1 Cor. XV. 49.

But the law upon which rested the covenant of works,
whereby we were held in union with Adam, having been slain by Christ, "that being dead wherein we were held," we were "married to another," that is, to Christ. — Rom. vii. 1-4.

2. What is the general nature of out union with Christ?

It is a single, ineffable, and most intimate union, presenting to our view two different aspects, and giving rise to two different classes of consequents.

1st. The first aspect of this union is its federal and representative character, whereby Christ, as the second Adam (1 Cor. XV. 22), assumes in the covenant of grace those broken obligations of the covenant of works which the first Adam failed to discharge, and fulfils them all in behalf of all his " sheep," "they whom the Father has given him." The consequences which arise from our union with Christ under this aspect of it are such as the imputation of our sins to him, and of his righteousness to us, and all of the forensic benefits of justification and adoption, etc. — See Chaps. XXXI II., XXXIV.

2d. The second aspect of this union is its spiritual and vital character, the nature and consequences of which it is our business to discuss under the present head.

3. What is the foundation of this union?

(1.) The eternal purpose of the triune God, expressed in the decree of election (we were chosen hi him before the foundation of the world. — Eph. i. 4), providing for its own fulfilment in the covenant of grace between the Father as God absolute, and the Son as Mediator. — John xvii. 2-Q; Gal. ii. 20; (2) in the incarnation of the Son, whereby he assumed fellowship with us in community of nature, and became our brother. — Heb. ii. 16, 17; and (3) in the mission and official work of the Spirit of Christ (1 John iv. 13), through the powerful operation of whom in the bodies and souls of his people the last Adam is made a quickening spirit (1 Cor. xv. 45), and they are all constituted the body of Christ and members in particular. 1 Cor. xii. 27.

4. By what analogies drawn from, earthly relations is this union of believers with Christ illustrated in Scripture ?

The technical designation of this union in theological language is "mystical," because it so far transcends all the analogies of earthly relationships, in the intimacy of its communion, in the transforming power of its influence, and in the excellence of its consequences. Yet Holy Scripture illustrates different aspects of this fountain of graces by many apt though partial analogies.

As, 1st, foundation of a building and its superstructure. — 1 Pet. ii. 4, 6. 2d. Tree and its branches. — John xv. 5. 3d. Head and members of the body. — Eph. iv. 15, 16. 4th. Husband and wife. — Eph. V. 31, 32; Rev. xix. 7-9. 5th. Adam and his descendants, in both their federal and natural relations. — Rom. V. 12-19; 1 Cor. xv. 22, 49.


Turretinfan said...

5. What is the essential nature of this union ?

On the one hand, this union does not involve any mysterious confusion of the person of Christ with the persons of his people ; and, on the other hand, it is not such a mere association of separate persons as exists in human societies. But it is a union which, 1st, determines our legal status on the same basis with his. 2d. Which revives and sustains, by the influence of his indwelling Spirit, our spiritual life, from the fountain of his
life, and which transforms our bodies and souls into the likeness of his glorified humanity.

It is, therefore —

1st. A spiritual union. Its actuating source and bond is the Spirit of the head, who dwells and works in the members. 1 Cor. vi. 17; xii. 13; 1 John iii. 24; iv. 13.

2d. A vital union, i. e., our spiritual life is sustained and determined in its nature and movement by the life of Christ, through the indwelling of his Spirit. — John xiv. 19; Gal. ii. 20.

3d. It embraces our entire persons, our bodies through our spirits. — 1 Cor. vi. 15, 19.

4th. It is a legal or federal union, so that all of our legal or covenant responsibilities rest upon Christ, and all of his legal or covenant merits accrue to us.

5th. It is an indissoluble union. — John x. 28; Rom. viii. 35, 37 ; 1 Thess. iv. 14, 17.

6th. This union is between the believer and the person of the God-man in his office as Mediator. Its immediate organ is the Holy Spirit, who dwells in us, and through him we are virtually united to and commune with the whole Godhead, since he is the Spirit of the Father as well as of the Son. — John xiv. 23; xvii. 21, 23.

6. How is this union between Christ and the Christian established ?

It was established in the purpose and decree of God, and in the Covenant of the Father with the Son from eternity. — Eph. i. 4; John xvii. 2, 6. Nevertheless, the elect, as to personal character and present relations, before their effectual calling by the Spirit, are born and continued "by nature children of wrath even as others," and " strangers to the covenants of promise." Eph. ii. 3, 12. In God's appointed time, with each individual of his chosen, this union is established mutually — 1st. By the commencement of the effectual and permanent workings of the Holy Spirit within them (they are quickened together with Christ) ; in the act of the new birth opening the eyes and renewing the will, and thus laying in their natures the foundation of the exercise of saving faith. 2d. Which faith is the second bond by which this mutual union is established, by the continued actings of which their fellowship with Christ is sustained, and its blessed consequences developed. — Eph. iii. 17. Thus we "come to him," "receive him," "eat of his flesh and drink of his blood," etc.


Turretinfan said...

7. What are the consequences of this union to the believer ?

1st. They have a community with him in his covenant standing, and rights. Forensically they are rendered "complete in him." His righteousness and his Father is theirs. They receive the adoption in him, and are accepted as to both their persons and services in the beloved. They are sealed by his Holy Spirit of promise; in him obtain an inheritance; sit with him on his throne and behold his glory. — Rom. viii. 1 ; Col. ii. 10; Eph. i. 6, 11, 13; Phil. iii. 8, 9.

As Mediator, Jesus is " the Christ," the anointed one, and the believer is the Christian, or receiver of "the unction." — Acts xi. 26; 1 John ii. 20. His mediatorial office embraces three principal functions — (1.) That of prophet, and in fellowship with him the believer is a prophet. — John xvi. 13; 1 John ii. 27. (2.) That of priest, and the believer also is a priest in him. Isa. Ixi. 6; 1 Pet. ii. 5; Rev. xx. 6. (3.) That of king, and in him the believer is a king. — 1 Pet. ii. 9; Rev. iii. 21; v. 10.

2d. They have fellowship with him in the transforming, assimilating power of his life, making them like him; every grace of Jesus reproducing itself in them; "of his fulness we have all received, and grace for grace." This holds true, (1) with regard to our souls, Rom. viii. 9; Phil. ii. 5; 1 John iii. 2 ; (2) with regard to our bodies, causing them to be now the temples of the Holy Ghost, 1 Cor. vi. 17, 19; and his resurrection to be the cause of ours, and his glorified body to be the type of ours. — Rom. vi. 5; 1 Cor. xv. 47, 49; Phil. iii. 21. And thus believers are made to bear fruit in Christ, both in their bodies and spirits, which are his. — John xv. 5; 2 Cor. xii. 9; 1 John i. 6.

3d. This leads to their fellowship with Christ in their experience, in their labors, sufferings, temptations, and death. — Gal. vi. 17; Phil. iii. 10; Heb. xii. 3; 1 Pet. iv. 13. Thus rendering sacred and glorious even our earthly life.

4th. Also to Christ's rightful fellowship with them in all they possess. — Prov. xix. 17; Rom. xiv. 8; 1 Cor. vi. 19, 20.

5th. Also to the consequence that, in the spiritual reception of the holy sacraments, they do really hold fellowship with him. They are " baptized into Christ." — Gal. iii. 27. " The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ; the cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ," — 1 Cor. x. 16; xi. 26; John vi. 51-56.

6th. This leads. also to the fellowship of believers with one another through him, that is, to the communion of saints.


Turretinfan said...

8. What is the nature of that " communion of saints " which springs from the union of each saint with the Lord?

See " Confession of Faith," Chapter xxvi. Believers being all united to one head are, of course, through him mutually related in the same community of spirit, life, status, and covenanted privileges with one another.

This involves upon the part of all believers —
1st. Reciprocal obligations and offices according to the special grace vouchsafed to each. Like the several organs of the body all have part in the same general life, yet each has his own individual difference of qualification, and consequently of duty; "for the body is not one member but many." — 1 Cor. xii. 4-21; Eph. iv. 11-13.

2d. They have fellowship in each other's gifts and complementary graces, each contributing his special loveliness to the beauty of the whole. — Eph. iv. 15, 16.

3d. These reciprocal duties have respect to the bodies and temporal interests of the brethren, as well as to those which concern the soul. — Gal. ii. 10; 1 John iii. 16-18.

4th. They have fellowship in faith and doctrine. — Acts ii. 42 ; Gal. ii. 9.

5th. In mutual respect and subordination. — Rom. xii. 10; Eph. V. 21 ; Heb. xiii. 17.

6th. In mutual love and sympathy. — Rom. xii. 10; 1 Cor. xii. 26.

7th. This fellowship exists unbroken between believers on earth and in heaven. There is one " whole family in heaven and on earth." — Eph. iii. 15.

8th. In glory this communion of saints shall be perfected, when there is "one fold and one shepherd," when all saints shall be one as Father and Son are one. — John x. 16; xvii. 22.

Coram Deo said...

This is one of the singularly best blog posts and combox metas that I've ever read, period.

Simply excellent! Thank you so much for posting this, TF!

In Christ,

Reformed Apologist said...

DGH just doesn't get it, TF.

If I may, inspired from Letham and Garcia respectively.



Turretinfan said...

Thanks for the praise, CD. I simply aim to edify, and if I accomplish that task may God receive the glory.

Anonymous said...

I have been pondering this thread now for awhile.

Now much can be added to it. I do, however want to leave a Biblical thought by publishing some verses that seems to me capsulates it:

Joh 17:25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me.
Joh 17:26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them."