• Union with Christ, part 1

    Posted Sep 13th, 2012 By in Pastor Brian's Blog, Why We Believe What We Believe With | No Comments

    Recently a couple of the interns were out and began musing about the doctrine of union with Christ and how it relates to our salvation, generally, and our justification specifically. While our discussion was tedious, the doctrine of union with Christ is a rich source of encouragement for the believer and one that we do well to think on time and time again. Robert Letham—who will be our guide for considering this topic the next few weeks—begins his book on the subject, Union with Christ: In Scripture, History, and Theology, by noting that “Union with Christ is right at the center of the Christian doctrine of salvation” (p. 1). Calvin likewise recognized the importance of this doctrine.

    For we await salvation from him not because he appears to us afar off, but because he makes us, ingrafted into his body, participants not only in all his benefits but also in himself (Institutes, 3.2.24).

    In stating the doctrine like this, Calvin emphasizes that we are saved by a person and that our salvation is personal and relational. Salvation cannot be reduced to a cold mathematical equation, but can only be rightly understood that all that we have is from and through Christ and our union with him. As the puritan Rowland Stedman said,

    …in order to an interest in eternal life, and partaking of those blessings which are given forth by Christ…it is of absolute necessity, that we be united unto Christ.”

    Therefore, if we have life from the Son, we must have the Son; that is, we must be made one with him. No union with Jesus, and no communication of life and salvation from Jesus (in Letham, 3).

    The centrality of the believers’ union with Christ is a note frequently struck in the New Testament. Most prominently, Paul describes the Christian’s new status as being “in him” and “in Christ.” It’s that little preposition, “in”, that we are taking about. John famously highlights this in the upper room discourse and in Jesus’ high priestly prayer (Jn. 14-17). Jesus tells his disciples, “I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (Jn. 14:20).

    Because we are united with Christ, we are justified through Christ (Rom. 5), sanctified through Christ (Rom. 6) and glorified through Christ (1 Cor. 15:12-19). In Adam we all die, but in Christ we are made right with God, made alive and will be finally raised in glorified bodies like his.

    Until we are united with Christ, what he has achieved for us helps us no more than an electricity main’s supply that passes our house but is not connected to it (Tony Lane, in Letham, 7).

    Through our baptisms, our faith in the historical work of Jesus for us, and the bond of the Holy Spirit, we have been united to Christ and all that he is and all that he freely and graciously extends to us. Now you know why we call the gospel “Good News”!

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    Pastor of New Life La Mesa Presbyterian Church in San Diego, CA.

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