Union with Christ: Necessity and Benefits Part 3

Key Thoughts From Part 2

Part 2 considered definitions for “nature” and “person.”  “Nature” is defined as the total of all essential qualities of a thing, that is, that which makes it what it is. A “human person” is a “human nature” plus a source of “I.” Distinguishing between nature and person is vital to understanding the incarnation. The definition of “nature” is also useful in understanding the Fall. A “thing’ is changed into something new if even one essential quality is eliminated. This was illustrated with the example of an iron pipe 2-inches in diameter, 3 feet long, and painted white. The pipe’s essential qualities are the essential properties of iron plus length and hollowness. Other qualities such as specific dimensions, weight, and color are nonessentials.  If length is reduced from 3 feet to 1/16th inch, the pipe is changed into an iron washer. If hollowness is eliminated by flattening the pipe with a sledgehammer, the pipe is converted into an iron bar. Eliminating even one essential quality of a thing produces a new nature. In the Fall human nature, as originally created, lost at least the essential quality of holiness.

The Fall and Change in Human Nature

God created humans in His image, thereby providing a basis for their communion with Him. As originally created by God, human nature had the essential quality of holiness. But the quality of holiness was conditional, dependent on human obedience to God. Adam and Eve disobeyed God destroying their essential quality of holiness. Like a flattened iron pipe, they now had a new nature. That new nature did not include holiness. Instead, their wills were now in bondage to sin. They had become “fallen” humans. 

Their “fallen nature” was and is transmitted to all their descendants. There were other effects of the “fall,” but loss of holiness was catastrophic. Before the Fall, Adam and Eve enjoyed intimate communion with God. After the Fall they were separated from God. 

God’s Plan of Salvation

In eternity, before creation, God purposed a holy people for Himself. Human nature’s loss of holiness from Adam and Eve’s failure did not and cannot stop God’s ultimate purpose from being achieved. His plan will result in a holy people for Himself, and even now He is working out the part of His plan we call the plan of salvation. Since the Fall, every human’s will is in bondage to an inclination to sin. That remains the case unless God intervenes. 

Salvation is God’s plan of intervention to undo the effects of the Fall on all of creation. Human nature is to be restored to its original “holy” state (actually, it’s even better, unlike the original state, the “new” holy state is unconditional). The goal of this study is to understand everything we can about the elements of God’s plan of salvation and their relation to being “in Christ.”

“By faith we are taken into Christ, made at once safe from holy wrath against sin, and kept safe from all perils and penalties. He, our divine Redeemer, becomes to us the new sphere of harmony and unity with God and His law, with His life and His holiness.”


Reminder of Definition of Union

Union with Christ signifies “believers are joined together with Christ in a manner such that they are, in some sense, made one with Him, Christ and the believer each remaining a distinct person, but no longer separated.” The Bible says we are in Christ and He in us.

How Union with Christ Happens – WSC Q. 29 & 30

Every descendant of Adam is born into the world with a fallen nature. We sin because we are sinners by our sin nature. Without God’s intervention, there is no hope for acquiring righteousness. But, in God’s grace, Jesus is a Redeemer not of the righteous, but of sinners. 

Christ’s salvation work made redemption possible. The gospel calls us to life. All who, through faith, believe in Christ have their sins imputed to Christ and Christ’s righteousness imputed to them. In this incredible exchange, spiritually dead individuals acquire new spiritual life and begin a process of transformation which will end in glorification. Righteousness from Christ is the only possible form of righteousness available to Adam’s fallen race. 

How Do We Receive the Redemption Earned for Us by Christ

Christ’s salvation work was carried out for and is effective for all the people given to Him by the Father before the creation of the universe. Salvation purchased by Christ is sufficient for all who will be saved. Salvation is applied to individuals, one at a time. How does that happen? 

WSC Q. 29: “How are we made partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ?”

ANS:“We are made partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ, by the effectual application of it to us by His Holy Spirit.

How Does the Spirit Apply Redemption to People

To receive the redemption purchased by Christ on our behalf, it is necessary (no other way) for the Holy Spirit to effectually apply it to us.

WSC Q. 30: “How doth the Spirit apply to us the redemption purchased by Christ?” 

ANS: “The Spirit applieth to us the redemption purchased by Christ, by working faith in us, and thereby uniting us to Christ in our effectual calling.”

The Holy Spirit applies redemption to those being redeemed by working faith in them, and thereby uniting them to Christ. From an individual’s subjective perspective, the first step in salvation is the Holy Spirit working faith in them, thereby spiritually uniting them to Christ, making them spiritually alive to God. In the Bible, “spiritual” refers to involvement of the Holy Spirit. “Union with Christ” is forever – from the instant the Holy Spirit works faith in a person, throughout their life, and in glory. 

No one can of themselves generate saving faith. Faith is in every respect a gift from our loving Father, made possible by the work of the Son, our Mediator, and applied (worked in us) by the Holy Spirit. Every person receives salvation in exactly the same way. The Holy Spirit works faith in them, thereby uniting them with Christ and beginning the process of their receiving the other benefits of salvation.

“The first effect of faith, according to Scriptures, is union with Christ”

Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, p.104

Effectual Calling

Redemption must be effectually applied by the Holy Spirit. He applies the redemption purchased by Christ by working faith in us, thereby uniting us to Christ in effectual calling.

WSC Q. 31: “What is effectual calling? 

ANS: “Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.”

By faith we believe the gospel and receive the benefits prepared for those who turn to Christ. “He (God) is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30).

Benefits Received by Those Effectually Called

The benefits described below constitute the “completeness” theologians refer to in declaring that all benefits of salvation flow from Union with Christ.

WSC Q. 32: “What benefits do they that are effectually called partake of in this life?” 

ANS: “They that are effectually called do in this life partake of justification, adoption, and sanctification, and the several benefits which in this life do either accompany or flow from them.”

“We see that our whole salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ (Acts 4:12). We should therefore take care not to derive the least portion of it from anywhere else.”

John Calvin, ICR 2.16.19

In What Sense Can A Redeemed Person Become One with Christ

The source of Union with Christ is the Father. The object of that union is the Son. The foundation for that union is Christ’s completed redemptive work. The Holy Spirit is the living bond that binds believers to Christ. The Holy Spirit not only works faith in us, thereby uniting us to Christ, He immediately indwells and continues to indwell us in a dynamic, ongoing Union with Christ. Christ, to whom we are united, is one person with both a divine and a human nature. His divine nature is of the same essence and has the same attributes as God the Father and the Holy Spirit. His human nature, derived through His mother, Mary, is fully human, like unto our own in every respect, except without sin. The “mission control center” or “I” which activates both His divine and His human nature is the divine “I” that is eternally His. 

Though we are God’s creatures, made in His image to be compatible with Him, we are distinctly different from Him in essence and attributes. God is Spirit, we are flesh and spirit. God is infinite and we are finite. We are creatures and He is Creator. How can a finite fleshly creature become one with the infinite Creator Spirit? From Scripture we know that somehow spiritual union is possible. We also know a believer’s spiritual union with Christ is in some sense like the union of the 3 Persons of the Trinity who share one divine essence (Jn.17:20-21). But we know that even in glory, though sinless, we will not and cannot share in the divine essence. Though redeemed and glorified, we will remain God’s human creatures with creaturely attributes. 

The Trinity, the incarnation, and Union with Christ are all divine mysteries. Their secrets belong to God (Dt. 29:29). What has been revealed is for us. We are permitted to reason from that which is revealed, recognizing that we are not trying to solve a puzzle, but rather to understand as fully as possible that which has been revealed.

Is Our “Union with Christ” Like the Union of His Divine and Human Natures

Is a believer’s union with Christ like the hypostatic union between the 2 natures of Christ? NO!  Christ’s two natures exist in hypostatic union as one person under control of His divine “I.” But, people do not become one person with Christ. A person’s Union with Christ is a distinctly different kind of union. People “in Christ” do not partake of His divine essence and attributes? Yet, people have been given creaturely analogs of some divine attributes. 

Union Between Finite and Infinite

In what sense the can a human person become one with Christ? It can’t be through a direct connection to Christ’s divine nature. A direct union between Christ’s divine nature and a person’s human nature would mean a direct connection between two infinitely different entities. How could that be? Such a direct connection doesn’t happen even between Christ’s divine and human natures. Part of the reason our Savior has both a divine and a human nature is to provide a solution to that conundrum. 

How then can our finite human “system” be connected to Christ’s infinite “divine system?” In engineering to achieve design goals it is often necessary to interconnect two systems of different natures, for example mechanical to electronic. Interconnection is made possible by a properly designed “interface.” If our human nature cannot be “connected” directly to Christ’s divine nature, can His human nature provide a suitable “interface” to enable a spiritual union of our human nature with the person of Christ? That appears to be the case.

Description of How “Union with Christ” May Work

“In historical time” the divine Son took to Himself a human nature (conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary) thereby achieving the necessary interface to unite believers with Christ. The 2 natures of the incarnate Son (divine and human) do not mix, interchange attributes, or blend together. But there is a relationship between them. 

First, the 2 natures are both controlled by the Son’s personal divine “I.” Also, Christ’s human nature is fully indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Scripture says without measure). Christ’s divine nature exists in perpetual, mutual indwelling, union with the Father and the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit also indwells each believer. The common factor between the incarnate Christ and redeemed people is the Holy Spirit. He is both the bond between Christ’s 2 natures, and the bond between our human nature and Christ’s human nature. 

The Holy Spirit bonds a believer’s human nature in spiritual union to the human nature of Christ. The Spirit also bonds Christ’s divine nature to His human nature. Spiritual union refers to the fact that it is the Spirit who provides (mediates) the union. The divine Son’s “I” controls His human nature (as well as His divine nature) so that there is established a bond of spiritual union between a believer’s human nature and the divine “I.”

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