God’s Preparation for Our Union with Christ
In eternity past, God blessed believers “in Christ,” choosing them in Him before the foundation of the world. Paul describes it in this way:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.Eph. 1:3-10
“God, who saved us … not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.”2 Tim. 1:8-9
God is holy, personal, and relational. In eternity He resolved to create human creatures compatible with Himself. People received creaturely versions of appropriate attributes of God such as personhood, spirituality, self-consciousness, memory, ability to understand, authority, strength, creativeness, ability to plan ahead, and a capacity for love and fellowship. These compatible attributes enable people to have fellowship with God.
God’s design for people was such that they would be able to exist with Him in an enduring spiritual relationship of obedient fellowship and love. While they could not possess uncommunicable divine attributes like self-existence, omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence, they received creaturely versions of God’s communicable attributes.
God is pure spirit. His human creatures are made in the form of a physical body in union with an immaterial soul. God, knowing the end from the beginning included in His plans provisions for dealing with everything that might interfere with His intention to form for Himself a holy people who would live in fellowship with Him, enjoying Him forever.
Knowing created humanity would fall into sin, the Trinity in eternity established a plan to undo the effects of the Fall. The plan included redemption of fallen people through Union with Christ. The Father gave to the Son all people who would be redeemed.
“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me.”John 6:37-39a
In the eternal plan for salvation, the divine Son agreed to become incarnate. He would take to Himself a human nature (including a body), thereby becoming the God-man. He would live a perfect life under the Law, pay the penalty due for sins, and having completed the work of enabling redemption would return to the Father. God would send the Holy Spirit (at Pentecost) to indwell the hearts of believers. The Holy Spirit would apply the benefits of the Son’s work to those being redeemed.
God created the heavens and the earth and filled them with creatures including the first people, Adam and Eve, who were made in an image of God to be compatible with Him.
Adam and Eve were created holy, without sin, immortal, and able to live in God’s presence. But their status was conditional requiring obedience. As created, they were able to not sin but also able to sin. As long as they were obedient, they would remain in their created state.
To live in God’s presence, a person must be holy as God is holy. Adam and Eve chose to sin thereby losing their holiness and ability to live in God’s presence. In their disobedience they acquired a sin-nature which would be transmitted to all their descendants. After Adam and Eve’s fall into sin, they and all their descendants were spiritually separated from God, were not holy, and had an acquired sin nature which caused them to continue to sin.
Created holy, how did Adam and Eve come to sin? They desired to be obedient to God. They also desired to become more like God. The tempter, knowing that desire, came to them with a suggestion that he knew how they could become more like God. The problem was that the proposed war to become more like God involved disobeying Him. To test their obedience, God had forbidden them to eat of the fruit of a single tree located in the abundance of the Garden in which they lived.
The forbidden tree was called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The tempter argued that knowledge of good and evil would make them more like God. If true, that was a good thing, something they desired. They were persuaded. But eating the fruit and thus breaking God’s command led not to being more like God but to the death of their spirits and separation from Him. Their desire to be more like God was good. Their decision to disobey God in order to become more like Him brought on disaster, spiritual death, eventual mortal death, and the necessity to labor for their food in a fallen world.
Because of their sin, God cursed the earth. They were exiled from the Garden and would have to earn their living from the fallen earth by the sweat of their brow. Their greatest problem was the loss of their spiritual connection to God through the death of their spirits.
Before time began, God chose to save sinners by uniting them to Christ. The planned process of redemption of people and restoration of the earth was initiated immediately after the Fall. A lot had to happen, and much time would pass as the plan worked toward consummation.
Events Preceding the Advent of Christ
The crucial redemptive step involving the Divine Son coming to earth to live as the God-man needed extensive preparation. A people (Abraham and his descendants) were chosen and trained for hundreds of years to receive Messiah, the God-Man. Patriarchs, Judges, Prophets, and Kings had important roles in preparing for the advent of Christ. Progress toward the goal was not uniform but rather a series of ups and downs corresponding to variations in the obedience of the chosen people.
God gradually revealed truth about Himself and His Creation. An important part of the preparation for the advent of Christ (Messiah) was generating and protecting a written record of God’s self-revelation for edification of future generations. Writing of that holy record was carried out under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
At the right time, under the right conditions, the Son took to Himself a human nature (including body), dwelt on earth among men, lived a perfect life under the Law, and died a cruel death to pay the penalty due for the sins of those to be redeemed.
Incarnation was essential to make Christ’s salvation work possible. One important factor was that the divine Son taking to Himself a human nature (including body) was necessary to enable people to be united to Christ by the Holy Spirit through His human nature.
In taking humanity to Himself, the eternal Son did not cease to be the second person of the Trinity. The Son acquired a human nature without ceasing to be God. The divine Son, 2nd Person of the Trinity, keeping all attributes of His divine nature, took to Himself a human nature (being conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary), becoming one person, Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man.
There is no mixing, confusion, or combination of His two natures. Each nature retains its own attributes. One Person, two complete natures, divine and human. Christ has and will forever continue to have a human nature including body. The Son’s divine nature has been His from eternity, eternally begotten by the Father. His human nature and body were acquired in time, derived from His mother Mary.
As previously discussed (Part 2), a human person is a union of a human nature plus an “I” which acts like a “mission control center” directing the nature. Christ has two natures but just one “mission control center” which controls both His divine and human natures. The “I” for both natures is His divine “I,” His from all eternity. Christ could and did choose to act in either of His two natures as He pleased.
The eternal Son’s purpose in taking to Himself a human nature was to enable Him as the God/Man to make atonement for the human sins of those being redeemed. Having made atonement, He defeated death by His resurrection. Christ (fully human and fully divine) returned to the Father.
Atone means to be “at one.” Sin separated people from God. Atonement, through propitiation and expiation, enables a sinner to be “at one” with God. Propitiate means to turn away anger or wrath. Expiate means making amends for a wrong.
Sinners are subject to God’s wrath. Their sins carry a death penalty. Sinners need somehow to turn God’s wrath away and to make amends for their wrongdoing. They can do neither, but Christ’s atonement on our behalf does both.
The incarnation makes Christ’s atonement possible. The atonement makes it possible for a believing sinner to “be at one” with God. Everyone who believes receives the benefits arising from Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. How are those benefits applied to believers? The Holy Spirit applies the benefits of Christ’s works to those being redeemed. On the Day of Pentecost after the resurrection, the Father and Son sent the Holy Spirit to dwell in the hearts of believers and convey to them all the benefits of Christ’s perfect life under the law and His atoning death. We have seen the sequence of application of those benefits in the Calling, Regeneration and Gift of Faith, Justification, Process of Sanctification, and final Glorification.
The gift of the Holy Spirit was promised in the OT. In Joel 2:28 the promise is that God will pour out His Spirit on all people. That prophecy was realized on Pentecost after the resurrection and ascension. Marvelous events associated with that outpouring are in Acts 2.
How important was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit? Bavinck says, “After the creation and incarnation, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is the third great work of God.” (H. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Baker Academic, vol. 3, p. 500). The outpouring of the Holy Spirit enables the benefits of Christ’s atonement be ours.
John Calvin: “First, we must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us” (ICR 3.1.1).
The Holy Spirit connects us to Christ, “Christ in us” and “us in Christ.”
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.
Q. 30: How doth the Spirit apply to us the redemption purchased by Christ? Ans. The Spirit applies to us the redemption purchased by Christ, by working faith in us, and thereby uniting us to Christ in our effectual calling.
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.
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.
The Holy Spirit works faith in those being redeemed, thereby uniting them to Christ, enabling them to partake of all the benefits Christ purchased for them: (1.) His perfect life made amends for believer’s imperfections. (2.) His atoning death paid the penalty for believer’s sins, and (3.) His resurrection signifies His defeat of death. The Holy Spirit was present in Christ without measure, directing and empowering Christ as He did the work of salvation.