Union with Christ: Necessity and Benefits Part 11

Benefits of Union with Christ

Nothing is more central or basic than union and communion with Christ.  …  Union with Christ is in itself a very broad and embracive subject … Union with Christ is really the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation not only in its application but also in its once-for-all accomplishment of the finished work of Christ. Indeed the whole process of salvation has its origin in one phase of union with Christ.”

John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, p. 171-172, Eerdmans, 1955

What are the benefits derived from being united to Christ. The basic benefits are included in the answers to Westminster Shorter Catechism Questions 29-32.

  • Q. 29 Answer. We are made partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ, by the effectual application of it to us by his Holy Spirit.
  • Q. 30 Answer. 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. Answer. 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. Answer. 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.

By the Holy Spirit working faith in us, we believe the gospel and receive the benefits of Christ’s salvation work.Each benefit is purposeful and distinctive.  Paul says, “He (God) is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians. 1:30).

Sin and its Effects

The benefits of salvation are designed to solve the problems created by sin.

Separation from God” (spiritually dead in sins): (1.) All Adam and Eve’s descendants inherit a “sin nature.” That sin nature and the sins it produces separates us from God to such an extent that Paul says we are spiritually “dead in our sins.” That is the first problem. We are separated from God and spiritually dead in our sins. 

Paul says in Ephesians 1:4: “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” Yet, we are neither “holy” or “blameless.” 

Failure to be Holy as God is Holy: (2.)The second problem, then, is we are not holy. The state of being unholy is an ontological (having to do with our being) issue. It is a fundamental problem. We have a fallen, degraded nature inclined to sin.

Failure to be Blameless (Righteous): (3.) The third problem is we are not blameless. We have sinned and we do sin – breaking God’s Law which carries a death penalty. 

God Deals with Our Separation from Him

Based on Christ’s salvation work on our behalf, God ends our separation from Him by sending the Holy Spirit to work faith in us, thereby uniting us to Christ in effectual calling.Christ is fully God, the 2nd Person of the Trinity. The only way to the Father is through Christ. Our Union with Christ opens the way for the Holy Spirit to apply all benefits of the salvation earned for us by Christ. God deals with our separation from Him by working faith in us, thereby uniting us to Christ, and giving us new spiritual life. We are passive in these actions.

“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

God Deals with Our Lack of Righteousness

Having united us with Christ in effectual calling, the Father justifies us. Justification eliminates the penalty for our failure to be blameless or righteous (i.e., our willful sinning). Willful sinning sets God’s wrath against us. God’s wrath is total opposition to sin. The penalty for sin is death. Because of our inherited sin nature, failure to live a life of righteousness is a problem beyond human capability to fix. Is it possible to acquire righteousness that is not tainted by our sins? The answer is yes, but not in our own power.

God makes that possible through the Incarnate Christ. The divine Son took to Himself a human nature, lived for a time on earth. As federal head (the second Adam) of those to be redeemed (and hence their vicarious substitute), He earned righteousness for them. He lived a life of perfect righteousness under the Law on behalf of those given to Him by the Father. He died to pay the penalty for their sins, was buried, was resurrected, and ascended into heaven.

Righteousness Apart from the Law: Under the Old Covenant, the righteousness God requires could only be achieved by living a life of perfect obedience under the Law. Because of the Fall, no human could do that. God in His love for humanity knowing their inability to be righteous under the Law, provided a righteousness apart from the Law (Romans 3.) Righteousness, apart from the Law, was possible because of the finished salvation work of the God-Man, Christ. That work included living a perfect life under the Law. Under the New Covenant, mediated by Christ, His righteousness can be credited to those who believe the gospel. Paul says in Romans 3:21-25a, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”

Expiation and Propitiation: Christ’s self-sacrifice on the cross paid the penalty due our sins thus expiating (removing) the death penalty from us. At the same time, Christ’s sacrifice of Himself on our behalf satisfied (propitiated) the Father’s wrath against our sins, thereby changing the Father’s attitude toward us from enmity to being for us. On the basis of Christ’s salvation work, the Father pardons (justifies) sinners, who in faith believe in Christ. 

  • Imputation:  The Father imputes to each believing sinner Christ’s earned righteousness and His payment of the death penalty due sins. In this way believing sinners are “justified” before God (pardoned, declared legally righteous). This righteousness comes from Christ and is in no way dependent on the believer’s obedience to the Law. It is an incredible exchange – Christ assumes the penalty for our sins and shares His earned righteousness with us. 
  • All of Grace: Justification is all of grace, we did nothing. Even faith to believe is worked in us by the Holy Spirit. No fallen human can do anything to earn justification. Justification is instantaneous in application and entirely of God. Believers are passive under justification, contributing nothing to achieving righteous standing before God. 
  • Sin Nature Remains: Though pardoned of the penalty for sins and declared by God to be legally righteous, believer’s sin nature remains. 

God Deals with Our Sin Nature

Regeneration (the Holy Spirit working faith in us) and the indwelling Holy Spirit restores spiritual life and enables believers to spiritually connect with God. Each believer is instantaneously pardoned from the penalty for all sins (justification). But their sin nature remains and hinders growth in holiness. Believers are to be holy as God is holy, both legally and in their person. Justification makes them legally OK, but they are not yet personally holy. This is an ontological issue involving eliminating their inherited sin nature. 

Eliminating a person’s sin nature requires a fundamental transformation of human nature even for regenerated, justified believers. God’s solution is the process called sanctification which begins at justification and ends with glorification. When Christ redeemed us, He redeemed us soul and body. Ultimately, believers are to be like Christ, holy in soul and body. In the process of sanctification, believers become more and more like Christ. Glorification completes the process. At the end of time the souls of believers will be united to a resurrection body that is like Christ’s.

Unlike regeneration where God does everything, believers are given a role in the sanctification process. Sanctification (making holy) progresses in mortal life but the sin nature is not completely eliminated until glorification when believers stand before God. while believers participate in sanctification, the final step, glorification, is a work of God alone.  

God has the primary role in sanctification, believers a secondary role. God works through the indwelling Holy Spirit both by causing believers to want to be obedient to God’s will and by making them able to do it. Jesus is our example (Hebrews 12:2). We are to abide in Christ, striving to walk in the same way he walked (1 John 2:6). Believers are to cooperate with the gracious work of the Holy Spirit as He works to transform their fallen nature. They are to refrain from doing, saying, or thinking things that will grieve or quench the Spirit.

As God’s creatures, believers, in ways appropriate to their created nature, are to cooperate with God’s work both passively and actively – passively by yielding to God (Romans 6:13, 12:1) and actively by doing things He commands like putting to death the sinful deeds of the body (Romans 8:13). Believers are urged, through constant obedience, to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12-13). They are to strive for holiness without which no one will see the LORD (Hebrews 12:14). They are to abstain from immorality (1 Thessalonians 4:3). They are to cleanse themselves from every defilement of body and spirit ((2 Corinthians 7:1). Through fellowship with Christian brothers and sisters, they are to help one another grow in holiness (Hebrews 10:24-25). Both passively trusting God to sanctify us and actively striving to be obedient are vital. Patterns and habits of holiness are measures of maturity (Hebrews 5:14). 

Glorification completes the process of sanctification. Glorification occurs in two steps. At mortal death a believer’s soul is glorified (made truly holy) and brought into the presence of Christ. At the end of time, when Christ returns to earth, believers will receive a glorified resurrection body completing their transformation of body and soul to holiness. Both soul and body will be holy as God is holy. Christ retains His resurrection body today and for always. 

Transformation that Defeats Our Sin Nature

All who are justified will ultimately be made holy (Romans 8:30). The Holy Spirit is instrumental (crucial, necessary) in making believers holy. At justification of a new believer, the Son and the Father send the Holy Spirit to indwell that believer. The process of sanctification begins at that point and continues throughout a believer’s mortal life. 

Sanctification is made possible by Christ’s finished salvation work. The indwelling Holy Spirit enables, guides, and encourages development of internal holiness to oppose and eventually defeat the sin nature. Although believers are passive under regeneration and justification, they are not totally passive during sanctification. They are to actively cooperate with the gracious actions of the Holy Spirit by acting in ways corresponding to what the Holy Spirit is doing and by not doing things that oppose the actions of the Holy Spirit (Philippians 2:13). Striving to understand God’s Word, striving to obey their understanding of God’s commands, loving God with all their heart, and loving their neighbor as themselves are steps in the right direction. 

Step-by-step, believing justified sinners are transformed into an image of Christ. Sanctification begins with justification and ends in glorification. Romans 8:30 assures all justified believers they will be glorified. Then, believers shall be like Him, righteous and holy, both legally and experientially.

Justification and Transformation both Essential

Both justification by imputation of Christ’s righteousness and the transforming work of the Spirit are essential. The Holy Spirit applies all the benefits of Christ’s work to believers by grace through faith.

“The first effect of faith, according to Scriptures, is union with Christ” (p.104). “The proximate effect of this union, and consequently, the second effect of faith is justification” (p. 105)

Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Vol. 3

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