The Centrality and Importance of the Doctrine of Union with Christ

[HT: Glen Clarey]


>Do You Need Knowledge Or Understanding In Your Suffering?

>Recently, my new office buddy Carolyn recommended a book by Dale Ralph Davis on preaching from Old Testament narrative texts.  In the second chapter, he lists nine literary features, or “quirks” as he calls them, that the interpreter needs to be able to recognize in order to get a grasp on the point of a narrative.

  1. Reticence
  2. Eavesdropping
  3. Selectivity
  4. Sarcasm
  5. Imagination
  6. Surprise
  7. Emphasis (Repetition)
  8. Intensity
  9. Tension

In his discussion on “eavesdropping,” he notes that often the biblical author will provide insight to the reader that the protagonist in the narrative does not know.  The reader, in essence, gets to know what is going on behind the scenes as we watch the protagonist try to figure things out on his own.   

One of the examples he provides to show this literary feature is in Job.  As many know, Job was put through a great trial and suffered greatly in the process.  And this trial was not because of blind fate, bad luck or even Satanic cause–it was God who providentially brought this trial on Job.  In Job 1.8, it is Yahweh who brings Job up to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job . . .”  Yahweh initiates but also limits the trial (see 1.12).  Prior to Job’s trial and suffering, there is a meeting that takes place between God and Satan–a meeting that the reader knows about, but Job doesn’t.  We are given insight into Job’s situation that Job himself does not have, “[Job] goes through his whole struggle in the dark, knowing nothing of the accuser who ridicules his loyalty nor of the fact that Yahweh has steadfastly been for him,” (p. 13).

This perspective made me think about Job’s suffering in a new light.  Job does not know the details surrounding his trial and suffering–and this lack of knowledge is what clouds his faith.  He never loses faith–but he does lose his patience, even to the point of demanding that God answer him (Job 31.35).  And throughout, it is clear from Job’s words that he is trying to recount his actions to find where he went astray–actions that would warrant such judgment from God.  And he cannot put his finger on it.  He just doesn’t know why.

And this is telling for us.  When we find ourselves in trial and affliction, it is quite easy for us to grow impatient in the trial–especially with God himself.  And this is quite natural–for trial and affliction are not easy or fun.  They are difficult and they can cloud our spiritual vision so that we look with our physical eyes rather than our eyes of faith.  And when we do this, we set ourselves up for further suffering–for our physical eyes only see what seems to be causing the pain.  We look to know the details of why we are suffering by looking only at the realities of this world.

During these seasons of trial, we don’t need knowledge–we need understanding.  We need to look with the eyes of faith at the other worldly realities that are going on behind the scenes.  Job could not see them–but God shows them to us.  And he does so because these same other worldly realities are still at work.  We get to peer behind the scenes with Job so that we come to understand what is going on behind the scenes in our own suffering. 

And the reality is this:  God is providentially testing his people, this testing takes place in the midst of spiritual warfare wrestling not “against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places,” (Eph 6.12).  And this is not to harm us but to strengthen us, to help us peer behind the veil of our own trials with eyes of spiritual understanding.  We don’t need specific details, we need spiritual understanding that comes from peace with God, knowing that trials and suffering bring us to know Christ and the power of his resurrection, and that we may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible we may attain the resurrection from the dead (Phil 3.10-11).

The peace of God we need comes to us in the gospel.  That silly message that tells us that in Christ, life is found through death, that exaltation comes through humiliation, that peace in suffering is found not in knowledge but in understanding–gospel understanding.

Are you feeling wearied in your trials and suffering?  Do you find yourself becoming impatient with God and demanding him to answer you?  Then step back, think through the gospel afresh.  God has provided everything you need for this affliction, so stop frustrating yourself by looking for what he has not told you and trust the behind-the-scenes-insight he has shown you.  Find yourself in your afflicted state united to Christ with whom you suffer, be comforted in his resurrection that is yours by faith, and then rejoice in the Lord who is at hand so that you may not “be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” (Phil. 4.6-7).  There is no answer, there is no help, there is no comfort, there is no hope apart from your life being hidden in Christ.

>"’True’ and ‘Truth’ in the Johannine Writings" – Geerhardus Vos

>This morning in the men’s Bible study at Pasha Coffee & Tea, the men were discussing 1 John 218-27 with particular emphasis on John’s use of “true,” “truth,” “anointing,” and “abiding in you.”  In all these things, John seems to equate these words together with the Anointed One himself, Jesus Christ.  So what does all this mean?

Well, a helpful place to look is Geerhardus Vos’ article “‘True’ and ‘Truth’ in the Johannine Writings.”  In that article, Vos helps to show that John uses these terms in relation to Jesus and who he is as the eschatological savior come from heaven to earth and as such, his words share in his “otherworldliness.”  The truth of Christ and his words has more to do, then, than just speaking of their trustworthy character; his words are heavenly and come from heaven as he did.  As such, Christ abides in his people through his truth–truth that is bound up with his word, the Bible.  Here are a few snippets:

When Jesus is called “the truth,” it would be a rash judgment to assert that this can mean nothing else than that His words are the supreme, incarnate veracity. The noun can just as well mean, and undoubtedly, in view of the usage of the adjective, sometimes does mean, that the supreme reality of the things that compose His character is incarnate in Him. The fulness of “truth,” which, side by side with “grace,” resides in the Only Begotten, must mean far more than the reliability pertaining to His words;

It cannot be otherwise than that the words of Him who is by nature and origin the “veritable” One should partake of the same character precisely because they are His. His kingdom is not of this world (but of the heavenly world), and for this very reason He came from the higher into the lower world that He should bear witness unto “the truth,” and that every one that is of “the truth” should hear His voice (18:37).

He is simply “not of this world.” And what is true of Jesus is, of course, on the principles of the Johannine teaching throughout, in the statements both of Jesus and of the Evangelist, applicable to the disciples, for in no document is the identification of Jesus with the believer more emphatically affirmed.

What is practically involved is the principle of ultimate spiritual value in regard to destiny. The practical name for this is the principle of “otherworldliness.”

The life of faith is not just about trusting Christ’s word, though it does include that, but it is about trusting that his word is at work within us binding us to him so that we understand that the heavenly life of Christ has intruded in us now and is working within us until we enter in to the full consummation of our heavenly inheritance.  The truth of Christ shares in Christ’s nature and therefore binds us to him, which comes to us in the form of an anointing.  So, as the anointing you received from him abides in you . . .and is true . . . abide in him (1 John 2.27).

You can find the article in Vos’ Shorter Writings, or read the entire article online for free here.

Gospel Submission and Wives

>My friend Keith Watson has stirred up quite a bit of action on his Facebook page with this status:

Ephesians 5:22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Let me know your thoughts – ladies!

Well, I thought this is a good question. And in light of some of the responses he is receiving, I thought I might weigh in by publishing a sermon I wrote on this text and topic a couple of years ago.

Here is a snippet:

The new creation submission for wives, then, flows out of their union with Christ, who as their mediator submitted himself perfectly to the Father’s will and accomplished the redemption of his people and their marriage to Christ–the very redemption that empowers marriage and that marriage is to reflect. The submission that wives are to give to their husbands flows out of Christ’s very own submission to the Father.

You can read the entire sermon here. Sorry, no audio.

As Keith asked, so do I. Let me know your thoughts, ladies!

Resources on "Union with Christ"

Lord willing, for the next three Lord’s Days, I will be filling the pulpit for Trinity OPC in Huntington, WV. Given that they have two services a week, I will have six opportunities to open up God’s word to them. So, I have decided to do a short, six-sermon series on the doctrine of “Union with Christ.”

I have not nailed down exactly what those six sermons will be as of yet, but here is my initial list:

  1. Union and the Structure of Redemptive-History
  2. Union and Effectual Calling
  3. Union and the Cross-centered Life
  4. Union and Sanctification
  5. Union and Worship
  6. Union and Fellowship

Now, I realize that I have omitted one of the hotly debated topics right now, Union with Christ and Justification. That topic alone could take up six sermons, and my purpose is not to try and answer that issue. Rather, if John Murray is correct that, “Nothing is more central or basic than union with Christ and communion with Christ,” (161), or that “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 in the finished work of Christ, (ibid.), then, I want to show this importance in how it works itself out in the piety and practice of the church, in addition to its theology.

If you have any recommendations, let me know!

In preparing for these sermons, I have found a very helpful resource on the doctrine of Union with Christ by Phil Gons.

You can find his list here:

Top Picks

I haven’t read all of these sources, but of the ones I’ve read, here are some of my top picks:

  1. Michael P. V. Barrett, “Union with Christ: The Security of the Gospel,” in Complete in Him: A Guide to Understanding and Enjoying the Gospel (Greenville, SC: Ambassador–Emerald, 2000), 93–118. [Amazon]
  2. Bruce A. Demarest, “The Doctrine of Union with Christ,” in The Cross and Salvation: The Doctrine of Salvation,[1] Foundations of Evangelical Theology, ed. John S. Feinberg (Wheaton: Crossway, 1997), 313–44. [Amazon | Google Books | Logos]
  3. Wayne A. Grudem, “Union with Christ,” in Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 840–50. [Amazon | Google Books | Logos]
  4. Michael Horton, “Union with Christ,” in Christ the Lord: The Reformation and Lordship Salvation, ed. Michael Horton (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992), 107–15. [Amazon]
  5. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “Union with Christ,” in God the Holy Spirit, vol 2. of Great Doctrines of the Bible (Wheaton: Crossway, 1997), 106–16. [Amazon | Logos]
  6. John Murray, “Union with Christ,” in Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955), 161–73. [Amazon | Google Books]
  7. Robert L. Reymond, “Union with Christ,” in A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 2nd ed. (Nashville: Nelson, 1998), 736–39. [Amazon | Logos]

Dictionary and Encyclopedia Articles

  1. P. Mark Achtemeier, “Union with Christ (Mystical Union),” Encyclopedia of the Reformed Faith, ed. Donald K. McKim and David F. Wright (Louisville, KY; WJK, 1992), 379–80. [Amazon | Logos]
  2. J. P. Baker, “Union with Christ,” New Dictionary of Theology, ed. Sinclair B. Ferguson, David F. Wright, and J. I. Packer (Downers Grove: IVP, 1988), 697–99. [Amazon | Logos]
  3. Alan Cairns, “Mystical Union,” Dictionary of Theological Terms: A Ready Reference of Over 800 Theological and Doctrinal Terms, 2nd ed. (Greenville, SC: Ambassador–Emerald, 1998), 237. [Amazon]
  4. Peter Dinzelbacher, “Mystical Union,” The Encyclopedia of Christianity, ed. Erwin Fahlbusch, Han Milič Lochman, John Mbiti, Jaroslav Pelikan, and Lukas Vischer, trans. Geoffrey William Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 3:670–72. [Amazon | Logos]
  5. Henry W. Holloman, “Union with Christ,” Kregel Dictionary of the Bible and Theology: Over 500 Key Theological Words and Concepts Defined and Cross-Referenced (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2005), 560–61. [Amazon]
  6. Robert P. Meye, “Union with Christ,” in “Spirituality,” Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, ed. Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid (Downers Grove: IVP, 1993), 433–36. [Amazon]
  7. Peter T. O’Brien, “Being ‘in Christ,’” in “Mysticism,” Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, ed. Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid (Downers Grove: IVP, 1993), 624. [Amazon]
  8. R. David Rightmire, “Union with Christ,” Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), n.p. [Amazon | Logos]
  9. Mark A. Seifrid, “In Christ,” Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, ed. Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid (Downers Grove: IVP, 1993), 908–09. [Amazon]
  10. J. F. Walvoord, “Identification with Christ,” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd ed., ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic), 588. [Amazon | Logos]
  11. Ben Witherington III, “The En Christō Formula,” in “Christ,” Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, ed. Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid (Downers Grove: IVP, 1993), 98–99. [Amazon]

Chapters or Sections in Systematic Theologies

  1. Louis Berkhof, “The Mystical Union,” in Systematic Theology, 4th ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 447–53. [Amazon | Google Books | Logos]
  2. G. C. Berkouwer, “‘Mystical’ Union with Christ” and “Union and Communion,” in The Church, trans. James E. Davison, vol. 14 of Studies in Dogmatics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976), 84–91. [Amazon | Google Books | Logos]
  3. James Montgomery Boice, “Union with Christ,” in Foundations of the Christian Faith: A Comprehensive and Readable Theology, rev. ed. (Downers Grove: IVP, 1986), 388–98. [Amazon | Google Books | Logos]
  4. Wilhelmus à Brakel, “The Communion of Believers with Christ and with Each Other,” in The Christian’s Reasonable Service, trans. Bartel Elshout (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1992), 2:86–106. [Amazon | Logos | Monergism]
  5. J. Oliver Buswell Jr., “The Mystical Union,” in A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1963), 2:217–26. [Amazon]
  6. Lewis Sperry Chafer, “The Believer’s Position in Christ,” in Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1976), 4:92–100. [Amazon | CBD | Google Books | Logos]
  7. Robert Duncan Culver, “The Doctrine of Union with Christ,” in Systematic Theology: Biblical and Historical (Ross-shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus, 2005), 664–70. [Amazon | Logos]
  8. Robert Lewis Dabney, “Union to Christ,” in Systematic Theology (Carlisle, PN: Banner of Truth, 1996), 634–39. [Amazon | Logos]
  9. Millard J. Erickson, “Union with Christ,” in Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 961–67, 987. [Amazon | Logos]
  10. John Gill, “Of the Eternal Union of the Elect of God unto Him,” in A Complete Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity; or, A System of Evangelical Truths, Deduced from the Sacred Scriptures (London, 1796), 1:290–94. [Amazon | Google Books]
  11. Wayne A. Grudem, “Union with Christ,” in Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 840–50. [Amazon | Google Books | Logos]
  12. A. A. Hodge, “Union of Believers with Christ,” in Outlines of Theology (New York: Robert Carter, 1863), 369–74. [Amazon | Archive | Google Books |Logos]
  13. Charles Hodge, “Union with Christ,” in Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1960), 3:104. [Amazon | Archive | Logos]
  14. Thomas C. Oden, “Union with Christ and Sanctification,” in Life in the Spirit, vol. 3 of Systematic Theology (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992), 205–57. [Amazon | Logos]
  15. Robert L. Reymond, “Union with Christ,” in A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 2nd ed. (Nashville: Nelson, 1998), 736–39. [Amazon | Logos]
  16. Morton H. Smith, “Union with Christ,” in Systematic Theology (Greenville, SC: Greenville Seminary Press, 1994), 2:491–98. [Amazon | Logos]
  17. Augustus H. Strong, “Union with Christ,” in Systematic Theology: A Compendium and Commonplace Book Designed for the Use of Theological Students (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1907), 3:795–809. [Amazon | Archive | Google Books | Logos]
  18. Charles R. Swindoll and Roy B. Zuck, “Discovering the New You in Christ: United with Christ in Sanctification,” in Understanding Christian Theology (Nashville: Nelson, 2003), 961–70. [Amazon | Logos]

Chapters or Sections in Biblical Theologies

  1. James D. G. Dunn, “Participation in Christ,” in The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 390–412. [Amazon | Google Books]
  2. Herman N. Ridderbos, “In Christ, with Christ: The Old and the New Man,” in Paul: An Outline of His Theology, trans. John Richard De Witt (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 57–64. [Amazon | Google Books]

Chapters or Sections in Other Books

  1. Michael P. V. Barrett, “Union with Christ: The Security of the Gospel,” in Complete in Him: A Guide to Understanding and Enjoying the Gospel (Greenville, SC: Ambassador–Emerald, 2000), 93–118. [Amazon]
  2. Bryan Chapell, “United for Life,” in Holiness by Grace: Delighting in the Joy That Is Our Strength (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001), 39–65. [Amazon | Google Books | Logos]
  3. Bruce A. Demarest, “The Doctrine of Union with Christ,” in The Cross and Salvation: The Doctrine of Salvation,[2] Foundations of Evangelical Theology, ed. John S. Feinberg (Wheaton: Crossway, 1997), 313–44. [Amazon | Google Books | Logos]
  4. Richard B. Gaffin Jr., “Union with Christ,” “Union and Justification,” and “Union with Christ and the Resurrection,” in By Faith, Not by Sight: Paul and the Order of Salvation (Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster, 2006), 35–41, 58–68. [Amazon | Logos]
  5. Richard B. Gaffin Jr., “Union with Christ: Some Biblical and Theological Reflections,” in Always Reforming: Explorations in Systematic Theology, ed. A. T. B. McGowan, 271–88. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2006. [Amazon]
  6. Anthony A. Hoekema, “Union with Christ,” in Saved by Grace (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 54–67. [Amazon]
  7. Michael Horton, “Union with Christ,” in Christ the Lord: The Reformation and Lordship Salvation, ed. Michael Horton (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992), 107–15. [Amazon]
  8. Abraham Kuyper, “The Mystical Union with Immanuel,” in The Work of the Holy Spirit, trans. Henri de Vries (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1900), 333–37. [Amazon | Google Books | Logos]
  9. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “Union with Christ,” in God the Holy Spirit, vol 2. of Great Doctrines of the Bible (Wheaton: Crossway, 1997), 106–16. [Amazon | Logos]
  10. Robert A. Morey, “Union with Christ,” in Studies in the Atonement (Las Vegas, NV: Christian Scholars, 1989), 89–102. [Amazon | Logos]
  11. John Murray, “Union with Christ,” in Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955), 161–73. [Amazon | Google Books]
  12. Benjamin B. Warfield, “Communion with Christ: ‘Conferences’ in the Oratory of Princeton Seminary,” in Faith and Life (London: Longmans, 1916), 415–27. [Amazon | Archive | Logos]


  1. J. Todd Billings, Calvin, Participation, and the Gift: The Activity of Believers in Union with Christ, Changing Paradigms in Historical and Systematic Theology (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008). [Amazon]
  2. Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson, eds., Union with Christ: The New Finnish Interpretation of Luther (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998). [Amazon]
  3. Mark A. Garcia, Life in Christ: Union with Christ and Twofold Grace in Calvin’s Theology, Studies in Christian History and Thought (Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster, 2008). [Amazon]
  4. Michael S. Horton, Covenant and Salvation: Union with Christ (Louisville, KY: WJK, 2007). [Amazon]
  5. Kye Won Lee, Living in Union with Christ: The Practical Theology of Thomas F. Torrance, vol. 11 of Issues in Systematic Theology (New York: Peter Lang, 2003). [Amazon]
  6. Walter Marshall, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification: Growing in Holiness by Living in Union with Christ, ed. Bruce H. McRae (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2005). [Amazon | Google Books][3]
  7. Samuel B. Schieffelin, Children of God and Union with Christ (New York: Board of Publication of the Reformed Church in America, 1896). [Amazon]
  8. Lewis B. Smedes, Union with Christ: A Biblical View of the New Life in Jesus Christ, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983). [Amazon]
  9. Augustus H. Strong, Union with Christ: A Chapter of Systematic Theology (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1913). [Archive | Google Books]
  10. Dennis E. Tamburello, Union with Christ: John Calvin and the Mysticism of St. Bernard, Columbia Series in Reformed Theology (Louisville, KY: WJK, 2007). [Amazon | Google Books]
  11. J. Stephen Yuille, The Inner Sanctum of Puritan Piety: John Flavel’s Doctrine of Mystical Union with Christ (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage, 2007). [Amazon | RHB]

Journal and Magazine Articles

  1. Craig B. Carpenter, “A Question of Union with Christ? Calvin and Trent on Justification,” WTJ 64:2 (Fall 2002): 363–86. [Logos]
  2. Mark A. Garcia, “Imputation and the Christology of Union with Christ: Calvin, Osiander, and the Contemporary Quest for a Reformed Model,”WTJ 68:2 (Fall 2006): 219–51. [Logos]
  3. Don Garlington, “Imputation or Union with Christ? A Response to John Piper,” RAR 12:4 (Fall 2003): 45–102. [Logos]
  4. Michael S. Horton, “Union with Christ: The Double Cure,” Modern Reformation, July–August 2006, 6–11.
  5. S. Lewis Johnson Jr. “Studies in the Epistle to the Colossians, Part VII: The Complete Sufficiency of Union with Christ,” BSac 120:477 (January 1963): 13–23. [Logos]
  6. Kevin Woongsan Kang, “Justified by Faith in Christ: Jonathan Edwards’s Doctrine of Justification in Light of Union with Christ,” WTJ 65:2 (Fall 2003): 360. [Logos]
  7. Paul Louis Metzger, “Luther and the Finnish School: Mystical Union with Christ: An Alternative to Blood Transfusions and Legal Fictions,” WTJ 65:2 (Fall 2003): 201–13. [Logos]
  8. Vern S. Poythress, “Ezra 3, Union with Christ, and Exclusive Psalmody: Part 1,” WTJ 37:1 (Fall 1974): 74–94. [Logos]
  9. Vern S. Poythress, “Ezra 3, Union with Christ, and Exclusive Psalmody: Part 2,” WTJ 37:2 (Winter 1974): 218–35. [Logos]
  10. Donna R. Reinhard, “Ephesians 6:10–18: A Call to Personal Piety or Another Way of Describing Union with Christ?” JETS 48:3 (September 2005): 521–32. [Logos]
  11. Seng-Kong Tan, “Calvin’s Doctrine of Our Union with Christ,” Quodlibet Journal 5:4 (October 2003).

Conference Papers

  1. B. Dale Ellenburg, “‘In Christ’ in Ephesians” (paper presented at the 48th National Conference of the Evangelical Theological Society, Jackson, MS, November 21–23, 1996).
  2. J. L. Terveen, “Union with Christ: Pauline Christological Touchstone in Colossians 2:8–15″ (paper presented at the 54th National Conference of the Evangelical Theological Society, Toronto, ON, November 20–22, 2002).
  3. Robert B. Thieme III, “Union with Christ” (paper presented at the Northwest Regional Conference of the Evangelical Theological Society, Portland, OR, April 4, 1987).

Dissertations and Theses

  1. J. Todd Billings, “Calvin, Participation, and the Gift: The Activity of Believers in Union with Christ” (ThD diss., Harvard University, 2005). [Proquest]
  2. Farouk T. Boctor, “Union with Christ in the Work of Father Matta El-Meskeen” (ThM thesis, Westminster Theological Seminary, 1995).
  3. Mark D. Brock, “The Relationship of Spirit Baptism to Union with Christ” (ThM thesis, Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, 2005).
  4. William Borden Evans, “Imputation and Impartation: The Problem of Union with Christ in Nineteenth Century American Reformed Theology” (PhD diss., Vanderbilt University, 1996). [Proquest]
  5. Bruce Alan Forsee, “The Role of Union with Christ in Sanctification” (PhD diss., Bob Jones University, 1985). [Proquest]
  6. Wayne D. Griffith, “The Influence of Union with Christ on the Relational Practice of Pastors” (DMin diss., Covenant Theological Seminary, 2005).
  7. Kevin Woongsan Kang, “Justified by Faith in Christ: Jonathan Edwards’ Doctrine of Justification in Light of Union with Christ” (PhD diss., Westminster Theological Seminary, 2003). [Proquest]
  8. Thomas L. Holtzen, “Union with God and the Holy Spirit: A New Paradigm of Justification” (PhD, diss. Marquette University, 2002). [Proquest]
  9. Marcus Peter Johnson, “Eating by Believing: Union with Christ in the Soteriology of John Calvin” (PhD diss., University of St. Michael’s College, 2007). [Proquest]
  10. Kevin Dixon Kennedy, “Union with Christ as Key to John Calvin’s Understanding of the Extent of the Atonement” (PhD diss., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1999). [Proquest]
  11. Kevin E. Murphy, “The Mystical Union as Manifested by Saint John of the Cross and Saint Teresa of Avila” (MA thesis, University of Wyoming, 1966). [Proquest]
  12. Jonathan D. Paver, “Union with Christ in the Theology of Dr. John Owen (1616–1683): With Special Emphasis on Its Impact on Sanctification and a Christian’s Duty” (MA thesis, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 1996).
  13. Robert Dean Peterson, “The Atonement as Mystical Union with Christ in the Thought of Horace Bushnell” (PhD diss., Saint Louis University, 1984). [Proquest]
  14. Mark Stephenson, “Clinging to God in the Night: A Reformed Critique of the Teachings of St. John of the Cross on Spiritual Darkness and Union with Christ and Applications for Ministry” (ThM thesis, Calvin Theological Seminary, 2005).
  15. Dennis Edward Tamburello, “Christ and Mystical Union: A Comparative Study of the Theologies of Bernard of Clairvaux and John Calvin” (PhD diss., The University of Chicago, 1990). [Proquest]
  16. Steven Walker, “Union with Christ and the Sacraments: Clarifying the Federal Vision Theology of Douglas Wilson and Peter Leithart” (MA thesis, Reformed Theological Seminary, 2007).

>"Union with Christ" – Ordained Servant March 2009

>The March edition of Ordained Servant is now available online. This month’s edition focuses on the topic of the doctrine of union with Christ. I will state up front that this edition is not for the faint of heart. There is a serious exchange between John Fesko and Richard Gaffin concerning the proper reading of John Calvin on the doctrine of union with Christ and the two-fold blessing of justification and sanctification. There is particular interest given to the question of the relationship of justification to sanctification.

The editor states at the beginning that he realizes there is a certain amount of risk in attempting an exchange like this, and so he has sought to “minimize the heat and concentrate on the light.” To this end, he assures the reader that “Fesko and Gaffin are engaged in a gentlemanly debate and have each agreed that the other’s presentation is fair in its argument and honest in its representation of the other’s view.”

In the editor’s opening article “The Risk of Serious Debate,” the reader is encouraged to engage in the discussion despite the risk because in-house debate refines our understanding of scripture and lends clarity to our articulaton of it. In an age where postmodern relativism has created a culture that cannot have rigorous debate and maintain unity and peace, the church should be the place to have serious debate while maintaining our first love. If the OPC cannot do this, then the editor suggests that “our theological tradition is doomed to a kind of fractiousness that will render us truly irrelevant.” He closes with some sage and godly wisdom:

Confessional truth, it seems to me, has always been arrived at in just this way, through thoughtful, respectful discussion within the bonds of the trusting and loving fellowship of the visible church. Until an ecclesiastical formulation—or perhaps understanding of what has already been formulated—is arrived at, every ear ought to be open, carefully listening. So let’s take the risk of debate together. I have no dog in this fight, just lots of esteemed fathers and brothers in the faith seeking to disciple the nations in the truth of Scripture. Let us commend one another’s work for consideration, especially when we disagree.

>Inseparability of Justification and Sanctification

>Back in 2006, the OPC received and published its “Report on Justification.” The purpose of the report was to “to critique the teachings of the ‘New Perspective on Paul,’ ‘Federal Vision,’ and other like teachings concerning the doctrine of justification and other related doctrines, as
they are related to the Word of God and our subordinate standards . . .” However, one of the features that I really like about the report is that prior to critiquing the novel proposals concerning the doctrine of justification, the report first puts forth a clear, positive biblical/confessional understanding of justification that has been the historic position of the OPC and the Reformed tradition.

In the justification debate that is currently taking place, one of the major areas of discussion relates to the relationship of justification and sanctification. I have included below a very helpful summary of this relationship from the OPC’s “Report on Justification.”

Now, since I am pulling this section out of the broader context, let me include a helpful footnote from page 58 (Report)/28 (Booklet) that is meant to help the reader know that in the discussion of justification and sanctification, it is progressive sanctification that is specifically in view and not definitive sanctification:

It is important to note here, and to keep in mind throughout the discussion that
follows, that the term “sanctification” here is being used in its traditional Reformed sense of a progressive, inward work of God’s Spirit making believers holy. This is the meaning used in the Westminster Standards: “Sanctification is the work of God’s
free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and
are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness” (WSC 35).
Some recent Reformed theologians have also spoken of a “definitive sanctification,”
indicating, with an appeal, e.g., to Rom 6:1–7:6, the believer’s once-for-all deliverance from being under the enslaving dominion of sin to being under the lordship of Christ and enslaved to righteousness; see John Murray, “Definitive Sanctification,” in Collected Writings, 2.277–93; and idem, Principles of Conduct: Aspects of Biblical Ethics (1957; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 202–28. This idea is not directly under discussion here. (emphasis mine)

Happy reading. If you enjoy this section and would like to read the whole thing (which I highly recommend) the OPC has bound it and made it available for the low cost of $7.50 here. As the report says for itself I reiterate here, “In the interests of maintaining the truths of the gospel and the purity, the peace, and the unity of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the report is commended to you for study.”

2. The Inseparability of Justification and Sanctification (pp. 59-63/28-30)

This quotation of WLC 77, though focusing upon the differences between justification and sanctification, also states that these blessings are “inseparably joined.” Gainsayers have constantly attempted to show the incompatibility of the biblical doctrine of justification with a genuine interest in the moral life. The apostle Paul already confronted and answered such
objections. Immediately after laying out the doctrine of justification in Rom 3–5, Paul faces his detractors: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” (6:1). Shortly thereafter, Paul asks a similar question: “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace?” (6:15). In Galatians, one can again hear the challenge of the gainsayer in the background: “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh” (5:13). Does justification, with the grace and freedom that it bestows, make one indifferent to, or even encourage one to despise, the concern for holiness? Paul’s answer is “By no means!”94 (Rom 6:2, 15).

Part of the reason why this is true is rooted in the doctrine of union with Christ. Before the WLC and WSC address the saving blessings of effectual calling, justification, adoption, and sanctification, they affirm the union with Christ true of all believers (WLC 66; WSC 30). WLC 66 states: “The union which the elect have with Christ is the work of God’s grace, whereby they are
spiritually and mystically, yet really and inseparably, joined to Christ as their head and husband; which is done in their effectual calling.” Union with Christ underlies justification and sanctification and the other saving blessings, as WLC 69 goes on to explain: “The communion in grace which the members of the invisible church have with Christ, is their partaking of the virtue of his
mediation, in their justification, adoption, sanctification, and whatever else, in this life, manifests their union with him.”

Scripture teaches this doctrine that we are justified and sanctified in union with Christ and that, correspondingly, justification and sanctification manifest that union. We are “justified in Christ” (Gal 2:17). In regard to sanctification, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4). Significantly, both of these passages just quoted fall in contexts in which Paul answers objections that his doctrines of justification and sanctification are incompatible. Justification and sanctification flow out of the same union with Christ. The one who is united with Christ must enjoy both justification and sanctification.

In addition to the doctrine of union with Christ, the idea of the ordo salutis makes clear that justification is prior to sanctification. This is not priority in the sense that one is somehow more important than the other. Neither is it a temporal priority, strictly speaking, for there is no such thing as a justified person who is not also being sanctified. But while justification is the necessary prerequisite of the process of sanctification, that process is not the necessary prerequisite of justification. It is true to say that one must be justified in order to be sanctified; but it is untrue to say that one must be sanctified in order to be justified. Justification and sanctification bear a relationship to each other that cannot be reversed.

Minimally, Scripture teaches that sanctification is not incompatible with a justification that comes by grace alone through faith alone. Paul, for example, after acknowledging the objection to his doctrine of justification in Rom 6:1, goes on to explain (6:2–7:6) that in fact those who by faith in Christ are united to him in his death and resurrection and so are no longer slaves to sin now live in newness of life, offering up their bodies as instruments of righteousness. Paul is clear that the grace of God in Christ that justifies also sanctifies and does not nullify sanctification, as the Reformed tradition has consistently affirmed.

Beyond this minimal perspective, however, Scripture and the Reformed tradition have made a stronger affirmation. It is not simply that justification is compatible with sanctification, but also that justification is necessary for sanctification. Reformed theologians have expressed this conviction in various ways. Calvin, for instance, when explaining why justification, “the principal
ground on which religion must be supported,” must be given such great care and attention, writes: “Unless you understand first of all what your position is before God, and what the judgment which he passes upon you, you have no foundation on which your salvation can be laid, or on which piety towards God can be reared.”95 Turretin comments: “Justification stands related to sanctification as the means to the end.”96

These claims rest upon solid biblical and theological considerations. Christ’s words in Luke 7:47, in regard to the sinful woman who anointed him at a Pharisee’s home, are on point: “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” The fact that this woman loved much was the proof that her many sins had been forgiven. If her love was possible apart from the forgiveness that comes in justification, then Christ’s appeal to this evidence loses its force. Without the experience of forgiveness, there is no love; where there is love, one can be sure that there has been forgiveness. Perhaps Paul’s most powerful statement of this necessity of justification for sanctification is Gal 5:13: “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Both Martin Luther (1483–1546) and John Calvin perceived the profundity of what Paul writes here, connecting Christian liberty, and thus justification, with sanctification.97 Earlier in Galatians, Paul has argued that it is only through justification by faith in Christ that one receives freedom—and thus Calvin rightfully calls the doctrine of Christian liberty “a proper appendix to Justification.”98 Following Paul’s lead, Calvin reflects upon why the Christian’s freedom, far from discouraging good works, in fact enables them. He writes:
“Being constantly in terror so long as they are under the dominion of the law, they are never disposed promptly to obey God, unless they have previously obtained this liberty”; and later: “How can unhappy souls set themselves with alacrity to a work from which they cannot hope to gain anything in return but cursing? On the other hand, if freed from this severe exaction, or rather from the whole rigour of the law, they hear themselves invited by God with paternal
lenity, they will cheerfully and alertly obey the call, and follow his guidance.”99 For Calvin, no one can hope to begin pursuit of the good works that God requires, nor in the way he requires, apart from the peace of conscience gained only in justification.

Also relevant to note is the relationship between faith and works. As discussed above, faith is unique and thus distinct from works. But the Westminster Standards also teach that good works are never absent where faith is present. Though WLC 73 wishes to emphasize that faith justifies as an instrument and not in any other way, it does speak of “those other graces which do always accompany it” and “of good works that are the fruits of it.” Likewise, WCF 16.2 states: “Good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith.” According to the Standards, therefore, good works must always accompany faith. Good works are the fruit and evidence of faith (though faith is not the fruit and evidence of
good works).

Paul affirms these truths in passages such as Gal 5:6, where he speaks of “faith working through love.” Likewise, James emphasizes that any genuine faith will be accompanied by works: “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (2:17). James also connects faith and works a few verses later, while giving faith the causal priority: “You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works” (2:22). In this context, James shows that Abraham’s justification by faith (2:23; Gen 15:6) issued forth in good works, illustrated by his obedience in offering up Isaac many years later (2:21–22; Gen 22). In this connection, we may note that there is no dispute in doctrine between Paul and James on justification. Though there
have been differences among Reformed theologians on the particular exegetical details of Jas 2, many of them have effectively demonstrated the doctrinal concurrence of these two apostles. Any apparent disagreements between them (arising particularly from James’ statement that justification is “not by faith alone” in 2:24) are the result not of contradictory theologies, but of their intent to address different issues within the church and their different uses of the term “faith.” As J. Gresham Machen succinctly commented, “The faith that James is condemning is not the faith that Paul is commending.”100 Even mainstream biblical scholars, with no particular interest in defending the overarching doctrinal unity of Scripture, have recognized this point.101

94 Paul’s phrase, me genoito, “strongly deprecates something suggested by a previous question or assertion” and “expresses the apostle’s abhorrence of an inference which he fears may be (falsely) drawn from his argument” (see Ernest De Witt Burton, Syntax of the Moods and Tenses in New Testament Greek, 3d ed. [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1900; Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1976], 79).

95 Calvin, Institutes, 3.11.1.

96 Turretin, Institutes, 2.693.

97 See, for example, Luther, “The Freedom of a Christian,” in Luther’s Works, vol. 31 (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1957), 333–77; Calvin, Institutes, 3.19.1–5.

98 Calvin, Institutes, 3.19.1.

99 Calvin, Institutes, 3.19.4–5.

100 J. Gresham Machen, The New Testament: An Introduction to its Literature and History
(Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1976), 238–39.

101 For example, Luke Timothy Johnson writes of Paul and James: “Despite the remarkable
points of resemblance, they appear not to be talking to each other by way of instruction or correction. Rather, they seem to be addressing concerns specific to each author.” See The Letter of James, AB, vol. 37a (New York: Doubleday, 1995), 64.