Sunday, May 15, 2011

Union with Christ

Union with Christ, isn't a mystical state you reach after mediating or something that occurs during the Lord's Supper or a particular stage in salvation. Instead it's more of a category that runs through whole Ordo Salutis, a way of considering how we are connected to Jesus in each of the separate aspects of Salvation. This is why I've shown it as a red arrow in the slide below rather than a symbol.

Because 'Union with Christ' turns up in so many places (Justin Taylor's accessible little summary gives you a sense of how often the concept appears) through the different doctrines of grace it's hard to name a single representative or summative verse.  Essentially it's our spiritual connection to the person of Jesus that matters because it's by his work we are saved.  It's not that we become absorbed into God in some sort of Buddhist eternity sense or that it's only a token connection, like being a member of the Wilderness Society but as a spiritual aspect of our identity which of course as Christians is dominated by the saving work of Jesus.

Clearly what this doctrine means is that we don't blunder through salvation like a runner on an orienteering course, marking-off our checkpoints saying: "Predestination, done, now on to Justification, wave to Jesus on the way, (I'm glad he made this course, that I now have to run by myself!)."  No, if predestination is God at work through all history and regeneration is the Holy Spirit at work behind the scenes and Sanctification is God making us holy, Union with Christ keeps us close to Jesus throughout the whole process.


Marion said...

Thank you Luke! Excellent.

ish said...

Oh Joy!

Alex Smith said...

It just struck me that humanity's union with Christ is so strong that it enables Christ to raise each and every one of us from the dead. However, even with that extraordinary union, God the Father then extracts most of humanity from Christ and throws them into Eternal Conscious Torment?!

Luke Isham said...

I'm not sure what you mean when you write that "humanity's union with Christ is so strong that it enables Christ to raise each and every one of us" Are you saying everyone on the earth right now is unified with Christ? (BTW Union with Christ doesn't just take place at our resurrection, the elect are predestined in Christ before anything else (Eph 1:3-4).)

Alex Smith said...

My impression was that the Incarnation was the beginning of the union with Christ? Anyway, isn't Christ said to be the Second Adam and to represent humanity. Which is why we get passages like "And when I [Christ] am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself" (NLT)

"Just as the result of one trespass was condemnation of all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men." (Rom 5:18)

"And on the basis of the whole human nature with which the divinity was mixed, which is a certain sort of first-fruits of the common dough, humanity exists according to Christ, through whom all humanity is joined to the divinity." (Gregory of Nyssa, Homily on 1 Corinthians 15:28)

"And now, Christ hath risen out of the dead - the first-fruits of those sleeping he became, for since through man [is] the death, also through man [is] a rising again of the dead, for even as in Adam all die, so also in the Christ all shall be made alive, and each in his proper order, a first-fruit Christ, afterwards those who are the Christ's, in his presence, then the end [the remainder]" (YLT 1 Cor 15:20-24a)

It's a "now & not yet" e.g. is the Kingdom of God here? Yes, it is now, but no it's not yet fully actualized/realized on earth, until the New Creation. So through the Cross, Christ has reconciled all Creation to Himself. "and through Him to reconcile the all things to Himself - having made peace through the blood of His cross - through Him, whether the things upon the earth, whether the things in the heavens." YLT Col 1:20) However, it won't be fully actualized/realized until the New Creation is complete (i.e. after the Resurrection, the Judgement Day & the Lake of Fire for most people).

Sure, the elect are the first-fruits of God's salvation. Israel were elected to be part of God's plan of salvation, similarly believers today are elected to be part of God's plan of salvation.

Luke Isham said...

So was that a yes?

Alex Smith said...


A qualified yes, as Paul rightly says, "each in his proper order", which implies it's a "now & not yet".

Paul says a similar thing here, "This is good and acceptable in the sight of our God our saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus: Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time." (1 Tim 2:3-6, KJV)

This fits well with "This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance. For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, Who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe. These things command and teach." (1 Tim 4:9-11) i.e. Paul is describing the situation right now, where Jesus is the Savior everyone, but obviously it's especially real/actual for those who believe that.

It also fits well with the following passages:

"The Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world." (1 John 4:14)

Jesus is "the Christ, the Savior of the world." (John 4:42)

Jesus "is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world." (1 John 2:2)

Jesus "did not come to judge the world but to save the world." (John 12:47)

"Jesus, was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone." (Heb 2:9)

Alex Smith said...

I don't think the passages (usually parables) which encourage people repent & believe, to realise/actualise (e.g settle out of court) it now, rather than later, diminish the scope.

Luke Isham said...

As we've already discussed on previous occasions a long list of verses, without their context, neither proves nor disproves universalism. So for example; where I might qualify "all" you might qualify Jesus' comments about only a few being saved.

Union with Christ, is a theme, a category, a way of understanding, that runs through all the doctrines of grace. It neither proves or disproves Universalism. In a sense there are non-Christians walking around already unified with Christ because they are in Christ when they are elected, just as there are people walking around who aren't unified with Christ on their way to destruction. (CS Lewis picks this up well in his idea of all people in this world on a trajectory to heaven or hell.) It's not, as you said in your first comment, that the reprobate are unified and then un-unified, but that they were never unified with Christ to begin with!

Alex Smith said...

It's not just a random list of verses, they are all dealing with the theme of Christ's union with world/humanity, and how it's now and not yet. Furthermore, some seem to be self-sufficient passages, e.g. Rom 5:18. Adam caused condemnation for all men, Christ caused justification for all men. If you limit the one, you limit the other. What context is there that changes that? Unlike Matt 25, which can be qualified by showing the underlying word aionios is primarily qualitative not quantitative, I'm not sure what you can do here? I guess you could say justification isn't what I think it is? Similar to Joe, who now tells me the Biblical view of "reconciliation & restoration" isn't relational but purely subjection!

How do you qualify "whole world" in 1 John 2:2?

I assume you're also rejecting Gregory of Nyssa's understanding of 1 Corinthians 15:28? :(

How do you deal with the fact that you think the scope of the Second Adam is much less than the scope of the First Adam? When the Second Adam is described as being far greater? Doesn't Christ deserve 100% of mind, body & spirit, of 100% of Creation to be freely, lovingly worshiping Him?

We are vaguely on the same page, in that you see 10% of humanity walking around as non-Christians who are already unified, whereas I see 90% of humanity walking around as non-Christians who are already unified :)

Even with Lewis that trajectory isn't permanent after death e.g. The Great Divorce, where the man with the lizard of Lust on his shoulder was saved, and the MacD character who assures Lewis that the woman frightened by the unicorns may yet be saved, as he has seen it happen before.

We are all reprobates who are unified with Christ... but I see your point, the Calvinist view is that those elected to ECT are never unified with Christ (although I still find this strange because I thought the union with Christ, was what brought universal resurrection).

Luke Isham said...

Again, you can't claim that some verses are purely universalist while verses that appear to be against universalism require context. Where is the logical consistency in that claim? Either they all require explanation or none of them require explanation. You can't have your cake and eat it! ;-)

BTW with the Great Divorce you neglect to mention Napoleon moving deeper and deeper into Hell and the passengers who saw the outskirts of heaven and preferred Hell, but nonetheless Lewis' idea of trajectory that begins in this life is useful one.

No offence to Joe, I have no idea what he means by saying "the Biblical view of "reconciliation & restoration" isn't relational but purely subjection!"

"I guess you could say justification isn't what I think it is?" I'm not completely sure what you mean but I guess Universalism would have to apply all doctrines equally to everyone, this would be more straightforward with some which are by nature vaguer and more general, like 'Union with Christ', but more difficult with doctrines like say Predestination. But the default tradition of church history would be to not interpret the Doctrines of Grace (Ordo Salutis) as being Universalist.

Alex Smith said...

I'm not denying the need for everyone to qualify some passages, which is why I've shown you how I would qualify Matt 25. Please show me how you would qualify "all men" in Rom 5:18 and "whole world" in 1 John 2:2?

How do you justify the scope of the Second Adam being much less than the scope of the First Adam?

Does Christ deserve 100% of mind, body & spirit, of 100% of Creation to be freely, lovingly worshiping Him?

Luke Isham said...

We're moving away from both 'Union with Christ' generally and more specifically the issue you raised, 'does the doctrine of union with Christ prove Universalism.' But I appreciate the discussion Alex!

I don't mind explaining why Rom 5:18 or 1 John doesn't support Universalism or why Matt 25 or Luke 13 supports the traditional doctrine of eternal punishment but we're going to run into the same problem as in previous discussion. You're saying we only need to " qualify some passages" And I'm wondering if you're so keen to qualify Luke 13 or Matt 25 why can't we qualify Rom 5:18? Somewhat ironically I'm asking you why not "qualify all passages"?

1 John 2:2 Is somewhat tricky because Amyraldians hold that Christ died for everyone (the world) but that it only counts when you have faith. They argue that verses such as this one drives them from the idea of "particular atonement" or "limited atonement." I would argue that the world is more of a place/category then a word that means every-single-person. For example at the beginning of the John's gospel it describes Jesus as "coming into the world."

Rom 5:18 Verse 17 "those who receive" specifies a sub-category within the sweeping "all" statements of that section. Furthermore in the same book, in the same package of ideas, comes Romans 9:22 ("vessels of wrath prepared for destruction").

Matthew 25; The parable argument is a weak one and you haven't proved why Jesus would say only a few are saved or that some will be eternally punished but actually mean the opposite.

Luke 13; context is very useful in this passage because Jesus' questioner may have been a unilateralist and asks "will only a few be saved?" We have to assume that the following comments from Jesus are his answer to that question, to your question Alex, "will only a few be saved?:"

Alex Smith said...

I thought we were still talking about passages dealing with the scope of the 'Union with Christ'? :)

Anyway, before I look at your passages, please let me clarify my statement about qualifying. I think when we read the Bible with a systematic theology in mind, some of the passages line up with that system and some don't line up, and therefore need qualification or further explanation. This happens with Calvinism, Arminianism and Universalism. If I had to qualify all the passages, then I would be worried about my system, likewise with you, if you had to qualify all passages, I'd be worried about your system. Does this make sense?

Luke Isham said...

My bad, I see and yes 'union with Christ' is a general enough doctrine that if you believe the elect is everyone and the reprobate is no-one then 'union with Christ' could be applied universally, that is to all the elect.

Regarding qualification, no verse sits above the pack so to speak, you may realise another year that verse that you thought proved one thing is actually trickier then you thought and vice versa. There's no pure, plain, verse that requires no context or no explanation at all.

Alex Smith said...

Sounds like we were talking about different levels of "qualification", I guess even translation is a form of "qualification" :)

Anyway, back to the verses:
1 John 2:2 I think it only changes you once you have faith, however, I still think that it counts before that, as grace doesn’t rely on any human action, not even faith/acceptance. I can’t think of any human who isn’t covered by the category “world”. Yes, occasionally “the world” means a place, but do you really think that all those passages I mention make any sense with it being a place? e.g. “The Father has sent the Son as Savior of the [place]." (1 John 4:14)

Jesus is "the Christ, the Savior of the [place]." (John 4:42)

Jesus "is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole [place]." (1 John 2:2) He definitely talking about people here!

Jesus "did not come to judge the [place] but to save the [place]." (John 12:47)

Rom 5:18 “those who receive” doesn’t have to limit all, i.e. “those” could as easily be “everyone” as it could be “a few”. However, given that the gift/life/grace is described as much greater, I think that on purely numerical terms, the scope would need to be as large as death’s, in order to not be lesser in any regard. Which makes sense because v18 says all who received condemnation, will also receive justification and life.

Even Packer says, “destruction” isn’t the end of the story, so while many with experience wrath/destruction, that isn’t their final destiny but a terrible chapter. Talbott explained this better than I can. Basically, I’m reading Rom 9:22 in light of Rom 5:18 :)

Matthew 25 I have nothing against parables, in fact, the Parable of the Prodigal Son is one of my favourite passages of the Bible as I believe it’s everyone’s story. However, I can’t use that parable to prove universalism, because parables are stories, the genre doesn’t contain all the details, it uses dramatic language, metaphors, hyperbole, idioms, colloquialisms, generalisations, all of which make it less suitable for literalistic/precise/specific/exact doctrine to derived from it. Similarly, we have to be careful to what extent we base doctrine on the “Songs of Solomon”, the apocalyptic book of “Revelations”, the genealogy at the start of Matthew, or OT poetry. I think it’s odd that The genre isn’t that of say the epistles.

Obviously I don't think I'm saying it’s the opposite of what Jesus said :) Also “long” or “lasting” and even “undefined” aren’t opposites of “infinite”. Although, tend to think Talbott’s arguments for it being qualitative are strong too.

What about this one: "Having looked the word up in secular and other sources, I have concluded that the best English translation of the adjective is "lasting". One secular source used it as part of a description of a stone wall. Also, the Jewish historian Josephus, used the word in reference to the length of the prison sentence of a person called "Jonathan". It has been said that that it was a 3-year sentence.... hardly "eternal". Though the word doesn't mean "eternal" it sometimes is used in reference to that which is eternal. There is a Greek word, “αἰδιος”, which does mean "eternal". The word occurs in Romans 1:20 with reference to God's "eternal power and deity". If Matthew had understood Jesus to refer to "eternal punishment" and "eternal life" in Matthew 25:46, why did he choose the Greek adjective “αἰωνιος”? Why did he not choose “αἰδιος”?"

Alex Smith said...

Luke 13 I think v30 sums up the parable nicely, "Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.” i.e. Israel, who were the first, will be cast out and become the last to enter. Similar to Romans where it talks about being cutoff before being grafted back on.

Luke Isham said...

1 JohnWorld, "cosmos" in Greek like 'eternal' has a range of meanings. For your universalistic definition to make sense you need to make it mean 'every single person' as opposed to 'the sinful realm.' I think there is more fluidity to the word then you're conceding. "Sinful realm" makes more sense in those passage than "every single person."

Romans 5:18 As I pointed out to Talbott, Moo, who is better than Murray on these particular verses, says the subcategory mentioned by Paul in verse 17 shows that Paul doesn't have universal salvation in mind but is primarily making a point about the nature of justification and Original Sin. Furthermore why should Romans 9:22 be read in the light of Romans 5:18, why not vice versa?

Matthew 25 Is your argument that we can only get doctrine from the epistles? If so then it's flawed because all genres have issues that make them difficult to apply for example the epistles sometimes give practical instructions that we only take the principles from. Your argument against using parables to illustrate and explain doctrine also ignores the idea that " All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness," (2 Tim 3:16)

Isn't even 'a very long time', nearly no time at all compared to eternity! Surely x or y length of time is shorter than forever! While there is a qualitative dimension to reduce to simply that is unbalanced, it clearly includes both a qualitative and a quantitative dimension.

I didn't quite that last paragraph are you now saying all example of eternal shouldn't mean forever. That the concept of "forever" doesn't exist in Scripture?

Luke 13 You've turned Jesus' comments to a universal audience (the gospels are written to a universal audience) into something only about the nation of Israel at that time, which has two problems. One you've made an assumption about the audience (only Israel) and two you've introduced the nation of Israel into a passage patently about salvation.

Don't you think that the person asking Jesus "will only a few be saved?' is a Universalist? And Jesus answers (without reference to Israel) in the affirmative.