God unites the elect to Christ by judicial declaration

The elect don’t become united to Christ by believing. Nor do the elect become united to Christ by water baptism or eating bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper. The new birth does not unite the elect to Christ. The Holy Spirit does not unite the elect to Christ. God unites the elect to Christ by judicial declaration. Romans 4:17, “God gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things which do not exist.”

I know that I am going against Calvin when I deny that the Holy Spirit unites the elect to Christ. I know that I take sides with John Gill and Edward Boehl and against the mainline when I deny that faith (given by the Holy Spirit) unites the elect to Christ. But I think the Bible gives the first place to Christ and what Christ got done legally and judicially. To look to Christ in us and to life in us (given by the Holy Spirit) is to look away from life in Christ and the testimony about what He has done.

I Corinthians 1:28-30, “God chose even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no flesh can boast in the presence of God. God is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” It is not faith that made God the source of life. It is not the Holy Spirit who made God a source of life. God not only chose the elect in Christ; God also judicially declared the elect to have life in Christ.

“Consider your calling,” begins I Corinthians 1: 26. It does not begin with the Holy Spirit changing the elect or causing them to believe. It begins with the Father declaring and calling. It begins with justification. Having Christ and having life is a result of justification. If the elect could have life and Christ before justification, it would be too late for justification, and there would be no need for justification or for the cross.

After the justification of the ungodly elect, they become godly but they still need the Holy Spirit and the new birth. But if they could get the Spirit and life without the righteousness, they would not ever need the righteousness. Romans 8:10, “the Spirit is life because of righteousness.”

Calvin thought that the Spirit united to Christ

I don’t want to spend a lot of time on what Calvin and the confessions say, or on what Gill and Boehl teach, but let me simply rehearse what I think is inconsistent and wrong in Calvin. He denies that justification is union-producing. Calvin teaches that union effects justification, and that the Holy Spirit unites the elect to Christ before they are justified, and that faith in Christ is before justification.

Since this is what almost everybody teaches, I won’t multiply quotations. Institutes 3:11;7, “Before his righteousness is received Christ is received in faith.” Of course we need to remember that, in theory, we all say it happens at one time and that we are only talking about logical order. I agree that the new birth and faith in the gospel happen at once when God declares an elect person to now be justified. Calvin agrees that, once an elect person has received Christ by faith by means of word or sacrament, that this person is also at the same time justified (alhtough Calvin thinks the justified will continue being justified).

But Calvin seems to make everything logically depend on regeneration by the Holy Spirit. I think everything logically depends on God’s justification by the righteousness of the cross.

Part of what needs to be thought about here is what we mean about regeneration (and corruption). We need to think about the image of God and about the continuity of a person before and after regeneration (or corruption). I am suspicious of any gospel which makes its “reality” to be ultimately about what God does in us, metaphysically or dispositionally or habitually.

I am aware of a long philosophical history of talking about infusion. While I don’t want to say that regeneration is an infusion or even an impartation of righteousness, and I certainly don’t think that regeneration comes by means of sacraments, I do not want to discount the wonderful news that God gives the elect a new heart to understand and to keep believing the gospel. Regeneration assures us that the justified, despite their continuing immorality, will never stop believing the gospel . “I John 3:9, “No one born of God sins, because God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot sin because he has been born of God.”

I John 3:9 is not only saying that the justified elect cannot be charged with the sin of not believing the gospel. Of course it is true that Christ died as a result of being imputed with the elect’s sins in not believing. But Christ also died in order to give the Spirit to the elect so that the elect would abide in the gospel, and the gospel would abide in the elect. When I deny that the Spirit gives Christ or that the Spirit unites to Christ, I am not denying that Christ gives the Spirit or that the Spirit gives the elect person a new heart.

But I disagree with Calvin that the Spirit joins the elect to justification. Here’s one more quotation from Calvin (3:11:10): “I confess that we are deprived of justification until Christ is made ours. Therefore, that joining together of Head and members, that indwelling of Christ in our hearts—in short, that mystical union—are accorded by us the highest degree of importance, so that Christ, having been made ours, makes us sharers with him in the gifts with which he has been endowed.. We do not, therefore, contemplate him outside ourselves from afar in order that His righteousness may be imputed to us but because we put on Christ and are engrafted into His body—in short because he deigns to make us one with Him.”

Of course you can say this is all much about nothing, but Calvin seems to think it is very important, and so do the academics like Torrance and Gaffin and Ferguson who write every essay so that they can get to a quotation from Institutes 3:1:1. As long as Christ is outside us, they say, His righteousness is not yet imputed to us, therefore faith in Christ comes before justification. Of course they agree that there is an eternal election, but there’s hardly any need to ever talk about that, because the important thing we all have in common with people who don’t believe in election is that we agree that faith is the condition of union with Christ and that this union with Christ is the condition of justification and also of both definitive and progressive sanctification.

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2 Comments on “God unites the elect to Christ by judicial declaration”

  1. MARK MCCULLEY Says:

    I am still waiting for any Bible verses which prove “infused righteousness”.

    Objection: God imputes this thing Christ purchased for the elect to the elect. I don’t deny that but If that’s the case, then I have to ask, where does Christ fit into that? Why don’t you talk more about Christ in your heart?

    mark:. Christ, besides being the earner who obtained all the blessings of salvation for the elect by His obedience, now does these two things. Christ both indwells (lives in) the justified and also intercedes (in heaven) for the elect.

    The indwelling—- Where faith is, Christ is. Luther was certainly correct about that truth, but it’s a mistake to locate the righteousness in the faith, or identify the righteousness with Christ’s life inside us (as Osiander did.)

    The work to earn righteousness for the elect was done outside of the elect. The righteousness which resulted and which is imputed is always outside of the elect. Bunyan explained: the righteousness is in heaven. The righteousness belongs not to us alone in our insides but to all the elect. The righteousness also belongs still to Christ.

    objection: Because if that is indeed the case, then to be blunt about it, we don’t even need Christ Himself anymore. He bought what we need, so now He can step back, go do whatever while God hands out what He purchased. Why would we have faith in Him? Our faith would be in what He purchased instead. How does that glorify Christ?

    mark: Of course Socinians who deny forensic justification often ask this, but I understand that you are not denying any forensic thing. You are only denying the only. You are merely deny the mere imputation. You want the forensic plus more, also Christ Himself the person living in you, but not only that, but let’s say it, Christ in us our righteousness.

    I agree that Christ the person is not a something to be imputed. I agree that the true Christ is given to live in the justified elect. We don’t need false alternatives, such as “HIM vs His work”. But we also need true antithesis. The “life of God inside the of the man” IS NOT THE RIGHTEOUSNESS.

    In By Faith Not By Sight, Richard Gaffin : “Typically in the Reformation tradition the hope of salvation is expressed in terms of Christ’s righteousness, especially as imputed to the believer…however, I have to wonder if ‘Christ in you’ is not more prominent as an expression of evangelical hope…” p110

    Gaffin wants to say that both the “in us” and the “outside us” combined are our hope. His hope “as well” is Christ’s life in us defined as the power to avoid sin despite our “incomplete progress, flawed by our continued sinning”.

    Instead of making a distinction between dead works (Hebrews 6:1,9:14) and “fruit for God” (Romans 7:4), Gaffin bases assurance partly on Christ’s life in us evidenced by our imperfect but habitual obedience.

    Gaffin takes Romans 2:13 to be describing Christians. The hope for future justification is not Christ’s death, resurrection, and intercession outside us ALONE. Gaffin cautions us to remember that the obedience (works, avoidance of sin) which he thinks factor into assurance come from God living in us. He gives grace the credit for our “breach with sin”.

    I agree that the gospel is not only about what Christ did outside of the elect for the elect. The gospel is also about the effectual call which results from election in Christ. One evidence of this effectual call is that the justified elect do not put their assurance in Christ’s life in us or even in what they call God’s effectual call.

  2. markmcculley Says:

    Calvin–“The first thing to be explained is how Christ is present with unbelievers, to be the spiritual food of their souls, and in short the life and salvation of the world. As. Hesshusius] adheres so doggedly to the words, I should like to know how the wicked can eat the flesh of Christ which was not crucified for them, and how they can drink the blood which was not shed to expiate their sins?” Theological Treatises trans. J. K. S. Reid (1954) p. 285.


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