Is Union with Christ Regeneration?

Should we be assuming that “union with Christ” means regeneration and that union/regeneration precedes justification?

1. We need to define what we mean by “regeneration”. Since the Bible word is “new birth”, we need to think about this new birth in terms of “effectual calling” by the power of the Holy Spirit with the word of the gospel. We need to get away from the idea that “regeneration” is a “change in substance or nature” and a time gap between that change and the hearing of the gospel.

2. We need to define “in Christ” in terms of justification. Although the Bible does teach that the sheep are always in Christ by election, Romans 16 teaches that some of the sheep are in Christ before other of the sheep. This change is not a first of all a change of regeneration or birth but legally a change of state before God. To be in Christ in this way is to be justified.

Union with Christ is justification, legal union with Christ and His work and His benefits. Immediately after this legal change, the sheep are born again and believe the gospel, but “union” does not precede justification, because union IS justification.

3. God justifies the ungodly. God does not justify because of faith. God does not justify because God knows that God is going to regenerate and change the person. God changes the person because God has justified the person. The change from a belief in the false gospel to the true gospel is evidence of justification, but it is never the reason for God justifying.

Romans 6:17 “But thanks be to God, that you were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were called…”

Roman 6:20 “When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. What fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed?”

As long we define union as regeneration and judge saved and lost by regeneration, we will be tempted to ignore the gospel of justification and judge by morality and immorality.

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7 Comments on “Is Union with Christ Regeneration?”

  1. David Bishop Says:

    An astute and outstanding observation. I spoke to a professing Arminian recently, who made much out of the idea faith precedes regeneration. But this was because he believed one’s faith in Christ’s death and resurrection is what saves a person. However, as I pointed out to him, there are many who believe Christ died and rose again, and who are neither saved, nor, in some cases, even of the Christian religion.

    Rather, as Romans 4:9 states, and as you point out, salvation is first and foremost the direct result of God’s legal work of justification. That is, those who are saved are those who first have been justified. Everything else; regeneration, the Spirit’s gracious gift of faith; these are the benefits that come from having been justified. The unjustified are not regenerated, and the dead cannot believe.

    Arminianism aside, there also reside in the Calvinist camp those who hold to the equally disturbing doctrine of eternal justification. Logically speaking, these people place at least some of the benefits of justification thousands and thousands of centuries after the fact. That is, they would have God justify the elect, before leaving the justified to wander blindly in unbelief and death for decades. This is a very dangerous view to take, because it leaves the door wide for the Arminian opinion that faith causes regeneration. After all, if God’s act of justification doesn’t immediately bring about certain results (regeneration, faith), then the obvious question is, what does?

    • markmcculley Says:

      Even though I don’t know any eternal justification people who put faith before regeneration, we still have your question: if it’s not the righteousness imputed that causes the new birth, and if it’s not faith that causes the new birth, then what does cause regeneration to kick in? I suspect that we shall have to talk about not only the timing of regeneration but also about its nature.

  2. markmcculley Says:

    We need to think about new birth in terms of “effectual calling” by the power of the Holy Spirit with the word of the gospel. Galatians 3 does not talk about two human alternatives, faith or works. Galatians rejoices in the “hearing of faith” created (out of nothing) when God kills us and then makes us alive by His effective call.

    We need to get away from the idea that “regeneration” is a “change in substance or nature” so that there is still a continuity of identity. We died. The we that we now are was not even alive yet.

  3. markmcculley Says:

    Mike Horton on covenant union

    “If union with Christ in the covenant of grace is the matrix for Paul’s ordo, justification remains its source, even for adoption. We do not move from the topic of justification to other ones, but are always relating the riches of our inheritance to this decisive gift.

    In the words of William Ames, ‘Adoption of its own nature requires and presupposes the reconciliation found in justification … The first fruit of adoption is that Christian liberty by which all believers are freed from the bondage of the law, sin, and the world.’

    The antithesis between forensic and effective and legal or transformative is unwarranted. Adoption, like justification, is simultaneously legal and relational, as is the obverse: alienation and condemnation. The tendency to replace the legal the legal exchange with some notion of a transfer of substance, properties, or habits in justification would have as its corollary a concept of adoption in which the adoptee, no longer adopted, receives a transfer of DNA.

    To be sure there are organic as well as legal images for complementary aspects of the wider ordo. Particularly when we exchange a causal paradigm for a communicative one, however, false choices are eliminated. Reformation theology does not leave us in the courtroom, but it is the basis for our relocation to the family room.” (246)

    • markmcculley Says:

      Mike Horton—Even if it is granted that justification is an exclusively forensic declaration, the rest of the order of salvation has usually been treated in Reformed theology as the consequence of an entirely different event the implantation of new life in regeneration.” (Covenant and Salvation p 216

  4. markmcculley Says:

    1. I would question the idea that only one view is standard, since Fesko and Horton are definitely not saying the same thing as Gaffin, Garcia and NT Wright. 2. Look at the quotations from Berkhof, from Boehl, from John Cotton. 3. The mainstream says that union is before both justification and sanctification, but that begs the question of what union is, and what sanctification is. 4. The easy way is to give it a name (Lutheran) and dismiss it. But I don’t agree with the “sacramental union” ideas of either Lutherans or High Reformed. So we need to define union. If union is by election, and if union is by legal imputation, then we can’t go on assuming it means the Spirit’s work of regeneration. 5. We need to preserve the idea of justification of the ungodly: putting the new birth and faith before justification destroys justification of the ungodly and makes justification too late.

  5. markmcculley Says:

    Chafer concludes that since regeneration imparts eternal life, then all references to eternal life are references to regeneration. As a result, Chafer makes the following argument for the priority of faith to regeneration from John 3:16: “What statement could be more direct or conclusive than this? It is asserted that ‘whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’ Thus without exception all that enters into salvation, including the gift of eternal life depends only on the one human requirement of believing on the Savior” (6:113–14).

    Chafer’s entire argument that faith precedes regeneration rests on this understanding of John 3:16. Also appealing to this passage to support faith before regeneration are Lewis and Demarest (Integrative Theology, 3:104)

    Chafer teaches that the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit is so powerful that it effectively counters the effects of the old nature and ALLOWS the unbeliever to choose contrary to his nature. Thus, the old man is either (1) less than totally depraved and able to respond in faith through an “extraordinary presentation of the message of salvation,” or (2) coerced to act contrary to his will. These are the only two logical conclusions to Chafer’s argument.

    An even worse idea is that the the work of Holy Spirit’s work in sinners is God believing for them, or “proxy faith”.

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