Union is Not the Indwelling Nature, and “Made Sin” Was Never the Inward Nature

In Christ, there is true transfer, and this transfer is not by infusion or impartation. The elect transfer from a condemned state to a justified state by the legal transfer of imputation. They are no longer part of the “old man”; they are now part of the “new man”.

To get to the real question in the debate about impartation v imputation, we need to ask: what is transferred? Is guilt transferred to Christ, or is a corrupt “old nature” also transferred to Christ? (and if so, which comes first, and why does the second follow?)

I have answered this question in this blog many times. Our hope is not ultimately a “new nature” which still leaves us sinners, along with an “old nature”. Our hope as sinners is that we be counted righteous on the basis of imputation, and thus legally constituted (declared) as righteous, in a new legal state.

But we need to ask: what is transferred? The strict baptists (along with Ella and Fortner) who define “union” as the indwelling, need to be asked if the merit of Christ’s death is legally transferred to the elect. If so, what does that mean, and why does it matter, if the more basic question is not the transfer of guilt or merit? If Christ is “made sin” by “more than” guilt-transfer, then is it the indwelling and the new nature, and not the merits of Christ’s death, which finally matter?

We need get away from the idea that “union with Christ” is about regeneration. As long as our categories for judging saved and lost are “regenerate” and “unregenerate”, we will be assuming (even if we don’t define it at all) that “union” means regeneration and that union/regeneration precedes justification.

God’s imputation of Christ’s death to the elect justifies them. There is union by election from before the ages, but in our lifetimes, nothing is more fundamental than justification by God’s imputation of Christ’s righteousness.

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 then a time gap between that 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 legal solidarity with Christ and His work and His benefits. As a result of this legal change, the sheep are born again and believe the gospel, but “union” does not precede justification, except “union by election”.

3. God justifies the ungodly. God does not justify because of Christ’s indwelling (or the gift of faith). God does not justify because God knows that God is going to indwell and change the person. Christ indwells the person because God has justified the person.

A change from a belief in the false gospel to the true gospel is evidence of God’s imputation, but it is never the condition or 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 indwelling and judge saved and lost by regeneration, we will be tempted to ignore the gospel of justification and judge by morality and immorality.

Romans 6 describes two legal states, one of which is “free from righteousness”. We tend to judge people (even ourselves) to be saved on the evidence of morality. But God sees that morality as something to be ashamed of, when those moral people are still in their sins, still not yet justified.

Romans 6 defines the “in Christ” in terms of legally being placed into the death of Christ. Instead of a “sacrament” which makes you a participant in Christ ( understood by some as “participating” even in the deity of God!), our hope as the justified is that God has counted the death of Christ as our death.

I am not denying Christ’s indwelling or the absolute necessity for it. I am only saying that this indwelling is not “union with Christ”. This indwelling is not the “new man”. The “new creation” has to do with a change in legal state, and not first with a change of substance or nature so that Christ can indwell our hearts.

II Corinthians 5:14 “one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live would no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sakes died and was raised. From now on, we regard no one according to the flesh (judging by morality or immorality or by other non-gospel standards)….If anyone is in Christ, there is a NEW CREATION. The old has passed; the new has come.”

“Those who live” means first of all those who are justified. The category of “we died” is not about inwardness but about an imputed legal reality. So also the category of “those who live” is not about an inward change but about an imputed reality, legal life because of justification.

Christ is here indwelling, yes, but also, Christ is not here, not yet, and we believe and obey and hope, waiting for the day when Christ will be here. He is not now coming down from heaven as He will someday, and we are not now going to heaven.

So how then are we in Christ? We are in Christ legally. The old has passed. The legal verdict has already been declared. One day, our resurrection, will be the visible evidence of that verdict.

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14 Comments on “Union is Not the Indwelling Nature, and “Made Sin” Was Never the Inward Nature”

  1. David Adkins Says:

    Very good article. This is Scriptural truth.

  2. Neil Robson Says:

    “To get to the real question in the debate about impartation v imputation, we need to ask: what is transferred? Is guilt transferred to Christ, or is a corrupt “old nature” also transferred to Christ? (and if so, which comes first, and why does the second follow?)”….the theological tenor of scripture would be that Christ had the sin of the elect imputed to Him,not a transfer of a sinfull nature.The same as we are imputed His perfect righteousness,but have no righteousness infused into us.

  3. markmcculley Says:

    I have friends who believe in eternal justification. My bigger problems come with the “justification at the atonement” folks who say that Abraham and OT saints were not really justified at the cross, but then that all the NT elect were justified at that time. This confusion of election/atonement/justification can not do justice to Romans 4 and 5. Even worse, some of these folks are quick to accuse you, if you disagree with them, of making faith the condition. But I don’t. Even though I disagree with the time lag I find in Crisp and Gill, I certainly agree with them that faith is not an instrumental cause of justification.

    Ella has the right enemies, but I have found him not only an unreliable historian and an unclear thinker. He’s anti-knowledge, and the first to claim that Arminians are saved and left in their Arminianism.

    I have read Gill’s original essay on “eternal union” and I think it’s good and important. The fact that he thought it also entailed eternal justification doesn’t mean he’s right about that. “Union” has different aspects. Election is union. Justification by God’s imputation is union. And of course there is not only the legal “in Christ”, but there is also “Christ in us”. So the indwelling of Christ is union.

    Now you could ask, are there (at least) three unions here? If that’s the way a person says it, I have no problem with that (instead of saying “aspects of”. But we can’t reduce everything down to one thing, to one soundbite. Election is not justification. The death and resurrection of Christ we can speak of as His justification, but that death and resurrection is not the justification of the elect, but the cause of the justification of the elect. Righteousness is imputed by God to the elect and this legal application (constitution) results in their justification.

    There is a before and after: the elect always in Christ in one sense are also born legally in Adam. Christ, always the beloved Son of God, is under the law, under sin, under death, and then after the propitiation (reconciliation), Christ is no longer under the guilt and death of the elect.

    • I don’t like the term “union” as it is typically used. I don’t use it, myself. I prefer to stick to carefully defined terms in the ordo salutis, such as justification, sanctification, regeneration, glorification (etc.).

  4. markmcculley Says:

    Justification is not only a matter of knowledge communicated and revealed to us but is real and objective in God’s mind. We really were born under the wrath of God, and it’s not only that we think so. And that’s what we need to tell lost people: not only that they need to be born again, not only that they need to know something (both those things are true) but also that imputation is so real and so legal and so objective before God that when Jesus Christ was imputed with the sins of the elect, that meant that Jesus Christ really had to die in time and space for those sins.

    History is not pretend, not a show. History is God’s actions. And even though justification is not an act God does in the elect sinner, justification is nevertheless an act that has effects in reality so that when God declares a ungodly person to be righteous, the result is life and all the other blessings of salvation.

  5. markmcculley Says:

    ospel Reformation Network Affirmations and Denials

    Article IV – Union with Christ and Sanctification
    • We affirm that both justification and sanctification are distinct, necessary, inseparable and simultaneous graces of union with Christ though faith.
    • We deny that sanctification flows DIRECTLY from justification, or that the transformative elements of salvation are MERE consequences of the forensic elements.

    my questions

    1. Who is the Gospel Reformation Network? Is it a conference of friends who think alike, or does it agree to certain confessions, and does it have ecclesiastical and sacramental authority?

    2. Why is it a problem to deny that “sanctification” flows from justification, as long as “sanctification” result (flows)?

    3. Is the problem that “justification” is defined, but that “sanctification” and “union” are not?

    4. What does “sanctification” mean in Hebrews 10:10-14?

    5. What does “union” mean? Is “union” non-forensic? Is “union” both forensic and non-forensic?

    6. Once you have defined “union”, will you consistently use the word “union” in the way you defined it? Will you be thinking of “union” only as a result “flowing from” faith?

    7. If “faith-union” is a result of faith, and if faith is a result of regeneration, where do faith and regeneration come from?

    8. Is the problem with saying that “sanctification” results from “justification” the fact that we are either justified or we are not? Are we not also either “united to Christ” or not? (Please define “union”. Do you mean “in Christ”? Or do you mean “Christ in us”? Is there a difference in those two phrases? Why do you say “union” when you could be saying “in Christ” and “Christ in us”?)

    9.When you deny that “sanctification” is a “mere consequence” of the forensic, did you mean to deny that “sanctification” is a consequence of the “merely forensic”? What do you have against “merely” or any “sola” which points to Christ’s earned outside righteousness imputed to the elect?

    10. Is the point of the Gospel Reformation Network denial that “union” is not forensic or is the point that it is not “merely forensic”? Is this a question-begging point?

    11. If “sanctification” is “more than” than a “mere consequence”, does that mean that “sanctification” is also more than a result of “union”, so that “sanctification” is in someway identical to “union”, or at least a necessary “condition” for “union”?

    12. Does “union” flow from merely the transformative elements? If union is transformation, and union must come before justification, how is it that God is still justifying the ungodly?

    13. If becoming children of God only means being born again so that we are freed from the power of corruption, what is the need for those who are no longer ungodly to be justified or adopted?

    14. Is “union” a cause or a result of sacramental efficacy? It’s too late now to tell us that the order of application does not matter so much, since you insisted on denying that “justification” was a result of “sanctification”.

  6. markmcculley Says:

    Carl Truman on the Finnish reading of Luther which equates “union” with the indwelling presence of Christ http://www.galaxie.com/article/wtj65-2-05

  7. markmcculley Says:

    The notion that Christ must have assumed a fallen (i.e., corrupt, enslaved) human nature in order to be “made like his brothers in every respect” (Heb 2:17) subtly transforms sin into a constituent of human nature per se rather than an acquired status and condition by virtue of man’s failed ethical response to God and his covenant revelation. By contrast, those who maintain (against Barth; see CD, 4/1, pp. 478-513) a genuine transition from man’s original state of innocence to an estate of sin and misery through Adam’s historical fall hold that human nature as such is necessarily finite but not fallen. To put it differently, original sin is not a given of created humanity, but came upon humanity in the fall. It is, therefore, an ethical, not a metaphysical, aspect of the post-fall condition of man prior to his ethical resurrection in regeneration. http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2015/08/carlton-wynnewas-jesus-morally.php#sthash.5Uu1qB0d.dpuf

  8. markmcculley Says:

    Jesus was not under a curse for being a man, nevertheless as a man became a curse for the elect (Gal 3:13). John 14:30. The ruler of the world is coming. He has no power over Me

  9. markmcculley Says:


    Balthasar argues that Christ must have suffered after death
    He rejects the idea of the limbo of the fathers, holding instead that Christ descended to the place (or state) of eternal punishment. Balthasar prefers to call this abode Sheol rather than hell, in part because he holds that Sheol is something worse than hell. There, Christ suffers the fate of unredeemed mankind: complete rejection by the Father. The Father’s rejection is just, since Christ is “literally ‘made sin’” in Sheol.

    Balthasar thinks that sin is something like a substantial reality due to the energy invested in it by the sinner. This idea has been criticized elsewhere for philosophical reasons, but merely to illustrate it here we might say that, by sinning, a person not only forfeits the good he might otherwise have become but also perverts that potentially positive part of his reality into something negative.

    Balthasar stresses that Sheol is not a place, however, but a condition and thus an intimate spiritual reality. Hence, just as a soul is united to God through the beatific vision , so likewise Christ does not merely “see” sin objectively outside himself but is subjectively united and conformed to it: He is “literally ‘made sin.’” Sin becomes embodied (technically, enhypostasized ) in the Son. The Father’s rejection of sin thus takes the form of his abandonment of the Son in Sheol .

    According to Balthasar, Christ descends not so much in his human soul united to his divine person but ultimately in his divinity alone: Christ’s humanity is “stretched” until “the whole superstructure of the Incarnation” is stripped away. . In Balthasar’s theology, Christ’s descent is expiatory rather than being the first application of the fruit of salvation. Humanity is redeemed by Christ’s cross insofar as the guilt of all sins is actually transferred to him there, but these sins remain to be expiated in Sheol through his suffering their punishment


    Alan Lewis –As the events of that climactic weekend occurred, and as the gospel story recounts them, this did not begin as a three-day happening, destined to end as a story of victory and life. Far from being the first day, the day of the cross is, in the logic of the narrative itself, actually the last day, the end of the story of Jesus. And the day that follows it is not an in-between day which simply waits for the morrow, but it is an empty void, a nothing, shapeless, meaningless, and anti-climactic; simply the day after the end. There is no remarkable tomorrow on the horizon to give the Sabbath special identity and form as the day before the Day of Resurrection. These were anonymous, indefinite hours, filled with memories and assessments of what was finished and past; and there was no reason to imagine that an imminent triumph might render those judgments premature and incomplete. When today we ourselves fail to identify with the story of this Shabbat, refuse to ponder the death of Christ as seen from this vantage point where death is his only fate, and defeat the only verdict on his life, then do not faith and theology cease actually to hear the very narrative by which the church lives?

  10. markmcculley Says:


    ligon duncan—-Jesus’ death was complete to the point of the separation of His body and Spirit. The phrase indicates that His Spirit departed to the realm of the dead.

    Word of Faith teachers Kenneth Hagin and Kenneth Copeland will say things like this: “Jesus did not pay for your sins on the cross. He paid for your sins in hell. His work on the cross did not pay for your sins; His going to hell paid for your sins.” And they teach that the phrase “descended into hell” literally means that Jesus spent time in physical hell under the torment of the devil in order to die a spiritual death and to pay for our sins which were not paid for on the cross.

    Ligon Duncan–Jesus really died even to the point of experiencing soul and body separation. The Creed is driving home the reality of the death of our Lord. He was dead, He was buried. The Creed is emphasizing and confirming the totality and the reality of the Lord’s death In Christian history there have been some people who’ve said, “His spirit was taken to glory before He died.” But you see, by saying “crucified, dead, buried, descended into hell,” He wasn’t merely unconscious. . He was truly dead to the point that His spirit left His body and went to the realm of the dead.

  11. markmcculley Says:

    Even those who don’t say that Christ was made corrupt tend to think that sinners are guilty because of corruption (and not because of imputed guilt) Even those who don’t teach that Christ needed to be regenerated tend to think that justified sinners are made righteous by a new nature (and not only because of Christ’s death)

    John Gill–“Those who are in Christ are ACTUALLY SO, they are really a new creation, and this new man, is in opposition to and distinction from the old man. The old man is the corruption inside the sinner. (commentary on II corinthians 5:17)

  12. markmcculley Says:


    The argument is a protest against all tendencies to docetism. An unfallen nature, it is held, would mean his humanity was not a real one for it would be detached from the world in which we find ourselves. There are a range of problems with the claim. At best, it entails a Nestorian separation of the human nature from the person of Christ. The eternal Son—the person who takes humanity into union—is absolutely free from sin but the assumed humanity is fallen.

    If that were to be avoided, another hazard lurks; since Christ’s humanity never exists by itself any attribution of fallenness to that nature is a statement about Christ, the eternal Son.
    If Christ had a fallen human nature it is unavoidable that he would be included in the sin of Adam and its consequences. In short, he could not have saved us since he would have needed atonement himself, if only for his inclusion in the sin of Adam.

    Such a Christ could not save us for he would need saving himself. Christ’s healing of human nature happened from the moment of conception (p. 121–22). Christ was without sin. Christ does not identify with us to the extent of being a sinner, has “a peculiar distance” from our own performance, and does not follow our path of sin.

    There are those who oppose the idea that Christ took into union a nature like Adam’s before the fall. However, this is not the only alternative. Christ lived in a state of humiliation, sinless and righteous but with a nature bearing the consequences of the fall in its mortality, its vulnerability and its suffering—but not fallen. Furthermore, the NT witness is that the incarnation is a new creation, the start of the new humanity.. Christ is the second Adam, not the first. However, a fallen nature is intrinsic to a fallen human being but it is not definitive of, but incidental to, a human being.


  13. markmcculley Says:

    The confessions teach—The imputation of righteousness does not come to the elect apart from Christ and Christ does not come apart from the Spirit and faith.

    But I say—Christ does not come to the elect apart from the imputation of righteousness and the Holy Spirit is given by Christ.

    Do not assume that “union with Christ” means Christ “indwelling us”

    Christ being in us does not have priority over us being in Christ.

    Christ indwelling is Christ’s presence in us, but without our being in Christ by imputation, we die.

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