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) that “union” 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” and that there is a time gap between it 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 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 has changed the person’s nature. 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.
Romans 6 describes two legal states, one of which is “free from righteousness”. We tend to judge people 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. Union with Christ is justification. The hope of the justified elect is that God has counted the death of Christ as their death.
I ask you to think about it.Why do you always draw the line between the regenerate and the unregenerate? Why don’t you draw the line between the justified and the condemned? Why don’t you judge by if a person knows and believes the gospel?
I am not denying the absolute necessity for the new birth. I am only saying that the new birth is about Christ in us, not about us in Christ. I am only say that the “new creation” has to do with a change in legal state, and not first of all with a change of Character or nature.
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 sake 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 regeneration but about atonement imputed in order to justification. So also the category of “those who live” is also not about a change of character or nature but about an imputed legal reality, a new and different (than before) judicial state before God.