If It’s Faith that Causes You to be United to Christ, then it’s Faith that Causes Your Sins to be Imputed to Christ

Romans 5:11 “We rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the atonement.”

Romans 8:10–“But if Christ is IN YOU, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life BECAUSE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS.

Galatians 4:5-6 –“to redeem those who were under the law, so that we would receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

Imprecise “union” talk can be very dangerous. SOME theologians (Kevin Dixon Kennedy, Torrance) are using the concept of “union” to say that the atonement which really matters is the application of Christ’s death. Therefore, no double jeopardy, they say, unless somebody for whom Christ died has been “united to Christ.” In other words, SOME OF THEM TEACH THAT CHRIST DIED ALSO FOR THOSE WHO WILL PERISH.

It’s one thing to say that Christ’s death will be effective, and another to say WHY Christ’s death must be effective. Christ’s death saves not only because of God’s sovereign will but also because of God’s justice.

Although John Owen taught that God only imputed the sins of the elect to Christ, Owen did not teach that all the elect were justified as soon as Christ bore those sins. Owen taught with Romans 6 that the elect must come into legal union with Christ’s death. Until the elect are “placed into” that death, they remain under the wrath of God.

But SOME use “union” talk to change the meaning of the atonement and accuse the rest with thinking there is no need for faith. If the substitution for sins has already been made, they say, then all for whom it was made should logically already be justified. If the righteousness has already been obtained, then all for whom it was earned should logically already be justified by it. This is the claim made by SOME who use “union” to make the application of the atonement to be the atonement.

But it’s clear that Owen did not teach justification apart from faith. It’s also clear that Owen did not teach that faith was a mere recognition that we were already justified. (See Carl Trueman’s various books and essays on John Owen). “Unionists” should not ignore Owen’s careful distinction between the atonement and the legal application of the atonement. Some unionists do, some don’t
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Some “unionists” locate the efficacy of the atonement not in Christ’s propitiation itself but only in the efficacy of regeneration and faith to unite people with that propitiation. This is their argument: “you can’t say that there’s double jeopardy until after a person has been married to Christ by faith. Then, and only then, they say, could you say that a person was dying for the same sins twice.”

But otherwise, it is claimed, you can teach everybody that “Christ is dead for you” without that meaning that Christ has died for your sins, because according to them, Christ’s death for sinners is not the same thing legally as Christ’s death to pay for the specific sins of sinners. So, again according to them, it’s the “union” which designates for whose sins Christ died.

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4 Comments on “If It’s Faith that Causes You to be United to Christ, then it’s Faith that Causes Your Sins to be Imputed to Christ”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    How you define the word will determine where you put it in sequence, and also that where you have it in the order will influence your definitions.

    For example, if you think that it’s faith that unites us to Christ’s righteousness, then you could very well think that it’s faith that causes your sins to be imputed to Christ. But that order contradicts Gal 4:6–”because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit into your hearts.” In Gal 4:5, Christ’s redemption comes first.

    But the order will of course be confusing if you keep using the word “union” in different senses. If you say that justification cannot be logically prior to “union” in Ephesians 1, that only makes us wonder which definition of “union” is being used in this case. If there is one sense in which sinners are in Christ by election, then “election-union” is certainly previous to “faith-union” in Ephesians 1.

    To say it directly, if “union” IS by definition imputation and justification, then there can be no legal union which is not already justification. Many folks define “union” as sanctification, ie as that sanctification which they think precedes justification, ie, regeneration, definitive sanctification.

    Not all “unionists” define union the same way. I would think the most inclusive definition of “union” for them would be “not justification”. But many of them include the legal in their idea of “union”.
    And when you include the legal in the union, it makes it difficult to say that union is before the legal.

    Adoption, redemption, and the forgiveness of sins seem pretty “forensic” to me.

    Ephesians 1:4–In love He predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ

    Ephesians 1:7–in Christ we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our sins…

  2. markmcculley Says:

    two answers: 1. I use the esv or the nrsv, but I don’t make a big deal about it. All translations have fauts, some more than others.

    2. Faith is the sinner’s act of agreeing and consenting to God’s gospel. I deny that faith is something God for us or in us. God’s effectual calling causes the elect to change their wills/minds so that they believe God’s gospel.

  3. markmcculley Says:

    I often ask Calvinists about why they have not yet reformed from using the word “infusion” and the idea of “infused righteousness”.

    I want to see the word “righteousness” in the Bible where it has the meaning of “infusion”. I am not asking to see the word “infusion”. I know it’s not there. But I want you to show me some inner righteousness, which is not legal and imputed. Many read Romans 6 with the assumption that it says that the Holy Spirit (or the church) unites us to Christ on the inside. The chapter does not say that, and we should not read it with that assumption.

    It’s not enough to give a formal “I don’t deny that it also means the legal also”, if you then consistently look at texts and say “more than the forensic”, especially when the texts don’t mean anything other than the forensic. The legal death has effective inner consequences, but the consequences are not to be equated with the death or the righteousness.

    Romans 6:20,21–“when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed. The end of those thing is death”

    It is legal union with the death which has justified the elect and set them free. Before their justification, they may have already been ashamed of immorality. But they were not ashamed of their piety, their self-righteousness, or of their attempts to cooperate in the building of their own righteousness in attempts to gain assurance by a pattern of obedience to imperative. Now they count all that trash (Philippians 3).

    We agree that Christ’s righteousness is the merit of His work. Christians are “servants of righteousness”. But it has not been demonstrated that “the righteousness” is both imputed and infused.

  4. markmcculley Says:

    thesis and antithesis on God’s imputation of Christ’s death

    God imputes Christ’s righteousness
    faith does NOT impute Christ’s righteousness

    righteousness is imputed
    faith is NOT imputed

    God’s righteousness is Christ’s death
    God’s righteousness is NOT in us

    God’s righteousness is the external objective value of Christ’s death
    Christ’s righteousness is NOT imparted or infused

    God imputes Christ’s death to create effectual calling
    God does NOT effectually call in order to imputed Christ’s death

    God imputes Christ’s death to cause faith
    God does NOT impart faith in order to cause imputation


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