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
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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7 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

  5. markmcculley Says:

    Mark Jones–Man exercises faith in order to receive the saving benefits of Christ’s works of impetration… Good works a necessary part of our perseverance in the faith in order to receive eternal life. Good works are consequent conditions of having been saved.

    Nathan J. Langerak, –What Mark Jones means by “consequent conditions” is that they are new conditions of salvation imposed on the saved person because the person is now saved

    No benefits applied before faith is exercised? Is not faith itself applied before it is exercised? What about regeneration


  6. Mark Mcculley Says:

    One problem with Vicker’s approach is that he wants to say different
    things to different people. He wants to be wise enough to preach faith is not alone to those who believe in faith alone, and then preach
    faith alone (look outside) to those who thank God for having given
    them a new heart which meets the conditions. Vickers concludes: “We must be bold enough to tell people that no amount of confessional
    orthodoxy is enough to save anyone, and that being a dyed in the wool believer of justification by faith is not the same thing as trusting
    Christ for salvation. We cannot skirt the reality that the true people
    of God are meant to live as those who have the Spirit…” (p 162)

    “Meant to”? Yes, the law still commands perfection? But are You living it? I do not ask about how bold and open you are about “covenantal nomism”. I ask, are you self-righteous enough to think that you yourself are the sort of person who will keep on living well enough to make the death of Christ work for you?

    ickers on one hand seems to know that God does not count faith as the
    righteousness. Thus he makes important qualifications. “Faith must not
    be thought of apart from its object.” Good. “Justification is not
    because of faith but by faith.” Correct. And then Vickers uses some
    more confessional language about “instrumental means” of righteousness
    instead of faith being the righteousness, or being counted as a
    substitute or an equivalent for the righteousness. And he concludes,
    “if faith is the righteousness in question, then faith is a work.”
    (p77). Again, I agree, but this won’t help much because the Arminians
    will all simply explain that faith however is NOT a work,

    In some cases, God creates (appoints, constitutes) a legal solidarity
    between two persons, so that what one person has also gets used to
    arrive at a declaring about the second person. So it’s not only judge
    and defendant, but a third party. In the case of Christ’s
    righteousness, the righteousness is the wages due to Christ for his
    death. The righteousness of Christ is God’s analytic declaration about
    what was accomplished in Christ’s death.

    The common idea repeated by Vickers (that God DOES count faith in the
    third party as the righteousness) leaves us with an AS IF version of
    imputation. But imputation is always, in every case, analytic
    declaration, God judging according to truth. Even in the cases in
    which there is a third party, and a legal sharing with the third
    party, the relationship is not “as if”.

    When anybody agrees that, in some sense, God Himself counts faith as the righteousness, they have at the end of the day simply reinforced the idolatry which conditions salvation on what God does in the sinners, instead of what God did in Christ. Sure, that’s important but since it was for all, then the decisive thing becomes regeneration in order to have faith. And then faith alone gets denied, faith gets redefined, and assurance is held hostage to perseverance not in faith but also in works.

    Vickers warns about “the shocking reality that people who call
    themselves Christians rely on practically everything for salvation
    except what lies outside themselves.”But one of the reasons people do this is that they read books like this one by Vickers in which a
    “balance” is attempted between faith alone and “Christ’s death for
    everybody” . I agree that faith is a result of regeneration, but I
    don’t agree when Vickers defines faith as a faithfulness which works.

    Vickers explains that Christ stands as “representative for those who
    believe.’ Now, he might think that’s enough to establish his Reformed
    credentials. After all, that’s also the way Horton and Sproul talk.
    They don’t use the word election if they can avoid it either. But it
    does make for fellowship with those who believe that Christ also died
    for those who don’t believe, and more importantly, it does not address the content or the object of what these “believers” believe.

    If the object of faith is not that big of a deal to get all
    “doctrinal” about ( He’s a person, not the doctrine of justification),
    what will be the focus? It will be the quality of faith. Do you really
    believe? If you did, you would work. If you did believe, you will be
    different and you will keep be different. So much for looking outside

  7. Mark Mcculley Says:

    Lee Irons on A. A. Hodge: “As I argued in Part 9, another argument that enables us to see that imputation is the ultimate cause of faith rather than faith being a condition of imputation, is the case of those who are regenerated in infancy—whether elect infants dying in infancy, or elect covenant children who grow up to adult Christian faith without remembering a day when they did not believe.

    Hodge: “This is obviously true in the case of a person regenerated in infancy, as must be true of all who dies in infancy, and of many others whose early regeneration is attested by their subsequent life. In their case the unquestionable order was as follows: The guilt of Adam was imputed at birth, and they at once lost original righteousness and became spiritually dead. Then the righteousness of Christ was imputed, and they were regenerated and in due course sanctified by the Holy Ghost. In the justification, therefore, of that majority of the elect which dies in infancy personal faith does not mediate

    the Reformed—-Imputation is the ultimate cause of faith (like when infants are born Christians) , except when imputation is not before faith, and then in  those cases non-infants first get the instrument of faith and then God imputes

    John Fesko— It is unnecessary to choose between water baptism and Spirit baptism (except if we are talking about Acts 19 and John’s baptism–see Fesko, 322, Word, Water and Spirit), but it is necessary to say that Spirit baptism is not God’s imputation of Christ’s death to the elect.   Fesko also finds it necessary to say that it’s not Christ’s giving the Spirit, because the Confession teaches that Spirit baptism is the Spirit giving us Christ by means of giving us instrumental faith to  unite us to Christ by faith)

    2 Peter 1:1: To those who have obtained a faith of equal privilege
    with ours through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ


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