Category Archives: 1 Corinthians

Union with Christ

 

“The present writer has not the least doubt in his mind that the subject of spiritual union is the most important, the most profound, and…the most blessed of any that is set forth in the sacred Scriptures. Yet, sad to say, there is hardly any that is now more generally neglected. The very expression “spiritual union” is unknown in most professing Christian circles; and even where it is employed, it is given such a protracted meaning as to take in only a fragment of this precious truth. Probably its very profundity is the reason why it is so largely ignored in this superficial age. Yet there are still a few left who are anxious to enter into God’s best and long for a fuller understanding of the deep things of the Spirit. It is principally with these in mind that we take up this subject. -A.W. Pink (1886-1952)

Our recent posts concerning 1 Corinthians 15 have been focused on the outworking of humanity’s union with Adam, as introduced by the divinely inspired pen of the Apostle Paul, 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 1 Corinthians 15:22-23

After looking at our relationship with Adam through his federal and seminal headship and subsequently the consequences of his original sin that have permeated down to this very day among all mankind, we turn now to the other side or parallel of the relationship defined in the passage above, namely a believer’s union with Jesus Christ.

As a reminder, the Apostle has introduced this parallel relationship between Adam and Christ for the purpose of magnifying the resurrection of our Lord, His defeat of sin and death, and our subsequent defeat of sin, death, and bodily resurrection by means of our union with Him.  This is communicated through, “by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead” and “so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”  It is this simple, short statement in Christ that we want to focus our attention.

The Puritans described three ways in which the union with Christ could be understood and described.  These are not three distinct unions, rather three parts or aspects of the one union with Christ. First, what they called an “Immanent Union”, a pre-temporal union, that is, outside of time and space.  Second, a “Transient Union” or union with Christ in times past through the events at the cross, namely His mediatorial death, resurrection, and ascension.  Finally, a “Applicatory Union” that is, an actual union with Christ by faith, or we may say experimentally, better still a present reality in time and space at the moment we trust in Christ.

First, our pre-temporal union with Christ may be seen clearly in Ephesians 1:3-4, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.”

It is this phrase, “in him”, along with the previously mentioned, “in Christ” that expresses the various ways in which believers are in union with Christ.  In this particular passage, the Holy Spirit, through the pen of the Apostle Paul, is communicating our union with Christ before the foundation of the world.  On this, John Murray writes, “The fountain of salvation itself in the eternal election of the Father is ‘in Christ’.”  This pre-temporal union is not universal, but is limited to the elect of God whom He has sovereignly chosen according to His own good pleasure, reason, and justification, apart from any works, deeds, or otherwise inherent goodness in man.

  •  Summarily we may say that this union is a work of the Father through the plan of redemption in Christ.

Second, what the Puritans referred to as a transient union, or that which occurred through the mediatorial death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The classic passage representing this is Romans 6

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self[a] was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Romans 6:3-11

This union with Christ answers that battlefield question, “For whom did Christ die?”  The answer is that He died for those who would ultimately believe, those whom the Father chose and have been given to Him (John 6:37).  Murray again writes, “It is also because the people of God were in Christ when he gave his life a ransom and redeemed by his blood that salvation has been secured for them; they are represented as united to Christ in his death, resurrection, and exaltation to heaven.”

  • Summarily, we may say that this aspect of union is a work wrought by Christ through His perfectly obedient life, death on the cross, resurrection from the grave, and His mediatorial role as Kingly High Priest by which He presides over all those in the New Covenant.

Third, the “applicatory union” or what is sometimes called the mystical union is the experiential union that comes by way of faith in Christ.  When a sinner repents of sin and places their God-given faith in Christ, they are united to Him in a very real way.  It is the application in time and space of the two previous unions discussed above. Ephesians 2:4-10 is offers a typical explanation

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

Notice also that our sanctification, “created in Christ Jesus for good works” is expressly related to our union with Christ as well.  This is the link to our obedience that our Lord describes in terms of the vine and branches in His sermon from John 15:1-17.

  • Summarily, we may say that this aspect of the union is a work of the Holy Spirit in applying the benefits purchased by Christ on the cross and sealing those for whom election was decreed by the Father and purchased by the Son.

The union with Christ intimated in 1 Corinthians 15, takes these three to their ultimate conclusion, namely resurrection from the dead unto life for all who have believed in Christ, therefore bringing our union with Him in a death like His and a resurrection like His to consummation in glorification like Him.

Union with Christ is central to the New Testament teaching of our salvation.  In fact, without it, there is no salvation.  It is the basis of our election, the basis for our justification, the basis for our adoption, the basis for our sanctification, and will be the basis for our glorification when we are raised from the grave and given our glorified bodies as was the Captain of our salvation, the Lord Jesus Christ.  As we have seen, union with Christ is entirely a Trinitarian work from beginning to end.

A further application of union with Christ that is deserving of it’s own post is that of Christ in us.  Not only does Scripture affirm our “in Him”, but amazingly it details the reality of Christ in us!  Galatians 2:20 is a passage worthy of meditation in this regard.

The ramifications of these glorious truths are infinite, let us attempt to put this theology on the cookie shelf at eye level by asking, what has union with Christ to do with my everyday life?

It is in Christ that our salvation was planned, secured, and applied.  This should give us not only freedom, but glorious hope that our salvation rests on no merits of our own, but solely on the finished work of Christ.  It is this freedom that impacts how we live our daily lives before the throne of God.  Because Christ dwells in us, we may have confidence to face whatever battles the world, the flesh, and the devil throw at us, knowing that Greater is He that is in me, than he that is in the world.  Ultimately our union with Christ gives us hope, a blessed hope, that something far better awaits us than what we have or experience in this life, when we shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He is.

Soli Deo Gloria!

 

 

Twin Implications of Original Sin

 

Having examined the doctrine of original sin, along with some of the more common objections levied against it, we turn now towards two implications that flow naturally from this neglected, yet profoundly significant Scriptural teaching.  These twin implications are the Doctrine of Total Depravity and the Doctrine of Total Inability.

As with original sin, these daughter doctrines are usually objected against strongly.  Often, some will affirm original sin, yet emphatically deny her two offspring, certainly an inconsistency, but perhaps most likely the fruit of failing to think deeply on the things of God.  Bear in mind, though I’m using the word doctrine rather freely, it shouldn’t be thought of as academic, high-browed, or otherwise reserved for the theologian.  In a sense, we are all theologians (students of God, i.e. disciples) and doctrine is simply shorthand for the “teaching of Scripture” as in 1 Timothy 4:16.

The much maligned doctrine of total depravity refers to the influence that original sin has had on an individual’s human nature, specifically corruption.  We can think of it like this, if we have a glass of water and add to it a drop of cyanide, the entire glass is polluted.

Is it as polluted as it could be?  No.  It certainly could be at a higher percentage of cyanide, but it is nevertheless polluted, completely.  Could you spoon out a little corner of the water that was untainted?  No.  Some have summarized total depravity as corruption, “not in degree, but in extent”.  Additionally, all of our faculties have been corrupted, from our exterior bodies and members to our interior thoughts, will, and desires.

Biblically, Romans 3 is the locus classicus on total depravity:

What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
11     no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
    they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14     “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16     in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18     “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

I’ve discussed this passage elsewhere, particularly the trajectory that the Apostle moves along from the mind, to the mouth, to the hands.

A.W. Pink summarizes:

The doctrine of total depravity is a very humbling one. It is not that man leans to one side and needs propping up, nor that he is merely ignorant and requires instructing, nor that he is run down and calls for a tonic: but rather that he is undone, lost, spiritually dead. Consequently, he is “without strength,” thoroughly incapable of bettering himself; exposed to the wrath of God, and unable to perform a single work which can find acceptance with Him. Almost every page of the Bible bears witness to this truth. The whole scheme of redemption takes it for granted. The plan of salvation taught in the Scriptures could have no place on any other supposition. The impossibility of any man’s gaining the approbation of God by works of his own appears plainly in the case of the rich young ruler who came to Christ. Judged by human standards, he was a model of virtue and religious attainments, yet, like all others who trust in self-efforts, he was ignorant of the spirituality and strictness of God’s Law, and when Christ put him to the test his fair expectations were blown to the winds, and “he went away sorrowful” (Matt. 19:22).

As to the doctrine of total inability, this refers to man’s incapacity to improve his standing with God through his own efforts, will, or exercise of his volition apart from the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit to renew the heart, changing both the affections and the will.  When God says in Ephesians 2 that man is dead in his trespasses and transgressions, this implies the doctrine of total inability.  Dead men cannot choose God.

To clarify a common misconception regarding the will, man still retains his “free will”.  He is not a robot.  However, his will is consistently bent towards sin.  He is so comfortable in it, he lacks the desire to do anything otherwise.  In his own, unregenerate “free-will” he cannot and would not choose God, a total inability.

Turning again to Pink we read:

Fearful indeed are the effects of this darkness. Its subjects are rendered incapable of discerning or receiving spiritual things, so that there is a total inability with respect unto God and the ways of pleasing Him. No matter how well endowed intellectually the unregenerate man may be, what the extent of his education and learning, how skillful in connection with natural things, in spiritual matters he is devoid of intelligence until he is renewed in the spirit of his mind. As a person who lacks the power of seeing is incapable of being impressed by the strongest rays of light reflected upon him, and cannot form any real ideas of the appearance of things, so the natural man, by reason of this blindness of mind, is unable to discern the nature of heavenly things.

If we misunderstand Original Sin and subsequently Total Depravity and Total Inability we misunderstand grace, ultimately the Gospel.  It is a front line issue.  A failure to understand the sinfulness of man and rightly explain it in a biblical manner has been a great malady throughout the history of the church.  The remedy is coming face to face with the holiness of the Sovereign God.

For more see these posts:

http://voiceoftruthblog.com/sermon-total-depravity-voddie-baucham

This post summarizes several posts, including answering some key objections brought against it.

http://voiceoftruthblog.com/summarizing-total-inability

 

Final Objections to Original Sin and their Consequences

 

This is our final post addressing some of the more common objections brought against what is often called the Doctrine of Original Sin.

Objection #5 – The theory of evolution does not allow for an historic Adam, therefore there is no connection to a concept of original sin.

This is the appeal to science that the authors of Adam and the Genome attempt to make.  Some make the argument that Adam wasn’t an actual historical person, but it is instead simply a shorthand designation for all of mankind.  This however destroys the One to Many representation argument that Scripture develops in both Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 – Adam to many, Christ to many.  Just as Scripture states that there was a historical Jesus, so too does it state that there was a historical Adam and their relationship is clear.

Objection #6 – Real sin is only committed through an act of the will or volition.  Since we were not in the Garden with Adam, it was not our choice to sin and thereby we do not share in his guilt.

This is true, the actuality of sin is committed by an act of the will or volition, as we saw in the Ezekiel 18 objection.  However, that will has a natural bent towards sin.  It is not morally neutral and certainly not morally good.  It’s natural inclination towards sin is a direct result of the corrupting influence of Adam’s original sin in the Garden.  As was already mentioned, the case with Adam was unique in his representation of mankind.  In this respect, we were there with him.

Objection #7 – If Adam is the natural progenitor of all mankind, and Christ was born into mankind, wouldn’t this make Him guilty and polluted for being “in Adam”.

Christ is commonly understood to be the Second Adam.  By means of His divine, miraculous conception, He assumes the full human nature of mankind, but not the fallen nature of mankind, thus the importance of both the Doctrine of the Virgin Birth and the Doctrine of the Incarnation.  Additionally, we must remember the uniqueness of Christ, not merely human, but divine-human, distinguishing Himself from Adam and all other mere humans.

As to His humanity, in a sense, he was made human in a similar way as Adam, that by direct divine intervention (His divine nature is eternal and uncreated).  Adam was formed from the dust of the ground by the hand of God.  Similarly, Christ was formed, humanly speaking, by the power of the Holy Spirit and conceived in the womb of Mary.  Here too it is important to clarify that the Holy Spirit did not have intercourse with Mary, as some erroneously assert.  The purity of the conception of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit stops the corruption of human nature from passing on to Him.  Simply stop and wonder at the majesty of God and the sinlessness of Christ through His miraculous birth.

Consequences

Though the doctrine of original sin may be unpalatable to some people, it nevertheless must be wrestled with, as Jacob wrestled with the Angel of the Lord.  We must not let go of Scripture til we have been blessed by it through a clearer understanding of this teaching.  Otherwise, there are grave consequences.

Though we have looked at the consequences for denying the resurrection as defined in 1 Corinthians 15:12-19, let’s briefly expand on that for our subject of original sin.

Consequence 1 – Denying original sin denies the need for Christ’s obedience and death on the cross.  If people are born innocent, unstained by their relation to Adam, then we would do well to usher them to an isolated island ensuring their ultimate salvation apart from the corrupting influence of the world.  Christ’s death then would be for only those for whom Plan A, isolation, had failed.

Cons. 2 – Denying the relationship of Adam, his original sin, and his posterity, undercuts the necessity for Christ’s virgin birth.  Consequently, Christ would have no need to be the product of divine conception, because the corrupting influence of Adam would be non-existent.  The doctrine of original sin explains the necessity for Christ to be born of the Spirit through the vessel of Mary, apart from the seminal influence, i.e. Adam, of Joseph.

Cons. 3 – Denying the relationship of Adam to his posterity undermines the parallel relationship between Christ and His posterity.  In other words, if there is no “in Adam” then there is no “in Christ”.

Cons. 4 – Simply stated, if there is no “in Christ” then we are doomed.

Cons. 5 – Denying the relationship of all mankind “in Adam” leads to a logical conclusion of evolution and the denial of a historical Adam.  This consequence works from both directions, either starting with a denial of the historical Adam and working forward or a denial of original sin and working backwards.  In any event, the consequence is grave and one would not be surprised if the next shoe to fall is the doctrine of inerrancy.

Summary

The concept of union with Adam, as a result of our birth, places all men under condemnation and God’s wrath, worthy of eternal punishment.  Likewise, it explains our need for a Savior and  the necessity of Christ’s virgin birth, thereby establishing Him alone as sinless and apart from the original sin of Adam, i.e. outside Adam’s seminal line and federal headship.  Additionally, original sin magnifies God’s grace.  Truly Christ is our only hope and the only name under heaven by which man may be saved.

In the context of 1 Corinthians 15, the Apostle Paul brings union with Adam and original sin into his argument of Christ’s resurrection and it’s benefits for the specific purpose of introducing the concept of death, namely that all men die as a result of being in Adam.  The reason for this is to assert the supremacy of Christ over death and the glorious resurrection for all those who are in Him.  But that is a subject we’ll take up yet another future post.