Tag Archives: 1 Corinthians 15

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!

 

 

An Objection to Original Sin – Ezekiel 18

 

Continuing our look at some of the common objections to the Doctrine of Original sin.  You can get caught up here:

In Adam and Original Sin

What About Eve

Innocent Babies and That’s Not Fair

Objection #4 – What about Ezekiel 18?

This passage is often used as a proof text not only for those who wish to deny original sin, but also for those who wish to deny the seminal headship of Adam, discussed in An Objection to Original Sin – What about Eve?

In short, Ezekiel 18 is not talking about the seminal transmission of sin, nor does it have Adam (centrally) in mind.  It’s focus is on an individual’s deeds (see Objection #6, forthcoming) and the judicial punishment associated with those.  The fault of the Israelite’s was to drift into fatalism by shifting the blame of their exile from their own sins, to the sins of their fathers and essentially throwing their hands up in hopelessness.

Let’s look at the passage in context and allow that to determine whether or not this undermines the doctrine of original sin.

The crux of interpreting Ezekiel 18 hinges on the proverb cited in verse 2, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”.  Admittedly, I have had a tough time with this proverb in the past, particularly because it is cited elsewhere, Jeremiah 31:29, where it is applied differently.  Clearly though, the intended meaning is that the action of the fathers has had consequences on the children.  As stated before, Israel seemed to place the blame of their pending exile at the feet of their fathers who had sinned and walked contrary to God.  In doing so, they had failed to recognize the sinfulness of their own sin, were guilty of blame-shifting, as Adam and Eve were in the Garden, and resigned themselves to a fatalistic view of the pending exile.

In our passage, God then commands that use of the proverb cease and makes a declaration of sovereignty that all souls are his, both father and son, and that the soul that sins will die (Ezekiel 18:3).  In other words, we are responsible for our own actions.  This does not have original sin in its cross hairs, rather we may add, the consequences of original sin’s corrupting influence, but let’s press home this point.

As the prophet unfolds an ethical case study (Ezekiel 18:5-18) against the erroneous belief of Israel, we find 3 scenarios: 1) The Grandfather 2) The Father 3) The Son, which are righteous, unrighteous, and righteous respectively.  The argument follows that the father is not credited with the righteousness of the grandfather, nor is the son credited with the sins of the father but each are responsible for their own actions.  Essentially this is a case study of the the law found in Deuteronomy 24:16, “Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin.

After raising their own argument against them in vs. 19-20, we read, But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. 22 None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live.” Ezekiel 18:21-22

This point is critical towards understanding that the fatalism of the Israelite’s was a fallacious belief because the passage clearly states that repentance, i.e. turning away from sin, is a decision that rests on the individual.  In other words, their situation is not hopeless but they can be restored if they recognize and repent of their sins.  The individual is responsible for his/her actions and the decision to repent of those actions rests with them as well (humanly speaking).  The reality is, this is a gospel, hope-filled passage declaring the justice of God in holding people responsible for their own sins, yet also the mercy of God in granting forgiveness and restoration to the penitent heart.

That said, understanding this individualism, in isolation from the rest of Scripture, has caused many to use this passage as a proof text against original sin and Adam’s seminal headship, as noted earlier.  However, this application simply cannot be allowed to stand.

First, this view subconsciously implies that individual responsibility for sins would have been unthinkable in Israel prior to Ezekiel’s prophecy and he was charting new territory.  Additionally, the alternative view, “corporate solidarity” would have had to have been the view that this prophecy was correcting.  Neither of which is expressly true.

As previously mentioned, Deuteronomy 24:16 is in the background of Ezekiel’s prophecy and would have been a familiar passage to the prophet’s audience.  Again, the view that was being confronted was the fatalistic view of being punished for another’s actual sin, a view that is explicitly denied when attention is given to the possibility of individual repentance.

Now this is where the objection against original sin finds its headwaters.  As you can probably hear, the argument often made is that Ezekiel 18 is speaking against Adam’s posterity receiving the punishment that was due for his sin.  However, as previously mentioned, the “corporate solidarity” view must equally be considered.  Ezekiel 18 must be harmonized with other areas of Scripture that affirm this solidarity, i.e. that the one can represent the whole.

A classic case study for this is Achan.  Though it was his individual sin, the entire nation was punished for it.  Joshua 7:11 – Israel has sinned, Joshua 7:20 – Achan has sinned.  A second example is the wives and children of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (Numbers 16), where the ground split under those who would presume the priesthood and swallowed up whole families.  A further example is that of David, after his sin in the murderours affair with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11) and his sin in conducting the census of Israel (2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21).  In the first, we find the death of his newborn son and the promised division of the Israelite Kingdom, both as a result of his sin.  In the latter, we find that God declared judgment upon Israel for David’s unwise, ungodly decision to count his people, resulting in the death of 70,000 Israelites.  Each of these are individual sins, in a sense, the one represented the many and yet corporately they subsequently suffered the consequences.

On the positive side, we have the example of Abraham, and subsequently, Isaac and Jacob, through whom God promised to bless the nation of Israel.  Repeatedly we find God “remembering” the promises made to the Patriarchs as the foundation and basis for how He deals with Israel in an ultimate sense.  Certainly not least in our example of corporate solidarity is our Lord Jesus Christ, the one who represented the many in His death and resurrection on the cross and His subsequent imputation of righteousness to those who believe.

When held in isolation and taken from its context, it’s easy to see how Ezekiel 18 may be used as an argument against original sin and also against the idea of Adam’s seminal headship.  However, context is king, as they say.  The concept of individual responsibility as well as corporate solidarity must be held together.  As Walter Kaiser states in his book on Old Testament ethics, “Both individual responsibility or worth and group solidarity must be understood and carefully defined in approaching Old Testament ethics.” Additionally, the whole of Scripture is in harmony and is therefore does not contradict itself.

In the next post from this series, we’ll wrap up our look at some of the more common objections raised against the Doctrine of Original Sin before proceeding with two implications which arise from the foundation of this critical, yet oft-misunderstood biblical doctrine.

 

 

 

 

An Objection to Original Sin – What about Eve?

 

In a recent post, we looked at the doctrine of original sin as defined by the Word of God through the inspired pen of the Apostle Paul in his first epistle to the Ekklesia at Corinth.  This doctrine, which asserts that “in Adam” all humanity has inherited the guilt and pollution from his original sin, are thereby born with a corrupt nature, and under the wrath and condemnation of Almighty God, has been criticized, even denied, throughout church history.

The denial of original sin is sometimes referred to as Pelaginism, after Pelagius (360-418 A.D.), though it does not find it’s origin here.  Rather it can be seen in the early Gnostic heresies that the Apostles so frequently encountered and refuted.

Recently, the denial of original sin has resurfaced (though it’s never really gone away) through the publication of Adam and the Genome, where the authors Dennis Venema (genetics) and Scot McKnight (theology) systematically work to debunk the historicity of Adam and as a consequence the doctrine of original sin.

With this in mind, let’s begin our look at some of the more common objections to this foundational teaching with the appeal towards the priority of Eve.

Objection 1 – Eve sinned first, why then is it those “in Adam” who share in his guilt and pollution?

Answer – Yes, it is true that Eve sinned by eating of the forbidden tree first.  Though perhaps a cogent argument could be made that Adam sinned first by not protecting the garden from serpent and defending Eve from his wiles.  However, there is a needed point of clarification.  Adam serves over mankind in a dual capacity, first as the natural progenitor of the human race and second as all humanity’s federal representative.  Natural (seminal) headship and federal headship.

In his seed, all those who descend from him are tainted with the corruption that he incurred.  The concept of seminal offspring developed so strongly in the Old Testament traces mankind back to Adam, not Eve.  (See the genealogies of Genesis, 1 Chronicles, and Luke).  In other words, sin has a genealogical connection and this is tied directly to the father.  An important point for later.  When the source point of a stream is polluted, all of the waters downstream are impacted as well.  So it is with the influence of sin on the human race.  But there is more.

As to his representation – in politics, particularly in the United States, we understand the role of a representative, one who is chosen to speak or act on behalf of others.  Generally speaking this is the concept of Adam’s federal representation.  Adam was the representative of the human race, thereby when he sinned and fell, all those whom he represented fell also.  While we did not participate in the sin that he committed, we do share in the guilt and punishment.

Admittedly, and this is important, the Bible does not clearly outline the steps for the transmission of sin, so there is room for some debate between natural and federal headship, though here I am asserting the necessity of both.  But we do know from the passages in 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 5, that in some sense sin is traced to Adam and that all mankind are thereby corrupted from sin’s pollution and guilty, deserving of God’s righteous judgment.

When we look at Union with Christ in a subsequent post, I hope to show why BOTH  of Adam’s headships are necessary and how there is a similar dual relationship in Christ as well.