Tag Archives: Union with Christ

Sin, Dominion, and Grace

 

In 2011 I was leading a youth group at a local church.  Over the course of a year or two, we addressed topical passages of Scripture,  followed by an in-depth examination of discipleship, followed finally by an exposition through the book of 1 John.  One particular evening, at the conclusion of what I would have thought was a sound, doctrinal exposition of a particular passage, a wise, thought-provoking student asked if I could give an application for the passage.  To my surprise, I hadn’t really considered the application, only the doctrinal propositions.  My focus was on accuracy, not application, as though the two were mutually exclusive.  After that humbling experience, I’ve since learned to think more about application, but not necessarily to the extent of providing it on a spoon, as I still believe the Holy Spirit is the one who makes the individual, and needed, application of Scripture.  A faithful teacher should be the conduit through which the truth flows in such a way that allows the application to be easily made, not hindered.

In Romans chapter 6, we needn’t worry about how to apply the doctrinal propositions laid out by the Apostle in verses 1-11 because it is followed up by a strong application in verses 12-14.  As is common with Paul, there is a logical consistency with his writings.  Chapter 6 is not isolated from chapter 5 (as would be expected because chapter divisions were a much later insert), but is indeed a continuation of the thought.  In the fifth chapter, Paul concludes with the familiar statement that where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more. This naturally leads to the question, “Shouldn’t we sin more so that grace would abound more?”  In the strongest possible language the Apostle replies, “By No Means!”  From this exclamation, chapter 6 proceeds to be a defense of why believers cannot continue in sin on the basis of grace, a defense that is centered on no longer allowing sin to reign in our lives because we are dead to it, therefore no longer slaves to it.

Doctrinally, the focus of Romans 6:1-11 is union with Christ, defined in terms of both His death and resurrection and symbolized by our baptism.  Through the union with Christ in His death, our old self or old man, was crucified with Christ such that our body of sin, literally our flesh, would be brought to nothing for the purpose of severing our slavery to sin.  Further, union with Christ in His resurrection, though already past, has a future implication of resurrection from the dead.  Because of this union, and these transactions, we are exhorted to consider ourselves “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

Out of this doctrinal proposition, we find an application with at least three parts: an exhortation, a command, and a promise.

The Exhortation

“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.”

Our application is expressly linked to the doctrinal proposition by the use of therefore, though in this particular translation it does not lead the sentence, it is nonetheless linking the sentence with what has already been said.  The first order of business in this application is a strong appeal to refuse to allow the rule of sin in our mortal bodies.  Literally, this is exhortation says “Do not let sin be king!”  There is an implied possibility here, that sin could indeed gain the upper hand and exert mastery over us, not in actuality, but in practice.  This is what we are warned against, because as king, sin rules as a taskmaster making us obey its passions, desires, and lusts in our mortal bodies.

This phrase mortal bodies is a reference to our actual, physical bodies, though historically there has been some disagreement on this matter.  It includes our hands, feet, eyes, ears, tongues, mouths, sexual organs all of those members that constitute a body that will eventually die.  As we will be exhorted later, these members are not to be instruments for unrighteousness.  However, collectively they are here called our mortal body in which we are to refuse the kingship of sin.  Summarily, there is a king: sin; a subject: our mortal bodies; an obligation: obedience; the command: (sinful) lust or desire.  If we allow sin to reign, we are obliged to obey.

The Command

Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.

Working out of the previous exhortation, we are carried into a command.  In order to combat the obligated obedience to sin, should it be allowed the reign, the Apostle provides a divine command in familiar Do Not language.  This mortal body, in which sin desires to set up kingship, consists of members – those which we briefly addressed above – and here we are told not to present them to the service of sin.  Our members, if in submission to sin, can become instruments for wickedness, literally weapons for war.  Which brings up a question, weapons for what and against whom?  As if it were not obvious, they become instruments of sin acting against God.  We should consider this more deeply in our war on sin.

As king, sin sounds a call to duty.  When it has set up its kingdom, it’s trumpet heralds a call for our members to report to duty, whether they be our eyes, ears, hands or otherwise, to be used as weapons of war for unrighteousness.  The heart of the Apostle’s command here is to not allow our members to answer that call, i.e., refuse an “at your service” response to sin.  This can only be accomplished if sin is not allowed to rule.

Conversely, we are to answer, “at your service” to God, commending our whole selves to Him.  Sin has the power to only bring death, whereas here we see that God not only has the power to bring from death unto life, but He has actually done it, first with Christ and then to those of us who have been united to Christ, in both a death like His and a resurrection like His, all of which is symbolized by our baptism.  This simple phrase, those who have been brought from life to death, joins our command here in the application to the doctrinal proposition from the earlier verses (6:1-11), rightly placing the command in subordination to the Gospel.  We are commanded not to answer the reveille of sin because of the Gospel, namely the death and resurrection of Christ, but more than that, because of our union with Christ.  Instead, we are to present our members as weapons of war for righteousness.  Notice here that there is not an implied change of the weapons – still our members, nor of the use – still war, but there is a change of purpose – for righteousness.

The Promise

For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

We now arrive at the promise, linked to the previous statements by the little word, for, followed by a declaration that “sin will have no dominion over you,” which itself is followed by the justification, “you are not under law but under grace.”  This particular promise brings up a couple of questions, or at least should.  What makes this a promise?  How can it be guaranteed?  Is it dependent upon some personal action?  Why is the law brought into view?

The first observation that needs to be made is the declaration that sin will have no dominion over you.  Clearly this statement is issuing a promise.  Given the context of the exhortation, do not let sin be king, and the command, do not answer sin’s call to duty with your weapons of war, it would appear that a promise like this is unfounded or at least disjointed.  In the previous verses we are presented with the reality that sin actually could reign, therefore the call to action not to let that happen.  Why would that action, command or exhortation, even be necessary if sin won’t have dominion over you?  In other words, why tell us not to let sin reign if there is a promise that it will not reign anyway?  It is seemingly a paradoxical statement.

Practically speaking, verses 12-13 are the working out of our salvation, with fear and trembling.  There is an exhortation and a command.  These are part and parcel of our sanctification, an ongoing and progressive, divinely-wrought, purification from sin to conform us more to the image of Christ.  In this sanctification process, we are prone to sin and could be prone to extended periods of falling into sin.  But this is not a reality based on our justification in Christ.  In other words, the preceding discourse on the gospel, by the Apostle, going back into chapter 5 (and earlier for that matter) is the grounds for the promise that sin will not have dominion.  Sin cannot have dominion because it’s rule has been broken by the death of Christ on the cross and His subsequent resurrection.  Our union with Him, by faith alone, ensures that sin’s dominion is broken.

Furthermore, in this promise we see a return to the discussion on law and grace joining us to the previous statement from Romans 5:20-21 that led to this entire discourse in the first place.  In essence, the Apostle is saying that if we were still under law, it would magnify sin in our lives thereby establishing the rule and reign of sin, not because the law was bad, but because our flesh would be stirred up by the law to sin, a point that he will elaborate on in the remainder of chapter 6 and all of chapter 7.

In essence the application of Romans 6:12-14 goes like this: Don’t let sin be king and capture your members as weapons for war.  Why?  Because it’s not an actual king anyway, nor can it be – it’s a pretender to the throne – so stop living like you’re under its rule!  The believer’s practical day-to-day sanctification is grounded in the reality of our justification – made right with God by means of our union with Christ in His death and resurrection, no longer under law, but under grace.  That is the application of the doctrinal proposition.  One without the other is insufficient.  It is in this application that we must live daily in our pursuit of holiness, realizing that it is grounded on the reality of having been crucified with Christ, united with Him by faith.

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!

 

 

Objections to Original Sin – Innocent Babies and That’s Not Fair

 

In the last few posts, we’ve continued working through a series on 1 Corinthians 15, which I find to be one of the more challenging chapters in Scripture, and have arrived at the passages on the Doctrine of Original Sin.  We’ve since turned our attention towards common objections of this foundational teaching from Scripture, beginning first with the Objection of Eve. Here we’ll explore two more objections that are frequently brought up, What about innocent babies and That’s Not Fair.

Objection #2 – Doesn’t this concept of original sin condemn all mankind, even “innocent” babies?

Answer – The doctrine of original sin does condemn all mankind, even babies.  Scripture knows no such thing as the doctrine of accountability, which loosely states that children reach an “age of accountability” around 12-13 years of age (which similarly is the age for the Jewish Bar mitzvah).  Additionally, Scripture knows nothing of a state of innocence  based on age.

If this teaching were true, and if original sin was not inherited even by babies, then there wouldn’t be any death among those under a certain age.  In other words, the Scriptural teaching “in Adam all die” would be wrong, and it’s not.  Death touches us all, even those in the womb, and it is the direct product of original sin upon the world in which we live.  The wages of sin is death and we must all pay, regardless of age.

As a side note, the effects of original sin, namely guilt and pollution, applied to “innocent babies” does not necessarily mean that should infants or young children die that they are automatically condemned to hell.  We must allow room in our thinking for the truth that the Judge of all the earth will do what’s right.  Admittedly, this is a difficult subject deserving of its own post, but in the meantime, I would lean towards agreeing with Charles Spurgeon’s understanding of infants who die, which you can read for yourself here: Infant Salvation

Objection 3 – Isn’t it unfair that God would punish us as a result of another person’s sin?

Answer – This is perhaps the strongest emotional argument against the doctrine of original sin, particularly in light of objection 2.  However, calling God’s own character, namely His holy justice, into question is a wrong starting point.  We must be like Job and place our hands over our mouths and confess that not a day has gone by that we have not sinned on our own.

If the argument of fairness is allowed to stand, then it must also be allowed that it is unfair for Christ to have the sin of those who would believe imputed to Himself and likewise suffer the punishment that they deserved.  Additionally, it would be “unfair” that Christ’s righteousness should be imputed to all those “in Him” who did nothing to earn that.  This objection of equity cannot consistently stand, despite its emotion appeal.

The “That’s not fair” card was played repeatedly in the Old Testament, particularly in Ezekiel 18 which we will look at next time. Instead of stomping our feet and screaming that’s not fair, ought we not to be petitioning the Lord for Mercy.  Assuredly we do not want fairness.  Thankfully, both justice and mercy kiss at the cross of Jesus Christ.