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Union With Christ: unio cum christo/with Marcus Johnson

Our Thesis number Five from our edited book is this:

Election is christologically conditioned.

This follows on as a corollary from the thesis above. Christ’s work is perfect and requires no supplement, such as the faith of an individual. In forms of Classical Calvinism the subjective elements of salvation have tended to christjesuschrist.jpgdominate its theology so that an experimental predestination (syllogismus practicus) developed and faith was separated from assurance in an unhealthy manner as Christ was separated from his work. The resultant crises of faith and assurance threw believers back onto themselves and their own works for assurance, rather than onto Christ our perfect mediator and redeemer. Christ has been sanctified, and in his sanctification he has sanctified the elect in him. Believers find their subjective sanctification in Christ’s objective work, and not the other way round. This reflects the duplex gratia Calvin made so much about and yet contemporary Reformed theology has tended to separate—through union with Christ flows the twin benefits of justification and sanctification. 25

Thomas F. Torrance is instructive as he comments on Scottish Calvinist, John Craig’s approach to articulating what a christologically conditioned doctrine of election looks like; with a carnal and spiritual union providing its orientation:

Craig regarded election as bound up more with adoption into Christ, with union with him, and with the communion of the Spirit, than with an eternal decree. The union of people with Christ exists only within the communion of the redeemed and in the union they conjointly have with Christ the Head of the Church. . . . Union with Christ and faith are correlative, for it is through faith that we enter into union with Christ, and yet it is upon this corporate union with Christ that faith and our participation in the saving benefits or “graces” of Christ rest. John Craig held that there was a twofold union which he spoke of as a “carnal union” and a “spiritual union.” By “carnal union” he referred to Christ’s union with us and our union with Christ which took place in his birth of the Spirit and in his human life through which took place in his birth of the Spirit and in his human life through which he sanctifies us. The foundation of our union with Christ, then, is that which Christ has made with us when in his Incarnation he became bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh; but through the mighty power of the Spirit all who have faith in Christ are made flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone. It is only through this union, through ingrafting into Christ by faith and through communion with him in his Body and Blood, that we may share in all Christ’s benefits—outside of this union and communion there is no salvation, for Christ himself is the ground of salvation. . . . 26 27

Thus election is grounded in a personal union with Christ through his “carnal union” with humanity in the Incarnation, and our “spiritual union” with him through his vicarious faith for us by the Holy Spirit. Christ, in this framework, is known to be the one who elects our humanity for himself; by so doing he takes our reprobation, wherein the “Great Exchange” inheres: “by his poverty we are made rich.”

24. Historical antecedents to such an approach in which a doctrine of God correctly shaped their doctrines of Christology and soteriology would include, amongst others, Richard St. Victor and John Duns Scotus. For both, Theology Proper was robustly Trinitarian, thus relational, personal, and pastoral.
25. See further in Johnson, chapter 9.
26. Torrance, Scottish Theology, 52–53.
27. See further in Habets, chapter 7.

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And I just read this in Marcus Johnson’s new book One With Christ (Johnson is a double contributor to our edited book as well):

Augustine opens his Confessions with one of the best-known passages in Christian literature: “For you [God] have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” Calvin likewise affirms that the perfection of human happiness “is to be united with God.” Both were expressing a basic scriptural truth—the greatest need and desire (whether conscious or not) of human beings, fallen and estranged from God, is to be restored to the One who created us and loves us, and apart from whom we perish. This is precisely what our union with the God-man Jesus Christ accomplishes. The apostle John records various ways in which Jesus spoke of this reality: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6); “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (v. 11). Jesus speaks of including believers in the intimacy he has with his Father: “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me” (17:22-23); “I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (v. 26).

As staggering and incomprehensible as it may seem, our union with Christ is a union with the triune God, for Christ incorporates us into his relationship with his Father. And because Christ is identical in nature (homoousion) with the Father, to be united to the person of Christ (through his incarnate humanity) is to be united to the whole Christ, the One who is fully human and fully God in one person. As it turns out, the doctrine of the hypostatic union is more than mere christological ontology—it tells us that the One who took on our flesh unites that flesh indivisibly to his deity so that we experience fellowship with our Maker again. This is good news indeed!

For the Word of God is a divine nature even when in the flesh, and although he is by nature God, we are his kindred because of his taking the same flesh as ours. Therefore the manner of the fellowship is similar. For just as he is closely related to the Father and through their identity of nature the Father is closely related to him, so also are we [closely related] to him and he to us, in so far as he was made man. And through him as through a mediator we are joined to the Father. (Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on John) [Marcus Peter Johnson, One With Christ: An Evangelical Theology of Salvation, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 42-3.]

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Union with Christ is a very central piece of the puzzle for the way we Evangelical Calvinists conceive of election and salvation in general. I hope you can see the significance of this through these offerings, and that the depth dimension of what it going on in God’s life in Christ, and thus in our lives in His, is given even that much more gravity as you contemplate the wealth of riches we all have been given in the wonderful exchange that has occurred in Christ’s life for us and with us.

I think Marcus’ section here really helps expand our thesis above, and helps, hopefully, even makes more exciting what we our a part of as children of God.

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