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Archive for April, 2007

          My wrong beliefs must be pushed out.  But how?  I’m addicted to self-trust, even if it’s the ironic self-trust of self-doubt.  How do I get myself out of that picture?  How do I finally come round to the rest and joy that so many others have found in finally being transformed by a clear picture of their union with Christ? 

           Paul seemed to desire for the Colossians that which I need when he prayed that they would have “…the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Col 2:2b-3)  It seems that God’s answer to my miserly understanding of His goodness and my unwieldy self-sufficiency is to know Christ more fully, a knowing which, Paul reminds the Colossians a few verses later, produces gratitude (v. 7).  Knowing Christ more fully, and living a life of gratitude, must necessarily displace the pride that so easily rules me.  Appreciation and arrogance can’t co-exist.

           That appreciation must be centered on the truth of who Christ is and what He has done.  I know myself well enough to know that some vaguely mustered-up sense of positive reception won’t stick.  I need to read and hear and taste the truth about Christ’s work daily.  Trust in His sufficiency must displace self-sufficiency.  I can’t be content with a faith that has as its subject union with only “half a Christ,” as Lovelace put it. I must meditate on the fact that the same Christ who died to justify me is the Christ who sanctifies me, and that He is no less sufficient for the latter than for the former.  It seems the great Dutch theologian Hermann Bavink had this idea in mind when he wrote:

“In order to understand the sanctification of the believers properly, one must see clearly that Christ is our sanctification in the same sense that He is our righteousness.  He is a perfect and adequate Savior; He does not accomplish His work until He has caused us to share fully in eternal life and the heavenly blessedness.  … But this sanctification which Christ has achieved for His church is not something which remains outside of us but something, rather, which is really shared with us.”[1]

          God’s permanent pleasure in Christ, irrevocable and unshakable, is mine too, because of the sanctification that already rests finished in Christ.  To know that truth and dwell in it richly shuts the mouth of every fear I have, and pushes out the pride and insecurity that says that my sanctification is simply about making me a better person in order to somehow make me worthy of God’s love.  My response to God, if it is to be of gratitude and not servitude, must come from a right understanding of my union with Christ.  Only when I rest in that truth will I stop seeing God’s love for me as being dependent on my worthiness, and respond in love to Him because He has already made me worthy – in Christ!

 1Bavinck, Herman, Our Reasonable Faith: A Survey of Christian Doctrine, trans. Henry Zylstra (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1956), 473.

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     In trying to really lay hold of the results that would come from more deeply apprehending the truth of my union with Christ, I first have to analyze what “truth” I substitute for this one.  What do I wrongly choose to believe?  When I’m actively not resting in the benefits of union, I’m not just not believing something, I’m wrongly believing something else in its place. And I’ve learned enough in my Christian walk to know that the most likely culprit in matters of wrong belief is pride. Even at the cost of comfort and rest, I substitute self-sufficiency for simple gratitude, as if gratitude is too much work.  Eph. 1:3 tells me that every spiritual blessing flows from Christ, yet Pride tells me that I can somehow earn at least some of those blessings on my own.  1 Cor. 1:30 tells me that in Christ I have righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, but Pride flatters me that I can carry off at least part of that work on my own behalf.   And while Romans 8:39 tells me that the love of God for me is located “in Christ Jesus,” Pride insists that I’m worthy to access that love independently.

     These substitutions that I make, of self for Christ, don’t often show up in forthright haughtiness and arrogance; Pride is much subtler than that.  Instead, my self-substitution is revealed in doubt and despair.   For to know Christ, to know His perfection, negates the possibility of doubting that He can secure these blessings for me.  The only reasonable object of my doubt can be myself, and so my despair becomes a sort of self-worship.  It’s not a pretty picture to describe: I push myself onto the altar so that I can doubt the worthiness of my sacrifice, instead of standing back and marveling at the wonder of the Lamb of God given for me.   Given for me.

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Not only does our union with Christ give us security and confidence, it also gives a very real power in terms of our progressive sanctification.  When Romans 6:14 says, “Sin shall not have dominion over you,” we are not being given exhortation, but categorical assurance that the person “in Christ” is no longer a bondservant to sin.  John Murray writes of the effect this knowledge has:

It is this abiding relationship to the death and resurrection of Christ, particularly, of course, to the latter, that constitutes the power, the dynamic, in virtue of which believers live the life of death to sin and of the newness of obedience.”[1]

 Here we see that our union with Christ is necessarily tied to our sanctification; without its benefits our own attempts at holiness would be futile.  In fact John Calvin strove to make it clear that the connection between being in Christ and being sanctified is so sure that we cannot have the one without the other:

Do you wish . . . to attain righteousness in Christ? You must first possess Christ; but you cannot possess him without being made partaker in his sanctification, because he cannot be divided into pieces.[2]

             I think I may, in these words of the great reformer, begin to see that part of the source of my doubt is that my faith that I am saved “in Christ” into eternal life coexists incongruently with a lack of faith that I’m saved into present right standing.  I choose to tabulate my own sin more than I choose to calculate the greatness of my forgiveness.  

Richard Lovelace, in his book Dynamics of Spiritual Life, agrees with Calvin and confirms that my problem is largely due to faulty mathematics:  

“It is true that justification can only be appropriated on the ground of our union with Christ. But we cannot be in the light about our union with the perfect righteousness which covers our sin without simultaneously being in the light about the power available to transform our lives and displace our sin.  We cannot be in union with half a Christ, as the Puritans would say.  We must appropriate a whole Christ…”[3] 

That thought has struck me as one I need to chew on.  I’ve been reading about the concept of union with Christ for some time now, and I certainly have a mental assent to its reality and even an emotional response that it’s a joyful and liberating truth.  And yet I don’t live well in that liberation; I constantly crawl back into the prison of my own doubts about how God really sees me. And so, meditating on the words of men like Ferguson and Murray and Lovelace, I’ve been considering, “What would it mean for me to appropriate a whole Christ? What would it practically look like for me to meditate on my union with Jesus in such a way that my life would be transformed by the security, confidence, and power that others have obtained as their eyes have been open to this truth?”

1 Murray, John, Principles of Conduct (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1957), 207.               

2 Calvin, John, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, ed. John T. McNeill (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 3.16.1.   

3 Lovelace, Richard, Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1979) 103. 

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Many have emphasized Union with Christ as essential doctrine. Union with Christ is certainly fundamental in the Apostle Paul’s understanding of salvation. [1]  John Stott calls this union “indispensable to our Christian identity,” [2] and declares that it is central to the entire New Testament gospel.  And John Murray emphasizes that same essential quality when, in Redemption Accomplished and Applied he says, “Nothing is more central or basic than union and communion with Christ,”[3] and describes this union as “the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation”.[4]  Yet, Murray and others don’t just emphasize union as a bare theological fact, devoid of application for the believer.  In fact, Murray calls his readers to consider the personal and transforming nature of this doctrine when he says:

There is no truth, therefore, more suited to impart confidence and strength, comfort and joy in the Lord than this one of union with Christ.”[5]

 And Hudson Taylor, the great 19th century missionary to China said, jubilantly:

 … It is a wonderful thing to be really one with a risen and exalted Savior, to be a member of Christ! Think what it involves. Can Christ be rich and I poor? Can your right hand be rich and your left poor? Or your head be well fed while your body starves? … No more can your prayers or mine be discredited if offered in the name of Jesus (i.e., not for the sake of Jesus merely, but on the ground that we are His, His members) so long as we keep within the limits of Christ’s credit — a tolerably wide limit![6] 

Not only does our union give us security and confidence, it also gives a very real power in terms of our progressive sanctification.  When Romans 6:14 says, “Sin shall not have dominion over you,” we are not being given exhortation, but categorical assurance that the person “in Christ” is no longer a bondservant to sin.  John Murray writes of the effect this knowledge has:

It is this abiding relationship to the death and resurrection of Christ, particularly, of course, to the latter, that constitutes the power, the dynamic, in virtue of which believers live the life of death to sin and of the newness of obedience.”[7]

 Here we see that our union with Christ is necessarily tied to our sanctification; without its benefits our own attempts at holiness would be futile.  In fact John Calvin strove to make it clear that the connection between being in Christ and being sanctified is so sure that we cannot have the one without the other:

Do you wish . . . to attain righteousness in Christ? You must first possess Christ; but you cannot possess him without being made partaker in his sanctification, because he cannot be divided into pieces.


 

1 Morey, Robert A., The Saving Work of Christ: Studies In The Atonement (Sterling, VA: Grace Abounding Ministries, Inc., 1980) 87.

2 Stott, John, Life in Christ: A Guide For Daily Living, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 2003), 37.

3 John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1955), 161.

4 Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, 170.

5 Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, 171.

6 Taylor, Dr. and Mrs. Howard, Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret (London: China Inland Mission, 1955), 116.

                7 Murray, John, Principles of Conduct (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1957), 207. 8 Calvin, John, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, ed. John T. McNeill (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 3.16.1.   

               8 Calvin, John, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, ed. John T. McNeill (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 3.16.1.        

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Continuing on, today, with some more thoughts on the importance of understanding union with Christ, and the connection that understanding has to feeling the security of God’s pleasure in us:

 

Sinclair Ferguson knows well the needed antidote for a heart that mistrusts God’s pleasure.  In his book Children of the Living God, Ferguson writes of the privileges which become ours because Christ has “brothered us.”   Ferguson reminds us that through His work, Christ destroyed the power of all that would make us shameful in God’s sight, and made us someone of whom He himself is not ashamed, giving us the same privileges as He has before his Father.  Ferguson recognizes that one of the chief temptations we face is that of suspecting that God is ashamed of us, and that He will treat us with scorn rather than with the tender compassion and care of a Father who rejoices in His children.   Thus, the writer encourages his readers to understand the picture in Matt. 7:9-11 which tells of how even earthly and sinful fathers are inclined to give good gifts to their children.  Ferguson declares:

 

“We need to learn this strong biblical logic, if we are to overcome the doubts of our hearts and the insinuations of the Evil One.  Only as I begin to think along these lines will I come to an assured sense that my life and the lives of my fellow Christians, my spiritual family, are secure in the hands of the Father.” [1]

             That sense of security with the Father comes only from understanding our position “in Christ.”  For we know that we cannot for an instant stand before the perfection of God’s holiness on our own.  We innately know the answer to the question posed in 1 Samuel 6:20: “Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God?” With the law of God written on our hearts and convicting us, we know that in our sinfulness we are lost.  In the old man, our insecurity had great warrant!  But it is against these very clinging remnants of doubt that a comprehension of our union with Christ strikes.  So powerfully transforming is the knowledge of what that position gains for us that it might well be seen as the central doctrine of Christian life. 


[1]  Ferguson, Sinclair, Children of the Living God (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1989), 36.

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