In connection with the discussion on effectual calling, I urged that through faith in Christ the sinner who was chosen “in Christ” from all eternity is actually united to Christ. This comports with the Shorter Catechism statement that “the Spirit applieth to us the redemption purchased by Christ, by working faith in us, and thereby uniting us to Christ in our effectual calling” (Question 30), and provides the rationale for treating our union with Christ at this point in the ordo. As we saw there, this is in contradistinction to Murray’s insistence that it is effectual calling that actually unites one to Christ and that it is this union with Christ which then unites one to the inwardly operative grace of regeneration that enables the sinner to repent and to believe.
Murray is certainly correct, however, when he insists that the “in Christ” (en Christo¯) relationship between Christ and the elect individual does not first come into existence when the sinner places his faith in Christ. Rather, it is an all-embracive relationship in its soteric references, which God takes up into and includes within all that he has done, is doing, and will do in behalf of the sinner (see Eph. 1:3: “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ”).
The Biblical Data
We have first the Scripture’s own explicit statements to this effect, among which are the following representative texts:
Ephesians 1:4: “[The Father] chose us in him [en auto¯] before the foundation of the world.” As Murray observes, this verse teaches that “those who will be saved were not even contemplated by the Father in the ultimate counsel of his predestinating love apart from union with Christ—they were chosen in Christ. As far back as we can go in tracing salvation to its fountain we find ‘union with Christ’; it is not something tacked on; it is there from the outset.”40
Though this is true, the Scriptures will not permit us to believe that, because God elected certain people in Christ from all eternity, they have therefore always enjoyed the fullness of his favor in history and that for them there is no transition from wrath to grace in history. The Scriptures take the reality of creation, the historical Fall, and history itself with total seriousness and never stress the eternal election of God to such an extent that it reduces to zero significance the reality of creation and creation’s history, which God providentially orders and governs to his own holy ends. To the contrary, though they are eternally loved “according to election,” until the elect trust Christ as their Savior, they are actually “by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3) and are “separate from Christ … without hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12).41 It is only when they are brought to faith in Christ by their effectual calling that the elect actually become partakers of Christ and of the salvific blessings of his cross work. As with the nation of Israel, so all the elect, though “beloved according to election,” are God’s “enemies according to the gospel” until they repent and trust his Son.
Romans 6:6: “We know that our old man was crucified with him.” Here Paul speaks of the believer’s union with Christ in his death.
Romans 6:5: “If we have been united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.” Here Paul speaks of the believer’s union with Christ in his resurrection (see also Eph. 2:6).
Ephesians 1:6–7: “In the Beloved, in whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of trespasses.” It is “in Christ,” Paul announces here, that we have redemption and forgiveness.
Ephesians 2:10: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus.” Here Paul relates the genesis of redemption’s application to the sinner to the “in Christ” relationship.
Ephesians 1:13: “Having also believed, you were sealed in him with the Holy Spirit of promise.”
1 Corinthians 1:5: “For in him you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge.” Here Paul relates the Christian’s sanctification to the “in Christ” relationship (see also John 15:4; 1 John 2:5–6).
Romans 5:10: “How much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved in his life.” Here Paul relates the Christian’s security for both this age and the age to come to the “in Christ” relationship.
1 Thessalonians 4:14, 16: “God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him … and the dead in Christ will rise first.” If anything points up the indissolubility and continuance of the Christian’s union with Christ it is the fact that even in death his body, “being still united to Christ, rests in Christ in its grave until the resurrection.”
1 Corinthians 15:22: “In Christ all will be made alive.” It is in Christ that the Christian will be raised from the dead in the Eschaton.
Romans 8:17: “In order that we may be glorified with him.” It is with Christ that Christians are finally glorified.
From just these few representative references it is plain that union with Christ “embraces the wide span of salvation from its ultimate source in the eternal election of God to its final fruition in the glorification of the elect. It is not simply a phase of the application of redemption; it underlies every aspect of redemption both in its accomplishment and in its application.”42
The Scriptures offer several striking figures to illustrate the believer’s union with Christ, such as (1) the relationship between stones in a building (believers) and the building’s chief cornerstone (Christ) (Eph. 2:19–
22; 1 Pet. 2:4–5), (2) the relationship between branches of a vine (believers) and the main vine itself (Christ) (John 15:1–8), (3) the relationship between members of a body (believers) and the body’s head (Christ) (Eph. 4:15–16), (4) the relationship between a wife (believers) and a husband (Christ) (Eph. 5:22–23), (5) the covenantal (federal) relationship between the race which descended from Adam by ordinary generation and Adam himself (Rom. 5:12–19; 1 Cor. 15:22, 48–49), and (6) even the relationship which exists between the persons of the Godhead (John 14:23; 17:21–23)!
The Reality of the Union
In light of the fact that the believer’s union with Christ is eminently “spiritual and mystical” (Larger Catechism, Question 66), which is to say that the bond of that union is of and by the Holy Spirit himself and thus apprehended by the human intelligence only in the Word/faith construct, its reality might be doubted. But the Scriptures make it clear that, though it is spiritual and mystical, this nonmaterial union with Christ is as real as though there were in fact a literal umbilical cord uniting them, reaching “all the way” from Christ in heaven to the believer on earth. Since the Christian’s very existence as a Christian as well as his growth in grace (Rom. 6:1–14) and his hope of glory (Col. 1:27) are all grounded in his spiritual union with Christ, from whom he derives all his strength and power to live the Christian life (2 Cor. 12:9), to deny or to ignore one’s union with Christ is not only to deny or to ignore a cardinal aspect of the Christian life but also to open the way to soul blight and a stunting of the Christian’s growth in grace. On the other hand, sin will not reign as king in the life of the Christian who by virtue of his union in Christ’s death to sin self–consciously knows and seriously regards himself as dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 6:10–14). Herein lies the significance of the Christian’s union with Christ for the Christian’s daily walk.
Summary of the Doctrine
Union with Christ is the fountainhead from which flows the Christian’s every spiritual blessing—repentance and faith, pardon, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, and glorification. Chosen in Christ before the creation of the world, and in the divine mind united with Christ in his death and resurrection, the elect, in response to God’s effectual call, are through God’s gift of faith actually united to Christ. Their union with Christ is in no sense the effect of human causation. “The union which the elect have with Christ is the work of God’s grace, whereby they are spiritually and mystically, yet really and inseparably, joined to Christ as their head and husband” (Larger Catechism, Question 66). By virtue of his actual union with Christ the Husband in his death and resurrection, the Christian, as Christ’s “bride,” is forgiven of his sin and liberated from the law—his previous “husband”—and made capable of doing that which he could never do before, namely, “bear holy fruit to God” (Rom. 7:4–5). To the degree that the Christian “reckons himself dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11), that is to say, to the degree that the Christian takes seriously the reality of his Spirit–wrought union with Christ, to that degree he will find his definitive sanctification coming to actual expression in his experiential or progressive sanctification. The holiness of the Christian’s daily walk directly depends upon his union with the Savior.
From A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith by Robert L. Reymond