Justification is Grounded on Union with Christ

The meaning of the word, justification, is clearly forensic (legal). But the deeper question remains: is that forensic verdict an accurate and true assessment of the believer when united to Christ, or is it a nominal and putative designation of a recategorization within God’s mind alone? The answer is found in our union with Christ. Are we joined to Christ in reality or in God’s mind alone? We are joined to Christ in reality to the extent that we gain His identity in the eyes of justice. In that sense, the “infused identity does make us subjectively righteous (when the subject is the whole man, consisting of both the man and Christ in union), but only insofar as we are joined to Christ and it is His righteousness – already accomplished in His human life – that is the only righteousness in view. However, when we are joined to Christ, we are not joined to the extent that either is lost in the other. The union is sufficient to make us one with Christ in the eyes of justice, but the righteousness that is now ours remains the righteousness that He lived and not any righteousness that we live out or accomplish – in that sense it is still an alien righteousness. This infused identity is the substance and reality which our prior justification had in view. Turretin[1] (T16, Q1, §§VII):

(2) Justification is opposed to condemnation: “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth?” (Rom. 8:33, 34). As therefore accusation and condemnation occur only in a trial, so also justification. Nor can it be conceived how God can be said to condemn or to justify, unless either by adjudging to punishment or absolving us from it judicially.

Although justification occurs “only in a trial,” we do not stand alone in that trial. Christ stands in us. Failure to apprehend this fact of reality is what caused N. T. Wright to claim, “Righteousness is not an object, a substance or a gas which can be passed across the courtroom.”[2] The Holy Spirit can indeed move across the courtroom (and into the defendant) and carry the identity of Christ (and title to His righteousness) with Him. But the fact that must not be overlooked is that all of this does not happen only in some courtroom far removed from us, but rather, the believer is judged as he is in reality — right where he stands — as the piercing gaze of heaven’s Judge sees the Spirit of His Son inside him. Christ is the Intercessor within, standing in us on earth and reaching to heaven’s court.

Turretin continues (T16, Q1, §VIII): “Finally, unless this word is taken in a forensic sense, it would be confounded with sanctification. But that these are distinct, both the nature of the thing and the voice of Scripture frequently prove.” It is true that justification is distinct from sanctification. But, again, the forensic sense is not necessarily the putative, nominal sense. It is true that the righteousness that we gain by faith is Christ’s alone, and does not make the sinner righteous in himself when viewed apart from Christ; however, it is also true that we are so joined to Christ as to never be apart from Him. Scripture tells us that we are so joined to Him as to be “one spirit with Him.”

Turretin says (T16, Q2, §XV),

Legal justification takes place in no other way than by inherent righteousness, whether actual or habitual; gospel justification is to be sought not in us, but in another. This the apostle clearly teaches when he wishes ‘to be found in Christ’ (to wit, in the judgment of God) ‘not having his own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ’ (Phil. 3:9) (i.e., not an inherent righteousness, arising from an observance of the law and which is called ours because it is in us and is perfected by our actions, but the righteousness of God and Christ, imputed to us and apprehended by faith).

Turretin qualifies the phrase, “to be found in Christ,” with, “to wit, in the judgment of God.” This misses the force of the apostle’s meaning, by replacing the substance of a spiritual union with nothing more substantial than “the judgment of God.” We are in Christ because Christ really is in us. God’s judgment in finding us “in Christ” is an accurate and true judgment of our state within substantial reality. It is not a mere decision to put us into the category of “in Christ.” Thus, the righteousness of Christ is accounted to us because it really is in us, since Christ is in us. This righteousness is apprehended by faith insofar as it is faith that brings the indwelling Holy Spirit and union with Christ.

Turretin continues (T16, Q3, §XXIII):

What is imputed to anyone by a mere gracious acceptation, that is not really paid, but is considered as paid; but what is imputed on account of a true payment made by another supposes the thing to be paid. Now the imputation of the righteousness of Christ (of which we speak) is not to be understood in the first sense (the improper sense, for an imputation which takes place without any payment at all whether of the debtor or of the surety); but is to be understood in the latter sense inasmuch as it is founded in another’s payment (that of Christ the surety).

Unless the Surety and the debtor are so united as to become one man in the eyes of justice, it remains but a mere gracious acceptation that the payment of the Surety is accepted in the place of the debtor. Justice has no place for such gracious acceptation. Turretin (T16, Q7, §VIII), in denying that faith is considered our righteousness “by a gracious acceptation,” makes a comment here that is germane: “For in the court of divine justice (which demands an adequate and absolutely perfect payment), there cannot be room for a gracious acceptation which is an imaginary payment.” Just as there cannot be room in the court of divine justice for an imaginary payment, neither can there be room for an imaginary union on which to ground the efficiency and particularity of this payment. In order for the exacted payment to be applied to a particular sinner, there must be a real union between the two.

Turretin (T16, Q3, §XX):

Sixth, our justification is “a justification of the ungodly but to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Rom. 4:5). A justification of the ungodly cannot be made by infusion, but by imputation. For although he that is justified does not remain wicked, but is renewed by the grace of Christ, he cannot be said to be justified by that renovation (which is the effect following justification, not the cause which precedes it). And faith, by which man is justified and is made righteous in Christ, does not prevent him from being and being called wicked in himself, inasmuch as he is opposed to the one working as he who has nothing upon which he can rely before the divine tribunal for his justification and so is “ungodly,” partly antecedently; partly with respect to justification; not however concomitantly, still less consequently.

Justification of the ungodly cannot be made by infusion, but it is made by an indwelling spiritual union. It is not the renewed morality of sanctification that justifies, but the renewed identity (the “new man”) that is formed from Christ and the believer. While the saved man has nothing of his own (apart from Christ) to offer as a meritorious righteousness, he has everything of Christ’s to offer as a meritorious righteousness, since the union entitles him to all of Christ’s human experiences and accomplishments.

Although justification is prior to union with Christ, it cannot be adequately understood apart from union with Christ. Rather, justification is grounded on the absolute certainty of the divinely promised salvific union with Christ for those of faith. Justification is legal (forensic), and thus it is seemingly putative. However, it is grounded in a union that is real and substantial, even when that union is in the future. Justification provides the initial legal judgment of our salvation, but the union with Christ provides the substance and reality of our salvation — the ground and basis for our justification.

Copyright © 2013 by Ken Hamrick.


[1] Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, (Phillipsburg: P & R, 1992)
[2] N. T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005), p. 98

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Indigenous Posts, theology, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

34 Responses to Justification is Grounded on Union with Christ

  1. parsonsmike says:

    Why isn’t the moment of faith also the moment of justification and union with Christ?
    And is union with the Christ the same as being born from above AND being indwelt by the Spirit?

    Abraham was justified by faith. Was he still the same old sinner against God as before faith? Or was he made new, with a new heart?
    He certainly was not indwelt by the Holy Spirit. But was he changed? or was he the same? How about David? Was he born from above when he was justified by faith?

    Justification by faith is having your sins taken away and not counted against you again, is it not? Faith being the attitude of trust in God and His righteousness and the not trusting in yourself or your own [lack of] righteousness. But is there no change in nature that goes along with faith/justification? Was there for Abraham, or Moses, or David?

    And if there is such a change in nature for those OT saints, why does it not also apply to NT saints? Were their hearts still of the world or after God? Note that the Word does not say that it is i that lives but the Holy Spirit who lives in me. The Spirit comes along side as a helper, a comforter, a guide. So we can walk in Him or not. But it is Christ in us, the hope of glory!

    What were we before faith? We did not trust in God. And we were dead in our trespasses and sins, in which we formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.
    “We too” Paul exclaims! How about Abraham, Moses, and David? Them too? How about Jacob? Samson? Gideon? Rahab? Sinners saved by grace through faith? Yes. all of them. Were they changed? Yes. All of them.

    We read:
    Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
    Nicodemus *said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
    Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things?

    Isn’t that question rhetorical? Should the answer be that a teacher of Israel SHOULD understand these things? Are these truths found in the Old Testament? Yes. But more importantly should we as men of the NT understand that there is a change wrought by God in a person of faith so that such a person is different than when they were not of the faith? yes. More later.

  2. Parson,

    What point are you making? You are not suggesting that the change that God accomplished in us when we are united with Christ forms any part of the basis of our justification are you?

  3. parsonsmike says:

    Randy,
    Certainly there is no justification without a changed nature. Faith is because the person has changed in some way. Before faith they did not trust in God. Before faith I was by nature a child of wrath. So then what is faith? It is a trust and belief in God, His Word, His promise, His Son, His death for your sins. before that trusting and believing there was animosity. We read:

    “For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”

    So while what happens to us is not the basis for justification, what happens to us is the cause of justification, namely our faith. God by his gracious action[]s towards us brings about faith in us by which we are justified.

    How do you see it?

  4. Parson,

    I would agree with your assessment. Apart from a change of nature, we would never have rested on Christ. It is through faith we are united with Christ, and it is in union with Christ that we stand justified before God. It just seemed as if you might be suggesting that somehow our justification was based in some way on that change of nature. That is why I was asking for the clarification. Thanks for the answer.

  5. I am having difficulty with the statement that we are justified prior to union with Christ. It is my understanding that when God calls a person effectually, the result is union with Christ through faith ( E.g. 1 Cor 1:9). Justification is also through faith. Would it not seem that since both occur through faith, they would occur simultantously?

  6. parsonsmike says:

    Randy,
    You can call me mike, i go to parsons baptist church (-:
    How would you describe just what union with Christ means to you?
    I think ken describes it as the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

  7. Mike,

    I just did the parson thing for brevity.

    I perhaps would differ from Ken on some of these points. It is certain that Christ dwells in us by the Spirit. Paul seems to equate “Christ in you” and “the Spirit in you,” though these are separate and distinct persons of the Trinity. I would tend to make a distinction between the “in Christ” relationship and the “Christ in you” relationship. Both I think are aspects of union with Christ, but “Christ in you” does not occur until the point of conversion, whereas the “in Christ” relationship has obtained “in the divine reckoning” from eternity. Even in eternity, God did not contemplate the elect apart from Christ. “Chosen” in him” Given us “in Christ Jesus before the world began.” for example. This was not reality in terms of application, only in terms of decree.

  8. Ken Hamrick says:

    Randy,

    It may well be that union with Christ and justification are simultaneous; but it is not necessarily so, as shown by the OT saints.

  9. Ken Hamrick says:

    Randy,

    The choosing and the giving were in Christ in eternity past, but we are not in Christ until Christ is in us. It is only by our real inbeing in Christ (through Christ in us) that we can share identity with Christ. Justice and truth must deal with facts of reality, and cannot be satisfied with mere contemplation or reckoning.

  10. Ken,

    One difficulty we are dealing with in trying to come to agreement on this issue is that we are both time dwellers to whom God has condescended in his revelation to accommodate our limitations. We both speak of eternity past as if such a thing existed. In reality, with God everything is in the eternal present.

    Though it is incomprehensible to finite beings, while prior to our existential union with Christ we continued under God’s wrath, we were even then the objects of his love because he contemplated us in union with Christ. When Jesus died, in the divine reckoning, I was in him by representation. He objectively accomplished my reconciliation with God. I did not experience it until it was applied, but it was no less real in its accomplishment than in its application. Paul wrote that it was WHILE I was still an enemy of God that Jesus reconciled me to God by his death. We cannot understand that statement to mean that both sides had at that juncture laid aside their hostilities, but the objective accomplishment was no less real in the divine reckoning. I died with him to the dominion of sin, in God’s reckoning. In terms of eternity, now was not future when Jesus died, it was present.

    It seems to me, the “Christ in you” aspect of our union with Christ belongs more to the application stage of God’s salvific activity, and even more specifically to its forensic aspects, whereas “the you are in Christ” aspects of that union belong to design, accomplishment and application. Perhaps I have overlooked a reference, but I don’t recall any use of the “Christ in you” language in the case of any but those to whom Jesus redemptive accomplishments have actually been applied.

    I think these issues may be easier to understand if we consider them in terms of a different motif. As important as the idea of justification as a forensic declaration may be, it is only one way of explaining the work Jesus has accomplished for us. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews explains the redemptive work of Christ in great detail without once mentioning the doctrine of justification. The concept is not even present there. Instead, he couches his argument in terms of access into the most holy and boldness before the throne of God among other motifs such as perfection, rest, inheritance etc.

    Additionally, though his entire teaching seems to be based on the believer’s union with Christ and the representative character of that work, i.e., Christ’s priestly ministry, he never mentions the “Christ in you” aspect of that union.

    Please understand I am not stating the above dogmatically, so don’t tie me to the stake just yet. It just seems to me these ideas are worthy of consideration.

    In regard to the OT saints, I believe they were as much “In Christ” as we are. It was the same righteousness of Christ that was imputed to Abraham that is imputed to us. God does not have two ways of salvation. I don’t believe the same can be said for the “Christ in you” aspect of that union, since the “giving” of the Spirit [please understand I am not suggesting the Spirit was not in existence or was not active during the OT period. I believe he was] is a distinctive New Covenant blessing. In my view, it is the NC ministry of the Spirit,”Christ in you” if you will, that both replaces the Old Covenant, The Law, and enables New Covenant believers to do what the Law demanded but could not produce, namely, to love God.

  11. parsonsmike says:

    Randy and Ken,
    In response to this remark:
    “In regard to the OT saints, I believe they were as much “In Christ” as we are. It was the same righteousness of Christ that was imputed to Abraham that is imputed to us. God does not have two ways of salvation. I don’t believe the same can be said for the “Christ in you” aspect of that union, since the “giving” of the Spirit [please understand I am not suggesting the Spirit was not in existence or was not active during the OT period. I believe he was] is a distinctive New Covenant blessing. In my view, it is the NC ministry of the Spirit,”Christ in you” if you will, that both replaces the Old Covenant, The Law, and enables New Covenant believers to do what the Law demanded but could not produce, namely, to love God.”

    Did not OT believers come to faith? And before that, were they not fallen like other men? Romans 2 and 3 seem to indicate the latter is quite true. And certainly they were blind to the truth for they even failed to recognize God in the flesh in their midst. But some of the OT Jews did have faith in God. Their eyes then were opened, their ears unstopped, their hearts of stone softened.

    They weren’t indwelt by the Holy Spirit. But they experienced a major change spiritually. So when I read this:

    Nicodemus *said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things?

    When I read that last line it sets me to wonder if that question is not rhetorical in that as a teacher of Israel should know and understand these things. And if that is so, should not also such a teacher also have experienced that very same thing? My answer is YES!

    From that I see OT believers as having been born again. They were no longer lovers of sin and self and world but lovers of God. they became a people of faith looking to a better world.

    Thoughts?

  12. parsonsmike says:

    Thots to add…

    “To be sure, Owen does not confuse justification (the forensic) with sanctification (the transformative), but rather states that a person must be in union with Christ to partake of the forensic benefit of imputation. Owen clearly states this point: “Our actual interest in the satisfaction of Christ depends on our actual insertion into his mystical body by faith, according to the appointment of God.” 46 Elsewhere, Owen bluntly asserts, “The foundation of the imputation asserted is union.”47” [from: RPM, Volume 15, Number 14, March 31 to April 6, 2013 John Owen on Union with Christ and Justification By J. V. Fesko ]

    From that same place;
    “Owen cuts a careful path between the dangerous poles of antinomianism and neonomianism. With great precision he skirts the dangerous Scylla of antinomianism by arguing that the believer is in union with Christ, which ensures that the believer will yield the fruit of good works because of Christ’s indwelling presence. At the same time, Owen also successfully navigates by the treacherous Charybdis of neonomianism because he argues that the believer’s justification, title, and right to eternal life is grounded upon the imputed righteousness of Christ. The imputation of Christ’s righteousness is not something that the believer earns through their obedience but is something he received-something that has been agreed upon in a mutual covenant between the Father and the Son in eternity past, long before the believer ever existed. For Owen, though, this covenant in eternity past is not merely a bald choice by God but rather involves a number of different doctrinal loci, Christology, pneumatology, soteriology, as well as their subsets, such as union with Christ and the ordo salutis. The doctrine of the pactum salutis provides the answer as to how Owen gives ultimate priority to the forensic and proximate priority to union with Christ. For Owen, the ground of redemption is found in the imputed righteousness of Christ.”

  13. Ken Hamrick says:

    Randy,

    When you say that to God everything is eternally present, I would almost agree… except that I would caution that present is strictly a temporal concept and is meaningless outside of time. God sees all moments of time “at once,” but it is important to understand that He sees each moment as being in its own time and not as sharing the same time with any other moment. Merely because God sees all moments “at once” does not mean that He sees them as happening at once. God sees the whole train of time, as it were, but He never loses sight of the sequential order of the cars. We are time dwellers, as you say, but justice is also a time dweller. For example, it would be unjust to punish a man for a crime that he did not yet commit. And there are many other examples where justice is necessarily temporal and its validity dependent on time. Justice must deal with truth, and truth must reflect reality. Our reality is a temporal reality. As a temporal, chronologically sequential reality, each moment is exclusively real, since past moments are no longer real and future moments are not yet real. So then, when God sees each moment in its time, He sees reality in each moment as a reality exclusive of every other moment just as He also sees each moment as chronologically exclusive of every other moment. God does not blend all the moments as if they were a single reality any more than He blends them as if they were all a single moment.

    I disagree with how you are using objective and subjective. That which is objectively true is true regardless of any thoughts about it; while that which is subjectively true is usually dependent in some sense upon the thoughts of the subject to whom (or in whom) it is true. If I ask how many pounds you weigh, I’m asking for the objective measurement; but if I ask how big you think you are, then I’m asking for your subjective opinion. If we were in any sense “in Christ” prior to our own objective existence, then it could only have been in the sense of having been, as you say, “contemplated” by God as in union with Christ. However, this would only occur in the mind of God and not as an objectively true fact of substantial reality. In other words, such a union would consist only of thought and not of actual substance or being, since we had neither at that time. Justice requires more than thoughts—justice requires objective truth based on facts of substantial reality. Since God’s wrath against sin is a matter of justice, then reconciliation with God requires much more than contemplation—it requires a union with Christ that is objectively real, consisting of the spirit of the sinner and the Spirit of Christ to be joined within the same being. The two must become one in reality and not merely within the mind of God. After all, Christ had to become a real man and die on a real cross because such a terrible death could not satisfactorily take place only within God’s mind. God’s justice demands reality and not mere thought. Regardless of your claim to the contrary, a union within God’s mind is “less real” than a substantial, spiritual union that takes place within the believer. And when Jesus died, now was indeed future, even to God. God sees the whole timeline, but He always sees the chronological relationship that each moment holds to each other moment. While it may be said that nothing is future to God, it is only true in the sense that God does not have to wait for any future moment; but for any particular moment that God focuses on, He knows all moments that are future to that moment or past to it.

    As for the OT believers, God did choose to see them as He knew they would one day be: in Christ; however, He was choosing to overlook their sins based on His own promise that He would one day send the Messiah and redeem them from their sins. Even though God justified them by imputing Christ’s righteousness to them, it was based on God’s good credit and was not yet an objective fact of reality. Justice depends upon reality, and therefore, although they were justified, justice was not yet satisfied in their cases. God’s wrath against their sin had not yet been propitiated. They were, in effect, provisionally justified. Because of this, they could not go to heaven upon death, but remained prisoners of justice in a compartment of sheol designed for the righteous, until that time when Christ would die and bring the good news to them and deliver them to heaven. It was only after Christ’s death that He was able to spiritually unite with sinners, bringing His saving experiences of a perfectly lived life and a propitiatory death with Him to such a union. That is why to be baptized into Christ is to be baptized into His death.

  14. Ken Hamrick says:

    Mike,

    You make a plausible case but I still disagree. The disciples themselves were OT believers until Pentecost, and look at the marked difference that it made. There definitely is a difference between the unbeliever and the OT believer, as well as the difference between the OT believer and the NT believer. But of the two differences, the latter matches better with the idea of new birth.

  15. parsonsmike says:

    God thinks so much of human reality that He entered into it by becoming a man. Let not this truth escape us when we do theology. He could have done the whole creation thing in His mind, but He decided that wordly reality was better. So should we.

  16. parsonsmike says:

    Ken,
    You mean there was a big difference after the disciples recieved the Holy Spirit. That does not invalidate my argument on the least. Rather ot supports it. When the Spirit came upon them they recieved POWER! Yep there wad a big difference alright. In the OT, they only got that power temporarily when He ‘hovered’ upon them since He never indwelt them.

  17. I understand that though God sees everything at a glance as it were, he does not see events non-sequentially. I believe what is true in God’s mind IS reality. Do you not believe God loved believers before the world was? The term “foreknowledge” would certainly seem to indicate he did. If you do believe that, would that not be love based on an application of redemption that was as yet unreality?

    Regarding the OT saints, I agree that they did not enter their inheritance until Jesus had accomplished redemption, but can we truly say that Abraham was not really justified until Jesus accomplished his redemption? Based on promise though it was, it was none the less real, when God declared it to be real.

  18. Ken Hamrick says:

    Randy,

    Abraham was truly justified when he believed, but being justified does not mean that justice was satisfied. If none of God’s wrath against Abraham’s sins remained, then how was God to pour out on Christ what no longer existed? God choosing to see Abraham in Christ did not mean that God saw Abraham as actually being in Christ in reality; but rather, it means that God chose to see Abraham as he would one day actually be, and God was willing to overlook Abraham’s sin (and the reality that he was not yet in Christ) in the meantime, in order to accomplish God’s redemptive purposes and plan.

  19. Ken,

    It seems to me you are arguing against yourself. God declared Abraham to be righteous though he was not yet in union with Christ in reality. That is the very definition of imputation based on representation. God did not merely overlook Abraham’s sin. Abraham was justified based on the obedience and righteousness of Christ just as really as we are, based on a righteousness that was yet to be obtained through the active and passive [by the way, I don’t prefer those terms] obedience of Christ.

    Perhaps this is an issue on which we will have to agree to disagree. In truth, I think we must disagree based on our presuppositions. I think your conclusions are as logical as they can be, based on your presuppositions. Our disagreement must be traced back to our differences over realism vs. representation.

  20. Ken Hamrick says:

    Randy,

    God did overlook the sins of the saints prior to Christ’s sacrifice:

    Rom. 3 ESV
    23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

    Prior to the cross, God was the Justifier but He had not yet shown Himself to be just—justice had not yet been satisfied as He had not yet been propitiated. Only after the cross was God both Just and Justifier. Abraham was justified, but God was temporarily overlooking or “passing over” his sins. Much later, Christ bore Abraham’s sins.

  21. Ken,

    If you will notice, I did not say God did not, in his forebearance, overlook or pass over the sins that were passed. I said he did not merely overlook them. As far as OC believers were concerned there was no apparent basis for a declaration of righteousness. The did not even fully understand the promises God made concerning a coming Messiah. Still, God declared them righteous. He did not “merely” overlook their sins. Though they did not understand all that would be necessary to declare God righteous in making such a declaration, they were justified equally with us. Being justified and having ones sins merely overlooked are clearly different. From their perspective and from the perspective of all onlookers, God was merely overlooking their sins. From his perspective, he justified them based on the work he had decreed to accomplish in Christ. The cross was his declaration and public display of his righteousness in declaring them righteous, since, at last, he had satisfied his own righteous demands.

    My point is that we are told Abraham was justified. I think you and I can agree that the “Christ in you” language of the New Testament is a distinctively New Covenant blessing. Christ is in us because his Spirit is in us. The Spirit is the first-fruits, the seal, the pledge of our inheritance. Because we are sons, he has sent forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, whereby we cry “Abba, Father.” The Spirit was not “given” in this sense until the day of Pentecost. This is true because the inheritance was not granted until the work of redemption was finished. OC believers, though heirs, were no better off than slaves until the “fulness of the time was come.” That phrase corresponds to “the time appointed by the father.” This was the time when the underaged son was placed as a son, “adopted.” Unless we somehow transport all of this into Abraham’s experience, we cannot rightly say of him “Christ is in you” in the New Covenant sense. Yet, Abraham was “justified.” Perhaps I have misunderstood your argument, but it seems to me this would contradict it.

  22. parsonsmike says:

    Ken,
    Randy said God overlooked Abraham’s sins. He is saying that there was justification without union and that means it was due to representation. Wouldn’t your reply be that it was justification due to anticipation of union?

  23. Mike,

    What I am saying is that union with Christ IS reality in the mind of God. If God declared Abraham righteous in his sight, he did so based on the redemptive work of Christ, in which Jesus stood as Abraham’s representative head. It did not matter that the work of redemption had not yet been accomplished historically. In God’s reckoning, it formed the basis of Abraham’s justification. The imputation of righteousness was the application in anticipation of the accomplishment, not in anticipation of the union.

  24. Mike,

    Just to be clear, I am not saying there was justification without union. I am saying there was no “Christ in you” relationship as we New Covenant believers enjoy it. Abraham, like the rest of the elect, was in judicial union with Christ and was declared righteous by imputation.

  25. markmcculley says:

    1. It does no good to agree that “union” has various aspects (ie, it’s by election and it’s legal also) if we then go on from that to use the word “union” to mean something very close to “regeneration” or “definitive sanctification” or “break with the pattern of sin”.

    Supposedly, regeneration and sanctification and break with sin are all also results of “union”. So what is “union” and why does it come down in the end to assuming that it means the work of the Spirit in the elect sinner? ( we need to define words like “regeneration” and “sanctification” also).

    2. I am asking that we locate what we say in specific Biblical texts, and not in traditional confessions of faith. For example, Romans 6 is certainly a key text on the relationship of justification and the Christian life. Many read Romans 6 as if it were saying: don’t worry about that two legal heads stuff in Romans 5, because there is another answer besides justification as to why we don’t sin, and that is “union”.

    Others (like Haldane) read Romans to say that the answer to the question about the Christian life is not something else besides legal identity with Christ’s death and resurrection. We read Romans 6:7 as saying that the answer continues to be “justified from sin”. We insist on that because Christ became dead to sin, was justified from sin, and that certainly was NOT “regeneration” or the work of the Spirit in Him. We insist on reading Romans 6 in terms of “sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law”.

    Others of course read Holy Spirit baptism into Romans 6. They don’t talk about Christ giving the Spirit (which is not in Romans 6). They talk about the Spirit giving Christ (which is also not in Romans 6). Others talk about the sacramental water of the church. But it is no way acceptable to them to think that Romans 6 is still about justification and legal identification. They already have their minds made up that imputation is not a good enough answer to the question of Romans 6.

    Yes, I know the Confessions say that the Spirit applies the work of Christ. Since I think God’s legal imputation applies the righteousness Christ obtained for the elect to the elect, I don’t think I agree with the Confession’s language. But right now, I want some folks to tell me what that language means. What biblical texts are you thinking about? Does the Spirit “applying the work of Christ” make imputation secondary or even unnecessary?

  26. Ken Hamrick says:

    Randy,

    You stated:

    What I am saying is that union with Christ IS reality in the mind of God. If God declared Abraham righteous in his sight, he did so based on the redemptive work of Christ, in which Jesus stood as Abraham’s representative head. It did not matter that the work of redemption had not yet been accomplished historically. In God’s reckoning, it formed the basis of Abraham’s justification. The imputation of righteousness was the application in anticipation of the accomplishment, not in anticipation of the union.

    Nothing can be “reality” that exists only in a mind—even if it is God’s mind—else Christ need not have been crucified outside of God’s mind. We can speak of the reality of those thoughts being in God’s mind, but we cannot speak of thoughts alone as “reality.” We are not really that far apart here, though. I agree that—as far as justification was concerned—“it did not matter that the work of redemption had not yet been accomplished historically… In God’s reckoning, it formed the basis of Abraham’s justification… The imputation of righteousness was the application in anticipation of the accomplishment…” But redemption is not accomplished by mere sacrifice alone. Redemption is more than Christ dying on the cross. One Man cannot satisfy justice for another man by merely suffering a penalty equal to what the other man owes. Until the two are joined in a way and to an extent that justice is satisfactorily convinced that they are one man in substantial reality, that reality stands against such a redemption. God may sovereignly declare the two to be one based only on the thoughts within His mind; but He cannot justly do so until He makes such a union a substantial reality. Sovereignty may ignore substantial reality, but justice has no such license.

  27. Ken Hamrick says:

    Mark McCulley,

    Election is not union, but a foreseen (and certain to be accomplished) union. The union of believers with Christ is spiritual, and not merely legal or “federal.” While the interposition of the sacrificial victim between God and the sinner was something that occurred only within God’s mind in the Old Testament, God has provided union with Christ in the New Testament. This union happens within substantial reality, and does not exist only within the mind of God. Rom. 6:3, “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” and, 1 Cor. 6:17, “But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.” It is not speaking of water baptism, but baptism into the Spirit, which happens at the point of saving faith. To be spiritually baptized into Christ is to be joined to Him so that the new believer and Christ are one spirit, and the result of this is that the new believer is joined to (or, baptized into) His death. As the spirit is the core of a man, it is the core of a man’s identity. When the Holy Spirit indwells the man, He creates a new man by joining the spirit of the man to the Spirit of Christ. They are not joined to the extent that either is lost in the other, but they are joined to the extent that the man’s new identity is in Christ and his old identity is no longer valid in the eyes of justice. In fact, the believer is so identified with Christ that he is considered to have been crucified with Him. Gal. 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” To be immersed into the Spirit of Christ is to be plunged into that flood of sufficiency that all His human experiences provide. To be baptized into Christ is to be baptized into His death.

    There is no Scriptural antithesis between the legal imputation and substantial, spiritual union. Wherever one is mentioned, the other is assumed. The “modus operandi” is the sharing of personal identity that is effected by “inbeing.” God is just to pass the consequences of Adam’s sin onto all because all men had an inbeing in Adam (having been propagated in the entirety of their nature from him) when he sinned; and just so, God is just to credit us with Christ’s righteous life and sacrificial death because we now have an inbeing with Christ. Because we now share in the personal identity of Christ (because the Spirit of Christ is in us), we have gained a right and title to His righteousness. It’s all about identity.

  28. “God may sovereignly declare the two to be one based only on the thoughts within His mind; but He cannot justly do so until He makes such a union a substantial reality. Sovereignty may ignore substantial reality, but justice has no such license.”

    Ken, I understand that is your presupposition, but how do you demonstrate that from Scripture? God may not have appeared just in passing over the sins or Old Testament believers, but he would never have made the declaration that they were righteous unjustly. The basis was in the divinely decreed work of Christ.

  29. parsonsmike says:

    Proverbs 17:15
    He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous,
    Both of them alike are an abomination to the Lord.

    The question is how can God justify the wicked Abraham and condemn the innocent Jesus? When either action is an abomination to Himself?
    or How is it righteous that God put my sin punishment on Christ? and accounted me righteous?

    Certainly it can only be dome through the work of Jesus and in His obedience unto death. But that very truth seems to fly in the face of Proverbs 17:15.

  30. Mike,

    You would certainly be right in regard to Prov. 17:15 apart from the imputation of Chist’s righteousness. But, remember Jesue was what he is to us when he was crucified. He did not become our propitiation when we received him. God set him forth a propitiation in his blood, through faith.. He was our satisfaction when God publicly displayed him as such. In faith, we receive and become partakers of that which in the divine mind and accomplished is already a reality. Apart from imputation, our gulit to Christ and his righteousness and redemptive work to us, there would be a huge problem with God declaring ungodly sinnners righteous, but that is exactly what he has done.

  31. Mike,
    You wrote,

    “Did not OT believers come to faith? And before that, were they not fallen like other men? Romans 2 and 3 seem to indicate the latter is quite true. And certainly they were blind to the truth for they even failed to recognize God in the flesh in their midst. But some of the OT Jews did have faith in God. Their eyes then were opened, their ears unstopped, their hearts of stone softened.

    They weren’t indwelt by the Holy Spirit. But they experienced a major change spiritually. So when I read this:

    Nicodemus *said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things?

    When I read that last line it sets me to wonder if that question is not rhetorical in that as a teacher of Israel should know and understand these things. And if that is so, should not also such a teacher also have experienced that very same thing? My answer is YES!

    From that I see OT believers as having been born again. They were no longer lovers of sin and self and world but lovers of God. they became a people of faith looking to a better world.

    Thoughts?”

    I wanted to comment on these words you wrote back in March but which I did not read until today.
    As you know, the issue of OT salvation is quite a controversial issue. There are certain aspects of the issue on which I think all sides agree. Old Testament believers were actually declared righteous just as we are. They were justified through faith. Most would agree that they were declared righteous based on Christ’s redemptive work. Those who believe in sovereign grace would believe they were sinful rebels who needed an internal, spiritual change before they could come to faith.

    I was not quite sure from your statement what you were affirming and what you were denying relative to the “new birth” especially as it relates to old covenant believers. The following would be my thoughts on that issue. Perhaps you would like to interact with my thoughts.

    It seems to me one of the major issues in the Fourth Gospel as well as in the NT as a whole is the nature of the kingdom Jesus came to establish. For that reason, there is a fairly well established and salient theme of “fulfilled eschatology” that runs throughout. Please understand that when I speak of fulfillment, I don’t mean everything that has been prophesied has occurred already. What I mean, and what I think the biblical writers intended was that the age of fulfillment has dawned. In that sense, we live with an already/not yet tension in terms of prophetic fulfillment.

    When John wrote that those who receive Jesus, were born [note the order there between receiving and being born] not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor because of the desire of a man, but of God, he was describing the nature of Jesus’ kingdom. This is not a kingdom one can enter because he belongs to the right race, or because of a human decision. In order to enter this kingdom, one must be born of God. This is why we Baptist don’t believe in infant “baptism.” Unlike Abraham’s physical seed, children of covenant parents do not enter the covenant relationship by physical birth. God has a multitude of children but not a single grand-child. For entrance into his kingdom, a person must be born spiritually. All of the “Israel” within Israel (see Rom. 9:6), were so not only because they were chosen to be in Abraham’s seed, Christ, but because God, in keeping with his purpose, had given them spiritual life.

    Now, here’s the rub. Some of my dear Reformed brothers give the impression that the Spirit’s ministry during the Old Era was the same as it is post-Pentecost. They will also assert that Abraham heard and understood the same gospel we proclaim. They will boldly assert that the Holy Spirit regenerated these OT figures, enabling them to believe the gospel. How else could they have come to faith apart from regeneration? My question would be, was it not possible for God the Father to call them effectually and bring them to faith? Why must we assume, apart from any biblical evidence, that it must have been the Spirit who accomplished this work?

    In my view, what Jesus thought Nicodemus should have known is that when the Messiah came, it would be to establish a New Covenant and to inaugurate the period called “the regeneration.” This is also referred to as “the fulness of the time,” “these last days,” “the ends of the ages.” This period is characterized by the establishment of a “New Covenant” and the principal characteristic blessing of that covenant is the present ministry of the Holy Spirit. It involves God putting his Spirit within the hearts of believers, washing from our sins, and renewing for future obedience. Consider, ” Ezek. 36:25-27–“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” Nicodemus should have known these things because they were clearly revealed in this passage that spoke of what would happen when the Messiah came.

    I believe this passage explains why Jesus talked about being “born of water and Spirit.” The granting of these blessings belongs to the Messianic age, not to the OC period. In anticipation of this new order, Old Testament believers were granted some but not all New Covenant blessings. For example, they were declared righteous through faith. But even then, they did not enjoy the freedom of access into God’s presence that we have. A sacrifice had not yet been offered that would cleanse their guilty consciences. Though God had judicially put away their sins, the way into God’s presence had not yet been revealed–everything about the Old Covenant said, “stay away.”

    These Old Testament era believers had not received and would not received their inheritance until the Christ event (see Heb. 11:39-40). Paul made it clear in Galatians 4:1-6 that before Jesus was born, believing Jews were, as underaged children, no better off than slaves though they were heirs of everything. “The time appointed by the Father” is parallel to “The fullness of the time.” The time appointed by the [human] father refers to the time when the child came of age and the father would grant the inheritance. The coming of Christ was such a time. The result of his redemptive was “adoption” or “son-placing.” This did not involve the placing of an orphaned child into a family, but the granting of sonship status to one’s own son. At that point, the underaged child would enter into his inheritance. This is why Paul wrote, “and because you are sons, he has sent forth the Spirit of his son into your hearts crying Abba, Father.” In Romans 8 he identifies the Spirit as “the first-fruits” of our inheritance.” In other words, he is the first part of the entire harvest of blessings God has intended for us. This leads me to what I believe is an inescapable conclusion–The Holy Spirit’s current ministry is not merely a greater effusion of the Spirit than that experienced by OT believers. It is the result of the unique “giving” “sending forth” of the Spirit just as Jesus’ advent was the unique giving and sending forth of the Son. In John 7, John tells us “the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” This is the explanation of Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost. The granting of the inheritance, of which the Spirit is the “first-fruit,” the “pledge,” and the “seal” could not have occurred until Christ’s redemptive work was finished and he returned to glory. God poured out the Spirit on the day of Pentecost as evidence that Jesus had been glorified.

    The Spirit was sent as a result of the redemptive work of Christ. He was the first part of the inheritance that could not be granted until “the fullness of the time.” Old Testament believers had not yet entered their inheritance, therefore the Spirit could not have been “given” in the New Covenant sense of the word prior to Jesus’ glorification. Consider the following texts: John 7:39; 16:7, 8,13; Gal. 4:6.

  32. Pingback: Does Your Anchor Hold Within the Veil? | SBC Open Forum

Comments are closed.