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Christ’s union with us in the incarnation is the foundation for our union with him, both now and in the eternal future. It is a pledge of our sonship, as Calvin wrote, for “our common nature with Christ is the pledge of our fellowship with the Son of God; and clothed with our flesh he vanquished death and sin together that the victory and triumph might be ours. He offered as a sacrifice the flesh he received from us, that he might wipe out our guilt by his act of expiation and appease the Father’s righteous wrath.”

-Robert Letham, Union with Christ: In Scripture, History, and Theology (Phillisburg NJ: P&R, 2011) 41, quoting John Calvin, Institutes, 2.12.3

Reposting in light of Resurrection Sunday tomorrow. May every believer grasp what is theirs in Christ Jesus because of His resurrection!

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. (Romans 6:5)

All that [Christ] accomplished for us in our human nature is, through union with him, true for us and, in a sense, of us. He died to sin once; he lives to God (6:10). He came under the dominion of sin in death, but death could not master him. He rose and broke the power of both sin and death. Now He lives forever in the resurrection life of God. The same is as true of us as if we had been with him on the cross, in the tomb and on the resurrection morning!

We miss the radical nature of Paul’s teaching here to our great loss. So startling is it that we need to find a startling manner of expressing it. For what Paul is saying is that sanctification means this: in relationship both to sin and to God, the determining factor of my existence is no longer my past. It is Christ’s past. The basic frame work of my new existence in Christ is that I have become a “dead man brought to life” and must think of myself in those terms: dead to sin and alive to God in union with Jesus Christ our Lord.

~Sinclair B. Ferguson, Christian Spirituality: Five Views of Sanctification, p. 57

For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:3)

Since we are united to Christ, God regards us in the identical way he does Christ. The Father treats us exactly the same way as he does his own eternal and beloved Son.

-Robert Letham, Union with Christ: In Scripture, History, and Theology, p. 53.

That is what it means to be hidden in Christ! The Father sees Christ instead of me. Thus, He relates to me as He relates to Christ for He sees the beloved Son in my place.

Oh to have this truth capture my mind!

When I feel anxious about desires unmet. When I feel distant from the Lord. When I feel that I miss out because of my striving to please the Lord. When I fail to please the Lord. When I feel the pull to give into sin. When I have no desire to do the things God wants me to do. When I feel unloved. And in pretty much ever other circumstance and thought this truth needs to be the determiner of how I understand and live in this world.

One of the most foundation doctrines of the Christian life is the reality of the believer’s union with Christ. By the mysterious power of God the believer is united to Christ so that salvific works and benefits of Christ becomes possession of the believer.

I recently listened to Dr. Sinclair Ferguson message where he talks about this doctrine. I would highly recommend this message to you as either a great introduction or a great reminder about this reality.

You can get the audio here.

Justin Taylor posted a very helpful introduction to the subject of Union with Christ. This doctrine is one of the central aspects of our theology and salvation. Hopefully this crash course will give you a better understanding of the doctrine,

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James S. Stewart wrote that “union with Christ, rather than justification or election or eschatology, or indeed any of the other great apostolic themes, is the real clue to an understanding of Paul’s thought and experience” (A Man in Christ[Harper & Bros., 1955], vii).

John Calvin said that union with Christ has “the highest degree of importance” if we are to understand justification correctly (Institutes 1:737).

John Murray wrote that “union with Christ is . . . the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation. . . . It is not simply a phase of the application of redemption; it underlies every aspect of redemption” (Redemption—Accomplished and Applied [Eerdmans, 1955], pp. 201, 205).

Lewis Smedes said that it was “at once the center and circumference of authentic human existence” (Union with Christ [Eerdmans, 1983], xii).

Anthony Hoekema wrote that “Once you have your eyes opened to this concept of union with Christ, you will find it almost everywhere in the New Testament” (Saved by Grace [Eerdmans, 1989], 64.

If you want an introduction to the doctrine of union with Christ, John Murray’s chapter in Redemption—Accomplished and Applied is helpeful, as is Anthony Hoekema’s chapter in Saved by Grace. Below are a few notes on the latter:

The New Testament uses two interchangeable expressions to describe union with Christ:

  1. We are in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17John 15:4571 Cor. 15:222 Cor. 12:2Gal. 3:28Eph. 1:42:10Phil. 3:91 Thess. 4:161 John 4:13).
  2. Christ is in us (Gal. 2:20Col. 1:27Rom. 8:102 Cor. 13:5Eph. 3:17).

Three passages (John 6:56John 15:41 John 4:13) explicitly combine both concepts.

Hoekema says that we should see union with Christ “extending all the way from eternity to eternity.” He outlines his material in this way:

  1. The roots of union with Christ are in divine election (Eph. 1:3-4).
  2. The basis of union with Christ is the redemptive work of Christ.
  3. The actual union with Christ is established with God’s people in time.

Under the third point, he shows eight ways that salvation, from beginning to end, is in Christ:

  1. We are initially united with Christ in regeneration (Eph. 2:4-510)
  2. We appropriate and continue to live out of this union through faith (Gal. 2:20Eph. 3:16-17).
  3. We are justified in union with Christ (1 Cor. 1:302 Cor. 5:21Phil. 3:8-9).
  4. We are sanctified through union with Christ (1 Cor. 1:30John 15:4-5Eph. 4:162 Cor. 5:17).
  5. We persevere in the life of faith in union with Christ (John 10:27-28Rom. 8:38-39).
  6. We are even said to die in Christ (Rom. 14:81 Thess. 4:16Rev. 14:13).
  7. We shall be raised with Christ (Col. 3:11 Cor. 15:22).
  8. We shall be eternally glorified with Christ (Col. 3:41 Thess. 4:16-17).

And here’s a helpful quote from Sinclair Ferguson (in Christian Spirituality: Five Views of Sanctification [IVP, 1989], 58), explaining in a nutshell why union with Christ is the foundation for sanctification:

If we are united to Christ, then we are united to him at all points of his activity on our behalf.

We share

  • in his death (we were baptized into his death),
  • in his resurrection (we are resurrected with Christ),
  • in his ascension (we have been raised with him),
  • in his heavenly session (we sit with him in heavenly places, so that our life is hidden with Christ in God), and we will share
  • in his promised return (when Christ, who is our life, appears, we also will appear with him in glory) (Rom. 6:14; Col. 2:11-12; 3:1-3).

This, then, is the foundation of sanctification in Reformed theology.

It is rooted, not in humanity and their achievement of holiness or sanctification, but in what God has done in Christ, and for us in union with him. Rather than view Christians first and foremost in the microcosmic context of their own progress, the Reformed doctrine first of all sets them in the macrocosm of God’s activity in redemptive history. It is seeing oneself in this context that enables the individual Christian to grow in true holiness.

For more resources on this vital doctrine, see:

  • Phil Gons’s bibliography
  • Richard Gaffin’s lectures on “The Mystery of Union with Christ” (see somenotes here by Tony Reinke on one of the lectures)
  • Sinclair Ferguson’s two talks on union with Christ

This is the fourth and final section of my paper. You can find the other sections here: part 1, part 2, and part 3. You can read it in full here.

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An astounding exchange of merits is granted by grace! When one is granted the faith to believe in Christ, the benefits of this work becomes theirs. As in the pattern of Abraham, their faith is counted as righteous (Rom 4:22). The obedience of Christ becomes theirs, His propitiation is done for them, and the satisfaction He accomplished is theirs. The sinner has transgressed the law; the Son did not. The sinner deserves the condemnation for disobedience; the Righteous Son did not. The sinner deserves the curse of death to fall upon him; the Son is only worthy of eternal life. Yet, the blessed Christ was condemned to die the death of one who transgressed the law. That was the divine transaction happening at the cross, which was an exchange of astounding magnitude! The very righteous obedience of the Son is given to the transgressing sinner. The same righteousness that will vindicate the Son to be resurrected is given to the sinner by faith.

Thus, with the resurrection the sinner receives the vindication of a righteous standing before God.[1] Christ “rose again as their head and representative, and was legally discharged, acquitted, and justified, and they in him.”[2] The sinner should be left in the grave in condemnation, but because he has been granted the righteousness of the Holy One, he receives the same vindication.[3] Because the believer is hidden in Christ by means of union, Christ’s resurrection is a declaration of his righteous standing in Christ. The resurrection announces that believers are justified.[4] The justification which was granted by the cross in the transfer of sin and righteousness is secured by the resurrection.[5] Our vindication is a “testification” of being counted righteous.[6] The Son was righteous and so was raised, and so we, being righteous in Him, were raised with Him in His resurrection. Thus, the confirmation of our justified standing in the sight of God is our state of being raised with Christ in His resurrection.[7]

True faith is believing in the God who rose His Son from the dead. In His resurrection Jesus justified those who believed in this God. He justified them because the Spirit united them to his justification by His resurrection. Thus, because of the resurrection of Christ those who believe in Jesus are secure in their redemption. Their justification is secured by the vindicating act of God in resurrecting Jesus.

Conclusion

We have seen 1 Timothy 3:16 and Romans 3:25 trace out how Christ’s justification by His resurrection becomes our justification. The Spirit justified Christ by overturning the unjust condemnation of men. Men wrongly condemned Him to death; the Spirit raised Him to life in righteousness. Now, by the mysterious work of union with Christ, Christ’s justification is the believer’s justification. Since the righteousness of Christ is imputed to the believer the righteous declaration of Christ becomes the believer’s. The believer’s possession of Christ’s righteousness is guaranteed by the reality that Christ rose again by the Spirit, for the believer has been justified through that resurrection.


[1]“Just as our sin brought Christ’s condemnation and death, so his resurrection announces our justification.” Seifrid, Christ, our Righteousness, 47

[2]John Gill, An Exposition of the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans, in The Newport Commentary Series (Springfield, MO: Particular Baptist Press, 2002), 129. Also from Jonathan Edwards, “he was not acquitted as a private person, but as our head, and believers are acquitted in his acquittance; nor was he accepted to a reward for his obedience as a private person, but as our head, and we are accepted to a reward in his acceptance. The Scripture teaches us, that when Christ was raised from the dead, he was justified;” Jonathan Edwards, “Sermons and Discourses, 1734-1738”, in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, ed. M. X. Lesser, vol. 19  (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001), 191.

[3]“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1).” “The abolition of condemnation is the essence of legal justification, which issues from the believer’s new situation in Christ.” Bruce Demarest, The Cross and Salvation: The Doctrine of Salvation, Foundations of Evangelical Theology ed. John S. Feinberg (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books, 1997), 337.

[4]Seifrid, Christ, our Righteousness, 47.

[5]This is where Michael Bird, The Saving Righteousness of God, 76-77 errors when he see no imputed righteousness given to believers. Bird sees the resurrection as the sole aspect of our justification. Yet, as Rom 5:9 clearly points out, the cross is part of out justification as well. The best way to understand how the two relate is that what was given at the cross is declared secured by the resurrection.

[6]Gill, Romans, 129.

[7]Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, 167; Schreiner, Romans, 235.

This is part three of the paper. Here you can find Part 1 and Part 2.

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Romans 4:25

We will now explore how Christ’s vindication or justification by the Spirit is the believers’ justification by God. Because of the believer’s union with Christ they are indentified with the risen one; all that is His becomes theirs; His was the vindication by the Spirit. Therefore, they are also vindicated or justified by the Spirit by being raised with Christ.

Romans 4:25 states that Jesus Christ was “delivered up for our trespasses (παρεδόθη διὰ τὰ παραπτώματα ἡμῶν) and raised for our justification (ἠγέρθη διὰ τὴν δικαίωσιν ἡμῶν).”[1] The phrase is identified as a pre-Pauline statement[2] which is a christological interpretation of Isaiah 53:12.[3] The flow of the chapter is at the end of a discourse by Paul on the faith of Abraham.

Paul explores the quality of the faith of Abraham in verses 16-22.[4] He is building on the point that the promise made to Abraham came, not by the law, but by faith (v13). Thus, he is establishing the truth that the promise transcends ethnic boundaries.[5] It is by faith that the promise is granted; and this faith is not an abstract faith; it was a God-centered confidence.[6] Abraham’s faith was in God’s resurrecting power.[7] It was this faith which made him to be counted righteous (v22).[8] Then Paul turns to the readers and makes present-day application from Abraham’s faith. “Paul understands the work of God in Christ as an out working of the word of God to Abraham….the work of God in Christ brings the promise that created Abraham’s faith to fulfillment.”[9] Now, a child of Abraham puts faith, in likeness of Abraham, into Jesus Christ who was resurrected by the God of Abraham. Jesus, then, died for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.

Faith in the God who resurrects Christ grants the believer the righteousness obtained by the sacrifice of Christ. His resurrection becomes justifying to them because of the union they have with Jesus by faith. The righteousness which Christ possessed becomes theirs so that they, the unrighteous, partake in the righteous rendering of the resurrection of Christ.

Christ’s death procured for us the justifying righteousness of God (5:9).[10] We were under the just condemnation of the law of a holy God with no hope of justifying ourselves (Rom 3:19-20). In our stead, Christ offered himself as a propitiation of our sins. Christ, by His death on the cross, satisfied God’s holy demands (Rom 3:25). Christ was the holy one who perfectly fulfilled the laws demands and so offered Himself as the satisfaction in the sinners’ place (Rom 3:25, 5:18-19). However, on the third day true justice was established again. The Spirit vindicated the Righteous Son by raising Him from the dead (1 Tim 3:16). He was treated in the sinners’ place, but God did not let His Holy One see corruption (Ps. 16:10). God declared that indeed Jesus was just, that He was the Christ.


[1]There is debate on the usage of διὰ. It is used twice in the verse as the preposition to each phrase. There is nearly universal agreement that the first usage is causal meaning, “because of.” But such a usage is strange if understood in the clause we are looking at as pointed out by Bird, The Saving Righteousness of God, 76-77. Thus a “final” usage should be seen; he was raise “for our justification.” See Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, 252; Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 289; Robertson, Epistles of Paul, 354; Morna D. Hooker, “Raised for our Acquittal (Rom 4,25)” in Resurrection in the New Testament, ed. R. Bieringer, V. Koperski, and B. Lataire (Leuven, Belgium: Leuven University Press, 2002), 323. Schreiner, Romans, 235, will say that the second usage of διὰ can be understood causally

[2]C. E. B. Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary, ed. J. A. Emerton and C. E. B. Cranfield (Edinburgh, Scotland: T&T Clark, 1975), 251. Also see Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, ed. Ned B. Stonehouse, F. F. Bruce, and Gordon D. Fee (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996), 288, who makes the point that Paul “has fully integrated the elements of the tradition into his exposition.”

[3]W. Zimmerli and J. Jeremias, Servant of God (Naperville, Ill: Alec R. Allenson, 1957), 89.

[4]Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1998), 235.

[5]“being ethnically Jewish is insufficient; one must follow Abraham’s faith. Conversely, Abraham is also the father of uncircumcised believers.” Mark A Seifrid, “Romans” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, eds. G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 626.

[6]Schreiner, Romans, 235.

[7]Ibid., 236. See also Seifrid, “Romans,” 627.

[8]Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, 250. See also Schreiner, Romans, 239.

[9]Seifrid, “Romans,” 627

[10]Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 310; Schreiner, Romans, 263.

 

This is part 2 of this paper. The first part can be read here.

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1 Timothy 3:16

In 1 Timothy 3:16 we will see that the Holy Spirit vindicated Christ by raising Him from the dead. The nature of this vindication is forensic in its action. The forensic work was the act of raising Christ from the grave in light of his unjust condemnation.

1 Timothy 3:16 is in a hymn or creed[1] which was used by the early church. The focus of the hymn is Christ, the mystery of godliness (τὸ τῆς εὐσεβείας μυστήριον) spoken of in verse 15. The hymn is a theological and salvation-historical explanation of Christ.[2]

There is much debate about the structure of the hymn.[3] Since we are not clear on how the readers of the letter would have understood the structure of the hymn, we do not have absolute certainty about its exact structure. The debated understandings of the structure, however, do not present any conflict with the interpretation proposed by this paper.[4] Thus, this discussion will be passed by and the interpretation of the verse will be discussed.

The single line which this paper wants to expound upon is the second one in the construction: “vindicated (or justified) by the Spirit” (ἐδικαιώθη ἐν πνεύματι). Let us look at the phrase “by the Spirit” (ἐν πνεύματι) first, then, we will see what is meant by the term “vindicated” (ἐδικαιώθη).

Debate ensues on the meaning of ἐν πνεύματι. Does it mean, “by the Spirit,”[5] or “in the spirit,”[6] or “in the Spirit”?[7] When it comes to the identity of πνεύματι (either being spirit, or of the Holy Spirit), Knight makes a good observation that the very next usage of πνεῦμα in 4:1 is without qualification and undoubtedly refers to the Holy Spirit.[8] Thus, it is best to see the identity of πνεύματι in 3:16 as being the Holy Spirit.[9]

With that being the case, should we read ἐν as expressing agency or location? Does vindication happen “by” or “in” the Spirit? Even though context would favor understanding it as locative (all other usages of ἐν in the verse are locative): it is best to see vindication has happening “by” the Spirit. The reason being is that it makes no sense to say that Christ was vindicated in the Holy Spirit in the same sense as all the other locations listed. What would that location be? How is there a location, as in the other sense of ἐν, in the Holy Spirit?[10] Thus, the best way to read this phrase is that Christ was vindicated by the Spirit.[11]

What was the act of this vindication which was done by the agency of the Holy Spirit? Parallels with Roman texts strongly point to the resurrection as being the means by which the Spirit vindicated Christ.[12] Romans 1:4 speaks of Jesus being “declared to be the Son of God…according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead.” Romans 8:11 testifies that Spirit raised Jesus from the dead: “The resurrection of Christ is the Spirit’s work…the Spirit raised Christ so that he would be exalted and glorified.”[13] Such parallels strongly attest to seeing the phrase in view as speaking to the same thing.[14]

The nature of the vindication needs to be discussed. The hymn uses an aorist passive rendering of the word δικαιόω, which is translated either “justified” or “vindicated” in all translations.[15] Christ was vindicated or shown to be right[16] by the Spirit through His resurrection. This vindication would most certainly be tied with Jesus’ claim of being the Messiah. “The resurrection ‘vindicated’…the claims that Christ had made during his lifetime.”[17] Also, “His claim to be Christ was demonstrated and validated by the resurrection.”[18] Thus, Christ’s witness concerning Himself was vindicated by the Spirit in resurrecting Him.

Yet, the vindication needed did not stop with Christ’s claims about Himself during His life. Christ’s life cannot be separated from His death. It was not only that the people ignored Christ’s claims to be the Messiah. The vindication needed is not only about dignity and correcting error. They heard the claims He was making and killed Him for them. It should be pointed out that the cross should not be forgotten in this vindication. Thus, along with Christ’s claims during his life being vindicated, one should also see a forensic aspect to the vindication.[19] Jesus was legally sentenced to a criminal’s death by means of crucifixion for his claims.

The reality of the crucifixion permeates the need for a forensic vindication, for the culminating point of Jesus’ ministry to the people of Israel was their crucifixion of Him. Man heard Christ’s claim of Messiahship—and killed Him;[20] that was their judicial rendering on the validity of His claims. However, the Spirit had a different rendering in light of the evidence! He overturned the unjust rulings of evil man by raising Jesus from the dead. A forensic dimension has to be understood in the usage of δικαιόω here. Thus, the Spirit vindicated or justified Christ by resurrecting Him.

According to what we read in 1 Timothy 3:16, Jesus Christ was vindicated and justified by the Holy Spirit by His resurrection. He was declared right in the sight of the Father because His testimony concerning Himself was true. The Spirit fulfilled one of His parts in redemptive history by making Jesus conquer the grave over against the unjust acts of man. In doing so, the Spirit proved to the world that Jesus was indeed who he claimed to be.


[1]“One may debate whether the statement is more like a creed or more like a hymn, but absolute certainty seems elusive.” George W. Knight III, The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992), 183. For purposes of ease it will be referred to as a hymn from now on. Though, this does not mean that this paper is taking the position that it is a hymn.

[2]I. Howard Marshall, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on The Pastoral Epistles, The International Critical Commentary, ed. J. A. Emerton and C. E. B. Cranfield (Edinburgh, Scotland: T&T Clark, 1999), 499.

[3]For a helpful overview see Knight III, The Pastoral Epistles, 183-184.

[4]Cf. William D. Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, Word Biblical Commentary, vol 40. ed. David A. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker (Waco, TX: Word Book, 2000), 216-18. Knight III, The Pastoral Epistles, 183-184

[5]ESV, NET, NIV, NLT.

[6]ASV, NRSV (they remove the article).

[7]HCSB, NKJV, RSV, NASB95.

[8]Knight III, The Pastoral Epistles, 185.

[9]Contra Marshall, The Pastoral Epistles, 526 and A. T. Robertson, Epistles of Paul, Word Pictures in the New Testament, vol. 4 (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1931), 577.

[10]Gordon D. Fee, God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994), 766, would say that Christ was vindicated in the spirit. Meaning that, the location of the vindication is not in the Holy Spirit but in a spiritual realm of existence. This realm was entered into by Christ when He resurrected. But the verse does not say he was vindicated, “to enter into” but, “in” or “by.” His interpretation does not work with the words.

[11]See also Knight III, The Pastoral Epistles, 185.

[12]Ibid., 184-185.

[13]Thomas R. Schreiner, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 487.

[14]See also Marshall, The Pastoral Epistles, 525.

[15]ASV, ESV, HCSB, NKJV, NET, NIV, NRSV, RSV, NLT, NASB95.

[16]Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament : Based on Semantic Domains, electronic ed. of the 2nd edition. (New York, NY: United Bible Societies, 1996, c1989), S. 1:743.

[17]Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 227.

[18]Gerhard Kittel and Geoffrey William Bromiley and Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. electronic ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1964-c1976), S. 2:214-215. Cf. also Marshall, The Pastoral Epistles, 525; Knight III, The Pastoral Epistles, 184.

However, all the above authors stop with just saying that the vindication is about the life of Christ. No forensic aspect with the death of Christ as part of the vindication is stated.

[19]For good argument for the forensic aspect see Michael Bird, The Saving Righteousness of God: Studies on Paul, Justification, and the New Perspective (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2007), 53-54.

[20]“Paul identifies Christ with the revealed ‘righteousness of God’ to which Israel refused to submit.” Mark A. Seifrid, Christ, our Righteousness: Paul’s Theology of Justification, vol. 9 in New Studies in Biblical Theology ed. D. A. Carson (Downers Grove, Ill: Intervarsity Press, 2000), 47.

Here is part 1 of this paper. The rest will follow in the coming weeks. The paper can be read in full here.

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Justified by the Resurrection of Christ:

Justification and Resurrection in 1 Timothy 3:16 and Romans 4:25

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Introduction

The resurrection is the pivotal movement for Christianity. Without it our faith is foolishness and our merit is pity (1 Cor. 15:19), but because of it, our hope of final redemption and victory is sealed.

This paper will look into one of the glorious, salvific aspects of the resurrection. We will see that the Spirit’s justification of Christ by His resurrection becomes our justification by means of our union with Christ. We will do this by tracing this line of thought through 1 Timothy 3:16 and Romans 3:25. First, we will give a brief look into the nature of union with Christ to show how this paper understands the doctrine. Second we will look at the individual texts of 1 Timothy 3:16 and Romans 3:25 to see how they upholds this thesis.

Body

This paper will argue the presented thesis by looking initially at what it means to be united to Christ, then at the interpretation of two main texts. First, the nature of union with Christ will be briefly explained to give an over-arching lens for the thesis. Second, 1 Timothy 3:16 will be looked at to see what it tells about Christ’s justification by the resurrection. Third and finally, Romans 4:25 will be looked at to see how Christ’s justification affects us

Union with Christ

Union with Christ is a term which embraces all aspects of soteriology into one act whereby the believer is united to Christ. John Murray observes, “Indeed the whole process of salvation has its origin in one phase of union with Christ and salvation has in view the realization of other phases of union.”[1] Union with Christ can be defined as  having all the salvific works and benefits of Christ identified with the believers due to their identification with Christ. “To be ‘in Christ’ means to share in all that Christ has accomplished…those who are united to the risen Christ share in his justification, adoption, sanctification and glorification.”[2] John Calvin explains why this doctrine should have such preeminence: “As long as there is separation between Christ and us, all that he suffered and preformed for the salvation of mankind is useless and unavailing to us.”[3]

Biblical support for this understanding is in the “in Christ” terminology used by Paul as well as the biblical concept of fallen humanity being in Adam. “One cannot do something for or with Christ unless one is first en Christo.[4] Though Paul’s usage of the term, “en Christo,” is not monolithic[5], it does speak to our participation and identity in Christ;[6] the believer’s identity is now in Christ. This is in contrast to the next line of support where the Bible says fallen humanity is in Adam (Rom 5:12-22). Before one is in Christ he is in Adam. When one is “in Adam,” he receives all that was obtained by Adam’s representation of him in the Garden.[7] So, in contrast, to be in Christ is to obtain all that was won by Christ.

One of the facets of this union is our participation in Christ’s resurrection. Christ’s resurrection is the believer’s resurrection. The Apostle exclaims that we were raised with Christ (Col 3:1). What was won by His resurrection is now ours by this union. Thus, when Christ was justified by His resurrection so, too, were we justified. Through 1 Timothy 3:16 and Romans 4:25 we see the biblical tracing and explanation of this truth.


[1]John Murray, Redemption: Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1955), 161.

[2]Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, in Contours of Christian Theology, ed. Gerald Bray (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 106.

[3]John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. John Allen, vol 1, 6th ed.  (Philadelphia, PN: Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath-School Work, 1902),  III.i.484.

[4]B. Witherington III, “Christ,” “The En Christo formlua,’” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, ed. Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 624.

[5]For a thorough view of the different usages see Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, 1st ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 840-847.

[6]Speaking of the phrase, “in Christ/in the Lord” Dunn states, “Paul’s perception of his whole life as a Christian, its source, its identity, and its responsibilities, could be summed up in these phrases.” James D. G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998), 399. Also cf. Ridderbos comments on the phrase, “[being ‘in Christ’ speaks] of an abiding reality determinative for the whole of the Christian life, to which appeal can be made at all times…[it has to do] with the church’s ‘objective’ state of salvation.” Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, trans. John Richard De Witt (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975), 59. Cf. also Peter T. O’Brien, “Mysticism,” “Being ‘in Christ,’” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, ed. Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 624.

[7]Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, 109.

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. (Romans 6:5)

All that [Christ] accomplished for us in our human nature is, through union with him, true for us and, in a sense, of us. He died to sin once; he lives to God (6:10). He came under the dominion of sin in death, but death could not master him. He rose and broke the power of both sin and death. Now He lives forever in the resurrection life of God. The same is as true of us as if we had been with him on the cross, in the tomb and on the resurrection morning!

We miss the radical nature of Paul’s teaching here to our great loss. So startling is it that we need to find a startling manner of expressing it. For what Paul is saying is that sanctification means this: in relationship both to sin and to God, the determining factor of my existence is no longer my past. It is Christ’s past. The basic frame work of my new existence in Christ is that I have become a “dead man brought to life” and must think of myself in those terms: dead to sin and alive to God in union with Jesus Christ our Lord.

~Sinclair B. Ferguson, Christian Spirituality: Five Views of Sanctification, p. 57

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