By what do theologians mean when they refer to the doctrine of union with Christ? Simply put, union with Christ refers to the language of “in Christ,”[1] which is common throughout the New Testament. Kevin DeYoung rightly notes that this sort of language is found 216 times in the New Testament.[2] In regards to the relationship between salvation and Union with Christ, John Murray says this, “Union with Christ is really the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation…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 with Christ.”[3] Murray here has in mind the language of the Apostle in his letter to the Ephesians[4], where Paul says that God the father has blessed us “in Christ, with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph 1:3). [5]

The Reformers too understood that our salvation – all spiritual blessings – are only found within our union with Christ. John Calvin says it this way, “…that so long as we are without Christ and separated from him, nothing which he suffered and did for the salvation of the human race is of the least benefit to us. To communicate to us the blessings which he received from the Father, he must become ours and dwell in us. Accordingly…we are said to be engrafted into him and clothed with him.”[6] Citing Romans 6:5, Calvin rightly understands the direct connection between the salvation of the human race and the blessings which Christ received from the Father. Indeed, we have been “united with him in a death like his” and “united with him in a resurrection like his” (Rom 6:5). Therefore, we must understand that the totality of spiritual blessings which we receive are our salvation, and can only be found in our union with Christ in his death and resurrection. Herman Bavinck rightly sums up this concept, “All the benefits of grace therefore lie prepared and ready for the church in the person of Christ…Atonement, forgiveness, justification, the mystical union, sanctification, glorification, and so on – they do not come into being after and as a result of faith but are objectively, actively present in Christ.”[7]

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[1] Richard Gaffin notes that the primary language for union with Christ is found in the “in Christ/the Lord” language, with other variations such as “with,” “for us” and “for our sins.” By Faith and Not By Sight, 41

[2] Kevin DeYoung, A Hole in our Holiness, 95

[3] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, 161

[4] In another of his writings, Murray notes that it would be “exegetically impossible” to separate the scope of spiritual blessings from those blessing mentioned in the immediate succeeding context – adoption (vs. 5), redemption and forgiveness of sins (vs. 7), the knowledge of the mystery of God’s will (vs. 9) the inheritance (vs. 11), and the seal of the Holy Spirit (vss. 13, 14). Murray, Collected Writings Vol. 2, 126

[5] In his book By Faith and Not By Sight, Richard Gaffin cites Murray as particularly helpful in understanding Union with Christ. Gaffin summarizes Murray by saying “To sum up: present union with Christ – sharing with him in all he has accomplished and now is, by virtue of his death and resurrection – is, as much as anything, at the center of Paul’s soteriology. Page 45

[6] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 3.1.1, 349

[7] Herman Bavinck, Sin and Salvation in Christ, 523. In agreement with Bavinck, Kevin DeYoung says this, “Union with Christ is not a single specific blessing we receive in our salvation. Rather, it is the best phrase to describe all the blessings of salvation, whether in eternity past (election), in history (redemption), in the present (effectual calling, justification, and sanctification), or in the future (glorification).” A Hole in Our Holiness, 94.



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