The Doctrine of the Believer’s Union with Christ as Source of All Spiritual Blessings
An Argument for Pneumatological-Realism as the Proper Framework for the Two-Fold Grace of Union with Christ
“Union with Christ is the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation.”-John Murray
Some doctrines of Scripture are peripheral. That is not to say that they are in any way unimportant, but some theological issues must take a back seat to others. Of those issues that are not peripheral, there are a few that stand front and center. Without a proper understanding of those doctrines, much, if not all, of a person’s theology will become warped and weak. Those front-and-center, foundational doctrines are the ones that often create the most debate, dissension, and discussion. This is perfectly logical since they are the doctrines that the enemy is going to attack and the Spirit is going to promote. The doctrine of the believer’s union with Christ is one of these essential doctrines. It has been said that “(o)nce you have your eyes opened to this concept of union with Christ, you will find it almost everywhere in the New Testament,” and this is undoubtedly true. Lane Tipton argues convincingly that “Jesus Christ, as crucified and resurrected, contains within himself—distinctly, inseparably, simultaneously and eschatologically—every soteriological benefit given to the church” and that “there are no benefits of the gospel apart from union with Christ.” John Frame argues that union with Christ “is an exceedingly broad topic…[that] underlies all the works of God in our lives: election, calling, regeneration, faith, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, and glorification. All of these blessings are “in Christ.” It is imperative that believers come to the “climactic realization of the covenantal bond between God and his people, the Triune God and his church, that centers on union with Christ…a union with the exalted Christ.” This “climactic realization” also takes into account the fact that there “is no gift that has not been earned by Him,” including the believer’s salvation from beginning to end and in every sense of the word. That is why this paper will set forth an understanding of the doctrine of union as it relates to justification and sanctification that lines up with the Westminster Standards, the theology of Calvin, and, most importantly, the Scriptures themselves. Specifically, the thesis of this paper is as follows: The doctrine of the believer’s union with Christ, rightly understood as the source of all the believer’s spiritual blessings, has been argued in the history of Reformed Theology in a number of ways including the approach which sees union with Christ undergirding each soteriological benefit (e.g. justification, sanctification, glorification, etc.) directly, simultaneously yet distinctly, and, while other approaches have advocates from within Reformed Theology, the position of “unio Christi-duplex gratia” is most consistent with that of Calvin and of Paul.