Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Union with Christ as Foundational for Justification

Last week I was looking at John Owen's The Doctrine of Justifcation by Faith and I found several helpful comments about the relationship between union with Christ and justification by faith.
"The principle foundation hereof is, that Christ and the Church, in this design, were one mystical person, which state they actually coalesce in, through the uniting efficacy of the Holy Spirit. He is the head, and believers are the members of that one person, as the Apostle declares, 1 Cor. 12:12-13. Hence as what he did is imputed to them, as if done by them, so what they deserved on the account of sin was charged upon him." (p198 of The Doctrine of Justification)
And again,
"That our sins were transferred to Christ and made his; that thereon he underwent the punishment that was  due to us for them; and that the ground hereof, whereinto its equity is resolved, is the union between him and us, is fully declared in this discourse." (p200)

Quoting someone else "He is not saved by the cross of Christ, who is not crucified in Christ."... Owen concludes: 
"This then I say is the foundation of the imputation of the sins of the church to Christ, namely, that he and it are one person, the grounds whereof we must inquire into." (p.201).
Later:
p.221: "wherein all the precedent causes of the union between Christ and believers, whence they become one mystical person, centre, and whereby they are rendered a complete foundation of the imputation of their sins to him, and of his righteousness to them, is the communication of his Spirit, the same Spirit that dwelleth in him, to them, to abide in, to animate, and guide the whole mystical body and all its members."

If I understand Owen correctly the important thing is that Christ became the surety of the Covenant because of the pre-temporal compact between the Father and the Son. Christ becomes the mediator and the surety of the new covenant as the head of the body--a mystical person. As such Christ is able to take our sins for us as our guilt is imputed to him. He is able to impute his righteousness to us. 

The point is that Owen seems to suggest that the basis for imputation is union and the basis for union is the determination of the Father and the Son that the Son shall stand for the people.

So Owen says 
"The Lord Christ's voluntary susception of the state and condition of a surety, or undertaker for the church, to appear before the throne of God's justice for them, to answer whatever was laid to their charge, was required hereto. And this he did absolutely. There was a concurrence of his own will in and to all those divine acts whereby he and the Church were constituted one mystical person. And of his own love and grace did he as our surety stand in our stead before God, when he made inquisition for sin; he took it on himself as to the punishment which it deserved." (p.226)

I'm not an expert on Owen but this seems to be largely what Lane Tipton is arguing for in some of the recent debates between Tipton and Michael Horton on the relationship between justification and union with Christ. The language of foundation and ground for imputation couldn't be more clear as I read Owen--unless I'm missing something more.

Horton has argued that justification is the legal grounds or basis for union. You can check out the debate with links here and here.

I agree with Owen here--a doctrine of covenants is the way forward. Christ is given as a surety to us  upon which he takes up mediation. We must connect God's declaration on us (application of redemption) back to the acts of redemption themselves where Christ stands as representative in his death and resurrection.

None of this should be used to suggest or say that we are some how right with God prior to our justification before God. Rather as Christ works, His work is on behalf of His people. He can be placed forth as the covenant head prior to their receiving Him by faith and being justified through faith in Him. On the Cross, God concerns His Son crushing Him for the wickedness of His people, imputing their sins onto Him and propitiating his wrath against them. In His resurrection, because of the union, Christ is "raised up because of our justification." Thus, what happens to the one, has an eye towards those whom God the One represents.

Owen's use of union with Christ in no way prioritizes renovative categories over forensic ones, something that Biblically we must avoid. While we must always maintain that God justifies the ungodly the question is why does God impute our sin to Christ and Christ's righteousness to us. It is because when God looks at the death of Christ he considers Christ's representation--the mystical person that Christ stands for His people in his death and resurrection. Without the forensic there can be no personal relationship between the believer and God but just as God chooses us in Christ, he imputes our sins and Christ's righteousness because the Father and Son have determined together that Christ should stand for his people as Covenant head.

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