Receiving and Joining
I am sometimes very slow to realize that theological controversies are occurring. I did not know there was a federal vision until the issues concerning it were coming to a head. Lately I have noted there is something of a controversy concerning union with Christ – or, believers being received by and joined to Christ. It seems to be about whether we should understand our salvation as fundamentally a matter of our being forgiven our sins and declared righteous on the basis of the righteous life and sacrificial death of Christ, received by faith or is fundamentally a matter of union with Christ which encompasses everything – election, calling, justification, sanctification, perseverance and glorification. To make it simple in terms of the issue that most interests me, it seems to be about the equal ultimacy of justification and sanctification in salvation.
Recently D.G. Hart over at his blog at the Old Life Theological Society (http://oldlife.org/2011/09/wheres-waldo-wednesday-the-power-to-confuse/) helped to clarify the justification-sanctification issue for me: “The other source of confusion is the alleged solution that union seems to provide to believers who struggle with sin and doubt. Union is supposed to point to the power over indwelling sin that believers possess by virtue of union at precisely the time in their life when they are most aware of indwelling sin’s ongoing power. Since I sin, I have tested the capacity of union to ease my burdened soul. But I find much more comfort in the face of guilt to know that I no longer face condemnation.”
In the discussion that followed one comment seemed to nail it on the head for me: “Here’s what always leaves me confused: Taking Nick’s (another commenter)above expression of union as the remedy for battles with indwelling sin, why wouldn’t this cause me to conclude that I really am not united to Christ, since, after all, my indwelling sin doesn’t seem to be put to death? Far from inspiring motivation for holy living, telling me that sin’s power is broken in my when sin’s power doesn’t seem broken in my life deflates me. It seems frustrating. Or could it be that Romans 6 really does come after Romans 4-5 for a reason? And could it be that what assures me that sin’s power really is broken in my life, even when it seems it’s not, is because we know this much is promised as the inevitable consequence of a justification which God bestows upon the ungodly?”
Here is where I, a sinner, find myself: If being dead to sin and alive to righteousness by faith union with Christ is a matter of position in Christ, of possible progress in Christ, and of promised perfection in Christ - but I will be in heaven only and entirely on the basis of justification, apart from sanctification - then it is comfort. If on the other hand, it is a matter of what is happening in me which is confirmed by my experience, self-examination, and self-knowledge, then it is not at all comforting. Too often my experience is that I do not do the good I would and do the evil I would not. And not as an occasional “mess-up.”
Now my situation as a sinner, and whether or not I find comfort or not in the relationship between union and sanctification, does not in the least decide the issue which is a matter of truth revealed in Scripture. However, what it does mean is that some of the experiential Calvinists are right about the number of the saved. If justification and sanctification are equally ultimate, there are lot fewer professors of Christianity who will be in heaven than we might think.
For my part, I hope the so-called crypto-Lutherans are right.