Union with Christ: The Basis for Salvation

Today I will continue my discussion of various aspects of salvation by considering the topic of union with Christ. Depending on your confessional background, you may or may not have heard salvation described in this manner. Nevertheless, it is an important scriptural principle. Our union with Christ is the basis for every subsequent part of our salvation. Through this union, the believer enjoys a range of irrevocable benefits, many of which I will discuss in this article.

It is important to understand the concept of union with Christ before proceeding on to the aspects of our salvation traditionally known as justification (the legal declaration of righteousness before God), sanctification (the putting to death of the deeds of the flesh in this life), and glorification (the completion of our renewal at the consummation of the ages). Why? Because it is through being united to Christ that we receive these other things. The New Testament tells us that the person who is “in Christ” is the one who has salvation. Let’s examine what that means.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) In so doing, he made two bold statements: 1) A person can actually be “in Christ”—that is, truly united to God the Son. 2) With this union comes a change so momentous that the individual is actually said to be a “new creature”. I know this language is commonplace for those who have been Christians for many years, but we must take a moment every so often to stand in awe of these truths: not only that God became man, but that we may be united with Him. Continue reading

Predestination: The Promise of Salvation

Predestination is the promise of the end at the beginning. When we preach this doctrine, we proclaim that God is not only eternally Savior, but He eternally had a people to save. We proclaim that He is not bound by linear time, and His foreknowledge is so perfect that for Him to know something will occur means that it will occur. We proclaim that God has loved His people from eternity past, and He will work His will in them so that they will most certainly persevere. Yes, predestination is the promise of the end at the beginning, and in that we can have confidence.

The doctrine of predestination could not exist if God was bound by linear time: that is, if His existence progressed eternally in a series of seconds, minutes, and hours. Human beings exist within linear time. We are presently something we were not in the past and will not be in the future. We cannot look ahead, nor can we turn back. We respond to events as they hit us one by one, and thus we are subject to change.

God is eternal. This means He is not bound by linear time like we are. As the Psalmist wrote, “Before the mountains were born / Or You gave birth to the earth and the world, / Even from everlasting to everlasting, / You are God.” (Psalm 90:2) The Lord is clearly aware of and works within linear time—after all, He created it. When He became incarnate as a man, Jesus Christ was most certainly bound by linear time. He was like us in every way…except without sin. However, the eternal Godhead is fully eternal. Scripture continually points to God’s ability to declare the future things as proof that He is truly God. This is meant to reveal to us that God is not bound by linear time, and He is therefore in a different category than us. The Creator is distinct from His creatures. Continue reading

Our Savior: The Author of Salvation

When we speak of salvation, we often begin by talking about ourselves, and that is our first mistake. It would be better for us to start by considering the One from whom salvation flows: our forever Savior, God Almighty. When we build our understanding of salvation upon our own identity, we can have no assurance, but when we build it upon the character of God, we have every assurance.

The first thing we must say about God is that He is what He is. The One who revealed Himself to Moses as “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14) does not experience any change in character. All that He is, He was eternally, and all He is now, He will forever be. Our experience of His character may change, but the character itself doesn’t. God cannot become something He previously was not, so as to be created. He cannot improve on what He is now, so as to become better. He is the perfect Creator then, now, and forevermore.

Therefore, when we say that God is Savior, we do not assign to Him a new identity that He did not previously possess. He was a Savior even before there was something to save, and because He has always been a Savior, He always will be. He is a Savior precisely because it is in His nature to save. When Jesus Christ said He came to earth “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10), He was describing the eternal character of God as manifested in that portion of redemptive history. Continue reading

Christ Was Born for More Than Death

“The Marriage of the Virgin” by Giotto di Bondone, circa 1304-6 (from “Scenes from the Life of the Virgin”)

As we near that magical day when children will eat far too many sweets and parents will get far too little sleep, we are continually reminded that the Christmas season isn’t just about Santa Claus, elves, and reindeer (a.k.a. caribou). Slogans such as “Put Christ back in Christmas!” and “Jesus is the reason for the season!” abound, all of them meant to call our minds back to the true meaning of the holiday, or at least question whether or not atheists should be allowed to join in the fun.

One saying that seems to have a stronger theological grounding is some variation on the following: “Jesus Christ was born in order to die.” The motivation behind this choice of phrase is a good one. While the manger, angels, and donkey are all nice, the story of Christmas cannot be properly told without mentioning the problem Jesus came to solve. He was not born merely to proclaim peace on earth and goodwill toward men. Rather, He came to save us from our deadliest enemy: sin. The peace He brought us is not a temporary, earthly one, but rather an eternal, heavenly one. He made it possible for us to be permanently at peace with God.

Therefore, it is entirely appropriate and even necessary to link the incarnation of Jesus Christ with His atonement. Christmas means nothing without Easter. The first step in appreciating Christmas is to understand that the Son of God took on flesh to make an end of death and sin. His sacrifice allows us to be forgiven. We must never lose sight of that fact or diminish its importance.

Nevertheless, stating that Jesus was born to die puts us in danger of minimizing other parts of His work that were equally important and necessary. The Son of God became incarnate as a human being not only to remove our sin, but also to make us righteous. Yes, those two things are connected, but they are not exactly the same. Continue reading

How to Have Assurance of Salvation, According to the Apostle John

An illustration of John the Apostle from the Book of Kells, circa 9th century

“How then can a man be just with God? Or how can he be clean who is born of woman?” (Job 25:4)

Questions like this have been plaguing human beings since the beginning of time. Those who believe in a righteous God naturally wonder, “Am I righteous as well? Does He approve of me? Will I escape judgment? Does He love me?” This desire for assurance has sent people on lifelong journeys, many of which fail to provide them with the clarity they lack. Some conclude that it simply isn’t possible to know if God approves of us.

While scripture tells us that, “There is no one who does good, not even one,” (Psalm 14:3b) it also promises hope of salvation through Jesus Christ.  Moreover, it teaches that it is possible to be assured of one’s salvation, and that those who are truly in Christ will persevere to the end. Sadly, not all Christians cling to these scriptural truths. Instead, they spend their lives chasing any number of things that they hope will grant them some measure of assurance: the sacraments, good deeds, church attendance, etc. It is not difficult to see how this changes the Christian life entirely. Those who put their trust in these things have only a false hope, and many who try find their confidence ultimately shaken.

The Apostle John wrote a letter to address this very problem. “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life,” he said. (1 John 5:13) Not a hope that you have eternal life. Not an attempt to gain eternal life. No, he said that we can know that we have it. Continue reading