"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Reformed Spirituality: Our Mystical Salvation (part 1)


[more class notes on Reformed Spirituality]

We may know, from growing up in Church what the Christian answer to the question of sin is: Christ’s work. However, we want to explore how “the Christ event,” how in Christ the problem of sin is addressed to restore man’s communion with God in its most practical doctrine, which will then take us into how we apply that doctrine to our lives in battling sin, live together, and seek God.

How does one answer the question of the problem of sin? The Reformed tradition has often seen the answer of Christ to sin paralleling the argument flow of Romans:

I. Chapter 1:1-17 - Introduction of topic

II. Chapter 1:18-2:29– The way of righteousness displayed:

Paul introduces his discussion of Salvation by talking about the Law. Paul says the Gentiles have the law manifest to them in nature and Jews by special revelation. It might seem to some a strange way to start, especially if we do not believe salvation comes by the law. Especially when Paul states in Romans 2:6:
Romans 2:6 – "He will render each according to his works"
Paul seems to be saying, bluntly, that eternal life can be merited by works. Indeed, this is not merely what Paul seems to say, but what he does say here: salvation is by works.

III. Chapter 3 – No one fulfills the requirement of righteousness, all are condemned (Romans 3:10-12, 3:23)

Paul details how no one lives up to the standard of the law. All are violators. To all that God offers life to be merited by works, none do so and are righteous, none fulfill the demands of the law. But now this next part of Romans may be hard to read in the way I will suggest, since Reformed Christians love the doctrine of justification. But I am here positing, dare I say it, that justification is not the main motif and lens by which Paul views salvation. Saying such a thing will keep me from being any kind of teacher or member in good standing in a Lutheran Church, but I hope to demonstrate to you, that the alternative is right at home in the Reformed tradition and confession and most importantly in the text of the New Testament.

Let us look at Chapter 4 as pointing further into the argument and not the final point of Paul.

In his argument, what might Jews protest against? “But Abraham is our father! (John 5)” “Abraham is our example of how to be righteous!”

IV. Chapter 4 – Abraham was justified by faith

Paul first states that not even Abraham was saved by the law, as some Jews may have been claiming, but by faith:


Rom 4:1 What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh?
Rom 4:2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.
Rom 4:3 For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was counted (imputed – KJV) to him as righteousness."

Paul’s response then?: Not even Abraham was righteous based on works, not even Abraham has done Romans 2:6. Righteousness was imputed to Abraham, not bestowed due to works.

Chapter 4 is not the pinnacle of Paul’s argument, but begs the question: how can Abraham be justified by faith when the requirement was works? Where does this imputation come from and on what basis?

V. Chapter 5 – How (and why) one is justified with God through Faith



Rom 5:10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.
Rom 5:11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
2 observations: Both death and life is talked about here.

1- Paul speaks of death bringing reconciliation. Christ gives relational redemption. As 5:9 said before it:

“we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.”

No longer is the person in the relationship of defendant before a Judge, but is now reconciled to God. Justified is understood as a forensic, legal term. Yet, to say this is to risk the objection of “legal fiction.” Do we partake of salvation merely by believing we are alright? Does the act of faith somehow make God overlook our sin?

2- Paul speaks of salvation by life. What does it mean “shall we be saved by his life.”? Tuck that question away for a few minutes.

First, how does one man’s sin and one man’s obedience affect me? (as Romans 5:12 and Romans 5:15-21 says)? Why talk here about Adam and Christ?

• Federal Headship

Paul is here talking using the concept of “Federal Headship.” This term refers to the representation of one or a group by another in covenant.

For example, look at Hebrews 7:7-10.


Heb 7:7-10 It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior. In the one case tithes are received by mortal men, but in the other case, by one of whom it is testified that he lives. One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him.


The author of Hebrews is making the case that Melchizedek is greater than Levi. That Levi and Melchizedek never met is not a problem, because Levi was in Abraham. Abraham was the federal head of Levi, representing him and acting for him. Now we might see how Paul is using this concept in Romans 5 (as well as stated in 1 Corinthians 15). We see, for Paul, there are two headships:

– 1. In Adam (Rom 5:12, 1 Cor 15:22)
• 1Cor 15:22a - "For as in Adam all die,"

Through Adam all (who are in him) die and sin. Somehow, we participated in the sin of Adam. How? There are theories, but not certainties, Paul does not explain.

– 2. In Christ (Rom 5:15-21, 1 Cor 15:22)
• 1Cor 15:22b - "so also in Christ shall all be made alive."

Through Christ, all (who are in him) live, are redeemed. The works of Christ are then attributed, accounted to those with Christ’s federal headship.

In understanding how Paul is using the idea of headship, we know can see the main motif and answer to the problem of sin in Romans:

VI. Chapter 6 - Paul’s answer to the problem of sin is UNION WITH CHRIST.

In 5:12 we see our union with Adam. This is then contrasted in 5:15-17 with Union with Christ. When we get to Chapter 6, we see union declared and the implications of that union. In Romans 6, Baptism is Paul’s analogy of choice here. We will talk more about this later, but for now:


Rom 6:4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
Rom 6:5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

The problem of sin was a problem of a DEAD MAN. The solution to DEATH is RESURRECTION. So Paul tells us we obtain the benefits of resurrection by UNION WITH CHRIST. We see now why Paul talked of both life and death in Romans 5. The means of our death to sin before God is Christ’s death, that we are vitally and really connected to Christ and die with Him. The means of our resurrected, regenerated life is our being saved by Christ’s life in a vital and real union with Christ that allows us to share in his (ζωῇ) life. The life we have in Christ is Christ’s life.

Everything we have as a spiritual blessing in salvation, then, we can see that Christ first had to merit for us, in perfect obedience. Christ has done Romans 2:6, not to mention Gen 2:16-17, Christ has done what Adam did not, and Christ has done Exodus 24:3 and Lev 18:5, Christ has done what Israel has not. Then:

In UNION we are given the benefits that Christ earned.

Sometimes benefits are spoken with the specific word “union” or “united” but we also see the Greek phrase “en Christo.” Once you start looking for it, you find this phrase all over. The New Testament depicts Union as the basis of every aspect of salvation. Union with Christ is the basis of the blessings of redemption:


• Ephesians 1:3-14
– 1:3 - blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places

• Ephesians 2:4-5
– …even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved–

• 2 Corinthians 5:21
– For he has made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.

Just look at Ephesians 1:

Ephesians 1
3- Every Spiritual Blessing in Christ
4 – God chose us in Christ
5 – adoption through Christ
6 – Blessed us in the Beloved.
7 – in Him we have redemption
11 – in Him we have an inheritance

Not every time the phrase “in him” or “in Christ” is used does it mean Union. But most of the time, for many of the other occurrences are “faith in Christ.” Start looking for that phrase instead of skipping over it and it will blow you away how central it is to the teachings about salvation in the Bible.


[next, the nature of the union and the nature of the merits of Christ given to us]

5 comments:

M. Jay Bennett said...

Excellent work Jared! I would say you are right in line with the Westminster divines on this. Our union with Christ, which happens in our effectual calling, is the means by which the righteousness of Christ, which is the alone basis of our justification, is counted as ours.

steve martin said...

My pastor likes to say that you;ll never be a better Christian than at the moment of your baptism.

How could you ever be?

Andrew said...

How can you say putting on Christ is the moment of Sola Fide when you quoted Rom 6:3-5 saying that we are baptized into his death and we are raised with him/united with him after baptism...

is that the whole Reformed believing = baptism of the spirit theory?

Or does it mean baptism, as the word baptism seems to indicate? and if it does, doesn't that make baptism salvic?

Jared Nelson said...

My goal was not to expound on the relationship of baptism at this point, but in sacramental terms: Faith receives, baptism confers. The grace of baptism pours onto our vessels and faith is the openning by which we are filled.

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