Dying With Christ

July 17, 2011

Camden Bucey, Westminster alumnus (MDiv '11) and PhD student posts on the Reformed Forum blog, Historia Salutis.  See below for the full article.

Camden Bucey is the President of Reformed Forum, and is a regular contributor.  Visit the Reformed Forum website for more resources and broadcasts on Reformed Christianity

It is becoming increasingly more common to see posts and tweets that promote a truncated gospel. This is most likely a function of short time spans and 140 character limits. But the proliferation of these forensic aphorisms implicitly teaches one aspect of the gospel while leaving others out.

Justification and its forensic benefits are sometimes presented as the whole story of salvation. Yet the gospel is so much more than acquittal from guilt. It is not anything less than acquittal, rather it is so much more. Most succinctly the gospel is the person of Jesus Christ crucified, raised, and ascended for those who believe in Him. When someone believes upon Christ, he or she is united by faith to the Savior. And by that union, all that Christ is and all that he has done for his Church is inextricably linked to that believer.

The Westminster Standards speak of three primary benefits that flow out of that union with Christ (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 32). They are justification, adoption, and sanctification. Justification is purely forensic, that is legal. It is a declaration that the believer is no longer guilty. Rather, he is acquitted of his sin on the basis of the imputed righteousness of Christ alone. The believer does not earn this acquittal. Neither does he keep it based on any good works or faithfulness. It is entirely gracious.

Adoption addresses the problem of alienation from God, and also has a forensic character. Being children of wrath because of sin, the believer must be received into the family of God. Likewise, this happens upon union with Christ. For by being united to the Son of God, the believer also becomes a son of God with all the rights and privileges that come along with that reality. Again, it is entirely gracious and comes as a result of the person and work of Christ.

Sanctification, however, is a renovative work. It transforms the believer instrinsically. In sanctification believers are “renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 35). When most people hear the word “sanctification” they think of the progressive work of the Spirit moving the believer to do good works and to put sin to death. This is a process that begins when someone believes and doesn’t end until the person either dies or Christ returns. We call this progressive sanctification. Yet, there is more to renovation than this progressive work. There is also a point at which the power of sin no longer has mastery over the believer. In union with Christ, the Christian dies to sin and becomes a slave to righteousness. This we call definitive sanctification. Dr. Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. writes one of the most helpful sections on this aspect of sanctification and its relation to Christ’s resurrection:

To speak of Christ’s resurrection as his sanctification may at first seem obviously wrong. Such language would, of course be improper, if the term were employed in its customary sense, indicating the progressive ethical renewal experienced by the believer. Paul’s stress on the obedience  of Christ as well as his conception of Christ’s person precluded him from attributing to Christ the depravity such moral renovation presupposes. However, while Paul is certainly concerned with the progressive transformation the believer must undergo and the reality of his continuing struggle with sin (cf. esp. Rom. 7:14-25; Gal. 5:13-26), he characteristically refers the vocabulary of sanctification not to a process but to a definitive act occurring at the inception of the Christian life (Acts 20:32; 26:18; 1 Cor 1:2; 6:11; Eph. 5:25; 2 Tim. 2:21; 1 Thess. 4:7; 2 Thess 2:13).

Nowhere does Paul discuss this definitive sanctification more fully than in Romans 6:1ff, a passage figuring prominently in his resurrection theology. The controlling question in this passage, it will be recalled, is a question that bears directly on sanctification: are believers to continue to live in sin (vv. 1, 2b)? Also, the factor basic not only to the negative answer given but also to the exhortation to progress in sanctification (vv. 12ff) is that believers have died and been raised with Christ. By virtue of this involvement they are dead to sin, that is, alive to God (v. 11), alive from the dead (v. 13). Their freedom from the dominion and power of sin resides specifically in their having been raised with Christ. In other words, (definitive) sanctification is defined here expressly in terms of resurrection.

Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. Resurrection and Redemption: A Study in Paul’s Soteriology, 2nd ed. (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1987), 124-25.

What a helpful passage! Not only do we rest on the realities that 1) we are not condemned and 2) we belong to the family of God and have a right to all of its privileges, but 3) we know that sin is no longer our master and that we are free to live in righteousness by the power of the Spirit. And when Christ returns we will be glorified never again being subject to death and decay. As a result, when we read blog posts and tweets, let us recall this manifold reality. And let us therefore proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in all of its fullness because our Saviour is all in all.

See this post at the Historia Salutis website here.