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Making Use of Christ: Christ’s Relations with His People (3 of 4)

The following series was a paper submitted for the course ST 711 at Reformed Baptist Seminary. It has been adapted into blog posts.

2.0 Christ’s Relations with His People: Union with Christ

Miller’s exhortation for us is to “make use of Christ’s offices, titles, and relations.” That relation to believers is union with Christ, apprehended by the gift of faith. There is no benefit from Christ unless there is union with Christ; his threefold office would mean nothing to us unless we were brought into relation with him;[1] and there is no union with Christ unless we are joined by faith to Christ, apart from whom there is only enmity with God, turning the the function of Christ’s offices condemnatory rather than mediatory. Indeed, union with Christ is the core of Christian identity and a summary term for all the past, present, and future blessings of Christian life, as we share in what Christ has and does.[2] According to Pink,[3] we are united to Christ

first electively (Eph. 1:4), when God chose us in Him before the foundation of the world. Second, representatively (1 Cor. 15:22), as we were in Adam. Third, vitally (2 Cor. 5:17), as a branch in the vine. Fourth, voluntarily (Rom. 8:1), by faith cleaving unto Him.[4]

Believers share with Christ an organic union, as members of his body (Eph. 4:16); a vital union, as those indwelt and animated by his life (Rom 8:10); a Spiritual union, as the Holy Spirit is the bond between Christ and believers (1 Cor. 6:17); a personal union, as each believer is directly connected to Christ, immediately, not mediated by the church (John 14:20); and a transforming union, as believers are gradually changed into the image of Christ (2 Cor 3:17-18).[5]

For the purposes of this study, however, which attempts to unfold how we can make use of Christ in his offices, titles, and relations, we will highlight voluntarily union, our cleaving to Christ by faith. As Berkhof says, union with Christ implies reciprocal action, as a believer “unites himself to Christ by a conscious act of faith, and continues the union, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, by the constant exercise of faith.”[6]

3.0 Making Use of Christ’s Offices, Titles, and Relations (From Union to Communion)

Now that we have observed Christ’s offices, titles, and relations with regard to those who belong to him, let us unfold how to make use of Christ for Christian life. Hence, we are transitioning from the topic of union to that of communion: voluntarily, experientially interacting with that which Christ already secured—pressing on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of us (Phil. 3:12). How do we grab hold of that precious relation that Christ has sealed with his people by means of the Spirit? It is by faith. Faith makes realChrist’s relation to us and of our relation to Him: only the exercise of faith will make Him real and consciously near us.”[7] Pink’s question is an appropriate transition into this topic: “What does our mystical, legal, vital, saving, and practical union with Christ amount to, unless it issues in experimental, intimate, precious oneness of heart with Him?”[8]

As was mentioned, our union with Christ has a voluntary dimension. However, this voluntary participation with Christ by faith does not occur until after blessed regeneration by the Holy Spirit, from which that faith springs. Bavinck provides a soul-stirring discussion of how the Holy Spirit anoints us as prophets, priests, and kings upon regeneration (See Appendix I). Therefore, just as Christ was endowed and authorized (anointed) to execute a redemptive work, so too are believers anointed to carry out the blessed work of taking reciprocal action, clinging to Christ, abiding in him, serving him, pursuing him, working out their salvation, and making use of Christ. The offices Christ uses to bless and serve believers, therefore, become conduits for the believer to commune with and serve Christ.

If we follow Bavinck’s model closely (Appendix I), we will notice that our anointing as priests is associated more closely with the present doctrine of the Christian life, of sanctification. Thus, our focus in this study of making use of Christ in all his offices, titles and relations might be said to relate most closely with the (second) group of salvific blessings that anoints us as priests, of which Bavinck says Christ

renews us after God’s image (regeneration in the broad sense, renewal, recreation, sanctification)… The second group of benefits is conferred on us by the regenerative activity of the Holy Spirit, renews our very being, and redeems us from the power of sin… our gaze is directed upward to the living Lord in heaven, where He is seated as high priest at the right hand of God’s majesty…The first group of benefits is that which again anoints us as prophets, the second as priests, the third as kings.[9]

Interestingly, Frame also links sanctification to the priestly office of Christ and the priesthood of believers, those joined by faith to him (See Appendix II). Making use of Christ in his offices, titles and relations, therefore, sees Christian ethics mainly from an existential perspective, while also including the other two perspectives included in the threefold matrix of normative, existential and situational.[10] Or, as seen from Frame’s related matrix of Lordship Attributes, we can make use of Christ’s offices in view of his covenant presence (Priest), along with the accompanying attributes of God’s control (King) and authority (Prophet).[11] In view of our blessing as priests, therefore, how can we make use of our great Prophet, Priest, and King in Christian life?

3.1 Making Use of Christ in Daily Life

We make use of Christ our Great Prophet by constantly keeping an open ear to his authoritative word, craving it, and receiving it meekly (James 1:21; 1 Pet. 2:2). We attend to the preaching of the word, and intentionally make time and mental space to meditate upon his truth. We sow the seed in the world, as those blessed with a prophetic anointing. We heed those Christ has given to preach to and teach the local churches. We read the New Testament, which Christ promised and commissioned as Prophet, and read the Old Testament in light of this revelation. We look in faith to the Word, both in its inscripturated form and in its Incarnate Form, chiefly with regard to his great acts of accomplishing our salvation—and our minds are illumined with further knowledge of ourselves and God’s will. The authoritative, normative perspective of God’s Lordship come into particular focus here.

We make use of Christ our Great Priest by coming to him in conviction, contrition, and confession for the healing of our wounded consciences and cleansing our sins; after all, “our union with Christ is unbreakable, but not our communion with him.”[12] Thus, we keep honest and short accounts with him in a real and living relationship; we regard him as friend and brother, since by virtue of his incarnation, being made like us in all our infirmities, his priesthood has a strong merciful emphasis. It is a “knowing, loving, enjoying Christ, having plain, practical, personal dealings with Him.”[13] In this vein, we walk with Christ in the light, “where all is open, real, honest, with no concealment or pretense.”[14] We look in faith to our merciful and faithful High Priest, as he sits at God’s right hand interceding for us, and securing the benefits, cleansing, and power for us in all stages of life—the application of salvation—and our hearts are set aflame with love for Christ. The proximate/intimate, existential perspective of God’s Lordship is here highlighted.

We make use of Christ our Great King by waging holy warfare against sin, clad in the full armor of God, and denying ourselves, in a ready submission to our Royal Sovereign. We stand in readiness to carry out the commission of our king. We honor his royal governing of all of our affairs by relinquishing our anxieties and casting our cares upon him. Since he is absolutely sovereign, “it would make much for our peace and blessedness if we committed the management of the whole of our affairs into the hands of Christ. We need to continually pray Him to save us from having any will of our own, to work in us complete subjection to and satisfaction with His holy will.”[15] We look in faith to our sovereign, circumstance-ordering king, as he mediates God’s kingship on the earth at the present time—and in great expectation of his triumphant second coming when he will fully defeat all evil, meet out just judgment, and consummate his Kingdom. For our king, we subdue our wills with respect to self-absorption and self-reliance, and we stir up our motivation for service to so great a king as Christ. The controlling, situational perspective of God’s Lordship is in the foreground here.

The motions of the believer’s mind, affections and will, outlined above, do not take place in the order listed; they are simultaneous. They are chiefly acts of faith, motions of the soul, interacting with divine revelation, in the context of God’s world, to take hold of Christ and walk with him in the light of love and obedience. These are merely perspectives: While one is in the foreground, illumination is shed on the others which do operate in the background. Also, in our discussion of making use of Christ in all of the above offices, titles, and relations, love for Christ is the cementing bond that infuses each perspective with life, warmth, realness, and intimacy. We must come to a more experiential sense of the fact that loving Christ, in itself, is a great and blessed privilege, for,

the Lord Jesus has few who love Him in the world. He would have more if He willed to have more, but He deems most not worthy of this. It is a great privilege and grace for the few who have been granted to love Him – and those who love Him, love Him so much that they will even give their life for Him. They will love Him until their death and to all eternity.[16]

Therefore, let us return to Christ, throwing off deadness and sluggishness in religion, and take full advantage of all the treasure that is Christ, taking hold of him by faith, making use of all that he has become to us, and abiding in him in obedience and love.

[1] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1941), 447.

[2] Kevin DeYoung, The Hole in Our Holiness: Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 94.

[3] Arthur Walkington Pink, Spiritual Union and Communion, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1971), 6: Pink helpfully enumerates three unions, the first being the union of the Godhead in three Persons, and the second being the union of two natures, human and divine, in the one Person Jesus Christ by his incarnation, and the third being the union of sinners to their Savior.

[4] Pink, Spiritual Union and Communion, 13. Other helpful models of the dynamics of union with Christ exist, but Pink’s uniquely brief and comprehensive scheme is to be favored in limited space: In Berkhof (447-449), for instance, union with Christ is 1) ideal, as it’s ideally established in the eternal counsel of redemption (the pactum salutis); 2) it’s federal, as Christ represents those who were given to him in eternity; 3) it’s objective, as it’s realized in the work of Christ; 4) and it’s subjective, as its benefits are brought from Christ to believers by the work of the Spirit. Johnson (261) touches on the fact that Jesus unites us to himself “in his obedience, death, and resurrection, not only representatively but also Spiritually—that is, by the gift of his Holy Spirit he summons us out of death and into life through the gospel and continues to apply to believers the transforming effects of his sacrifice and risen life. Incrementally and progressively, the Spirit of the risen Christ is actually creating faithful covenant servants out of former covenant breakers!” Also, DeYoung observes that “union with Christ implies three things: solidarity (Christ as the second Adam is our representative), transformation (Christ by the Holy Spirit changes us from the inside out), and communion (Christ abides with us as our God),” 96 (emphasis original).

[5] Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 450-451.

[6] ibid., 450.

[7] Pink, Spiritual Union and Communion, 109.

[8] ibid., 144.

[9] Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 594-595.

[10] John Frame, A Primer on Perspectivalism (2012, http://frame-poythress.org/a-primer-on-perspectivalism/); John Frame. The Doctrine of the Christian Life (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Publishing, 2008), 31-27.

[11] Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life, 21-25.

[12] DeYoung, Hole in Our Holiness, 74.

[13] Pink, Spiritual Union and Communion, 109.

[14] ibid.

[15] ibid, 118.

[16] Wilhemus A’Brakel, Christian’s Reasonable Service, four volumes (Carlisle, PA: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012), 277. [which volume?]

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