Thursday, August 26, 2021

Union with Christ

Q. 30: How doth the Spirit apply to us the redemption purchased by Christ?
Answer: The Spirit applieth to us the redemption purchased by Christ, by working faith in us, and thereby uniting us to Christ in our effectual calling. (WSC

As noted in my last post on the catechism, the redemption Christ purchased must be applied to us for us to benefit from it. This application is done by his Holy Spirit. In this question, the point is that he applies this redemption to us by uniting us to Christ. Redemption is not handed over to us apart from Christ, but through union with Christ. We receive life from Christ the way body parts receive life from the head - by being connected to him. The Spirit creates this bond and through this bond conveys what is Christ’s to us. The Bible compares our union with Christ - our being “in” Christ - to the union of body parts to the head, branches to a vine, and a wife to a husband (1 Cor. 6:15-17, 12:12-13, Eph. 5:22-33, John 15:1-11).

This union we have with Christ is legal and living. This union is legal (or forensic) in that he is accounted our representative head, whereby our sin is imputed to him (and thereby atoned for) and his righteousness is imputed to us. This union is also living (or mystical) in that we receive life and holiness from Christ, being renewed by him and conformed to his likeness. An analogy for this twofold union can be found in marriage, which is both a legal and living union. 

As this question points out, the Spirit creates this union by working faith in us. Our union with Christ can be thought of as a double bond of two cords, one from both directions: the Spirit going from Christ to us, and Spirit-produced faith from us to Christ. By faith, we receive Christ and all his benefits. “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). The Spirit works this faith in us in our effectual calling, the topic of the next catechism question.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Hupomoné - Steadfastness, Perseverance, Endurance

Recently I searched for "steadfastness" on YouTube, and most of the results were from Muslims and Mormons. The few Christian results were about how God is steadfast. When I searched for "perseverance" on YouTube, the top results were mostly about the NASA rover by that name, but also included a motivational video and two Ted talks. The results were similar for "endurance." On the other hand, when I searched for "peace," about half the top results were from Christian sources.

While this was not a scientific study, it seemed to confirm my impression that modern Christian culture tends to emphasize passive experience more than active exertion. Evangelicals appreciate the comforting words of preservation but can feel uneasy with exhorting words to persevere, perhaps as an overreaction against moralism. 

But the Bible speaks of steadfastness, perseverance, and endurance as virtues which Christians ought to develop and practice. In fact, all three of these words are translations of the same Greek word, hupomoné (ὑπομονή), which refers to “the capacity to hold out or bear up in the face of difficulty, patience, endurance, fortitude, steadfastness, perseverance” (BDAG). The verb form, ὑπομένω, means “to maintain a belief or course of action in the face of opposition, stand one’s ground, hold out, endure” (BDAG). The noun form occurs 32 times in the New Testament (see here) and the verb form occurs 17 times (see here). In all these occurrences, the word refers to the endurance of believers, except for three occasions where it describes Christ's endurance. Two of these occur in Hebrews 12 where Christ's endurance is presented as an example for us, that we also might "run with endurance the race that is set before us" (Heb. 12:1). 

On the one hand, perseverance is a gift of God given to his elect. All who are chosen by God and who come to true faith in Christ will endure in it to the end by his grace (Col. 1:11, Phil. 1:6, John 6:37-40, John 10:28-29). On the other hand, it is also something which we do, using the means he has given. 

Steadfastness in the faith is required of all believers. Jesus said that "the one who endures to the end will be saved" (Matthew 10:22, 24:13). In contrast to those who fall away, are led astray, or deny Christ, those who will be saved will endure to the end. The author of Hebrews exhorted the church, "you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised" (10:36). When Paul described our salvation, he qualified his statement by saying, "if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard” (1:23). 

Steadfastness is a virtue which all believers should develop. Hupomoné was traditionally discussed in discussions of the virtues in connection with courage and self-control. Aristotle contrasted the man of endurance with the soft man who is easily overcome by pain and difficulty (Ethics, 7.7). James 5:11 points to Job as an example of this virtue: “Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job…” Paul told Timothy to pursue hupomoné (1 Tim. 6:11). The Apostle Peter listed hupomoné as a quality believers should adopt and practice. 

"For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness ... For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ ... if you practice these qualities you will never fall." (2 Peter 1:5–6, 8, 10b).

We develop steadfastness as we practice it in our lives, root ourselves deeply in the word of God (Ps. 1), and make use of the means of grace in the fellowship of the saints (Heb. 10:23-25, Eph. 4:11-16). Without steadfastness, we are unstable. The unstable man will be driven and tossed by the wind (James 1:6, Eph. 4:11-16, 2 Peter 3:16). Even when this instability does not lead to eternal judgment, it can cause serious trouble in a believer’s life and witness. 

In Romans 5:3 and James 1:3, hupomoné is described as a quality produced in a person by trials. This is why James can say, "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds" (1:2), not because trials are good or enjoyable, but because "the testing of your faith produces steadfastness" (1:3). James' words are not understandable unless one prizes steadfastness. This is why both James and Paul go on to extoll the blessing of steadfastness, how it undergirds the Christian life, making it habitual and lasting. “…endurance produces character…” (Rom. 5:4). “And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:4). 

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Redemption Applied

Q. 29: How are we made partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ? 
Answer: We are made partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ, by the effectual application of it to us by his Holy Spirit. (WSC)

In the work of redemption, we move from the election of the Father, to the purchase of redemption by Christ, to the application of redemption by the Spirit. As 1 Peter 1:2 says, we are saved according to the “foreknowledge of the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood.” The blood of Christ and its benefits are applied to us by the Spirit. 

Of course, each person of the Trinity is involved in each work. Titus 3 mentions all of them when it says that the Father saved us by the “washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:5-7). 

The Spirit brings life from Christ to us, regenerating and renewing us, being as it were a conduit that connects us to Christ and his benefits. Without this union with Christ, all of Christ's work avails us nothing. As John Calvin explains,
“so long as we are without Christ and separated from him, nothing which he suffered and did for the salvation of the human race is of the least benefit to us. To communicate to us the blessings which he received from the Father, he must become ours and dwell in us. Accordingly, he is called our Head, and the first-born among many brethren, while, on the other hand, we are said to be ingrafted into him and clothed with him, all which he possesses being, as I have said, nothing to us until we become one with him. And although it is true that we obtain this by faith, yet since we see that all do not indiscriminately embrace the offer of Christ which is made by the gospel, the very nature of the case teaches us to ascend higher, and inquire into the secret efficacy of the Spirit, to which it is owing that we enjoy Christ and all his blessings.” (Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.1.1)

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Christ's Exaltation and Our Exaltation

Q. 28: Wherein consisteth Christ's exaltation? 
Answer: Christ's exaltation consisteth in his rising again from the dead on the third day, in ascending up into heaven, in sitting at the right hand of God the Father, and in coming to judge the world at the last day. (WSC)

“Therefore God has highly exalted him…” (Phil. 2:9). While the Son had dwelt from eternity in heavenly glory as God, yet for our sake he humbled himself in his incarnation, mortal life, suffering, and death. In this way he purchased redemption for us. As a result, he was highly exalted by the Father and given all authority in heaven and on earth. He had not lost his divine authority, but he received it in his office as the redeemer. Having overcome sin and death, he rose in power and glory.

Notice a subtle change from the last catechism question to this question, from “Wherein did … consist?” to “Wherein consisteth…?” Christ is currently in his estate of exaltation. The catechism notes four parts to his exaltation: (1) his resurrection from the dead on the third day, (2) his ascension into heaven, (3) his session at the right hand of the Father, and (4) his coming to judge the world at the last day.

Christ’s sitting at his Father’s right hand is referred to as his “session,” since that word refers to a council or ruler sitting to conduct their business, as when we say “the court is in session.” Christ sits, not because he is tired, but because he is enthroned and ruling, having completed the work of purchasing redemption.

Consider how in each of these elements of his exaltation, Jesus does the work as our head for our good. His resurrection was for our justification, quickening in grace, and bodily resurrection (Rom. 4:24-25, Eph. 2:5-6, 1 Cor. 15). Jesus ascended into heaven to receive gifts for us, so as to pour out the Holy Spirit upon us (Acts 2:33, Eph. 4:7-11). He also ascended to raise us up with him to the heavenly places, so that at death our souls ascend there to be with him (Eph. 2:6, Phil. 1:23). Jesus is presently enthroned at the right hand of the Father, and from this position of power he gathers and sanctifies his church, subdues its enemies, and equips his ministers and people with gifts and graces (Ps. 110:1, Eph. 1:20-23, 4:10-16). There he also makes continual intercession for us, securing our access to our Father and his acceptance of our persons and services (Rom. 8:34). Jesus shall come again in judgement for the redemption of our bodies from corruption and for our acquittal and vindication. He will come to give us our inheritance and reward in the new heavens and new earth, making us perfectly holy and happy both in body and soul in union with God to all eternity (Rom. 8:23, 1 Cor. 15:22-23, Matt. 25:31-46). Through faith in Christ, these benefits of his exaltation are ours.

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”
(Revelation 5:12)

For more on Christ’s estates of humiliation and exaltation, you can read questions 46-56 of the Larger Catechism at this link.