L’Abri a Way of Life for the Church Part 2: Francis Schaeffer Encounters the Trinity

IMG_0889

Have you ever wondered why Christians struggle, or just don’t, live what they believe? Francis Schaeffer questioned that to the extreme:  he let go of everything he believed and started from square one to ask “is any of  Christianity true?” This search for truth led him to experience the beating center of the Christian faith: the reality that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit loves and saves humanity. One could go so far as to say, that the Trinity is the center of all of Schaeffer’s thought.

In my first post about L’Abri, I talked about the foundational reality of life at L’Abri: trusting and dependent prayer. I also pointed to the reason for this way of life: Schaeffer’s desire to live life in total trust in God’s existence and providence.

What are the grounds for this belief? Especially in a world that is immersed in a cynical distance from faith in the supernatural, combined with the suppression of anything that smells of transcendence concerning real things. We are allowed to believe in some kind of transcendence for personal experience, or in the movies, but not in life. Life is brutishly natural. Schaeffer wants to offer a view of reality that is diametrically opposed to this suppression of transcendence.

In this post, I want to show the content of Schaeffer’s belief in supernatural reality with the help of Fred Sanders. I argue that Schaeffer’s life and the life of L’Abri as a witness to the existence of God is grounded in the reality and experience of the Triune God of Christianity.

Fred Sanders, in his book The Deep Things of God, demonstrates a deep, though often implicit, Trinitarian grounding in a broad swath of evangelicals throughout Church history (As an aside, I found this book very healing in my own struggle with evangelicalism. In short, I discovered the doctrine of the Trinity outside of evangelicalism, but this book helped me see the implicit Trinitarian theology at work in evangelical pastors and theologians). Sanders profiles several evangelical theologians and pastors throughout the book, one of those profiles is of Francis Schaeffer (pages 181-189). 

After pastoring for several years, Schaeffer had a crisis of faith. He stepped back from his faith and started exploring it again, to discover whether it was really true and real, and what the implications of Christianity are if it really is true. After wrestling for months. This is what Schaeffer concluded:

I came to realize that indeed I had been right in becoming a Christian. But then I went on further and wrestled deeper and asked, “But then where is the spiritual reality, Lord, amongst most of that which calls itself orthodoxy?” And gradually i found something. I found something that I had not been taught, a simple thing, but profound. I discovered the meaning of the work of Christ, the meaning of the blood of Christ, moment by moment in our lives after we are Christians – the moment-by-moment work of the whole Trinity in our lives because as Christians we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. That is true Spirituality. (Schaeffer, “Two Contents, Two Realities,” in Works vol. 3 (416-417). 

Of course, this quote leaves us wondering, what does this ‘moment-by-moment work of the whole Trinity” look like? What does the supernatural reality of the Trinity look like in our daily lives?

The Holy Spirit indwelling the individual Christian is not only the agent of Christ, but he is also the agent of the Father. Consequently, when I accept Christ as my Savior, my guilt is gone, I am indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and I am in communication with the Father and the Son as well as of the Holy Spirit – the entire Trinity.  Thus now, in the present life, if I am justified, I am in a personal relationship with each of the members of the Trinity. God the Father is my Father; I am in union with the Son, and I am indwelt by the Holy Spirit. This is not just meant to be a doctrine, it is what i have now (True Spirituality, 271). 

Schaeffer’s point is that the Doctrine of the Trinity is not something to merely be believed, it is the warp and woof of the Christian life. God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit inseparably work to bring about our salvation; they meet us in a real and personal encounter, and live with us in daily communion, as the triune God.  That is the Christian life.  True to evangelical form, Schaeffer emphasizes that this encounter is an experience of personal relationship, personal relationship with the whole Trinity.

Our relationship is never mechanical and not primarily legal. It is personal and vital. God the Father is my Father; I am united and identified with God the Son, God the Holy Spirit dwells within me. The Bible tells us that his threefold relationship is a present fact, just as it tells us that justification and Heaven are facts (Basic Bible Studies, 362). 

This personal and vital relationship with the Triune God of the universe is the heart of the Christian life and the center of the Gospel. Evangelicals summarize the personal encounter of the Gospel that leads to conversion with the phrase, “accept Christ as Savior.” Schaeffer uses this phrase and reveals its Trinitarian depth: “When I accept Christ as my Savior, my guilt is gone, I am indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and I am in communication with the Father and the Son, as well as the Holy Spirit  – the entire Trinity.” (True Spirituality, 269). This is the Christian life,, nothing less than life in God.

In a world that lives under the suppressive exclusion of transcendence, Christianity declares that the God of the universe dwells in every Christian who puts their faith and trust in Christ. The reality of the Trinity in the Christian life, True Spirituality, subverts and rebels against the oppression of transcendence. God offers “a moment-by-moment, increasing, experiential relationship to Christ and to the whole Trinity” (True Spirituality, 264). The Transcendent personal triune God breaks upon our brutish naturalism and reveals a whole way of life, real belonging, real wisdom and knowledge, and real joy: life in the happy land of the Trinity.

This is the vision of God and reality that grounds the continued ministry of L’Abri. Should the church seek to live in this reality? yes. Will it? It is my prayer and my pursuit.

 

Advertisements

Quotes from the Fathers and Mothers of the Christian Faith: Richard Hooker on Christ our Righteousness

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

richard_hooker

 

1 Corinthians 1:30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

In church, we can through around a lot of big words. And sometimes how they relate to Jesus and our life can be confusing. I find it easy to forget how justification, sanctification, and glorification relate to one another, to my life, and especially to Jesus Christ. In my studies, I’ve found that seeing how all of these relate to being united to Christ helps align the words to the reality of salvation.

Richard Hooker, in his sermon, A Learned Discourse on Justification, offers a helpful summary of how justification, sanctification, and glorification all relate to Christ and our union to him. Hooker argues that all of humanity stands before God as unrighteous and enslaved sinners. But Christ, in his death and resurrection is made the “righteousness of men.” Following Paul in Romans 5, Hooker argues that just as all of humanity were captive in death because of Adam, so all were made righteous in Christ. In Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension, he saved humanity from sin through his atoning and substitutionary death on the cross. 

In other words, those who are in Christ are united to his work of salvation, are made right with God and humanity. Christ’s being our righteousness – a reality that comes from outside of unrighteous humanity, i.e., we do not earn nor do we deserve it; it is a total gift. It is one work of salvation in the one person of Christ, but it is distinguishable in three different ways.

“There is a glorifying righteousness of men in the World to come: and there is a justifying and a sanctifying righteousness here. The righteousness, wherewith we shall be clothed in the Lord to come is both perfect and inherent. That whereby we are justified is perfect, but not inherent. That whereby we are sanctified is inherent, but not perfect.” (Sermon II, sec. 3).

Hooker’s language is Old English and can be a little confusing, so let me parse out a bit what he is saying.

First, the glorifying, justifying, and sanctifying righteousness is Jesus Christ’s life and work applied to us. There are not three different righteousness, but one right person, Jesus Christ. Imagine one beam of light refracting out of a prism. Jesus is the righteous one who works his righteousness for humanity in three distinct but united ways.

The first refracted beam is glorifying righteousness. Hooker begins with glorifying righteousness to establish the end goal of human salvation:  communion with the triune God perfectly and inherently. Perfectly meaning that we are as we were created to be, and inherently, it is an internal condition – we are made entirely holy inside and out. This is the goal end to which God created and redeemed us to draw us into union with God in Christ. But we do not yet have this righteousness.

The second bean is the justifying righteousness. In the death of Christ, we are justified by his perfect righteousness,  but it is outside of us.  We are declared sinless and united to Christ’s death. It is important that the death of Christ justifies us from the outside and is perfect because it establishes the security and reality of salvation. We are made right with God because of Christ’s perfect obedient righteousness, and it has nothing to do with our ability to be right with God. Christ the righteous one dies for the unrighteous. The perfect righteousness of Christ becomes ours as a gift without works. The reality of justification is sometimes scoffed at as a mere judicial fiction. It is not fictitious because it is a perfect gift given and established in the infinite Triune life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Nothing can change the justifying work of Christ, it is done and accomplished it is perfect, and it is given to those who are united to Christ in the Holy Spirit. Which brings us to the third beam of refracted light.

Jesus’s righteousness, his life, death, and resurrection, is infused into us through the Holy Spirit, making his righteousness ours internally but not perfectly. This is the processes of sanctification. Jesus is our righteous and gives us his Holy Spirit who infuses us with Christ’s virtues, habits, and life. It is not perfect, that comes in glorification, but it is a real infusion and process of growth and maturing. This righteousness is no less a gift, while at the same time it is internal and real because it is the Holy Spirit of God dwelling in us, uniting us to Christ, who gives us his eternal life and love with the Father.

In his magnum opus, The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Hooker puts what we’ve been saying differently.

“Thus we participate Christ partly by imputation, as when those things which he did and suffered for us are impulsed unto us for righteousness; partly by habitual and real infusion, as when grace is inwardly bestowed while we are on earth, and afterwards more fully both our souls and bodies made like unto his in glory. The first thing of his so infused into our hearts in this life is the Spirit of Christ…” V.56.11.

Here we see that we are perfectly justified by the imputation of Christ’s work on the Cross for us, and sanctified internally by the infusion of grace in our lives through the Holy Spirit which eventually leads us to be glorified perfectly and inherently.

In the end, what Richard Hooker helps us see is that Jesus Christ is our righteousness at all points in the Triune God’s economy of Salvation. When we struggle to believe we are loved, known and forgiven, Christ our justifying savior is there to tell us that he has completely saved us. When we struggle with Sin and the desire to know and love God Christ our sanctifying savior is with us and in us through the Holy Spirit drawing us further up and further in. When we look to the future, Jesus our glory is there calling us home and cheering us on to the full communion that awaits us in the new heavens and new earth. This is the light of the Christian, and because it is all Jesus Christ, we have nothing to boast about, and that is good for us because Christ is our Righteousness.

This compact summary of Christ as our Righteousness helps me think clearly and worship more faithfully the fantastic and beautiful Triune God. I hope it blesses you and leads you to worship God the Father, Son, and Spirit in heart, mind, and action.

 

Quotes from the Fathers and Mothers of the Christian Faith: Gregory of Nazianzus on the Trinity

950701f716f292ee7eca7ed5558406ee

Today I’m sharing one of my favorite quotes from Gregory of Nazianzus on the Trinity. Gregory of Nazianzus was a fourth century Bishop who helped defend and articulate the Scriptural understanding of the Trinity.

By way of preface, I have two thoughts:

1. I want to encourage my readers to see this quote, not as speculation, but as prayerful and reasoned contemplation on the Trinity.

2. The Trinity is not an abstract doctrine that has little to do with life, on the contrary, when a person becomes a Christain, they are caught up in the life of the Trinity. When someone confesses Jesus as Lord and Savior, they do so through the work fo the Holy Spirit, and to the glory of the Father. We confess Jesus and believe in him by faith, and when we ,do we are brought into his eternal relationship with the Father through the Holy Spirit. For our salvation to truly be salvation, Jesus must be God, the Holy Spirit must be God, and the Father must be God, and not three Gods, but one God.

With this in mind here is the quote:

I give as a companion and protector for all your life, the one divinity and power, found in unity in the three and gathering together the three as distinct; neither uneven in essences or natures, nor increased or decreased by superiorities or inferiorities; from every perspective equal, from every perspective the same, as the beauty and greatness of heaven is one; an infinite coalescence of three infinites; each God when considered in himself; as the Father so the Son, as the Son so the Holy Spirit; each preserving his properties. The three are God when known together, each God because of the consubstantiality, one God because of the monarchy.

When I first know the one, I am also illumined from all sides by the three; when I first distinguish the three, I am also carried back to the one. When I picture one of the three, I consider this the whole, and my eyes are filled, and the greater part has escaped me. I cannot grasp the greatness of the one so as to grant something greater to the rest. When I bring the three together in contemplation, I see a torch and am unable to divide or measure the united light. Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 40.41.

The first thing to note is that confession occurs in the context of a baptismal sermon. In other words, this is Gregory’s passing on the mystery of the Trinity to those who are about to be baptized. The Doctrine of the Trinity is not mere knowledge; this is the heart of the Christian life.

In the first paragraph, Gregory offers the basic contours of the Christian understanding of the Trinity: God is One and Three who are totally equal and eternally God. When considered separately Father, Son and Spirit are each fully God, while they are distinct because of their particular properties (i.e.,. The Father, begets, The Son is begotten, and the Spirit processes from the Father through the Son). Their equality and distinction establish eternal and real relations who are all one God. In this tightly packed paragraph, Gregory offers an outline of what God has revealed about himself in Scripture. This outline does not comprehend God, but it gives us a door into the mystery of who God is. The fact of the matter is that Gregory confesses what he does because he has already been caught up in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.

In the second paragraph, Gregory offers the same material through a different lens: the lens of prayer and rational contemplation. The first paragraph confesses the boundaries of the mystery of the Trinity; the second paragraph invites us to enter that mystery by means of personal communion. When we pray to God the Father, in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Triune God brings us into his very life. We are illumined by the Three who are One and the One who is Three. When Gregory contemplates God he does not comprehend God, but he is embraced by God. As he is embraced by God, he catches a mere outline and a glimpse of who God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This glimpse does not discourage him but encourages him to contemplate and seek the face of God.

Humanity was made to know God and be known by God; this is an eternal journey that begins now, by confessing Jesus as Lord and Savior. As we come to know our triune Savior more, we start to catch a taste for the incomprehensible joy of life eternal with him.  Though we only now see as in a mirror dimly, we will one day see God face to face. This quote from Gregory enlivens my desire to know and love the Triune God. I hope it does the same for you.

Desiring the Renewal of the Church? Look to the Trinity

 

222c640e641f279fafa30226a67e6f26.jpgIn my reading this week I skimmed Gordon Fee’s God’s Empowering Presence to see how he frames and articulates the person and work of the Holy Spirit in Paul’s writing. In his conclusion, Fee argues that the path for the church’s renewal is the living experience of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, including, but not focused on the gifts of the Spirit. Here is an extended quote:

A genuine recapturing of the Pauline perspective will not isolate the Spirit in such a way that “Spiritual gifts” and “spirit phenomena’ take pride of place in the church, resulting in churches which are either ‘charismatic’ or otherwise. Rather, a genuine recapturing of the Pauline perspective will cause the church to be more vitally Trinitarian, not only in its theology, but in its life and Spirituality as well. This will mean not the exaltation of the Spirit as such, but the exaltation of God; and it will mean not focus on the Spirit as such, but on the Son, crucified and risen, savior and Lord of all. Ethical life will be neither narrowly, individualistically conceived nor legalistically expressed, but will be joyously communal and decidedly over against the world’s present trinity of relativism, secularism and materialism, with their thoroughly dehumanizing affects. And the proper Trinitarian aim of such ethics will be the Pauline one – to the glory of God, through being conformed to the image of the Son by the empowering of the Holy Spirit. 

In recapturing the dynamic life of the Spirit there will also be the renewal of the charismata, not for the sake of being charismatic, but for the building up of the people of God for their life together and in the world. What must not happen un such a renewal is what has so often happened in the past: holding the extraordinary charismata in such awe that they are allowed to exist untested and undiscerned (Gordon Fee, God’s Empowering Presence, 902). 

Having spent a lot of time wrestling with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the Trinity, the renewal of the church, etc., I found this turn to the Christian life as a life in relation to the Trinity as very refreshing to the extreme. Further, because Fee contextualizes the gifts of the Spirit in the Trinity, and opposes isolation or emphasis of the gifts for their own sake, the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church is ordered to the end goal of transformation into the image of Christ to the Glory of God the Father. Thus, charismatic gifts are for the good of the church and should be desired because they have a particular purpose: to make us like Christ to the glory of God the Father.  This means that we must be free to question and test the extraordinary charismata, to see if they are fulfilling their Trinitarian end goal.

Do you want to renew the church? Seeking the happy land of the Trinity in prayer, worship, and study are where it begins. Because in seeking it, you’ll find, if you are a Christian, it is the happy land you’ve always been in ever since you said: “Jesus is Lord.”

 

 

Quotes from the Fathers and Mothers of the Christian Faith: Athanasius

Orthodox_icon_of_Saint_Athanasious_of_Mount_Athos.jpe__06736.1451330892.1000.1200_1ce750e7-fdd7-4b9e-9b63-ad27ce1e1a45_large

In this series, I will share significant quotes from pastors and theologians throughout church history in an attempt to present the riches of The Christian tradition for the Church today.

In his famous book, On The Incarnation, St. Athanasius – an important pastor and theologian from the fourth century who defended the full divinity of Jesus Christ –  presents a moving picture of the Triune God’s work of salvation. Specifically, Athanasius shows us the care and love of God the Father and Son for their wayward creation.  Athanasius argues that God created humanity for communion with him, but when he fell into sin, humankind lost their knowledge of God and their life with God. God in his goodness could not allow the corruption of his creatures. So in order to save humans and restore communion Jesus had to overcome death in humanity. This is how St. Athanasius describes this work of Salvation:

“For this purpose then, the incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God comes into our realm, although he was not formerly distant. For no part of creation is left void of him; while abiding with his own Father, he had filled all things in every place. But now he comes condescending towards us in his love for human beings and his manifestation. For seeing the rational race perishing, and death reigning over them through corruption, and seeing also the threat of transgression giving firm hold to the corruption which was upon us, and that it was absurd for the law to be dissolved before being fulfilled, and seeing the impropriety in what had happened, that the very things of which he himself was the Creator were disappearing, and seeing the excessive wickedness of human beings, that they gradually increased it to an intolerable pitch against themselves, and seeing the liability of all human beings to death – having mercy upon our race, and having pity upon our weakness, and condescending to our corruption, and not enduring the dominion of death, lest what had been created should perish and the work of the Father himself for human beings should be in vain, he takes for himself a body and that not foreign to our own… He takes that which is ours… And thus taking from our that which is like, since all were liable to the corruption of death, delivering it over to death on behalf of all, he offered it to the Father, doing this in his love for human beings so that, on the one hand, with all dying in him the law concerning corruption in human beings might be undone (its power being fully expended in the lordly body and no longer have any ground against similar human beings), and, on the other hand that as human beings had turned toward corruption he might turn them again to incorruptibility and give them life from death, by making the body his own and by the grace of the resurrection banishing death from them as straw from fire. (On the Incarnation, sec. 8). 

There is so much in this passage, and it is only the tip of the iceberg of Athanasius’s genius. Let us note a few things:

First, Athanasius is basically telling the story of the Gospel: God created and loved humanity, they fell into death and chaos through sin, and God in his great love sent God the Son to save humanity by becoming human and dying and rising for us so that we can have the life we were created to have.

Second, notice how Athanasius articulates God’s love for humanity. God pities and has mercy on humanity for their plight. He emphasizes that God wants to save humanity, it isn’t like he begrudges them. This reminds me of Psalm 103:13: “For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” Athanasius sees the love of God most vividly expressed when the Son of God became human. Really, this passage is an extended meditation on John 1:1-18 and John 3:16.

Third, notice that in expressing the entirely free and holy love of God, he does not shy away from calling humanity what it is: “Excessively wicked.” The love of God reveals the depths of human depravity, not to condemn us to death, though we condemn ourselves in rejecting him, but to show us our need for the Savior.

Finally, notice the manner of salvation: God the Son becomes who we are, fully human, in order to die for us and destroy the death and alienation that our excessive wickedness brought into the world. At the same time, Jesus must be fully God, God the creator, through whom all things were made, in order to bring such a magnificent salvation to completion. If Jesus is not the Creator God, one with God the Father, then his death has no power to save and recreate humanity and the world. Jesus is God and human, and he unites humanity to God the Father through his death and resurrection. Note that the Father accepts the Son’s death because he loves humanity and wants to see them freed from death and slavery to sin.

In this passage, Athanasius presents a summary of the order and economy of salvation. But what is the end goal of Salvation, according to Athanasius? Towards the end of his book, he gives a short and famous summary of why the Son became incarnate, died, and was rose again for humanity.

“For he was incarnate that we might be made God; and he manifested himself through a body that we might receive an idea of the invisible Father; and he endured the insults of human beings, that we might inherit incorruptibility” (On the Incarnation, sec 54).

God became human that we might be made God; not identical with God, but that we might be united to God in Christ Jesus. The end goal of salvation is Communion with God. The content of this communion is knowing God and receiving eternal life. Or as Jesus said in John 17:3 “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Jesus saved humanity from death and ignorance give them what they were created for: Life with God.

When it comes to sharing and living the gospel in the 21st century, not many people feel the guilt of sin; but we all feel the weight of death and meaninglessness. Athanasius’s emphasis on the infinite love of the triune God, salvation from death in Christ, and the revelation of who God is, who we are, and what we were made for, answers this weight by showing us that we are saved from death for a loving relationship with our creator and savior. We were created for intimate friendship with the God of the universe, and this God made the way for us to have that friendship: Jesus Christ.

The Pastor-Theologian as A Hedegehog

Hedgehog-Flowers-Meadow-Field.jpg.653x0_q80_crop-smart

The Greek poet Archilochus wrote, “the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” As a pastor-theologian, it is tempting to feel the pull of the fox, especially as the role and place of pastor-theologians in society continue to be marginalized into non-existence. I must become an expert in psychology, social concerns, event planning, end of life crisis management, social media, etc. in order to be a significant force of influence in their life.

As tempting as this is, theologian Kevin Vanhoozer recommends the example of the hedgehog as the animal worth imitating. In knowing one big thing, the pastor-theologian becomes a generalist who “specializes in viewing all of life as relating to God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ” (Vanhoozer, The Pastor as Public Theologian, 25).

The vocation of a pastor-theologian is to help his congregation see all of life through and in the “one big thing” Jesus Christ and his gospel. And not only see him but also be enlightened and enlivened by Christ. Vanhoozer again: “The pastor-theologian’ communicates this knowledge [of Christ] not to swell people’s heads but to transform their hearts. Ultimately what pastor-theologians want their people to know is ‘the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge’ (Eph. 3:19)” (Vanhoozer, 26).

As a pastor-theologian, then, my job is to preach, teach, live, and learn as one who is always focused on Jesus Christ as the way, the truth and the life of my congregation. The Hedgehog pastor must delve into the depths of life, the depths of culture, in order to display and proclaim how all our experiences relate to God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I really like this image of a pastor-theologian, but it is challenging. I struggle with helping people see how Christ relates to every aspect of their lives; but more than that, I struggle with making it a topic of conversation and discussion. How do I help people see that Jesus is the center of reality, life, meaning, and purpose? Perhaps it must start with me? I want people to see Christ “Playing in ten thousand places,” but,  it must begin with me seeing him at play in my own heart, mind, and life. I must become a hedgehog if I am to be a good pastor-theologian.

John Calvin on Union with Christ

 
b200b64b0aa56328799020e1954b8f20*

As I continue to research the doctrine of Union with Christ and other topics, I want to post significant or insightful quotes and offer some reflection on them.

Have you ever struggled with the feeling that all that stuff that Jesus did in his life is great, and sometimes you can sense that it means something to you, but it feels kind of cold and distance? Growing up in the Church I thought that a lot. Jesus died for me, 2000 years ago, but it didn’t get into my inner life, it didn’t sink down into my mind and heart and bring real change. So I was surprised when I found that this is actually a real problem and one that the doctrine of Union with Christ, rooted in the Inseparable and joyous life of the Triune God answers. Calvin sums it up the problem and solution splendidly in the following quote.

After presenting his doctrine of the knowledge of God, creation, and redemption in Books 1-2 of Institutes of Christian Religion, Calvin turned to the Christian life in Book 3. This is how he opens this book:

“First, we must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separate from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us. Therefore to share with us what he has received from the Father he had to become ours and to dwell within us. For this reason, he is called “our head” [Eph 4:15], and ‘the first-born among many brethren” [Rom 8:29]. We also, in turn, are said to be ‘engrafted into him” [Rom 11:17] and to ‘put on Christ [Gal 3:27]; for as I have said, all that he possesses is nothing to us until we grow into one body with him. It is true that we obtain this by faith. Yes since we see that not all indiscriminately embrace that communion with Christ which is offered through the gospel, reason itself teaches us to climb higher and to examine into the secret energy of the Spirit, by which we come to enjoy Christ and all his benefits.” The Institutes of Christian Religion III.1.1.

This is a crucial passage on union with Christ in Calvin’s writing, and we can observe several essential things about union with Christ in it.

First, there is a Trinitarian pattern to Union with Christ. To receive the love of the Father and the salvation the Son achieved on humanity’s behalf, we must be united to Jesus Christ. For this to happen, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Father and the Son, must dwell in us. Salvation is accomplished in Christ, and applied to the Christian, in faith, through the Holy Spirit.

Second, Union with Christ puts us back on the right track towards humanity’s end goal. The end goal of union with Christ is humanity’s incorporation into fellowship and communion with the Triune God; so that we can be friends with God as we were created to be.

Third, note that salvation is only attainable in union with Christ. There are only two positions humanity can have in relation to Christ; outside, where there is no salvation, and inside Christ through the Holy Spirit, where salvation, life, and all goodness is.

Fourth, it is through the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity that we enjoy Christ and his benefits. The Holy Spirit is how Jesus Christ dwells in us and we in him. No Holy Spirit, no Union with Christ. In my growing up imagination, this was the link that was missing. I needed to see that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, dwells in me and brings me into communion with The whole Trinity. The Holy Spirit applies the work of Christ in my life, personally.

Finally, the benefits that the Spirit applies – often summed up with words like justification, sanctification – are all found in personal union with Christ. That is not to say that justification and sanctification are the same things, rather, these are the double grace of union with Christ. We are declared in right standing with God because we have died with Christ and risen with him – passing through the judgment of our sin in Jesus – and we are continually being made new in the image of Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit – who gives us the character, virtue, and life of the perfect human: Jesus Christ.

Union with Christ is the heart of the Christian life, it is how we are made right with God, brought into communion with God, and renewed in his image.

*Forgive the irony of using an Icon of Christ while quoting John Calvin. I appreciate a lot of his theology, but I disagree with his rejection of Icons, though I respect his concern about Idolatry.