Here is part 1 of an essay titled Clarifying Our Theological Vision by Gary Deddo, with an introduction from Joseph Tkach. The essay is being published serially here in Equipper. To read each part, click on a link: introduction, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. To read the full essay in one article, click here. For the related essay, Covenant, Law and God's Faithfulness, click here.
Clarifying two key terms: “All are included” & “union with Christ”
By Dr. Gary Deddo
The goal of this ongoing series of articles is to clarify some of the key terms we use in communicating the wonderful truths of our incarnational Trinitarian faith. As Dr. Tkach mentions in his introduction to the series, though we’re not making significant changes, we are providing some clarifications to help us in our ongoing journey of theological renewal.
All are included
A key understanding of our theology has to do with what God has accomplished for all humanity in and through his incarnate Son, Jesus Christ. For many years, we’ve summarized that understanding with the phrase, all are included (and the related declaration, You’re included). By all we mean believers and non-believers, and by included we mean being counted among those who God, in and through Jesus, has reconciled to himself. We thus mean to say that God has reconciled all people to himself.
This theological declaration is based on the biblical revelation that Christ died for all and that God has loved and reconciled the world to himself (Rom. 5:18; 2 Cor. 5:14; John 3:16; 2 Cor. 5:19, Heb. 2:9). Jesus is “the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29), and he is the “ransom” for all (1 Tim 2:4, 6; 4:10; Matt. 20:28). Because this reconciliation is accomplished, and thus a present reality, God’s desire, which is fulfilled by the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit, is for all people everywhere to come to repentance and faith so they may personally experience (receive and live into) this reconciliation and so not perish (2 Pet. 3:9; Ezek. 18:23, 32). Thus when we declare that all are included we are affirming several important truths:
- Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior of all humanity
- He died to redeem all
- He has atoned for the sin of all
- Through what he did, God reconciled all people to himself
- Jesus is the mediator between God and all humanity
- He has made all his own by virtue of his redeeming work
- He is for all and against none
- He is judge of all, so that none might experience condemnation
- His saving work is done on behalf of all, and that work includes his holy and righteous responses to the Father, in the Spirit—responses characterized by repentance, faith, hope, love, praise, prayer, worship and obedience
- Jesus, in himself, is everyone’s justification and sanctification
- He is everyone’s substitute and representative
- He is everyone’s hope
- He is everyone’s life, including life eternal
- He is everyone’s Prophet, Priest and King
In all these ways, all people in all places and times have been included in God’s love and life in and through Jesus and by his Spirit. In that we rejoice, and on that basis we make our gospel declarations. But in doing so we have to be aware of some potential for confusion. We must neither say too little or too much about inclusion (reconciliation). Perhaps, at times, we’ve said too much, making inferences concerning the reconciliation of all humanity that the Bible does not support—ones that are neither logically or theologically necessarily true.
It’s about relationship, which means participation
To avoid making unfounded inferences, it is important to note that when the Bible speaks about reconciliation (inclusion), what it is referring to is a relationship that God, by grace, has established in the God-man Jesus Christ between himself and all people. That relationship is personal in that it is established by the person of the eternal Son of God, and it involves human persons who have agency, minds, wills and bodies. This reconciliation involves all that human beings are—their whole persons. Thus this personal relationship calls for, invites, and even demands from those who have been included the response of participation. Personal relationship is ultimately about interaction between two persons (subjects, agents), in this case between God and his creatures.
By definition, personal relationships are interactive—they involve response, communication, giving and receiving. In and through Jesus, God has included all people everywhere in a particular relationship with himself for just these purposes so that what has been fulfilled for us objectively in Jesus by the Spirit, will then be fulfilled in us personally (subjectively) by the Spirit via our deliberate, purposeful participation (response) as subjects who are moral, spiritual agents. What Christ did for us, he did so that the Holy Spirit could work a response out in us.
When we understand that the person and work of Christ establishes or reestablishes a living, vital, personal relationship with all humanity, then the biblical teachings concerning inviting, admonishing, encouraging, directing, commanding and warning in regard to setting forth the fitting or appropriate response make sense. But if the gift of reconciliation (inclusion) is understood as merely a fixed principle, an abstract universal truth (like the sky is blue, or 2 + 2= 4), or as an automatic and impersonal effect brought about through a causal chain of events imposed on all, then the myriad directives in the New Testament concerning our response (participation) make no sense.
The indicatives of grace set us free to respond to the imperatives of grace
Many proclamations in the New Testament declare the truth of who God is and what he has done for us, including that he, in Christ, has reconciled all humanity to himself. These proclamations are the indicatives of grace, which, by their very nature, call forth and set us free for a joyful response to the imperatives of grace that are also defined in the New Testament. Here is a diagram showing how these indicatives and imperatives are related:
Our responses to the imperatives of grace, grounded in and thus flowing from the indicatives of grace, are made possible only because of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, who continues his work in the core of our persons (our subjectivities) in order that we might respond freely to God and his grace with repentance, faith, hope and love.
The Holy Spirit grants us this freedom to respond (even as we hear the imperatives) by releasing us from the bonds of slavery so that our responses are a real sharing in Christ’s own responses made on our behalf as our substitute and representative—our great and eternal High Priest. This indicative-imperative pattern of grace is found throughout the New Testament. For example, note Jesus’ first proclamation concerning himself and his kingdom (the indicative) followed by the imperative, which defines our response:
Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:14-15)
Note that the imperative,“repent and believe,” is based on and made possible because of the indicative that “the time is fulfilled…the kingdom of God has come near.” Because of who Jesus is and what he has done, people are given entrance into personal relationship with Jesus as their King and thus can respond by participating in his rule and reign.
At work here is a vitally important truth: because God loves us, he is interested in our response to him. He looks for it, notices it, even tells us the kind of response that is fitting to the relationship he has already given us by grace (through reconciliation). Moreover, by the Holy Spirit ministering to us on the basis of Christ’s completed work, our Triune God has even provided all we need to make that response. We never respond autonomously, simply on our own. Instead, by the Holy Spirit, we are enabled to begin sharing in Jesus perfect responses that he makes for us as our eternal mediator or High Priest.
Avoid two errors
There are two common errors in thinking about the indicatives and imperatives of grace. The first is to regard the indicatives proclaimed in the New Testament as fixed, impersonal principles or abstract laws—general and universal truths operating like the mechanical, so-called laws of nature, or perhaps of mathematics.
The second error (which often accompanies the first) is to regard the imperatives mentioned in the New Testament as sheer, externally imposed legal obligations that indicate the potential ways we can condition God to act or react to us in some way. Embracing that false notion, we are tempted to think of the imperatives as setting forth terms of a contract with God: if we do certain things (fulfill certain contractual obligations) we will bring to pass the responses from God that we desire and to which he has contractually agreed.
Both of these errors presume legal, mechanical, cause-and-effect, force-vector-like actions and reactions instead of what is found in a real personal relationship. These errors reflect thinking that is not grounded in the covenant of grace by which God has freely established a relational reality with humankind for the sake of dynamic, personal and interactive participation, communication, communion, fellowship—what the Greek New Testament calls koinonia.
We err when we imagine we are somehow coerced slaves to God and to his imperious ways, or when we imagine we can manage a contract with God where we attempt to negotiate terms of mutual obligation agreeable to both parties. Such imaginings are not how God operates. He created us for real, personal relationship in which we participate, by grace, through Christ and by the Holy Spirit. All our responses are real participation in an actual relationship—the relationship God has established for us for the sake of koinonia (fellowship, communion) with him in dynamic, personal ways—the ways of freedom in love.
We did not establish this relational reality by our responses. Only God can create the relationship, and so he has, on our behalf in and through Christ. Note, however, that though our personal responses create nothing, they do constitute real participation in the relationship God has given us in Christ. These responses are made possible by the freeing and enabling ministry of the Holy Spirit, based on the vicarious ministry of Jesus. We have been included, through Christ and by the ministry of the Spirit, in a saving, transforming and renewing relationship with God—a relationship that calls for our response.
With this clarification in mind, we can see that we must not use the phrase all are included to say too little or too much—and perhaps, at times, we have said too much. Yes, all humanity has been included in a saving, transforming and renewing relationship with God (referred to in Scripture as reconciliation with God). But this particular kind of inclusion in Christ is not a fixed, impersonal, causal and abstract universal “truth” that is divorced from real relationship. In fact, reconciliation is specifically for the sake of our response, and so it is for real, personal relationship.
What we can say is that all have been reconciled (included) but not all are participating. The God-given purpose of this relationship, established through reconciliation, cannot be fulfilled in us as long as there is little or no participation in the relationship—if there is resistance to and rejection of the relationship that has been freely given to us. The full benefits of the relationship cannot be known or experienced by us if we do not enter into it—if we are not receptive to it and its benefits.
Thus we must account for the difference between participating in the relationship, according to its nature, and not participating, thus violating its nature and purpose. Non-participation does not negate or undo the fact that God has reconciled us to himself (that he has included us in the relationship he has established, in Christ, with all humanity). To deny this reality does not create another reality. Going against the grain of reality does not change the direction of the grain, though it might gain us some splinters! We have no power to change the grain.
A good example of the difference between participation and non-participation is the elder brother mentioned in the parable of the prodigal son. He refused to participate—to enter the celebration the father established and invited him into. Note also this example in the book of Hebrews:
For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed. (Hebrews 4:2)
This personal and relational understanding of receiving the gift of grace freely given us by the whole God (Father, Son and Spirit) helps clarify many things in the New Testament that otherwise would seem inconsistent or even incoherent. To think otherwise (in mechanical or causal ways) would be to ignore, or (worse) to dismiss, whole swaths of biblical revelation. A personal and relational understanding of God’s grace helps make sense of the proclamation of the indicatives of grace and the proclamation of the imperatives of grace, the latter being the call to receive and participate in the gift of the relationship established in Christ that is being fulfilled by the Holy Spirit.
Union with Christ
Having looked at the term all are included (which pertains to the reconciliation all humankind has with God in Christ), we now can look at a related biblical teaching that also needs clarification—the term here is union with Christ. As with reconciliation, we err if we view union with Christ as a fixed, generic and abstract principle, rather than the dynamic, covenantal and relational reality that it is. In making that error it’s easy to erroneously equate the concept of the reconciliation (inclusion) that all humanity has with God in and through Christ with the concept of union with Christ.
Though some assume that all who God has reconciled to himself in Christ are automatically in union with Christ, there are significant problems with this assumption—problems that have become more apparent to us over the last four or five years as pastors have sought to teach about union with Christ and/or GCI members have tried to understand the concept. Because of these problems, we’ve spent time in further investigation of the biblical teaching and we’re now addressing those problems by providing this additional teaching (via this series of articles) on this important topic.
First, it’s important to note that the New Testament never equates reconciliation (universal inclusion) and union with Christ. The truth that Christ, who died for all, is everyone’s Lord and Savior, does not mean that everyone is united (by the Holy Spirit) to Jesus. Union with Christ, as that term is used in the New Testament, is limited to describing those who are receptive, responsive and thus participating by the Holy Spirit in the gift of relationship with God established by Jesus Christ. This delimited description of union with Christ also applies to other closely related New Testament expressions including being “in Christ” or “in the Lord.”
While God intends union with Christ for everyone on the basis of the atoning, reconciling work of Christ, not all have received that union or have entered into it. In that sense not all are united to Christ, not all are one with Christ, not all are “in Christ,” not all “have the Son” (1 John 5:12), and not all “have the Spirit of Christ” (Rom. 8:9).
None of this means that God is separate from, or has rejected non-believers. It does not mean that God is against them, has not forgiven them, has not accepted them, or does not love them unconditionally. It simply means that such persons are not yet participating in (or possibly are resisting) the work of the Holy Spirit, whose ministry it is to open the minds of non-believers to the truth of the gospel, unite them to Christ, and call forth a response of repentance and faith befitting that union. In the end, “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21; Rom. 10:13; Psalm 86:5), though not all (yet) are calling on the Lord.
In the New Testament, union with Christ cannot be separated from participation in Christ or from communion or fellowship (koinonia) with Christ. Union with Christ, understood properly, is about personal relationship, and is thus limited to those who are participating in the relationship God has given us by grace. As James B. Torrance used to summarize it: union with Christ cannot be separated from communion with Christ. These twin doctrines cannot be separated even though they can be distinguished.
We must not think of union with Christ in fixed, mechanical, objective and impersonal ways, assuming that non-believers are automatically united with God, in Christ, in the same way as believers (who by definition, are participating by their believing, their faith). To do so would be to separate union with Christ from participation with Christ. If we are to follow the mind of Christ as found in the New Testament, we should reserve “union with Christ” and being “in Christ” as ways of describing those who, by the Spirit, are participating, receiving and responsive to Christ and his word. Participation does make a difference, though it does not make all the difference. It doesn’t, for example, change God’s mind or his intention or desire. However, our way of speaking and our theological understanding ought to be able to communicate the difference participation does make, and do so in ways that match the biblical ways of speaking.
Faithfully and accurately proclaiming the gospel
Carefully and closely following the biblical patterns of speech and thought will help us communicate the truth and reality of the gospel of Jesus Christ with consistency, clarity and biblical accuracy. It will also help us avoid contributing, even inadvertently, to confusion or hesitation about the truth of union and communion with Christ by the Spirit.
We should avoid, therefore, using the term all are included as an umbrella phrase that tries to say everything there is to say about salvation. What Scripture consistently means when speaking of union with Christ is not the same as what we mean to say in using the phrase all are included, which as we’ve seen, pertains to the gift of universal reconciliation.
Though in Acts 17:28 the apostle Paul (quoting a pagan philosopher known to his audience) says that “in him [God] we [all humans] live and move and have our being,” he is referring to the created state of all humans and not to union with Christ—a concept he develops elsewhere to refer to the reciprocal, personal relationship that exists, through the Holy Spirit, between God and believers (Christians).
Not properly distinguishing between all humanity having been reconciled already to God in Christ (and thus included) and the believer’s union with Christ, confuses or conflates biblical terms and thus risks the following:
- The loss of most or all of the full understanding of the personal, dynamic and relational nature of the gift of salvation in relationship with the living, triune personal God.
- The loss of the fact that the gift of salvation involves the ongoing ministry of the whole God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
- Turning what is dynamic and relational into something non-relational, generic, impersonal, causal and a fixed fact or data point that does not necessitate (in a vital way) the continuing ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of the members of the church, the body of Christ.
GCI’s incarnational Trinitarian faith is grounded in the gospel of Jesus Christ, not a gospel of universal inclusion (where “inclusion” is used as an umbrella term to speak of all aspects of salvation). We proclaim the good news about the relational nature of the gift of grace that God, in Christ, and by his Spirit, freely gives us. Inclusion is one aspect of that gospel, but not the whole of it.
Two related, but distinct unions
This brings us to another point that needs clarification, as it too has contributed to some confusion or hesitation. In accord with the gospel of Jesus Christ, we rightly distinguish between two types of relationship, which, theologically, have both been referred to as unions, but when carefully treated by theologians are distinguished by qualifying each with a different accompanying term. The problem here is not so much one of biblical usage as discussed above, but one of how union is used in theological formulations. In the latter case, many overlook the important theological qualifications made and assume all unions involving God are identical, when they are not. The problem is made greater when an improper notion of inclusion is conflated with either or both of these notions of union.
The hypostatic union
The first union pertains to what theologians refer to as the hypostatic union. This is the union of divinity (divine nature) and humanity (human nature) in the one person (hypostasis) of the God-man Jesus Christ at his incarnation. It should be noted that this union does not amount to a fusion or confusion of these two natures, but a joining together that maintains their distinction while bringing about a true relationship and interaction between them under the direction of the subject of the eternal Son of God. (This theological understanding goes all the way back to the Chalcedonian Definition/Creed of the 5th century.)
This hypostatic union pertains to all people since the human nature Christ assumed is common to all humankind—both believers and non-believers. Human nature, with all its attributes (mind, will, affections, etc.) has, in Christ through his life, death, resurrection and ascension, been regenerated, justified, sanctified and glorified. On that basis, God, in and through Christ has brought about the reconciliation of all humankind with himself. As a result, God holds nothing against humanity or human nature. In that way, Christ is the first-fruit or first-born from the dead and is the new head of humanity (the new Adam, to use Paul’s terms). Jesus has become the beginning of a new humanity. Thus we can say that there is a right way to say “all are included” meaning “all humans have been reconciled” on the basis of the renewal of human nature itself in Christ.
This understanding is why T.F. Torrance can assert that all are “implicated” (included) in what Christ has done, or that all humanity has been placed on a whole “new basis” in what Christ has done. Likewise, Karl Barth can assert that on the basis of the hypostatic union of the two natures in Jesus, all people are “potentially” Christians—“potentially” members of the church or body of Christ; or all can be considered “virtual” Christians (even if not actual Christians); or that all have been saved in principle by Christ (de jure) but not all are saved in actuality (de facto). These theological understandings parallel the New Testament understanding of Christ being all in all, but also recognizing that not all are participating in that relational reality—not all are believing, not all are responding to or are receptive of this reality. Not all are worshipping God in Spirit and in truth. Not all are active witnesses to Jesus Christ. And in that sense, not all are actual Christians.
The spiritual union
The second kind of union of which theologians speak pertains to the spiritual union that, by the Holy Spirit, unites believers with God in a particular type of relationship. The New Testament refers to this kind of union as “union with Christ”—a union and communion with God, in Christ, by the Holy Spirit. In this kind of union there is an essential recognition of a distinct, though not separate, ministry of the Holy Spirit to bring it about. After the incarnation and the earthly work of Christ, the Spirit is sent on a special mission, or for a special ministry, that is only now possible on the basis of the completed work of Christ accomplished with or in our human nature.
By this follow-up ministry of the Holy Spirit, individuals and groups of persons are freed and enabled to repent, believe, have faith, love and hope. They are able to enter into a worship relationship with God “in Spirit and in truth.” By the Spirit, persons are incorporated into the body of Christ as they respond (participate), typically by baptism, confession of faith, participation in communion (the Lord’s Supper) and in Christian worship where they receive instruction and put themselves under the authority of the apostolic/biblical revelation. The spiritual union thus designates participation by the Spirit in the renewed human nature Christ provides for us so that we might participate in right relationship with God through him, by the Holy Spirit.
It is also important to note that in this union and communion with Christ, by the Holy Spirit, we do not become one in being with Jesus Christ—we do not become Jesus, and he does not become us. Union and communion with Christ is not a fusion or confusion of persons—it is a personal and relational union or unity, which necessarily includes a participation that maintains the difference of persons, the distinction of subjects (or personal agencies). While the work of Christ reaches the very depths of who we are (our being or ontology), the ontological difference of persons is not erased in our union with Christ. We are not absorbed into Jesus, nor into the being of God. Thus the relationship between the two persons at the deepest (ontological) level of who we are remains a real relationship, with real participation and fellowship maintained.
With these thoughts in mind, we now can summarize our key points:
- God has reconciled all people (believers and non-believers) to himself in Christ. All people have been implicated in the hypostatic union of divinity and humanity brought about through the Incarnation of the Son of God.
- Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, believers are brought into the spiritual union of God and humanity, and thus are “in Christ” by virtue of their positive, Spirit-enabled response to (participation in) the relationship created by the hypostatic union.
- Not all are included in the spiritual union since not all are participating in the saving relationship. Not all are included in that sense, even though the hypostatic union in Christ was accomplished for the sake of the spiritual union that would be brought to fullness through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
- The goal of the hypostatic union is thus fulfilled in the spiritual union, brought about by the Holy Spirit as persons participate in the relationship begun in the reconciliation of all humanity to God in and through the hypostatic union of God and humanity in the person of Jesus Christ.
- In our gospel declarations, we need to account for both types (or perhaps we could say both phases) of union, noting that both are aspects of the outworking of our salvation involving the work of the whole Triune God (Father, Son and Spirit).
- We can rightly use the phrase all are included when referring to the hypostatic union (the first phase). In doing so we should note that human nature was joined (but not fused) to Christ, and thus included in his whole mediatorial ministry of learning obedience, overcoming temptation, ministering under the direction and power of the Holy Spirit, submitting to the righteous judgment of God on the cross, and in the resurrection of our human nature with him in his resurrection and raised up to glory in his ascension.
- As we use the term inclusion to refer to the hypostatic union, it’s vital to remember that the purpose of this inclusion is personal relationship. Via the hypostatic union, God, in the person of the God-man Jesus Christ, has graciously reconciled all humanity to himself. All people (believers and non-believers) are, through the hypostatic union, included in a relationship with God for the purpose of personal participation—a personal response of repentance, faith, hope and love.
- We should be careful to not talk about inclusion (which pertains to the hypostatic union) in ways that obscure or make seem minor the matter of the Holy Spirit’s ministry and the related matter of our participation and response to God, both of which pertain to the spiritual union.
- The difference participation makes holds out hope of renewal and transformation for those who have not yet turned to Christ. It also provides insight and motivation for those who have begun to participate but who have grown weary or might be tempted to return to their old ways of non-participation. That’s the point of the many admonitions in the New Testament to continue living in relationship with and thus to turn back to Christ. That’s the point of its warnings to not resist the Spirit.
- If we fail to uphold the differences that participation does make, we will be unable to talk accurately about the differences it does not make, namely that though we be faithless, God remains faithful (2 Tim. 2:13).
- In our preaching and teaching we must account for both types of union, carefully explaining the importance of participation which relates to entering into deliberate, personal relationship with God, since that’s what God has provided so richly for us. We need to preach and teach together both the indicatives of grace and the imperatives of grace that call for and enable our fellowship and communion (koinonia) with God, through Christ, by the Holy Spirit.
Because our Triune God, who is love, is interested in us, he wants to have with us a real, actual, living, loving, vital relationship. Through the hypostatic union of God and humanity in the person of Jesus Christ, God reconciled all humanity to himself precisely so that humans may have a worship relationship with the Trinity. Now, God, in Christ and through the Spirit’s ongoing ministry, is drawing believers into a spiritual union (union with Christ) that involves participation (response, sharing in, living into, communion). In this koinonia there is a difference between those participating in God’s free gift of relationship (established in the hypostatic union) and those refusing to participate, or who have not yet begun to participate. That’s why, in the New Testament, the term “union with Christ” applies to persons in a posture of responding in the Holy Spirit, and not to persons in a posture of resisting or ignoring the Holy Spirit. That is why receiving what is freely given is often emphasized in Scripture, as seen in these verses:
[Jesus is sending Paul] to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me. (Acts 26:18)
All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. (Acts 10:43)
If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. (Rom. 5:17)
Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)
Given this biblical emphasis and language, it would be unwise to equate the term inclusion (which speaks to the hypostatic union and thus to reconciliation) with the term union (as in “union with Christ” or being “in Christ” or “in the Lord”). Besides departing from the ways the Bible uses these terms, equating the two collapses the biblical distinctions between the hypostatic union and the spiritual union, thus leading to confusion, including obscuring or avoiding the personal and relational nature of salvation which calls for our participation by the Holy Spirit.
The hypostatic union in Christ is not the same as our spiritual union with Christ by the Spirit. Even though they cannot be separated from one another, they must be properly distinguished. Hopefully, it is now clear why, when speaking theologically of these two unions, we must carefully qualify each (as do careful theologians) so as to avoid confusion.
To reiterate this important point, in the New Testament, union with Christ (spiritual union) necessarily involves participation (koinonia, also translated communion or fellowship) with Christ. Why? Because the New Testament uses the word union to speak not of the hypostatic union (related to the vicarious humanity of Jesus), but of the spiritual union (union with Christ).
This spiritual union is not automatic—it is not impersonal or mechanically caused by the hypostatic union. If it were, that would make the full ministry of the Holy Spirit unnecessary, contrary both to how the New Testament depicts the Spirit’s ministry and how it describes the explicit purpose for which the Son sends the Holy Spirit in the name of the Father.
That being said, it’s important to note that the spiritual union is absolutely dependent upon the hypostatic union, wherein the eternal Son of God, via the Incarnation, assumed to himself our human nature (the nature common to all humanity). However, the phrases “union with Christ,” being “in Christ” or “in the Lord,” being members incorporated into “the body of Christ” (the church), being “indwelt” by the Holy Spirit, and being “born again” as a “child of God” are all phrases or terms the New Testament uses in a way that includes (and thus presupposes) the idea of participation—that is, communion with Christ through the Spirit, which is about living in active personal relationship with Christ as a member of his body, the church. Said another way, these particular phrases are reserved in the New Testament for Christians (believers). In GCI, we believe it is important that we use these phrases in the way the New Testament uses them, not assigning to them different meanings (as do some Trinitarian authors).
We’ve raised several issues in this lengthy article, and we’ll add further detail as this series unfolds. Some of the issues that we will be addressing more fully are the vicarious humanity of Jesus, and what union with Christ entails. In the meantime, you might want to review a GCI.org article I wrote that addresses union with Christ and our participation in Christ’s ministry. You’ll find it at http://www.gci.org/christian-life.
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