Putting Existential Union with Christ into Perspective

Darryl does it nicely.

John Owen is very helpful here in his Greater Catechism (1645) where he makes (existential) union with Christ one of the benefits of faith.


Q. 1. By what means do we become actual members of this church of God?

A. By a lively justifying faith, of his Father the whole mystery of godliness, the way and truth whereby we must come unto God. Christ, the head thereof.

Acts 2:47, 13:48; Hebrews 11:6, 12:22,23, 4:2; Romans 5:1,2; Ephesians 2:13,14.

Q. 2. What is a justifying faith?

A. A gracious resting upon the free promises of God in Jesus Christ for mercy, with a firm persuasion of heart that God is a reconciled Father unto us in the Son of his love.

1 Timothy 1:16; Job 13:15, 9:25; Romans 4:5. Hebrews 4:16; Romans 8:38,39; Galatians 2:20; 2 Corinthians 5:20,21.

Q. 3. Have all this faith?

A. None but the elect of God.

Titus 1:1; John 10:26; Matthew 13:11; Acts 13:48; Romans 8:30.

Q. 4. Do not, then, others believe that make profession?

A. Yes; with, first, historical faith, or a persuasion that the things written in the Word are true; secondly, temporary faith, which has some joy of the affections, upon unspiritual grounds, in the things believed.

James 2:19. Matthew 13:20; Mark 6:20; John 2:23,24; Acts 8:13.


Q. 2. What is our vocation, or this calling of God?

A. The free, gracious act of Almighty God, whereby in Jesus Christ he calleth and translateth us from the state of nature, sin, wrath, and corruption, into the state of grace and union with Christ, by the mighty, effectual working of his preaching of the Word.

Colossians 1:12,13; 2 Timothy 1:9; Deuteronomy 30:6; Ezekiel 36:26; Matthew 11:25, 26; John 1:13, 3:3, 8; Ephesians 1:19; Colossians 2:12; 1 Corinthians 4:7; James 1:18; 2 Peter 2:20; Acts 16:14.


Q. 1. What are the privileges of those that thus believe and repent?

A First, union with Christ; secondly, adoption of children; thirdly, Christian liberty; fourthly, a spiritual, holy right to the seals of the new covenant; fifthly, communion with all saints; sixthly, resurrection of the body unto life eternal.

Q. 2. What is our union with Christ?

A. An holy, spiritual conjunction unto him, as our head, husband, and foundation, whereby we are made partakers of the same Spirit with him, and derive all good things from him.

1 Corinthians 12:12; John 15:1, 2, 5-7, 17:23. Ephesians 4:15, 5:23; Colossians 1:18. 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:25-27; Revelation 21:9. Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 2:20-22; 1 Peter 2:4-7. Romans 8:9, 11; Galatians 4:6; Philippians 1:19. John 1:12, 16; Ephesians 1:3.

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  1. Dr. Clark,

    I am trying to understand: Is this “existential union” something like the “infilling of the Spirit” that Charismatics talk about?

    • No, not exactly, though I think some constructions of it could lead to Osiander’s doctrine of final justification on the basis of the indwelling Christ. It’s their way of taking about the moment in time when one comes into possession of union with Christ.

  2. Thanks for this post. A quick question about Owen’s wording here:

    “Q. 1. What are the privileges of those that thus believe and repent?”

    What does he mean by the word repent? I would tend to think that the power to repent is the fruit of union/fruit of faith, to which it is connected as an inevitable effect of but also distinguished from faith, but it almost sounds like he is saying that repentance is a condition to union.

    Any clarifying thoughts?

    Thanks for these posts!


    • Dustin,

      I don’t think I understand the question. Some might complain that he wrote, “believe and repent.” They would say that we may only say “repent and believe” and some would seek to make repentance a co-instrument of justification. Owen is being quite precise here by not doing that.

      Repentance is the fruit of faith, even if, expressed in Scripture, for pedagogical purposes, before faith. Unbelievers don’t repent. Repentance is an inevitable fruit of regeneration and faith.

  3. Dr. Clark,

    Thanks for getting back. I appreciate it.

    Maybe I should rephrase what my question was: “Is Owen teaching that this union takes place on the conditions of faith *and* repentance? If so, how does he define repentance, and if not, why does he place the word repent next to faith?”

    Does that make sense? The wording made it, at least seem possible, to make repentance a cause of union.

    So I wanted to make sure I understood Owen’s meaning, since I am not very familiar with his writings.

    Would it be safe to say that Owen believes that through faith in Christ alone, we are brought into union with Him, and thus enabled to repent by the power of the Spirit?

    Thanks for this quality content and quality feedback.


    • Would it be safe to say that Owen believes that through faith in Christ alone, we are brought into union with Him, and thus enabled to repent by the power of the Spirit?


  4. Thanks for the feedback.

    The truths of forensic justification and union with Christ have become very precious to me because at the end of 2008 God began to unpack these truths to me from the Scriptures, in part for sure, because I had had a serious bondage to lust for years.

    By March of 2009, I had such a big picture of Christ’s victory, my helplessness and utter need of Him, that my faith became established in such a way that I have not since fallen at all into certain sinful patterns that accompany lust. When temptation comes, I don’t feel defenseless. I have armor–my faith in Christ, in whom I stand firm. Consequently, I have much more peace and joy. Glory to God forever!

    Could I ask a question since I can see from your site that you have studied this subject more than the average person?

    When we receive the gift of faith at regeneration, are we then united to Christ’s death and resurrection so that a circumcised heart and being raised with Christ both follow faith?

    This would make sense out of why repentance is a fruit of faith, because I think a “circumcised heart” in Scripture is a heart turned away from, or cut from, fleshly, disobedient ways.

    I’m really trying to understand this, especially as I look at Col. 2 and Rom. 6.

    Thank you for any thoughts or resources.

    You are a blessing to the body of Christ.


    • Dustin,

      Yes, logically — not temporally. That’s an important distinction. Who are those who are raised? Those who are united to Christ. How are they united? By faith. How do they come to faith? Because they’ve been given new life by the Spirit, through the gospel.

      • Dr. Clark,

        Thank you for the feedback. If you would, please let me know if I am understanding the distinction:

        By logical, you mean, my only confidence can be that those who trust in Christ alone apart from works are not only justified, but also are brought into union with Him, and thus are joined to His victory over sin’s power.

        By temporal, you mean all these things happen at once at conversion, like this analogy I found online: two pool balls hit each other at the same time, but one causes the movement of the other.

        So in time and space, man hears the gospel and believes and experiences a new life, all at once. But understanding the logic of the theology of salvation informs the man’s trust so that he is established in trusting Christ alone, and not his changed life, repentance or sanctification to merit justification, or to come into union with Christ.

        Thanks for your time and help. I admit, I have been confused when in theology, people talk about time versus logic when discussing the ordo salutis. I hope to gain some clarity through this discussion.


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