Heidelberg 45: Three Benefits of Christ’s Resurrection (3)

resurrectionIn part 2 we looked at how Christ overcame death by his resurrection. Now we must add a layer to the story. Imagine this: you get a letter announcing that a relative has died and you’ve to receive a million dollars. That’s it. There’s no return address and no explanation of that million dollars gets to you. To intensify the problem, imagine that you’re dying and the one life-saving medical treatment that will save your life costs exactly one million dollars. Suddenly, coming into contact with, receiving that million dollars takes on a new urgency. So it is with salvation. It is one thing to consider the accomplishment of it. Our justification (free acceptance with God) and salvation (deliverance from sin and condemnation) have been accomplished for us but how to we benefit from it. Calvin addressed this problem very well:

We must now examine this question. How do we receive those benefits which the Father bestowed on his only-begotten Son—not for Christ’s own private use, but that he might enrich poor and needy men? First, we must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated 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 (Institutes 3.1.1)

It is the Spirit who unites us to Christ.

The instrument of that Spirit-worked union with Christ is faith. The Spirit works through the Word to give us new life (Eph 2), raising us from death to life by his sovereign power. Those to whom he gives new life, he gives faith and through that faith we receive Christ and his benefits. The whole complex is God’s gift. Paul says,

But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved (Rom 10:8–10; ESV).

This is why Our catechism speaks of Christ’s benefits, i.e., those good things that Christ has earned for us and freely gives to us. Theologians sometimes distinguish between the objective accomplishment of redemption for us and the subjective, the Spirit’s application of redemption to us. That’s true but it’s also true, however, that it is an objective reality that we are made partakers of Christ’s righteousness. God the Spirit does apply Christ’s work to us and that objective reality has the most wonderful subjective benefits.

45. What benefit do we receive from the resurrection of Christ?

First, by His resurrection He has overcome death, that He might make us partakers of the righteousness which He has obtained for us by His death. Secondly, by His power we are also now raised up to a new life. Thirdly, the resurrection of Christ is to us a sure pledge of our blessed resurrection.

The second benefit we receive from all that Jesus did for us is our new life. Christ Jesus confronted Nicodemus with the stark reality of our desperate need for new life:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3

Embedded in that phrase “born again” (γεννηθῇ ἄνωθεν) is the idea that we must also be born “from above.” The word “again” may also be translated “from above.” The phrase is inherently ambiguous by intent. We must be born again but it only happens from above. Only the Spirit brings new life, as Jesus says in his discourse with Nicodemus. The same power by which God raised Jesus’ body from the dead is operating in bringing dead sinners to new life: “For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will” (John 5:21; ESV). Notice how Jesus moves from bodily resurrection to “new life.” Paul says ” just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4; ESV).  By virtue of our new life and our union with Christ we are “a new creation” (2 Cor 5:17). We were “dead in sins and trespasses” (Eph 2:1)  and now, by God’s marvelous favor earned for us by Christ and freely bestowed on us, we have been “made alive together with Christ” (Eph 2:5). Paul repeatedly associates our new life (regeneration) with Christ’s resurrection. That’s how he is able to say, “if then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col 3:1). By God’s free, sovereign favor (grace), we have been given new life, we have been raised. We are united to Christ through faith and we are seated with Christ. Those are objective facts but they make all the subjective difference in the world.

Next time: the message of the empty tomb.

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