Resources On Union With Christ

The doctrine of union with Christ is an essential part of the Reformed doctrine of the application of salvation to the elect by the Holy Spirit (ordo salutis). In the Westminster Shorter Catechism, Presbyterian Churches say:

Q. 30. How doth the Spirit apply to us the redemption purchased by Christ?

A. 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.

This doctrine is not unique to Presbyterians. The European Reformed Churches and theologians taught essentially the same doctrine: The Holy Spirit graciously, unconditionally grants new life to the elect. To the regenerate the Spirit grants faith and “thereby” the believer is united to Christ. That word “thereby” would seem to be quite clear but, for a variety of reasons it has been eclipsed by theories that do not seem to agree with the Shorter Catechism.

Also obscured in the modern discussion has been the threefold distinction that the Reformed once made regarding union with Christ:

  1. Decretal Union
  2. Federal Union
  3. Mystical Union

When discussing this topic it is useful to bear in mind which aspect is in view. The Reformed teach that, insofar as the elect are chosen “in Christ” (Eph 1:3) before the foundation of the world, we may be said, in that sense to have been in Christ from eternity. It is also true that, insofar as Christ acted for his elect as their federal representative (Rom 5:12–21), we were, in that sense “in Christ.” What has become confused, however, since the 1970s, is the traditional Reformed teaching and confession that it is only those who are regenerate, who have been given the grace of faith, who are mystically (or, more recently, existentially) united to Christ.

Some argue that mystical union is logically prior to faith and that faith and works are twin, parallel expressions of that union. Further, others who have embraced a revisionist doctrine of union, have argued for the abolition of the traditional Reformed understanding that there is a logical order, a golden chain (Rom 8:30), of salvation: that it is 1. the elect who are given new life (regenerated) 2. the regenerate who are given faith; 3. believers who are justified; 4. The justified who mystically united to Christ, and those who united to Christ who are adopted. Remember, we are considering the logical order not the experience of the believer nor are talking about things as God knows them. To those who argue that the logical order of the application of redemption I ask: are you justified because you are sanctified or sanctified because you are justified? The latter is the Protestant answer. The the former is the Roman answer. The logical order of the application of redemption is a question of great consequence.

Below are some resources developed over the years to help readers think through the historical, exegetical, theological, and confessional issues.

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  1. Union with Christ: It’s Not That Difficult
  2. Useful Myths And Reformed Identity Markers
  3. Vos on Justification and Union with Christ
  4. Vos on the Relationship of the Mystical to the Forensic
  5. Berkhof On Union With Christ
  6. Witsius: Among The Various Acts Of Faith Is Union With Christ
  7. Calvin On Faith, Union With Christ, And Justification
  8. Calvin: Bone of His Bone, Flesh of His Flesh
  9. Union with Christ In Caspar Olevianus’ Exposition of the Apostles’ Creed
  10. Putting Existential Union with Christ into Perspective
  11. Muller on Calvin’s Doctrine of Union with Christ Through Faith
  12. Muller: Utterly Unwarranted to Conclude Against the Ordo Salutis
  13. Kuyper On Mystical Union With Christ
  14. Heidelberg 65: Faith, Union With Christ, And The Means Of Grace (1)
  15. Heidelberg 65: Faith, Union With Christ, And The Means Of Grace (2)
  16. Heidelberg 65: Faith, Union With Christ, And The Means Of Grace (3)
  17. Heidelberg 76: Embracing, Communing With, And United to Christ
  18. Audio: The Gospel And Union With Christ
  19. Heidelcast 32: D. G. Hart On Union With Christ
  20. Semi-Pelagianism and Faith as the Instrument of Existential-Mystical Union with Christ
  21. Justification and Union with Christ
  22. Is It Lutheran to Say That We Are Mystically United to Christ Through Faith?
  23. Olevianus on Romans 2:13
  24. A “Decisive Break with the Ordo Salutis Thinking”: A New Perspective on Union with Christ?
  25. Has the Forensic Eclipsed Christ?

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

    More by R. Scott Clark ›

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4 comments

  1. What are good scriptural arguments you recommend using against the views that claims non elect can have true Union with Christ but can sever that union by rejecting Christ? Thank you.

  2. Thank you. I’ve used those examples and my Lutheran friends insist those verses have nothing to do with the New Covenant. Those, they say, are Old Testament truths about Jews who were by ethnicity born into the external national covenant and not necessarily elect. To carry that over to baptism is flattening or equating circumcision and baptism, and not seeing the promises attached to baptism. They point out There were no verses in the OT that said we were buried with Christ by circumcision, or circumcision now saves you, or be circumcised and you will receive the forgivenesses of sins and gift of the Spirit,whereas baptism does. They say infants have faith and baptism is for them and saves them. The apostasy passages are real about being cut off from Christ, not just an external covenant. Because one isn’t truly united to Christ in the external covenant. I don’t know. Thanks.

    • Those verses were written to New Covenant churches to explain the administration of the New Covenant church. One important aspect of book of Hebrews is this “double mode” distinction. Chapters 6 and 10 both reflect on the reality of people participating outwardly in the covenant community and then, as ch. 10 says, trampling underfoot the blood. This is covenantal language. They had taken oaths in the covenantal community and then acted profoundly contrary to their oaths.

      The OT does not explain the sacraments in the same detail as the NT but to set that at each other that way is more Baptist than Protestant. It’s a really odd hermeneutic.

      Maybe they do that because if they acknowledged that circumcision didn’t convey forgiveness ex opere, and if they are linked, then they would have concede that Baptism doesn’t either? So, like Baptists, they have to divorce them oddly.

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