The Good News Of Union With Christ: A Primer On The Resurrection (Part 1)

The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is a supernatural historical event that is well attested in the Biblical data. Furthermore, the resurrection of Christ is central to the biblical story of God redeeming his people, and thus, it is an essential aspect of the gospel. But what specifically about the resurrection of Christ makes it gospel—that is, good news for Christians? We shall explore the answer in this two-part series.

Resurrection and Union with Christ

As important as the resurrection is, it is more than just an important historical event, it actually does something for us. With his resurrection from the dead, the Lord Jesus accomplished our redemption and that work of redemption is applied to us by the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit who raised him from the dead (Rom 1:4). So how does his resurrection and the benefits thereof become ours for our redemption?

All of the benefits that we receive regarding our redemption are received by way of our union with our redeemer, Jesus Christ. Union with Christ is that spiritual union which the elect have with Christ, and by it, we receive his work for our salvation. As we read in the Westminster Larger Catechism,

The union which the elect have with Christ is the work of God’s grace, whereby they are spiritually and mystically, yet really and inseparably, joined to Christ as their head and husband; which is done in their effectual calling. (WLC 66)

And when we are united to Christ, we are united to the whole Christ. As the Westminster Confession of Faith has put it, “All saints that are untied to Jesus Christ their head, by his Spirit and by faith, have fellowship with him in his graces, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory . . . ” (WCF 26.1) In other words, we are not united to a theoretical Christ, but we are united by the Spirit to the incarnate, perfectly righteous, crucified, risen, ascended, and enthroned Christ. And by virtue of this union, we receive the spiritual benefits of the covenant of grace mediated by Christ. As the Larger Catechism states,

The communion in grace, which the members of the invisible Church have with Christ, is their partaking of the virtue of his mediation, in their justification, adoption, sanctification, and whatever else in this life manifests their union with him. (WLC 69)

That means, by virtue of our union with him, Christ’s work (e.g., his life, death, and resurrection) is applied to believers by the Spirit, and results in our salvation (e.g., our regeneration, justification, sanctification). Thus, there is a direct connection between the work of Christ, our union with him, and our redemption. As Paul says,

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Rom 6:3–5)

This is how we are able to receive the benefits of not only his resurrection, but all aspects of the gospel, which is why Paul also writes,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will . . . In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses . . . In him we have received an inheritance . . . In him you also when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. (Eph 1:3–7, 11, 13)

Having understood that our union with the risen Christ is the fount from which flows the benefits of Christ’s work, we now consider the specific benefits of his resurrection received through that union.

Resurrection and Regeneration

Often, when evangelical Christians talk about their status in Christ, they say that they are “born-again Christians.” This is true, but it is also redundant. It is true because it is biblical, and it is redundant because all Christians are “born again.” Consider the words of our Lord Jesus in John 3:3, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” And the Apostle Peter, “You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God . . . and this word is the good news that was preached to you.” (1 Pet 1:23, 25) Therefore, anyone who is a Christian, is a Christian because they have been born again, born from above, or born of God. This is spiritual rebirth, also known in theology as regeneration.1]

We are regenerated when the Spirit of God works through the preaching of the gospel to give us new life in Christ. This happens in our union with Christ as we are given a new heart and are born from God. This is when the Christian life truly begins, which is why it is called regeneration, which literally means “new birth.” Regeneration is not arbitrary, as if the Spirit floats around capriciously and makes random people regenerate. Rather, God’s elect, who are chosen in Christ from before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4), are made new when the Holy Spirit applies the work of Christ to us through the preaching of the Gospel (Eph 1:13). Regeneration is intimately connected to the work of Christ, particularly his resurrection.

How is regeneration connected to the resurrection of Christ? Peter tells us,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Pet 1:3–5)

Thus, we are born again, born from above, or regenerated through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead as it is applied to us by the Holy Spirit and by virtue of our union with the risen Lord. This is good news indeed.

Resurrection and Justification

Continuing on in the logical order of our salvation, we come to the doctrine of justification, which our catechism defines thus,

Justification is an act of God’s free grace wherein he pardons all our sins, and accepts us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone. (WSC 33)

Justification is a vital doctrine for the Christian because it answers the question, “How can we be righteous before God?” The answer: God graciously gives us the righteousness of Christ. It is clear in Scripture that this happens through the incarnation, perfect life, and atoning death of Jesus, but is our justification also connected to the resurrection of Jesus? Indeed, it is. As Paul writes regarding the justification of Abraham, he says,

No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. (Rom 4:20–25)

Additionally, as the apostle argues the importance of the historical resurrection of Christ, he says this,

For if the dead are not raised, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. (1 Cor 15:16, 17)

Thus, the resurrection of Jesus Christ has the power to justify sinners before God. How does this work? Nineteenth-century Presbyterian theologian, Charles Hodge, explained,

His resurrection was necessary, first, as proof that his death had been accepted as expiation for our sins. Had he not risen, it would have been evident that he was not what he claimed to be. We would be yet dead in our sins, and therefore still under condemnation. Our ransom, in that case, instead of being publicly accepted, had been rejected.2

Just as Christ was vindicated by the Spirit in his resurrection (1 Tim 3:16), and declared to be the Son of God (Rom 1:4), his resurrection demonstrates that his life and death truly do secure the justification of sinners. Thus, because of the connection between the death and resurrection of Christ, without the resurrection, we would still be dead in our sins. But as it is, Christ lives, and thus, his death is effectual. So, we can rightly say with the Apostle Paul, that Jesus was raised for our justification. Praise God for this good news.

Notes

  1. As Paul says, “When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4–7)
  2. Hodge, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1886, reprint, 1980), 129.

©Scott McDermand II. All Rights Reserved.

Editor’s Note: Stay tuned for Part 2.


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2 comments

  1. And therefore:

    “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.”
    Col 3.1-4

  2. What is the definition of “union with Christ?” What is the meaning of “union” in this phrase and how is a “spiritual” union caused in space-time reality, please?

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