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.


  1. Muller, Richard A. Calvin and the Reformed Tradition : On the Work of Christ and the Order of Salvation. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012.
  2. Fesko, J. V. Beyond Calvin : Union with Christ and Justification in Early Modern Reformed Theology (1517-1700). Reformed Historical Theology, V. 20. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012.
  3. Union with Christ: It’s Not That Difficult
  4. Useful Myths And Reformed Identity Markers
  5. Vos on Justification and Union with Christ
  6. Vos on the Relationship of the Mystical to the Forensic
  7. Berkhof On Union With Christ
  8. Witsius: Among The Various Acts Of Faith Is Union With Christ
  9. Calvin On Faith, Union With Christ, And Justification
  10. Calvin: Bone of His Bone, Flesh of His Flesh
  11. Union with Christ In Caspar Olevianus’ Exposition of the Apostles’ Creed
  12. Putting Existential Union with Christ into Perspective
  13. Muller on Calvin’s Doctrine of Union with Christ Through Faith
  14. Muller: Utterly Unwarranted to Conclude Against the Ordo Salutis
  15. Kuyper On Mystical Union With Christ
  16. Heidelberg 65: Faith, Union With Christ, And The Means Of Grace (1)
  17. Heidelberg 65: Faith, Union With Christ, And The Means Of Grace (2)
  18. Heidelberg 65: Faith, Union With Christ, And The Means Of Grace (3)
  19. Heidelberg 76: Embracing, Communing With, And United to Christ
  20. Audio: The Gospel And Union With Christ
  21. Heidelcast 32: D. G. Hart On Union With Christ
  22. Semi-Pelagianism and Faith as the Instrument of Existential-Mystical Union with Christ
  23. Justification and Union with Christ
  24. Is It Lutheran to Say That We Are Mystically United to Christ Through Faith?
  25. Olevianus on Romans 2:13
  26. A “Decisive Break with the Ordo Salutis Thinking”: A New Perspective on Union with Christ?
  27. Has the Forensic Eclipsed Christ?
  28. Office Hours: Union with Christ

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