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Union with Christ (2)

Union with Christ confers upon us the dual benefits of justification and sanctification. That is, we are both declared righteous (justified), and made righteous.

img   The double benefit of justification and sanctification provides an immediate answer to the Roman Catholic objection that Calvin and the other Reformers wrongly divided these doctrines, or removed good works from their proper place in the Christian life. On the contrary, Calvin’s doctrine of union with Christ unifies his theology of salvation. Viewing both justification and sanctification from the perspective of union with Christ shows how intimately these saving benefits are related.
   Calvin was convinced that the several benefits of salvation, though distinct, could never be divided. To receive Christ by faith is to receive the whole Christ, not just part of Him. Thus, in coming to Christ we receive both justification and sanctification. To separate these benefits, Calvin said, would virtually tear Christ in two. But of course “Christ cannot be torn into parts, so these two which we perceive in him together and conjointly are inseparable—namely, righteousness and sanctification.” [Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.11.6.]
   A key text for Calvin’s doctrine of salvation was 1 Corinthians 1:30, where Christ is described as “our righteousness and sanctification.” “If you would properly understand how inseparable faith and works are,” Calvin wrote, “look to Christ, who, as the Apostle teaches, has been given to us for justification and for sanctification.” [John Calvin, Responsio, in Ioannis Calvini opera selecta, ed. P. Barth, W. Niesel, and Dora Scheuner (Munich: Chr. Kaiser, 1926–1952), 1:470.]
   First Corinthians 1:30 clearly distinguishes the two benefits of union with Christ, so that we comprehend God’s full work of salvation in declaring us and making us righteous. Yet justification and sanctification are also joined together as inseparable benefits we receive simultaneously in Christ:
imgAlthough we may distinguish them, Christ contains both of them inseparably in himself. Do you wish, then, to attain righteousness in Christ? You must first possess Christ; but you cannot possess him without being made partaker in his sanctification, because he cannot be divided into pieces (1 Cor. 1:13). Since, therefore, it is solely by expending himself that the Lord gives us these benefits to enjoy, he bestows both of them at the same time, the one never without the other. [Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion. 3.16.1.]

—Philip Graham Ryken, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 197–198.

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Posted  in: Church History · John Calvin · John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology · Papism · Philip Ryken
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