Calvin, Union with Christ, and Justification

Reading this paper all too hurriedly, I’ll nevertheless give some off the cuff responses.

  1. Why use the term “new perspective,” and waste ink saying what you don’t mean by that phrase, when you could just say “recent view”?
  2. I’d like to see documentation that there has ever been any other view of Calvin.  It seems to me that I’ve read Charles Hodge and others distance themselves from Calvin in areas related to this issue.  Is there really a recent view on Calvin that is different or is the change rather that people now want to follow his lead rather than go elsewhere.
  3. It seems to me that the author uses evidence of Calvin’s exposition of the forensic nature of justification as if that goes against the “new perspective on Calvin.”  Yes, justification is forensic and it involves all our sins being forgiven and us being counted righteous apart from the worth of our behavior.  But that doesn’t change the way that book 3 opens up.

Just to elaborate on point three:

John Calvin argued that union with Christ was the key to both justification and sanctification and all other benefits that believers received. He begins his book on the application of the redemption purchased by Christ in this way:

We must now see in what way we become possessed of the blessings which God has bestowed on his only-begotten Son, not for private use, but to enrich the poor and needy. And the first thing to be attended to is, that so long as we are without Christ and separated from him, nothing which he suffered and did for the salvation of the human race is of the least benefit to us. To communicate to us the blessings which he received from the Father, he must become ours and dwell in us. Accordingly, he is called our Head, and the first-born among many brethren, while, on the other hand, we are said to be ingrafted into him and clothed with him, all which he possesses being, as I have said, nothing to us until we become one with him (3.1.1).

As Calvin’s opening statement on how we receive Christ’s benefits this would be enough to show that Calvin taught that union with Christ was the key to sharing in Christ’s righteous status before the Father. However, Calvin does not simply leave his Institutes with this general introductory statement, but rather reiterates the importance of union with Christ. In chapter 11 of Book 3, Calvin begins his discussion of justification by saying:

I trust I have now sufficiently shown how man’s only resource for escaping from the curse of the law, and recovering salvation, lies in faith; and also what the nature of faith is, what the benefits which it confers, and the fruits which it produces. The whole may be thus summed up: Christ given to us by the kindness of God is apprehended and possessed by faith, by means of which we obtain in particular a twofold benefit; first, being reconciled by the righteousness of Christ, God becomes, instead of a judge, an indulgent Father; and, secondly, being sanctified by his Spirit, we aspire to integrity and purity of life.

Here it is laid out for us. Faith is given to us by God so that we may be united to [“apprehend”] Christ and thus be both justified and sanctified.

Now none of this means that Calvin would not defend the justification we have united to Christ as perfect and complete so that we are never lacking in confidence that we are right with God.  None of this means he would be anything less than vociferous about basing out standing with God as dependent on our level of sanctification.  It seemed to me that the only way the writer’s counter-evidence could work is if we decided that it did mean all that.

All who are united to Christ share his perfect status.  As Calvin says (somewhere!) God could no more condemn us than he could condemn his own Son.

I stress again that this was a quick reading and I made it yesterday.  So read the article and tell me if you think I’ve missed the point.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *