This may seem an odd post to those who do not share the assumptions of a basically Reformed view of the Bible. So let me set the stage.
In Reformed thinking (as I understand it at least) when a person is truly saved, they will never fall away. The deal done at Calvary where Jesus died applies to them forever – they cannot get out of it. However, there are many people (and Biblical examples) who give up on being a Christian, or show no signs of being saved even if they say they are Christians. In those cases, Reformed theology would say they were never saved in the first place, even though for a time they may have appeared genuine.
Doug Wilson is reviewing N.T. Wright’s latest book, and has written an Excursus on Union with Christ. In that post he uses the common illustration of marriage to think through how being united with Jesus makes us righteous. In essence, if a woman in terrible debt marries a man with incredible wealth, then at the moment they are married, the debt is owned by both of them and the wealth is owned by both of them. In the same way, when we commit ourselves to Jesus, we become one with him – our debt of sin becomes his as well as ours, and his righteousness becomes ours as well as his, as does his death on the cross. Therefore, by becoming one with Christ our debt is paid and we are completely righteous because of what he has done. But then Wilson poses this problem:
If reprobate covenant members have some kind of connection with Christ (as John 15[:1-11] and Romans 11[:11-24] require) then, unless we make some clear and easy-to-follow distinctions between this kind of union and that kind, we will find ourselves trying to answer awkward questions about reprobate covenant members who are supposedly in full possession of the imputed righteousness of Christ.
In other words, everyone who professes faith in Jesus is joined with him, even if they later deny him (see the verses referred to above). According to the marriage illustration, any person joined to Jesus has their sins forever covered, even if later on they deny Christ. But that can’t be right, because a reprobate person (e.g. someone who denies Christ) does not have his sins covered.
So the question is, how does all this work?
My understanding of marriage in the Bible is this:
Two people become one through public agreement and a public declaration that they are married. (In fact, in Jesus’ time this even applied to those betrothed – Matt 1:19). But Jesus also says marriage is defined as two becoming one flesh (Matt 19:5-6) which indicates that the consumation of a marriage in the marriage bed is what constitutes the marriage (see 1 Cor 6:16). This would mean that a couple who have been married but haven’t consumated their marriage are one legally, but are not yet one in the fullest way intended.
Apply this to becoming a Christian. The people in John 15 and Romans 11 who are united to God are not united in the fullest sense, which in terms of the gospel means they have not responded in faith (read Romans 11:20 and Hebrews 3:16-19, 4:11).
So, a person can be declared part of God’s people and united to Christ, without having consumated that union through faith. [For those of you worried, yes, that faith comes solely from God].
The New Testament illustrates this in a number of places, but probably the clearest example is found in Hebrews, where the people of Israel have joined the people of God, left Egypt, but fail to enter the promised land. This theme is carried on right through the book. Take Hebrews 10:26-31:
For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
Notice how the person who has rejected Christ is said to have “profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified“? In other words, he was part of the covenant, receiving covenant blessings, but he still fell away. He was married, and shared in many of the blessings of marriage, but had not consumated the marriage. He was a Christian, part of the people of God, but never responded with saving faith.
I think I’m becoming more and more Presbyterian…