10 Theses on Union With Christ

unionI finished Letham’s work on union with Christ last week, but I wanted to return to it one last time. Letham has a fascinating chapter entitled “Union with Christ and Transformation”  in which he examines the relationship between union with Christ and Eastern and Reformed conceptions of deification. At the end of the chapter, he lists and expounds 10 theses on union which summarize much of his findings with respect to the transformative aspect of union:

  1. The union we enjoy with Christ is more real and more fundamental that the union we have with members of our own body” (pg. 123) By this he means that our union with Christ is of such a nature that any analogy ultimately falls short of the reality. Legal, organic, familial, and structural metaphors all convey some of the truth, but none fully captures the fullness of the saving union with our savior.
  2. This is not a union of essence–we do not cease to be human and become God or get merged into God like ingredients in an ontological soup. This is is not apotheosis.” (pg. 123) This union is not to be taken pantheistically. Even the patristic dictum, “God became man so that we might become god” must be taken within the context of a strong acknowledgment of the Creator/creature distinction. If anything, the point is that we become more fully human than we ever were before.
  3. We do not lose our personal individual identities in some universal generic humanity.” (pg. 123) Just as the one God is distinctly three from all of eternity, and the humanity of the Son is not destroyed, but elevated in the incarnation, so in our union with Christ, our identity is not destroyed or collapsed into his. We are one by the power of the Holy Spirit, but we remain who we are.
  4. Union with Christ comes to expression in, and is cultivated by, the Word and the sacraments.” (pg. 124) Through the efficacious preaching of the Word, the Holy Spirit calls us to life and faith (1 Pet. 1:23; Jas. 1:18; Rom. 10:9-17).  Those brought to life through the Word are sustained through feeding, by the mysterious activity of the Spirit, on Christ’s flesh and blood (John 6:63).
  5. The body and blood of Christ are not materially, corporeally, or physically present in the Lord’s Supper.” (pg. 125) Unlike Roman Catholic, and to some extent Lutheran, accounts. We truly are given Christ, united with Christ, not physically but by the action of the Holy Spirit who mediates his presence truly.
  6. In the Lord’s Supper we are lifted up by the Holy Spirit to feed on Christ.” (pg. 126) Here Letham builds on Calvin’s spatial language with reference to the Ascension. The Holy Spirit joins us to Christ’s person in the Supper by way of faith receiving his promises. Horton has suggested elsewhere that the spatial language be replaced by eschatological language. In the Supper, the Spirit makes present Christ’s resurrection life of the New Age in the life of the believer.
  7. We are not hypostatically united to the Son.” (pg. 126) The incarnation is unique; the Son takes on humanity only once. The Spirit indwells many, united them to Christ and bringing them into the fullness of life in Christ. We are not to confuse the types of unions involved.
  8. We are united with Christ’s person.” (pg. 126) At the same time, union is not only indwelling, but is rooted in the incarnation of the Son who thereby makes himself one with us according to our humanity. This is a tricky that I’m not quite sure I’ve grasped (not that I have the others). but it’s not only that we are in fellowship with God, communing with him, but are actually united with him, the Godman. It’s a mystical, metaphysical, transformative reality that ought not be downplayed.
  9. It is effected and developed by the Holy Spirit through faith, in and through the means of grace…” (pg. 127) Union with Christ isn’t an individualistic thing, but “churchly.” It happens through the everyday stuff of the life of the church: the breaking of bread, the scriptures, the community, and prayer by which the Spirit has promised to meet us.
  10. “It will eventually lead to our being ‘like Christ’ (1 John 3:1-2).” (pg.128)  God wants to make us more like himself. For right now we are “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4), by being set free from sin and the inevitable curse of death. When Christ returns though, we will be glorified like him. United with him, how can the body not eventually be made like the head?

Of course, each of these points could be, and are in the book, expanded upon at length. For now they chart a course through the deep theological waters we enter in when considering the riches of our union with Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria

7 thoughts on “10 Theses on Union With Christ

      • I haven’t read the book, but does he really argue that these are a point in common between East and Reformed? I’m having a hard time seeing the commonality. For instance, take the quote “If anything, the point is that we become more fully human than we ever were before.” While this is true for St. Maximos the Confessor (because humanity is a logos and so exists in the Logos, and so to be human is to be in the Logos; and our natural powers are not, even in the Logos, absolved–though at the full consummation of all they will become passive–but are shown to exist in the Logos and so to be in perfect harmony with the Divine Will), at the same time, St. Maximos says without ambiguity that we will joined to the uncreated energies so fully that we will be without beginning or end; whereas the Reformed would, I believe, more than dispute that point.

        I’m similarly confused regarding thesis 9 (though this may be from my familiarity with Lutheran categories): For St. Maximos, the union is effected by the Spirit through faith and the sacraments; but, at least till the final moving rest when we are without beginning or end; the human energies are active, and actually contribute to our salvation: Thus Christ has a human will, which effects our salvation, by freely and unconstrainedly willing what humans naturally will, in conformity to the Divine Will; and we, in Him, are given similar power–just as his will was effective, so too ours is (for indeed, they are, I believe, the same will).

        Likewise regarding 10: For St. Maximos we shall be like Christ, who is God, without any extra–everything done by Christ is done humanly and divinely (so that Christ Himself is completely beyond understanding), and everything done by the Logos is done by Christ, humanly and divinely. This is not, I take it, the Reformed view, not only because of the extra, but because it also seems to imply that in Christ the saints can and do hear our prayers (since Christ can and does), and perhaps also implies that the humanity of Christ is made omnipresent–conclusions the Reformed have always vehemently denied.

      • Wow, those are excellent questions that, because I haven’t read Letham in over a year, I don’t remember the answers to! I’ll see if I can go back and dig and come back to this. Otherwise, the book really is worth your time.


      • I don’t know where this will show up on the page, but thanks for the answer, and I’ll try to find time for Letham’s book.

  1. I am also perplexed with the point 8. If this union with Christ is not the same thing as the indwelling presence of the Spirit in the believer and communion with the Spirit, then what is it? Does it have experiential dimension to it?

  2. Pingback: Meditation and Communion with God: Contemplating Scripture in an Age of Distraction (Book Review) | Reformedish

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