Theological Vision Guides

4. Union with Christ: His resurrection renews our humanity

Key Theme: Union with Christ
The universe is meaningful: what is humanity’s role within it?

Jesus is the perfect human being, and he became so in order to be the Saviour of human beings. In Christ ‘anthropology’ (the study of humanity) and ‘soteriology’ (the study of salvation) therefore come together. That means that the New Testament’s teaching about Christ corresponds with – and illuminates – God’s original purpose for humanity. The New Testament presents Christ in two aspects: first, through his humiliation, his earthly life between his incarnation and burial; second, through his exaltation, as his resurrection and ascension takes him to a position of supreme authority as Lord of the universe for the sake of his people (see diagrams 4 and 5). In both aspects of Christ’s saving work Christ is a representative human being.

First, Christ’s human life and death together exemplify a perfect obedience to God in contrast to Adam’s disobedience at the fall (Rom 5:12-21). So whatever else we might say about humanity, we live under God owing him our full obedience. Second, Christ’s resurrection is also the pattern of the new humanity in him. Where the ‘first Adam’ was given a natural body, which we as his descendants share, so Christ, the ‘last Adam’ has been given a spiritual body, which all his people will be given for the new creation (1 Cor 15:35ff). This means we are not saved away from our embodied humanity, but saved so that our humanity should be renewed. What does our renewal look like? It is represented by Christ’s rule over God’s creation, fulfilling that which Adam forfeited. Of course, though ‘everything is under his feet’ – this does not include God himself, under whom Christ always remains (1 Cor 15:27, Ps 8). To sum up: humanity is under God but over the rest of creation. But why? 

Psalm 8 uses this positional language to clarify our vocation. Its question, “what is man [adām]?” reminds us that our physical composition (from adamah, ‘the ground’) contrasts with the privilege of our position – adām is exalted to be ‘a little lower’ than the heavenly beings, but with ‘everything under his feet’. Placed between the Creator and the rest of the creation, we have a twofold orientation (see diagram 2). On behalf of the Creator, toward creation, we are ‘to rule’ as God’s royal stewards – bringing order and promoting its fruitfulness (cf. Gen 1:26-28). On behalf of the creation, toward the Creator, as uniquely linguistic creatures, our ‘mouths’ (Ps. 8:2) are to verbalise creation’s praise: ‘how majestic is your name in all the earth!’ 

At the fall we lost our original position, but now, we who have faith in Christ are united to him, and share in Christ’s positional relationship to God (diagrams 3-5). Judicially it means we already share in the vindication of his resurrection (Rom 4:25). The Reformation clarified that this justification is not determined by the quality of our own substance (as if our justification is a measure of ‘infused grace’ and its outworking) any more than the privilege of humanity’s original position was owed somehow to our composition from the ground. But nor is our justification a legal fiction: we are one with Christ our head, actually united to his spiritual body by the real bond of the Holy Spirit. Since it is a real union, its implications are more than judicial. Organically, by the Spirit, we are transformed into Christ’s likeness – who is the image of God – being restored to the obedient humanity of our original design. Why? Positionally, we share in Christ’s exaltation, which includes far more, but certainly not less, than our being rightfully human: a royal priesthood, called to do good with the rule over creation, and to bring its praises back to the Creator, whose glory is creation’s final end (diagram 6).

Before and After: the gospel restores the rightful position humanity was designed for

Diagram 2: Creation: the position & role of humanity
At creation God positioned us a little lower than the heavenly beings, but with everything else under our feet.

Diagram 6: Humanity in Christ: Our rightful position restored
Our union with Christ in his exaltation means more but not less than the permanent restoration of our rightful participation in humanity’s original calling.

How this restoration works: Christ’s mission & justification by faith alone

Diagram 3: Humanity – Position after the Fall
Through the fall we didn’t give glory and thanks to God, lost our proper rule, and return to the dust of the ground.

Diagram 4: Christ’s Mission in his First Coming
“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim 1:15)

Diagram 5: Union with Christ
Justification with Christ entails Positional Change
Through repentance and faith we are united to Christ our salvation. We share his exultation, which includes his judicial vindication: our justification.


Consultation Exercise

GAP is an ongoing project. For the sake of evangelical unity and clarity, this article has already been enriched by a broad consultation process and now that it is posted here we hope it will benefit from wider input from our readers. We would invite you to bring your constructive feedback by clicking the button below. We can’t promise to reply to every comment, but we will keep updating the text as the project progresses.

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