Aggressive secularism continues to march powerfully across the intellectual and moral landscape of Western civilization. Some wonder if the church can continue in this secular age. Perhaps one might wonder if all the investments made for the church are worth the sacrifice. There have also been theologians who have downplayed the ontological union of Christ and his church. For example, Kung argued that the union of Christ and the church “exists not ontologically and statically, but historically and dynamically.” There are some dispensational premillennialists who at least imply that the church was an interim measure brought about by God because of the Jewish rejection of Christ as the Messiah. Contemporary Christians treat the church as unimportant or a relic from the past. The current neglect of the church by professed Christians and the appeal to keep Jesus without his church demonstrate a false view of the relation of the church to Christ. In order to fortify confidence in the church, God’s eternal plan, purpose, and promise for the church’s future must be examined and appreciated.
The union of Christ and his church should be at the center of the Christian’s theological confidence. The mystical union was at the heart of Calvin’s theology. Calvin described the union of Christ with his church as “that indwelling of Christ in our hearts” and said that “Christ, having been made ours, makes us sharers with him in the gifts which he has been endowed.” Since the Church and Christ enjoy this union, Calvin continued, “We do not, therefore, contemplate him outside ourselves from afar in order that his righteousness may be imputed to us but because we are ingrafted into his body.” He summarized the importance of this union when he wrote, “there is no sanctification apart from communion with Christ.”The strength of the union was intensified by the Trinitarian character of the union. Calvin’s Trinitarian view of the union was summarized by Mock: “The Holy Spirit engrafts the believer into Christ and thus into union with the Father, making effective what has been accomplished by the Mediator.”
The union between Christ and his church could not be stronger. “Just as every stone in a literal building is cut precisely to fit snugly, strongly, and beautifully with every other part and to rest perfectly on the foundation, so also does the unity and stability of the church depend on Christ, her foundation.” The church is “in Christ.” Christ dwells in his church through the Spirit. Staupitz described the union of Christ and his church as a marriage where Christ and the church vowed themselves to one another saying: “I accept you as mine, I accept you as my concern, I accept you to myself.” This union of Christ and church demands that all mankind value the church and find comfort in the origin and perpetuity of the church because it rests “in Christ.”
Confidence in the church is built upon the eternal purpose of God for the church and the relation of the church to the eternal person of Christ. The church was manifested in space and time after Jesus defeated sin and death and was seated at the right hand of the Father because God had eternally willed it to be a gift to his Son as his bride for the glory of the Triune God. Furthermore, the church is the body of Christ. Since the church is the body of Christ, it will continue to exist with the Head.
To imply that the church, the body, could be ripped from the Head, Christ, would be to blaspheme Christ himself. The only way the church could be torn from Christ is if Christ were unable or insufficient to keep his body. Therefore, this spiritual and eternal union of the church to Christ guarantees the origin and perpetuity of the church. The Christian can have confidence in the church because he can be confident in God. This study will demonstrate the origin and perpetuity of the church rest upon the eternal purpose of God and the church’s spiritual union with Christ. Since the church was conceived in eternity by the immutable God as a gift for the eternal Son, it will not, rather, it cannot fail. Christians should, therefore, be confident as they entrust their lives and families to the church.
THE SPHERE OF “IN CHRIST”
The origin and perpetuity of the church are further guaranteed by the church’s union to Christ. This union is an “incorporative union.” Demarest wrote, “The union of Christ and his Bride, the church, transcends complete human understanding. This side of eternity, where profound spiritual mysteries are anything but clear, we do not fully comprehend how Christ is united to his believing people.” The importance of the spiritual union of Christ cannot be overestimated. J. V. Fesko described the importance of the union as “the all-encompassing doctrinal rubric that embraces all of the elements of redemption.” This spiritual union is described by the New Testament phrase “in Christ.” The phrase “in Christ” is found around 91 times in the New Testament (this number is expanded to around 170 times if the corresponding “in him” is included).
The phrase “in Christ” (ἐν Χριστῷ) can refer to the way in which God has accomplished his purpose. This instrumental force is typical of the Greek dative “ἐν.” The “in Christ” phrase is, therefore, often used to describe the agency of Christ in the work of God. For example, the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to describe God’s reconciliation with mankind as “in Christ” in 2 Corinthians 5:19. This ἐν Χριστῷ, therefore, refers to Christ as the “instrument” used to accomplish God’s purpose. This instrumental usage is not the focus of this study. This study focuses on the locative sense of “in Christ.”
The locative usage of ἐν Χριστῷ describes that which is “located” in Christ. This locative sense describes those who are in the sphere of (body of) Christ. Christians are individually members of the one body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27). The invisible church is the full number of every Christian who has ever been or will ever be ἐν Χριστῷ. Daniel Wallace, in his Greek grammar, wrote that Christians are “said to be in Christ, because of their organic connection to him,” and because of this connection “they now associate with him in many and profound ways.” This usage is the focus of this study. This locative sense is important for the study of the church because it is this locative sense which describes the spiritual union of Christ with his church which is the foundation of the origin and perpetuity of the church.
This locative usage of “ἐν Χριστῷ” can be a difficult theme to grasp, but it is important to a Biblical understanding of the church. In what was described as an almost impromptu sermon, Jonathan Edwards preached this doctrine to his Native American audience saying that every Christian has “one head to which they are vitally united and from whom they all receive life and spirit, as the members of the natural body do from the head. Hence they must necessarily be most strictly united one to another, as the different members of one body united to Christ.” The invisible church is the full number of every Christian who has ever been or will ever be ἐν Χριστῷ.” Harris noted that to be “The invisible church is the full number of every Christian who has ever been or will ever be “ἐν Χριστῷ” is to enjoy “personal, intimate fellowship with” or be “joined closely to the exalted Christ” and “part of the [spiritual] body of Christ.”
The “in Christ” nature of the believer is used to stress the relationship that each member, and therefore the church, shares with Christ. This relationship is often thought of as a covenantal relationship. Macaskill argued that “in Christ” should be thought and perhaps even translated as “covenant.” He wrote, “Covenant, I think, gives us a thicker word for this than the language of sphere (or domain) that some use for the locative “in Christ.” The relationship is certainly covenantal, but the concept of covenant does not seem to grasp the grandeur of the mystical union. The Bible teaches more than the believer’s covenant agreement with God through Christ. The doctrine is that the believer is unified with Christ so intimately that it is appropriate to say the believer, and thus the church, is “in Christ.” This is more than just a covenant agreement which could be made between adversaries. This spiritual or mystical union represents Christ’s incorporation of the church into his body.
A “CHRONOLOGICAL” ASSESSMENT OF THE CHURCH IN CHRIST
The spiritual union of Christ and his church was determined in eternity, but it became a reality in space-time. The Savoy Declaration, heavily influenced by Joh Owen, described this eternal union manifested in space-time this way: “he did from all eternity give a people to be his seed, and to be by him in time redeemed, called, justified, sanctified, and glorified.” Just as light came to exist because God “God said, ‘Let there be light,” the church came to be because God willed it to exist. This “speech act” of creation was preceded by a divine thought or idea, but the divine idea was brought into existence by the word of God.
The “idea” or “form” of the church had to be eternal because God is immutable. When the church came to be in space and time, it was manifested because God had eternally willed it to be manifested at that time. Since God has purposed the church to be present with Christ until the end of the age, the church must exist throughout the history of space and time. The existence of the church is dependent upon the will and character of God. Therefore, it will continue to be since he has, in eternity, willed it to continue. Since Christ will present the church to the Father after the end of all things, the presence of the church after the end of the present age is guaranteed. The presence of the church with God in the new heavens and new earth is also guaranteed by the Father’s gift of the church to Christ as his eternal bride.
This eternal relationship is described in 2 Timothy 1:9 and Titus 1:2 as that which God “promised before the ages began.” This phrase is translated “before the ages began” by the ESV and “before time began” by the CSB. Knight stated that this phrase “is best understood here as “from all eternity” (NASB, NEB) or “before the beginning of time” (NIV, TEV). This is in accord with Paul’s perspective, which speaks of God’s decision before time and the world began (1 Cor. 2:7: πρὸ τῶν αἰωνίων; Eph. 1:4: πρὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου).”
This promise made in eternity was “manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior” (Titus 1:3). The eternal reality of God’s promises for the church was manifested in the physical world at the time of God’s choosing. These eternal realities are therefore manifested in physical realities. The Christian, and therefore the church, lives in the present but also simultaneously enjoys the promise of God set in eternity past and guaranteed in eternity future. This present suffering and eternal glory are demonstrated in 2 Timothy 2:9-10 when Paul said taught that God “saved us and called us to a holy calling” and that these actions began in eternity. The Bible says that God gave us these blessings “in Christ Jesus before the ages began.” Those blessings which are “eternally real” have been “manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,”
The fact that God has given these blessings “in Christ Jesus” signifies that it is brought to us in Christ’s person and work. The fact that these blessings have been given in eternity or “before the ages began” demonstrate the unchangeable nature of these blessings. The act of giving, an aorist active participle, from God occurred “πρὸ χρόνων αἰωνίων.” This construction of an aorist active participle “gave” with the “before times eternal” points to the eternal promises of God which are experienced the temporal space-time physical existence of the church. Since these actions are “eternal” they cannot be changed. The perpetuity of the church is therefore guaranteed.
The relationship of eternal realities and temporal realities is also seen in 1 Peter 5:10 where Peter wrote, “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” Note that there are two realities present: the temporal struggle and the eternal glory in Christ. Suffering is real and not to be diminished, but there is a greater reality for the Christian that is unchanging and perfect. This greater reality refers to the eternal “in Christ”
In order to better grasp the eternal reality of the church which is, at present, experienced in physical realities, it will be helpful to see these realities in a “chronological” sequence. This “chronology” begins with the eternal purpose of God and move to the Christian’s union with Christ experienced in space-time which brings about the new creation and forgiveness in Christ which is the foundation of the church.
The Church “In Christ” From Eternity
God’s grace is poured out upon his people because they are in the Son whom he loves. He has “blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3). The Christians are blessed because God the Father is glorifying God the Son (John 17:5) and they have been incorporated into the body of Christ. These blessings which come from being in Christ reveal the importance of the Christians incorporation into the body of Christ.
The Christian was chosen “in Christ before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). Ephesians 1:3-14 emphasizes the inclusion of God’s people who were once excluded by sin and were not God’s people. The “in Christ” of Ephesians 1:4 presents the reader with the theme of inclusion of people into God’s family because they are “in Christ.” The nature of how God “chose us in him” has been the source of many theological deliberations. The word “chose” (ἐξελέξατο) is defined as “to make a choice in accordance with significant preference.”
God’s eternal choice of his church was made so that his church would be glorified so that they could then glorify him. The Greek Text emphasized God’ act in choosing, but the choice was made for God’s own purposes. Lenski noted “The verb is in the emphatic position and must have the resultant strong emphasis. It was a divine election and no less that took place in eternity. The fact that it also had a great object or purpose in view, which is here duly stated, is what we expect.” God chose the church that is “in him before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). The church is based in the eternal. It is not based in the transient. This eternal choice was made by God who also decreed in eternity that the church “would be holy and blameless before him in love.” These gifts of God are applied when individuals are added to the body of Christ. The chief reason the church has been blessed with holiness and blamelessness in time on earth is so that God’s eternal glory will be magnified. Therefore, Paul said these gifts are “before him.”
The emphasis on the church does not exclude the Old Testament people of God from the same benefit. The history of redemption extends from Eden to the New heavens and new earth. The people of God in the Old Testament are necessary to the existence of the church since the church is the fulfillment of God’s promises extended to them. God’s promise to provide a house for David forever (Ps. 89:28-29), for example, demonstrates the constant thread of God’s purpose running through the entire Bible. Fergusson noted this interdependence of the Old Testament saints with the New Testament saints in the promise made to Abraham which still stands (Rom. 4:13-17). “The promise to Abraham is not abrogated by the law given to Moses (Gal. 3:17). The promises made to Abraham and his descendants apply to Christ, who is the true offspring (seed) of Abraham (Gal. 3:16).”
Romans 8:28-30 described the ordo salutis with a beginning point in eternity. This beginning in eternity is necessary because the church is in the eternal mind of God. Verses 29-30 describe how God “foreknew” and “predestined.” These are acts made in eternity and therefore are eternal. The comfort of verse 28 is based upon the “his purpose” of God which must be eternal since God is immutable. Christians are comforted by God’s providence in their own lives but also in the perpetuity of the church since it too relies on the eternal purpose of God.
The eternal nature of the church’s origin is related to eternal purpose in verse 29. Paul wrote, “for those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” The church is described as foreknown (προέγνω). The word is defined as “to know beforehand or in advance” and thus “to choose beforehand.” Since God has “known beforehand” the destiny of his people, this destiny is related to God’s unchangeable person. Since this life is so rooted in God’s unchangeable person, God’s purpose and plan of the church cannot be altered. The church here is related to God’s eternal and immutable purpose, therefore the “foreknowledge” must be eternal as well. There has never nor will there ever be a time when God does not know those who choose to be the redeemed in Christ. The origin of the church must therefore be found first in the eternal mind of God. The perpetuity of the church must also be guaranteed since it is tied to the eternal and immutable mind of God
Romans 8:30 describes those events which happen in time. Paul listed these events as they occurred in time: “he also called, and these whom called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” These events which occur in time are based upon the plans of God made in eternity. Therefore, to speak of the church is to speak of the eternal purpose of God manifested in time and space. The eternal roots are manifested in the blessings which the church enjoys.
Since the church is in Christ, the church must fulfill that purpose which was given “in Christ before the world began” (2 Timothy 1:9). The eternal relation of the church and God’s eternal purpose fulfilled in Christ is clearly presented in this Scripture which describes the Christians’ “salvation” and “calling” which are manifested in space-time but began “in Christ Jesus before the ages began.” Knight noted, “That he gave it “in Christ Jesus” signifies that it is brought to us in Christ’s person and work.” The blessings which the church enjoys are from “before the world began” and in the person of Christ.
The RSV translated “πρὸ χρόνων αἰωνίων” as “ages ago,” but this translation is an anomaly and likely does not grasp the full force of the Greek. The preposition “πρὸ” almost always means “before” when attached to time references. The usual translation fits perfectly with the Pauline theology of God’s decisions before time began. These are what Paul described as the “secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory” (1 Corinthians 2:7). These acts were decreed before time and declared in time.
Romans 6:3-10—The Church “In Christ” Union and Baptism
1 Corinthians 12:13 says, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” Likewise, Galatians 3:27 teaches that believers are “baptized into Christ” and therefore have “put on Christ.” Paul expounded upon the glory of this “in Christ” union in Romans 6:3-10. Paul’s entire argument in this text is based upon the spiritual union of Christians in Christ. This union is presented in the declarations that the Christian has been “baptized into Christ” (6:3; Colossians 2:12). The Christian was “baptized into his death” (6:3). The Christian was “buried with him” (6:4; cf. Galatians 3:26-27). Twice the Christian is described as “with him” in 6:4. Christians are twice described as “united with him” in 6:5 (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:13). Thus the Christian is “in Christ.”
The phrase “with Christ” in Romans 6:5 is not far from “in Christ.” The Greek word translated “with him” by the ESV is “σύμφυτοι.” BDAG defines this word as “pertaining to being associated in a related experience.” Louw and Nida say the word has to do with that which is “pertaining to being closely associated in a similar experience.” They offer the following glosses, “to be like, to be one with.” They translated Romans 6:5 “εἰ γὰρ σύμφυτοι γεγόναμεν τῷ ὁμοιώματι τοῦ θανάτου αὐτοῦ,” as ‘for if we are one with him in dying as he died.”
Goppelt rightly noted that this use of “with Christ” in Paul’s argument here “referred to a spiritual participation in his dying and rising. This dying-with toward living-with came about through baptism as a result of Jesus’ dying and rising.” Julie Canlis described this “participation” as “essential for understanding Paul and Christian theology as a whole.” The “old self” was “crucified with him” (6:6). Therefore “we have died with Christ” (6:8) so that the Christian is raised with Christ and lives with Christ (Romans 6:5, 8). This union is the basis of salvation. Spurgeon said, “Sin can curse an unbeliever, but it has no power so much as to mutter half a curse against a man in Christ.” This union of Christ and his church began in eternity and continues so that the perpetuity of the church is guaranteed.
Since Christians are in Christ: they are dead to sin; they are alive to God; they are united with Christ in his death; they will be united with Christ in his resurrection; and they are free from sin. Paul’s argument is founded upon union with Christ. Therefore, this text did not simply put forth Christ as an example for us to follow. Instead, Paul said that these spiritual realities are true because of the spiritual union with Christ. This union of Christ and his church finds its origin in the eternal mind of God and the person of Christ.
The Church Regenerate “In Christ”
Members of the church are redeemed and forgiven because they are “in Christ.” Ephesians 1:7 builds upon God’s choice in 1:4 and predestination in verse 5 to show that it is “in Christ” or “in him” that “we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (1:7). All these blessings are certainly through Christ, but in this context, it seems that “in him” refers to the locative rather than instrumental sense. The image here goes back to the practice of sprinkling with blood to purify the people and furniture in the Levitical system. The contact with the blood is necessary for purification in the Levitical system. Therefore, contact with the blood is the implication here in Ephesians 1:7. To view “in him” as instrumental or “through him” does not seem to fully portray the great image from the Levitical system. The Christian, and therefore the church, is pictured as being purified by being in contact with Christ. This interpretation fits with the “in Christ” and “in him” theme which is so prominent in the New Testament.
The saved person is “in Christ Jesus” and is therefore “a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). The Christian’s “new creation” status is the result of being “in Christ.” This “in Christ” phrase is locative, rather than instrumental so that the reader is to understand that the new creation is new because it is “located in” Christ. Lenski wrote, “The picture is that of a sphere or a circle. Christ fills that circle as Christ, as our Savior, our Lord, etc., with all his love for us (v. 14), with his life (4:10), the fount of life for us. We, too, are placed into this sphere…. Thus, we are in living, spiritual connection with Christ.” This union with the person of Christ is part of God’s eternal purpose. The confidence Christians enjoy with God’s eternal purpose is only strengthened by the added link to the eternal person of Christ.
Murray J. Harris wrote, “The phrase ἐν Χριστῷ is so ubiquitous in Paul’s writings (over 160 uses) and the person of Christ so central that, not surprisingly, some scholars regard this as the central or unifying motif in Pauline theology.” This phrase regards both the individual and the church collective as being “in Christ.” The oldness of sin highlighted by the old Law is removed for those who are new “in Christ.” This Christian experience is rooted both in the eternal mind or purpose of God and in the person of Jesus Christ. Both these links are presented by Paul in verse 18 when he wrote, “all this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” These events in time and space are the manifestations of the eternal purpose of God worked out in the person of Christ.
Since the church is in Christ, they are free from condemnation. Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” In this section of Romans, Paul utilized the union of Christians with Christ as evidence for the Christian’s confidence in his or her salvation. Romans 7 described the struggle that even saintly people, such as Paul, continue to have with sin. We readily identify with Paul who wrote, “I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:23-24).
That deliverance is possible, and it is a reality because Paul, and all other Christians, have been incorporated into the body of Christ. The love of God applied to his church is not dependent upon the frail attempts at righteousness offered in love by the church. Instead, the origin and success of the church are guaranteed by the eternal love of God. As Jonathan Edwards preached, “The ground of the love is eternal as the love itself. He don’t love them from eternity, because he foresees that they will believe, and repent, and the like. The ground of his eternal love is not to be sought for in the saints, but in God’s own heart; that God loves the saints is from himself, and not from them.”
The Church “In Christ” in Glory
The connection of the church and Christ does not end in this life. The spiritual union continues into the next life. Paul described the continuation of this spiritual union as “the dead who are in Christ” (1 Thess. 4:16) and “those who have died in Christ” (1 Cor. 15:18). This union which continues with Christ after the Christian’s death is a consequence of the Christian’s union with the person of Christ. Fergusson wrote, “This state of being with Christ is the result of sharing in his experience: dying with him, rising with him, and being glorified with him (Rom. 6:3-4; 8:17).”  This union is beautifully pictured in baptism as it looks to the person of Christ and the ultimate resurrection from the dead because of the believers union with Christ.
THE CHURCH AND THE PERSON OF CHRIST
The church is intimately joined to the person of Christ. The relationship of the church to Christ is so close that what happens to the church is said to happen to Christ (Matt. 25:35-45). If one persecutes the church, he is persecuting Christ (Acts 9:4-5). This union of the church with Christ is therefore said to be participatory. “The believer will not be merely raised like Christ, but is crucified and raised with and in Christ.” Fergusson noted that “Even as Old Testament passages about the people are applied in the New Testament to Christ (pp. 46, 82), so a passage about the Davidic king (the Messiah) is extended to the church of the Messiah (Acts 4:25-29).”
The relationship between Christ and his church is demonstrated by how he “intimately identifies himself with it (Acts 9:4).” The church is guaranteed because it is the body of Christ. Since the church is so joined to the head, it will never be torn away or destroyed. The existence of the church rests upon the essence of Christ. Christ is the “head of the body, the church” (Col. 1:18). The church is “the body of Christ” (Eph. 1:23) and “the bride of Christ” (Eph. 5:22-27; Rev. 19:7; 21:2). Christ promised to be present with the church at the end of the age (Matt. 28:20). The church will continue as long as death continues (1 Cor. 15:25-26). The church is the kingdom without end (Dan. 2:44; Lk. 1:33). The church has an eternal covenant with the eternal God (Is. 59:21; 61:8; Jer. 31:31).
The eternal covenant of the church with God flows from the pactum salutis. Bavinck described how the ordo salutis, and thus the union of Christ with the church, flows from the pactum salutis. Bavinck then observed that the “very first benefit of grace already presupposes comm union with the person of Christ, then the imputation and granting of Christ to the church precedes everything else.” If this is the case, and it is, then it is necessarily true that the “bond was already forged between the mediator and those who were given him by the Father in eternity.” The mystical union is the result of the ordo salutis which flows from the pactum salutis. The mystical union of Christ to his church is a consequence of the union of the Father and the Son.
Therefore, this union between Christ and the church was an act of love. Edwards wrote “God hath an infinite love to his [Son and] delights to put honor upon him…. And the principal means by which God glorifies his Son in the world that is created is by providing him a spouse, to be presented [to] him in perfect union, in perfect purity, beauty, and glory.” Therefore the church is guaranteed by the eternal plan of God, the work of Christ, and the union of the church with the eternal person of Christ.
The connection to the body of Christ should not be ignored by Christians today. This connection to the body is present in the observance of the Lord’s Supper. Many theologians have stressed the importance of being cleansed by the blood and therefore being able to eat the body and drink the blood of the Lord. There should also be an emphasis on the Christian’s union with the body of Christ. Neither the cleansing nor the incorporation into the body should be emphasized over the other. The union should be celebrated during the Supper. Each celebration of the Lord’s Supper should point believers to the origin and perpetuity of the church as well as the work of Christ.
The New Testament presents the Lord’s Supper as a time to remember and thus have faith in the present. The Supper is a promise sealed in blood which nourishes the new community of Christ. The Lord’s Supper nourishes the body as it remembers, but it also edifies the community as they encounter the sacrificed Christ. The importance of Christ’s sacrificed body should be appreciated by Christ’s spiritual body. The real body was sacrificed for the spiritual body. The spiritual body (the church) has likewise been incorporated together into the body of Christ.
The Supper then is the perfect time for the Christian to be strengthened by the spiritual union with Christ. The onslaught of secularism cannot disturb the faith of one joined to Christ and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Theologies which would separate God from man become little more than intellectual peculiarities in light of the superior glory of the mystical union. Death itself is welcomed by those eternally united to the unchangeable Christ.
God’s church finds her origin and perpetuity in the eternal mind of God and the person of Christ. As Jonathan Edwards said, “God’s love to his saints has had being from all eternity. God often in his Word is setting [forth] how great his love is to his saints, how dear they are to him. But this love of his to them, he had before ever they had any being.” This work of God made “in eternity past” will be enjoyed by the church “in eternity future.” Edwards said, “Thus God has exercised love to his saints in the things that he has done from the beginning of the world.”
The eternal spiritual union of the church to her Christ should inspire both confidence and praise. The union of the Christian to Christ results in participation with Christ. This union and participation is described by Canlis as “our greatest weapon against weightlessness” to “which the academy is prone” and “the weightlessness that our virtual society promises.” The origin and perpetuity of the church yet rest upon the eternal purpose of God and the eternal person of Christ. The Christians can be confident in God’s love for the church, his purposes for the church, and his promise to bring the church to himself because the church is “in Christ.” As Jesus said, “abide in me, and I in you” (Jn. 15:4).
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Francis Turretin, Institutes of Eclenctic Theology, ed. James T. Dennison Jr., trans. George Musgrave Giger, vol. 3. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1992.
Goppelt, Leonhard. Theology of the New Testament: The Variety and Unity of the Apostolic Witness to Christ, ed. Jürgen Roloff, trans. John E. Alsup, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982
Harris, Murray J. Prepositions and Theology in the Greek New Testament. (Grand Rapdis: Zondervan, 2012.
–, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI; Milton Keynes, UK: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.; Paternoster Press, 2005.
Kevin, E. F. Baker’s Dictionary of Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1960.
Knight, George W. The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1992.
Kung, Hans. The Church. Translated by Ray and Rosaleen Ockenden. New York: Burns and Oats, 1967: 238.
Lenski, R. C. H. The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Galatians, to the Ephesians and to the Philippians. Columbus, O.: Lutheran Book Concern, 1937.
Liefeld, Walter L. Ephesians, vol. 10, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997.
Lightfoot, Joseph Barber, and J. R. Harmer, The Apostolic Fathers (London: Macmillan and Co., 1891.
Macaskil, Grant “Union(s) with Christ: Colossians 1:15-20” Ex Auditu 33.2017: 92-107.
\Mock, J. “Union With Christ and the Lord’s Supper in Calvin” Reformed Theological Review.75:2 (August 2016): 109
Spurgeon, Charles H. “Death, and Life in Christ,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 9. London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1863.
Johann von Staupitz, “Eternal Predestination and Its Execution in Time,” in Forerunners of the Reformation: The Shape of Late Medieval Thought, ed. Heiko A. Oberman, trans. Paul L. Nyhus, Library of Ecclesiastical History. Cambridge: James Clark, 1967.
Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996.
 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, vol. 1, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 771.
 Johann von Staupitz, “Eternal Predestination and Its Execution in Time,” in Forerunners of the Reformation: The Shape of Late Medieval Thought, ed. Heiko A. Oberman, trans. Paul L. Nyhus, Library of Ecclesiastical History (Cambridge: James Clark, 1967), 187.
 The church is an integral part of God’s eternal purpose. This reality is guaranteed by the eternal covenant which the church enjoys. Christ promised that he will be present with the church to the end of the age (Matt. 28:20). The church will continue as long as death continues (1 Corinthians 15:25-26). The church is the kingdom without end (Daniel 2:44; Luke 1:33). These promises from God demonstrate the perpetuity of the church.
 This large number of passages is too large for a lengthy exegesis here. However, a few sample passages will suffice to demonstrate the genuine presence of Christians in Christ and the ramifications of this great union.
 Jonathan Edwards, “Sacramental Union in Christ,” in Sermons and Discourses, 1743–1758, ed. Wilson H. Kimnach and Harry S. Stout, vol. 25, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2006), 586.
 A Declaration of the Faith and Order Owned and Practiced in England: Agreed upon and Consecrated unto by Their Elders and Messengers in Their Meeting at the Savoy, October 12, 1658, 8:1, in Jaroslav Pelikan and Varie Hotchkiss, eds., Creeds and Confessions of Faith in the Christian Tradition. (3 vols.,; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 3:112.
 Augustine of Hippo, “A Treatise on the Gift of Perseverance,” in Saint Augustin: Anti-Pelagian Writings, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. Robert Ernest Wallis, vol. 5, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 551.
 Jewish scholars have had a difficult time developing a theology of union with God. Afterman wrote, “Scholars of past generations, Christians and Jews alike, consistently denied the possibility of unio mystica in Judaism, citing as their reason that the Mosaic Law, rejecting incarnation on the one hand and pantheism on the other, maintained a fundamental gulf between man and God.” Adam Afterman “From Philo to Plotinus: The Emergence of Mystical Union” The Journal of Religion. (2013): 117. Philo developed his theology of union with God along the same lines of a man leaving mother and father to “cleave” to his wife so that they become one flesh. Philo argued that this union was helpful for understanding how God’s covenant people are united to God.
 Fergusson wrote, “The promise that Abraham and his descendants would ‘inherit the world’ (Rom. 4:13) and he would be the “father of many nations” (Rom. 4:17 = Gen. 17:5) ‘depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham’ (Rom. 4:16).”Everett Ferguson. The Church of Christ, (Kindle Locations 252-254).
 “Jonathan Edwards described this eternal act of God: “God is said to have foreknown his saints; i.e. he from all eternity saw them particularly and knew them as his own. Rom. 8:29, “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate”; 1 Pet. 1:2, “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father”; 2 Tim. 2:19, “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his.” This foreknowledge is particular: he knows them as it were by name. Ex. 33:12, “I know thee by name, and thou hast also found grace in my sight”; and Jer. 1:5, “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee.” And therefore their names are spoken of as being “written in the book of life” (Rev. 13:8). God wrote their names in that book from all eternity.” Jonathan Edwards, Sermons and Discourses, 1734–1738, ed. M. X. Lesser and Harry S. Stout, vol. 19, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2001), 477–478.
 George W. Knight, The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1992), 375.
 Leonhard Goppelt, Theology of the New Testament: The Variety and Unity of the Apostolic Witness to Christ, ed. Jürgen Roloff, trans. John E. Alsup, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982), 99.
 Murray J. Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Milton Keynes, UK: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.; Paternoster Press, 2005), 431.
 Jonathan Edwards, “The Everlasting Love of God.” in Sermons and Discourses, 1734–1738, ed. M. X. Lesser and Harry S. Stout, vol. 19, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2001), 478.
 “The death and resurrection of Christ forms the basis, so that participation in Christ’s death and resurrection determines the new life, gives it structure, and enables those who die with Christ to rise with him at his coming.” Everett Fergusson The Church of Christ, Kindle Locations 1282-1284.
 “The church is the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:12–27; Eph 1:23; 4:12; 5:23–32; Col 1:18, 24; 3:15), the dwelling place of his Spirit (Rom 8:9, 11, 16; 1 Cor 3:16–17; 6:11, 15–17; Eph 2:18, 22; 4:4), and the chief instrument for glorifying God in the world.” Mark Dever “The Church” in A Theology for the Church. (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2014), 603.
 Turretin wrote, that the church “cannot be torn away from him and will last as long as even the head itself, which cannot exist without the body.” Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, ed. James T. Dennison Jr., trans. George Musgrave Giger, vol. 3 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1992–1997), 42.