Union with Christ & the Christian Life

Andrew Purves, Reconstruction Pastoral Theology (pg. 84)

To be clear: union with Christ does not lead to an imitation of Christ, a life spent following Jesus’ example in the hope that we will become better people. The Christian life is not to be understood as obedience to either an ethical imperative or a spiritual ideal. Rather, the Christian life is the radical and converting participation in Jesus Christ’s own being and life, and thus a sharing in his righteousness, holiness, and mission through the bond of the Holy Spirit.

Note, too, the emphasis I place on the work of the Holy Spirit. Union with Christ is entirely a work of God. Our human acts, beliefs, and decisions are powerless to effect a relationship with God. John Calvin understood that our deepest self had to become reconfigured and reconstituted or, to use his words, “regenerated” or “vivified,” through related to Jesus Christ. … God must reorder us be turning us in a new direction be uniting us to Jesus. So our being and becoming Christian is a divine initiative and not something that can be worked out through heightened religiosity, morality, activity, will, or spirituality. We are conjoined to Christ by the unilateral work of God though the Holy Spirit – to effect what Calvin called a “mystical union.”

The “Self-Effacing” Spirit

J.I. Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit

In [the Holy Spirit’s] new covenant ministry (for this is what Jesus was talking about [in the Upper Room Discourse from John 14-16]) the Spirit would be self-effacing, directing all attention away from himself to Christ and drawing folk into the faith, hope, love, obedience, adoration, and dedication, which constitute communion with Christ. … Thus the Spirit would glorify the glorified Savior (16:14), acting both as interpreter to make clear the truth about him and as illuminator to ensure the benighted minds receive it. Jesus, the Lord Christ, would be the focal point of the Spirit’s ministry, first to last (56-57).

Andrew Purves, Reconstructing Pastoral Theology

In the context of the ministry of God [that is, God’s ministry toward us, not our ministry toward each other], the Holy Spirit is the personal presence of God by whom God bring us into communion with himself through relationship with Jesus Christ. According to Karl Barth, the Holy Spirit “is the power in which Jesus Christ is alive among [people] and makes them His witnesses.” Christian doctrine teaches that the work of the Holy Spirit is a Christ-related event; as such it is a God-glorifying, person-empowering, and church/mission creating event. … There is no dissociating of the Holy Spirit from Jesus Christ; rather…the Holy Spirit has a diaphanous self-effacing nature, showing us the Son and joining us to him, so that in and through the Son we have communion with and serve the Father (39).

According to Karl Barth, the Holy Spirit is the power in which Jesus Christ is alive among people and makes them his witnesses. That is, Christian doctrine teaches that the work of the Holy Spirit is a Christ-related event, and as such, it becomes a God-glorifying, person-empowering, and church/mission creating event. … The Spirit calls the church into existence to be a community of worship and ministry through union with Christ. Thus when we speak of the communion of the Holy Spirit we mean the communion-creating work of the Holy Spirit – communion with the Father through our Spirit-led union with Christ and, consequently, communion with one another as we are formed into the missionary body of Christ, the church. For this reason we do not speak of communion in the Holy Spirit, but the communion of the Holy Spirit, meaning by this, communion in Christ (124).

Participatio Christi, not Imatatio Christi

Richard F. Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Renewal (pg. 73-74)

Redemption is participatory, not imitative. It is grounded on grace appropriated through faith, not merely on obedience. Spiritual life flows out of union with Christ, not merely imitation of Christ. … The individual Christian and the church as a whole are alive in Christ, and when any essential dimensions of what it means to be in Christ are obscured in the church’s understanding, there is no guarantee that the people of God will strive toward and experience fullness of life.

Andrew Purves, Reconstructing Pastoral Theology (pg. 40)

Through the communion of the Holy Spirit the Christian life is participatio Christi, not imatatio Christi.

The Gospel & Pastoral Ministry

Romans 6:17

But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were entrusted…

Andrew Purves, Reconstructing Pastoral Theology (pg. xvi)

Paul does not have it backward. One might think that doctrines are to be entrusted to believers, but believers are entrusted to doctrines, meaning by this the reality of God in Christ for us. It is the gospel that possesses ministry, not ministry that possesses the gospel. ...[T]he actuality of the gospel is the basis for the possibility of our ministry. It is not Jesus Christ who needs pastoral work, it is pastoral work that needs Jesus Christ. Just as faith lives not by human effort, but solely by the grace of God in, through, and as Jesus Christ, and through our incorporation into his life, so also ministry must be understood to be built not upon human striving for growth, well-being, and health but upon the grace of God which is understood now as a participation in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, on earth, in heaven, and as the one who will come again. The focus of pastoral theology, then, is on God’s extrinsic grace in Jesus Christ, on the gospel that is verbum alienum, a Word from beyond us, and to which gracious Word and to that Word alone pastoral theology and pastoral practice must submit in order to be faithful to the gospel.