"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)


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  • « I would value your prayers... | Main | Finally Alive: What Happens When We are Born Again »

    Jesus, Example or Savior?

    Here are two fine quotes from andrew purves' "reconstructing pastoral theology"

    "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.”"

    For further reading on this, you might be interested in a new essay Nathan and I co-wrote called Deconstructing Uncertainty which critiques the Emergent claims that faithfulness is to be pursued over against certainty

    Posted by John on May 21, 2008 02:48 PM


    I am a bit confused by this. I think I understand the main point here, that true Christianity is not an idealism or an ethic. With that point I whole-heartedly agree. However, I am confused by the comment that "union with Christ does not lead to imitation of Christ." Perhaps I am misunderstanding what is meant by that statement, but at first glance it seems unscriptural to me.

    Ephesians 5:1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

    22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

    Ephesians 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.

    1 Thessalonians 1:4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. 6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit.

    It seems to me that Scripture teaches that union with Christ does lead to imitation of Christ, just as faith in Christ leads to works. I know that salvation is not of works; nor is Christianity a works-based religion. Nonetheless, faith leads to works as an evidence; union with Christ leads to evidence of this union found in imitation. There are other examples as well: 1 Peter says Christians will suffer for Christ suffered.

    I do not mean to split hairs or wrangle. Nonetheless, I am not sure if "imitation of Christ" should be downplayed so far. Perhaps I am misunderstanding the quotes?

    Your brother in Christ,
    Albert Shepherd
    The Aspiring Theologian

    Albert I understand your concerns. I think what the author is getting at is this: We don't follow Jesus Christ to imitate him so we might become better people ... rather, since we are impotent to do this, Christ must save us that we might participate in his life and live our lives in and through Him. Apart from which there is no possibility of imitation. The Scriptural quotes you supply are good ones but they are speaking to regenerate Christians, who live in Christ, and must abide in him if any living like him is to be possible. In other words, they do not charge us to go out in our own power to live like him. Ephesians 5:1 for example (which you mentioned) ... notice that it begins with "THEREFORE" .. this means it is pointing to everything that came before, which is the work of Christ on behalf of his people. Christ came as a Savior. But as a moral example to imitate, we only become aware of our woeful inadequacy in light of his majesty and holiness. We can only live out of him ... and to do so as Christians, we must daily lose all confidence in ourselves. In other words, the gospel still must have primacy in the Christian's life. In today's churches there is a lot of moralism - exortations without gospel. This is simply a balanced corrective.

    Thanks for the reply. I understand it better now, and I agree.

    Your brother in Christ,
    Albert Shepherd
    The Aspiring Theologian

    hi. first time poster. love the site. i, too, am trying to wrap my brain a little bit more around this concept, because ultimately i think it's right. it almost seems like an overcorrection though, perhaps.

    my question is how does the hebrew/jewish concept of discipleship fit into this way of thinking? importing philosophical quotes from calvin 1500 years after paul wrote and his audience read, while sounding eloquent and lofty, seems to perhaps overlook how the original audience may have understood the concept. disciples (hebrew talmidim, meaning student) were all about learning from, and then imitating their masters, down to very nuts-and-bolts particulars (how they broke the bread, how they said various blessings, how they kept the Sabbath, said the prayers, how they tied/wore their tzitzit, etc.).

    Luke 6:40 refers to a disciple when fully trained being like his master. it (discipleship) was something that clearly meant DOING, and not simply some mental exercise of realizing one is a wretch, and just hanging out while you wait on the Spirit to do something.

    i wonder if our western culture has the potential to miss the do-THEN-understand mindset that would have been pervasive in that culture.

    while this article is perhaps a "balanced corrective" as mentioned above, and i definitely agree moralism WITHOUT the gospel is a dead-end, it almost seems to swing the emphasis too far from the good works that God has prepared for us to do (Eph. 2), and the light we are supposed to shine to other men by doing more good works, in order to glorify our Father in heaven (Matt. 5), etc.

    just wondering,

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