1) Does union with Christ precede or follow faith?
2) Does regeneration precede or follow union with Christ?
3) Does justification precede or follow union with Christ?
4) Does regeneration precede or follow justification?
Proposition - Union with Christ is by Faith
Vital Union With Christ
The adept Hardshell apologist will often attempt to solve many difficulties about the necessity of union with Christ for salvation by ignoring "vital union" and stressing representative or federal union through Christ via election in eternity past. The latter does not require regeneration, conversion, faith, repentance, etc., as does the former. He will also affirm that a real "vital union" does occur in Hardshell definitions of "regeneration," but insist that faith and repentance are not means or conditions to such a union with Christ. What saith the scriptures?
Is that union with Christ, per Romans 7:4, i.e. being "married" to Christ, an essential aspect of regeneration? Does one have to have a vital marital union with Christ to be eternally saved? How can the anti means Hardshell say yes without contradicting himself? Will he not hold on to his anti means proposition so that he will be forced to say that one does not have to have a marital union with Christ, or enter into covenant with him, to be saved? He will have to say that the "vital union" that occurs in a Hardshell "regeneration" does not include being joined to Christ as a spouse?
Wrote Paul: "But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit." (I Cor. 6: 17)
In the context of this verse Paul contrasts being joined in body versus being joined in heart and spirit. A man who has sexual intercourse with a whore, said Paul, becomes "one" with her, that is, one in body. How does one become united with, or one with, Christ? How does he enter into covenant with him? Answer - It is by saying and confessing "I will" to the Spirit who testifies of Christ. There are many verses that speak of a faith union with Christ.
It is doubtful that Hardshells will deny that there is a union with Christ by faith, but they will insist that 1) this is no part of the "vital union" created in regeneration apart from faith, and that 2) this is not necessary for being eternally saved. (see hermeneutical problems for hardshells vi)
H.B. Smith in his Systematic Theology wrote (SEE HERE - emphasis mine):
"The doctrine of union with Christ is fundamental as to the mode in which He can be the ground of our justification. The Doctrine of the Vital or Mystical Union.—Larg. Cat., Q. 66: "The union which the elect have with Christ is the work of God's grace, whereby they are spiritually and mystically, yet really and inseparably, joined to Christ as their head and husband; which is done in their effectual calling."
Short. Cat., Q. 30. "The Spirit applieth to us the redemption purchased by Christ, by working faith in us, and thereby uniting us to Christ in our effectual calling."
"This union is on the basis of the covenant of grace, and through it the blessings of that covenant are imparted to us. (e.) The life given by this union is none other than the life
which the Holy Ghost imparts—yet it is a life, not of mere general divine influence, but in union with Christ...This life is given through faith as the instrument of our justification; it is a life not excluding, but including, justification." (533)
II.—Proof from other sources of doctrine and analogy.
(a.) From the doctrine of Justification by faith alone. In our effectual calling, by the Spirit through faith, we are justified; i. e., on the ground of what Christ has done, we are accepted in Him, "elect in Christ." There must then be some
peculiar bond or tie, on the ground of which we can be thus
received and accepted in another.
(6.) From the parallel between our death in Adam and our life in Christ: Rom. v. 12 seq. The race is one in Adam, and hence could sin in him and fall with him; human nature became corrupt in him. We are condemned thereby: the natural union with Adam is the ground of this procedure. In like manner, the spiritual union with Christ is the basis of our being accepted, and justified in him.
(c.) From the truth of the intimate, secret, unseen, yet real influence of the Holy Spirit in regeneration—in our effectual calling, uniting us to Christ by these sacred influences, reinstating us in the moral image of God. These influences are confessedly mysterious; they are the bond of our union with Christ.
This union is at the ground of regeneration and justification.
(d.) From the nature of love to Christ, faith in Christ, implying the closest personal relationship between Christ and ourselves—a union.
(e.) From the analogy of other works of God, and facts in our other relations.
Thus, through the influences of the Holy Spirit, we are led to faith in Christ: to trust in Him; and in consequence of that we become partakers of all that Christ has done for us—are justified,
i. e., are both pardoned and adopted."
What is important to realize is that union with Christ precedes regeneration, sanctification, and justification and that faith is the instrument of this union.
R. L. Dabney, well known theologian, wrote the following in "Union To Christ Effectuates Salvation"(emphasis mine):
"The instrumental bond of the union is evidently faith—i. e., when the believer exercises faith, the union begins; and by the exercise of faith it is on his part perpetuated. See Eph. 3:17; John 14:23; Gal. 3:26–28. First God embraces us with His electing and renewing love; and we then embrace Him by the actings of our faith, so that the union is consummated on both sides. One of the results, or, if you please, forms, of the union is justification. Of this, faith is the instrument, "for being justified by faith, we have peace with God." The other form is sanctification. Faith has the instrumental relation to this also; for He "purifieth our hearts by faith;" "faith worketh by love;" and it is the victory which overcometh the world." (Chapter 38: Union to Christ - See here)
Wrote the great A. H. Strong (emphasis mine):
"The consequences of union with Christ may be summarily stated as follows:
(a) Union with Christ involves a change in the dominant affection of the soul. Christ's entrance into the soul makes it a new creature, in the sense that the ruling disposition, which before was sinful, now becomes holy. This change we call Regeneration.
(b) Union with Christ involves a new exercise of the soul's powers in repentance and faith; faith, indeed, is the act of the soul by which, under the operation of God, Christ is received. This new exercise of the soul's powers we call Conversion (Repentance and Faith). It is the obverse or human side of Regeneration.
Eph. 3:17—"that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith";
(c) Union with Christ gives to the believer the legal standing and rights of Christ. As Christ's union with the race involves atonement, so the believer's union with Christ involves Justification. The believer is entitled to take for his own all that Christ is, and all that Christ has done; and this because he has within him that new life of humanity which suffered in Christ's death and rose from the grave in Christ's resurrection,—in other words, because he is virtually one person with the Redeemer. In Christ the believer is prophet, priest, and king.
(d) Union with Christ secures to the believer the continuously transforming, assimilating power of Christ's life,— first, for the soul; secondly, for the body,—consecrating it in the present, and in the future raising it up in the likeness of Christ's glorified body. This continuous influence, so far as it is exerted in the present life, we call Sanctification, the human side or aspect of which is Perseverance.
(e) Union with Christ brings about a fellowship of Christ with the believer, —Christ takes part in all the labors, temptations, and sufferings of his people; a fellowship of the believer with Christ,—so that Christ's whole experience on earth is in some measure reproduced in him; a fellowship of all believers with one another,—furnishing a basis for the spiritual unity of Christ's people on earth, and for the eternal communion of heaven. The doctrine of Union with Christ is therefore the indispensable preparation for Ecclesiology, and for Eschatology.
We append a few statements with regard to this union and its consequences, from noted names in theology and the church. Luther: "By faith thou art so glued to Christ that of thee and him there becomes as it were one person, so that with confidence thou canst say: ' I am Christ,—that is, Christ's righteousness, victory, etc., are mine '; and Christ in turn can say: 'I am that sinner,—that is, his sins, his death, etc., are mine, because he clings to me and I to him, for we have been joined through faith into one flesh and bone.'" Calvin: "I attribute the highest importance to the connection between the head and the members; to the inhabitation of Christ in our hearts; in a word, to the mystical union by which we enjoy him, so that, being made ours, he makes us partakers of the blessings with which he is furnished." John Bunyan: "The Lord led me into the knowledge of the mystery of union with Christ, that I was joined to him, that I was bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. By this also my faith in him as my righteousness was the more confirmed; for if he and I were one, then his righteousness was mine, his merits mine, his victory also mine. Now could I see myself in heaven and on earth at once— in heaven by my Christ, my risen head, my righteousness and life, though on earth by my body or person." Edwards: "Faith is the soul's active uniting with Christ. God sees fit that, in order to a union's being established between two intelligent active beings, there should be the mutual act of both, that each should receive the other, as entirely joining themselves to one another." Andrew Fuller: "I have no doubt that the imputation of Christ's righteousness presupposes a union with him; since there is no perceivable fitness in bestowing benefits on one for another's sake, where there is no union or relation between." (59-84 - Union with Christ By Augustus Hopkins Strong - See here)
Strong also wrote, in "Union With Christ" and "The Application of Christ’s Redemption in its Actual Beginning" (emphasis mine):
"Under this head we treat of Union with Christ, Regeneration, Conversion (embracing Repentance and Faith), and Justification. Much confusion and error have arisen from conceiving these as occurring in chronological order. The order is logical, not chronological As it is only “in Christ” that man is “a new creature” (2 Cor. 5:17) or is “justified” (Acts 13:39), union with Christ logically precedes both regeneration and justification; and yet, chronologically, the moment of our union with Christ is also the moment when we are regenerated and justified. So, too, regeneration and conversion are but the divine and human sides or aspects of the same fact, although regeneration has logical precedence, and man turns only as God turns him." (See here)
I believe this most firmly, that "union with Christ" must be the basis for our regeneration and justification, and yet faith is the means of completing this union.
In SECTION II.—THE APPLICATION OF CHRIST S REDEMPTION IN ITS ACTUAL BEGINNING, Strong wrote:
"Under this head we treat of Union with Christ, Regeneration, Conversion (embracing Repentance and Faith), and Justification. Much confusion and error have arisen from conceiving these as occurring in chronological order. The order is logical, not chronological. As it is only "in Christ" that man is "a new creature" (2 Cor. 5 : 17) or is "justified" (Acts 13 : 39), union with Christ logically precedes both regeneration and justification; and yet, chronologically, the moment of our union with Christ is also the moment when we are regenerated and justified. So, too, regeneration and conversion are but the divine and human sides or aspects of the same fact, although regeneration has logical precedence, and man turns only as God turns him." (See here)
Wrote the great J. P. Boyce (emphasis mine):
"It holds an important connection with every act and condition of salvation. It is by faith that men come into vital union with Christ, through faith that they are justified." (CHAPTER XXXIV - FAITH - See here)
Wrote the great Jonathan Edwards (emphasis mine):
"1 Cor. 12: 27, "Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular," etc. The same relation is illustrated by that which subsists between the husband and wife; and the whole body of believers is called "the bride, the lamb's wife." But what is this union between Christ and believers? In what respect are they one? To these inquiries I reply, there is a two-fold union between Christ and believers; a vital union and a relative union; or what may more properly be called a union of affection and a union of relation; or a union which is real and a union which is constituted. Each of these requires a distinct explanation.
1. By a vital union, or the union of affection is meant, that cordial and mutual love or affection which subsists between Christ and all true believers. This love is implied in the true and saving faith of the gospel. Every real Christian being the subject of this faith, is therein united in heart and affection to Christ. The first act of this faith is the uniting act; and in its exercise the believer cordially receives Christ; is sincerely pleased with him; loves those things which Christ loves; desires and seeks those objects which he seeks, and in affection becomes one with him. He has the very spirit of Christ. "The same mind is in him which was also in Christ Jesus." He is also united to him in the exercise of trust and reliance on him. He leans on Christ his beloved, and lives by communications of grace from him. "His life is hid with Christ in God ;" and "the life which he now lives in the flesh, he lives by faith on the Son of God." This is the vital or real union; the union of affection between Christ and believers. Faith has by some been called the hand or instrument by which believers lay hold on and receive Christ. But with more propriety may it be called the act of union itself, or the uniting act, by which Christ and the believer become one." (259 - Works By Jonathan Edwards, See here)
The Hardshell view about union with Christ is aberrant and heretical and is not the historic position of the Christian community.