Salvation Applied by the Spirit: Union with Christ by Robert A. Peterson
The preponderance of debates and scholarly discussion regarding the Trinity, the Sacraments, and the role that redemption plays in biblical theology has been at the forefront of much evangelical discussion. Yet today, more than ever, we have front and center the teaching of ‘Union with Christ,’ a formerly neglected doctrine that needs to be rediscovered. Dr. Robert Peterson, in his uncanny knack for making the biblical text sing with echoes of God’s grace and mercy takes a look at union with Christ in his new book, Salvation Applied by the Spirit: Union with Christ. Looking at the doctrine from a whole Bible perspective, Dr. Peterson moves from the foundations in the Old Testament, Synoptics, and Acts, to the writings of John and Paul in the rest of the NT corpus. What we find is a unique and penetrating analysis of how God’s Spirit works to join believers to the Son and seal the redemption accomplished by that same Son.
One of the unique ways Dr. Peterson brings out the strong character of union with Christ and the believers hope is through Jesus’ story in the life of the church. Peterson contends, “To put it another way, to be united to Christ is to share in his death and resurrection, his suffering and his glory. This is not explicitly stated in Acts as it is in the Epistles, but it is enacted in Acts as the church grows and engages in mission (50).” The storyline of the Suffering Servant parallels the life, suffering, and ministry of the early church as she seeks to pattern herself after the Son. Rather than focusing on the doctrine of union of Christ in thought, the Book of Acts gives us glimpses of the implications of union with Christ in practical action. We see this concretely exemplified in Acts 9 where Saul is changed on the Damascus Road from one set apart from Christ to one who is in union with Christ. Furthermore, his first actions as a new believer are to bear witness to that unity in Christ but proclaiming who this Christ is whom he serves (see Acts 9:19-31).
In Chapter 7, Dr. Peterson points out that 2 Corinthians 1 is foundational for understanding present suffering but also present suffering and future glory. He writes, “That is, union with Christ in his death and resurrection involves not only present suffering and future glory, but also present suffering and present “glory,” experienced as the Father’s aid and encouragement (116).” The Spirit comes to our aid in guiding us through our present sufferings even as we await future glory. Yet, this future glory is not so far in the future that we do not get a foretaste of present glory, for the Father comforts us in our affliction. Christ does not suffer again, for he has already suffered on our behalf, but he mediates comfort for us in his glory.
Drawing on the work of P.T. O’Brien and his commentary on Hebrews, Peterson sees Hebrews 3:14 through the union with Christ lens as he writes, “The writer teaches, then, that we share in who Christ is and what he has accomplished for us. That means we partake of the Son of God and his saving benefits. By God’s grace through faith we participate in his person and work (251).” Christ’s saving benefits given to believers provides great joy and encouragement, to continue the race set before them with endurance and perseverance. Though Hebrews 3:14 is debated, Peterson in lieu of O’Brien notes that by virtue of their union with Christ, believers share in his inheritance.
Overall, this book is an immense work of sound biblical teaching concerning our union with Christ. Systematically weaving through the NT, Dr. Peterson aids in our understanding of a fully-orbed view of union with Christ. I recommend this book to any desiring to grow in their faith and learn more of the saving work of Jesus Christ.
Thanks to Crossway for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.