Union with Christ vs. Imputation: A Smackdown with Con Campbell

paul and union with christOkay, so this video isn’t really a smackdown. And union with Christ vs. imputation probably doesn’t sound like anyone’s idea of a cage match. But many people do think that if we emphasize our union with Christ as the central aspect of our salvation, we will end up downplaying imputation — that is, the “great exchange” between us and Jesus where we receive his righteousness and he takes on our sin.

According to Con Campbell, though, this is a false dichotomy. Rather than seeing the two in opposition to one another, we need to understand imputation as flowing out of our union with Christ. I’ll be reviewing Campbell’s book Paul and Union with Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study later this week. Until then, here’s a short video of Campbell explaining how he understands the relationship between these two important concepts.





  1. Rick says

    The reality of our union with Christ is obtained only by faith. Wendel interpreted Calvin as articulating that the way in which we know of this union is by Christ “infusing his life [not His righteousness, which is the Roman idea — me) into us by the hidden virtue of his Spirit…the Holy Spirit is the bond, as it were, by which the Son of God unites us to [God] effectually.” [Francois Wendel, Calvin: ‘Origins and Development of his Religious Thought,’ trans. by Philip Mairet (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1950), 238-239]. Both the imputation of righteousness, i.e., justification, and adoption, are results of our being in union with Christ. Union with Christ is essential to the entire program of grace. The believer is interpenetrated and empowered by the spirit of Christ. However, when we are in union with Him, we are identified with more than just the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us and adoption; we are identified with His death (Romans 6:3), burial (Romans 6:4), resurrection (Romans 6:5; Colossians 3:1), life (Ephesians 2:5), heavenly position (Ephesians 2:6), reign (2 Timothy 2:12), suffering, and glorification (Romans 8:17). I would clarify that (see video at 2:30) we do in fact share in His righteousness — but it is never *in any capacity* our righteousness, even after it’s been imputed to us. I believe that Con Campbell did not make this clear. It is always and forever His righteousness imputed to our account. Our faith, then, is seen to be merely having the like force and weight of Christ’s righteousness. Calvin said, “The logical consequence of [the] doctrine of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ is that never, not even after the remission of our sins, are we really righteous. On the contrary, we have noted that the sanctification which accompanies justification, or at least begins with it, enables us to become precisely more and more aware of our sin.” [Wendel, Calvin, 258–259]. This seems to be the extent of Calvin’s understanding on the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us: not that we ever possess an actual righteousness because of it, but rather, what we possess because of it is the ability to see more and more of our sinfulness.

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