Monday, January 29, 2007

Ineffable Union with Christ, the Height of Intimacy

The most intimate relationship imaginable is that between a man and a woman who have covenanted together in marriage. There is no other relational matrix which draws near to the closeness and intimacy experienced in the context of a man and a woman who have devoted themselves only to each other. Thus, Moses records that when a man leaves his father and mother to be joined with his wife, “they shall become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). Becoming “one flesh” with another individual is the highest conception of intimacy that we can imagine. What could be closer that this?

Could there be something more intimate than this? As it turns out, there is. Paul exhorts his readers in 1 Cor 6:16 not to indulge in sexual immorality, because the one who dabbles in prostitution become “one body” with the prostitute, referencing the Gen 2:24 text. One of Paul’s reasons for fleeing from immorality then is because “the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him” (1 Cor 6:17). When you are joined to another human being (i.e. through marriage), you become “one flesh.” However , when you are joined to Christ (i.e. through salvation), incomprehensible as it may seem, you become “one spirit” with him! As NT scholar F.F. Bruce observes, “the closest personal union in this life is that between a man and woman, described in the words of the creation narrative as their becoming ‘one flesh’—but, says Paul, he who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.” There is therefore no greater intimacy than to be joined with Christ through saving faith. No physical relationship can be compared to the ineffable spiritual union that the redeemed have with their redeemer.

Luther perhaps has this insight in mind when he pens these words in his Freedom of a Christian:

Accordingly the believing soul can boast of and glory in whatever Christ has as though it were its own, and whatever the soul has Christ claims as his own. Let us compare these and we shall see inestimable benefits. Christ is full of grace, life, and salvation. The soul is full of sins, death and damnation. Now let faith come between them and sins, death, and damnation will be Christ's while grace, life, and salvation will be the soul's; for if Christ is a bridegroom, he must take upon himself the things which are his bride's and bestow upon her the things that are his...By the wedding ring of faith he shares in the sins, death, and pains of hell which are his bride's...Who then can fully appreciate what this royal marriage means? Who can understand the riches of the glory of this grace? Here, this rich and divine bridegroom Christ marries this poor, wicked harlot, redeems her from all her evil, and adorns her with all goodness.

What grace upon grace that God has ordained that men and women marry and experience intimacy in order to give us categories and analogies to reflect upon and perhaps grasp what it means to have union with him through faith in Christ.

This insight via, Moses, Paul, F.F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart set Free, p. 114; and Luther, Freedom of a Christian in Timothy Lull, Martin Luther's Basic Theological Writings, p. 397. Who knew there was insight to be found in required textbook reading?

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