Born like any other young boy (Gal. 4:4), Jesus grew “in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). Despite contemporary attempts by some to paint Him as a superhero, Mary’s flesh-and-blood offspring “had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (Isa. 53:2). The Son of God became one of us and matured mentally, physically, spiritually, and socially.
Though never disobedient, He learned submission (Heb. 5:8)—by His steps of faith, He grew from immaturity to moral excellence. He was, in the fullest sense, a regular man with a tested and proven life: “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect” (2:17) and was made “perfect through suffering” (v. 10).
Yet as thoroughly ordinary as Jesus is, His life explodes beyond the common. The God-man undertook a divinely appointed, unrepeatable, and decisive historical role. Like the Adam of Eden, the last Adam—Jesus Christ—was a public man. In His representative calling, Jesus became the “merciful and faithful high priest . . . [who made] propitiation for the sins of the people” (v. 17). Only this one man has accomplished that extraordinary, lasting ministry.
Jesus’ human existence thus attains its value by His public function. At every moment, He acted with a look beyond Himself and to His people. The premier Prophet, He spoke to His people. The holy High Priest, He interceded for His people. The King of kings, He reigns over His people. Jesus came to live, die, and rise again for His people. He is the Shepherd; we are His sheep. He is the holy Redeemer; by Him we are wholly redeemed.
The Holy Spirit unites us to the ordinary, extraordinary man. We are placed into Christ and He into us. We belong to Him, and He belongs to us.
Accordingly, the roots of biblical salvation draw life from this glorious Christ-for-us motif. Christ is cornerstone; we are the “living stones” that make up the “spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:5). The great architectural project of history puts each of us in our God-appointed place—every living stone supported and sustained by the chief cornerstone. Christ is the Vine; we are the branches. Life flows in us, because we draw on Him (John 15:4). Christ is the husband; we are His bride (Rev. 21:2; see Eph. 5:18–33). The Savior lovingly clutches us covenantally, intimately, and irreversibly.
How does the work of this one man actually bless others? According to the Father’s wisdom, the Son of God sent from heaven accomplishes redemption; the Spirit of the Son applies that redemption to His people. By grace, the Spirit unites the people of God to the real Christ of history. The Son works savingly in the Spirit; the people of God participate in His saving acts by the same Spirit. By the will of the Father, the Spirit unites us to the Son.
No theological afterthought, this work of the Spirit possesses three distinct yet inseparable features. This grace toward us commences in the wise and gracious counsel of God before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:3–6). It gains historical traction in the ministry of Christ, where the Spirit places us in Christ in His own death, burial, resurrection, and exaltation (Rom. 6:1–4; Eph. 2:6). Then when giving us faith, the Spirit effects this gracious union in us personally (Eph. 1:13–14). Summarily, union with Christ originates in divine election and covenant purpose. In the divine accomplishment of redemption, the Spirit binds us to Christ. At the moment of faith, the Spirit applies the work of Christ to us immediately, personally, and savingly.
Appreciation for this ministry of the Spirit will prevent us from conceiving of salvation as an inanimate thing. Salvation must not be viewed first as a gift to unwrap but as the personal Savior we receive. The gift of the gospel is the Giver Himself.
Jesus Christ “gave himself for us” (Titus 2:14), and we receive Him by the Holy Spirit: “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ ” (Gal. 4:6) and, “You . . . are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him” (Rom. 8:9). The Holy Spirit unites us to the ordinary, extraordinary man. We are placed into Christ and He into us. We belong to Him, and He belongs to us.
What then of core blessings of the gospel such as justification, sanctification, adoption, and glorification? Only because Christ secured them Himself do they come to us. Justification is not a declarative fiction; Christ was actually vindicated for us (1 Tim. 3:16). Sanctification is no imaginative notion; Christ actually conquered the power of sin (Rom. 6:10–11). Adoption offers no feigned family status; in Christ’s exalted sonship we truly become children of God (1:4; 8:15–17; 1 John 3:1–3). Glorification promises no fanciful future; Christ’s resurrection is the firstfruits of the single harvest of the saints (1 Cor. 15:12–22). From Christ the life-giving Spirit (v. 45) surges resurrection glory for all those who belong to Him by His Spirit. Bodily resurrection for the people of God is as certain as the bodily resurrection of our Lord.
Christ’s life was and is for us. His death was not for Him; it was and is for us. His resurrection was not for Him; it was and is for us. Without His work there is no salvation at all; without His work applied by the Spirit, there is no salvation for us. The Spirit claims us and irrevocably ties us to Christ. Our gospel hope is this: by the Holy Spirit, we receive Christ Jesus who came for us and dwells in us. Christ in us is our certain “hope of glory” (Col. 1:27).
Dr. David B. Garner is vice president of advancement and associate professor of systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and a teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church in America. He is author of Sons in the Son and How Can I Know for Sure?