This week we begin with Question 27 of the New City Catechism, found in Part 2 (questions 21-35), which focuses on Christ, redemption, and grace.
Question 27: Are all people, just as they were lost through Adam, saved through Christ?
Answer: No, only those who are elected by God and united to Christ by faith. Nevertheless, God in his mercy demonstrates common grace even to those who are not elect, by restraining the effects of sin and enabling works of culture for human well-being.
Jesus Christ is the last Adam, the head of a new humanity. But does that mean that by virtue of his obedient life, death, and resurrection, all human beings are automatically saved? This teaching, known as “universalism,” is not true to the Bible’s teaching because it misses a major concept: union with Christ. Only those who are united to Christ in a covenantal bond (similar to a marriage covenant) will be saved by his redeeming work. Those who are outside of Christ remain in Adam, joined to him as their covenant head, where they remain guilty before God. In order for anyone to be saved, he or she must be transferred from one covenant to the other: from being “in Adam” to being “in Christ” (see Rom. 5:12-21).
How does this movement happen? In our own experience, it happens by faith. When we believe the gospel, we move from one covenantal standing to the other, from death in Adam to life in Christ. However, our faith does not happen on its own. It is a work of the Holy Spirit in us, with roots that go back to eternity in God’s sovereign choice of us to belong to him. Although God could have justly condemned all people in Adam, he nevertheless chose a vast multitude of people, based on nothing in them but purely by his grace alone, and he appointed them to be joined to his Son for salvation (Acts 13:48; Rom. 9:1-13; John 6:37-44). God’s election unto salvation is by grace alone, and that means our union with Christ actually began in the heart of God in eternity past.
What this means for us is that we can take no credit whatsoever for the fact that we believe the gospel, while many others don’t. We are saved entirely by grace, from beginning to end, and thus God deserves all glory for our salvation.
Suggested passage for family or personal reading: Ephesians 1:3-14. How many times does Paul refer to God’s choice of us, or predestination of us, in this passage? What do you notice about all the references to being “in Christ” throughout these verses? What does this wonderful passage teach us about our salvation?