Union With Christ
Theologically speaking, nothing is more basic or central to knowing and enjoying God than union with Christ. It’s what the Bible and the heart of the Christian faith is all about. Union with Christ means that by faith alone, Christ is now our representative, whereas Adam was our previous representative. Understanding your union with Christ is the key to your growth in holiness. It’s what makes the gospel good news! In his writing, the apostle Paul anticipates an objection to this truth: If salvation is by grace, apart from works, why bother to be holy since the more we sin the more God’s grace is displayed? The gospel promotes holiness when rightly understood. Read:
- Romans 6:1-11; 15:20-21
- 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7
- Titus 2:14
In his Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem writes:
“He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit” (John 15:5). It is not only true that we are in Christ; he is also in us, to give us power to live the Christian life. “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). The factor that determines whether someone is a Christian is whether Christ is in him (Rom. 8:10; 2 Cor. 13:5; Rev. 3:20). God’s wise plan, hidden as a mystery for generations, was to save Gentiles as well as Jews. Therefore, Paul can tell his Gentile readers that God’s mystery is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). It is important to maintain, on the basis of these verses, that there is a real, personal dwelling of Christ in us, and that this does not mean that we merely agree with Christ or that his ideas are in us. Rather, he is in us and remains in us through faith (Eph. 3:17; 2 Cor. 13:5). To overlook this truth would be to neglect the great source of spiritual strength that we have within us (1 John 4:4). To remember it destroys our pride, gives us a constant feeling of deep dependence on Christ, and gives us great confidence, not in self, but in Christ working in us (Gal. 2:20; Rom. 15:18; Phil. 4:13).
Theologian Gregg Allison defines this doctrine, “Union with Christ is the mighty work of God to join his people in eternal covenant with the Son, who accomplished their salvation, through the Holy Spirit, who applies their salvation.” This is not merely an intellectual concept. God communicates all his blessings of salvation through this miraculous union. Union with Christ changes our perspective on life as it says God is closer and more intimate than we could ever imagine. Union with Christ grounds us in a way no other mindset ever could. John Owen, in his writing about union with Christ, says our union with Him “is the cause of all other graces that we are made partakers of; they are all communicated to us by virtue of our union with Christ. Hence is our adoption, our justification, our sanctification, our fruitfulness, our perseverance, our resurrection, our glory.” Read:
- Ephesians 1:4-13
- Colossians 2:10-11; 3:3
Ponder what these verses say about the believer in or with Christ. In his book Union with Christ, Rankin Wilbourne writes, “Where did Paul get such a radical idea – that those who believe in Christ are actually united to him? From Jesus himself, who appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus and said, ‘Why are you persecuting me?’ (Acts 9:4). It shook Paul to the core to realize that by persecuting Jesus’s followers, he was persecuting Jesus himself. They are vitally connected. ‘In Christ” is Paul’s two-word summary for something Jesus talked about many times, but most conspicuously in the gospel of John and most memorably in John 15. To believe in Christ is a personal dynamic living reality in the gospel of John. Truth is not an abstract idea we ascribe to; truth is a living person we are connected to (John 14:6).”
Your old self has died in union with Christ. You died to sin in the same sense in which Jesus died to sin. You are a new person, united with Christ in His resurrection.
We are placed “in Christ” by the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit, so that we are forever united with Christ and with other members of His body (John 14:16–17; 1 Cor. 6:19; 12:12–13, 27). Because we are “in Christ” and Christ is in us, nothing can ever separate us from God’s love in Christ (Rom. 8:38–39). So our union with Christ through the Spirit gives us “security for eternity.” From The Cross and Salvation, “The Baptist theologian A.H. Strong (d. 1921) likewise interpreted the NT imagery of the believer “in Christ” and Christ in the believer as a profound relation of fellowship and life. Union with Christ constitutes “a union of life, in which the human spirit, while then most truly possessing its own individuality and personal distinctness, is interpenetrated and energized by the Spirit of Christ, is made inscrutably but indissolubly one with him, and so becomes a member and partaker of that regenerated, believing, and justified humanity of which he is the head.”
Eternal security frees Christians from concern about “keeping” their salvation, so they can then fully pursue sanctification and service. We can live for Christ purely from love and gratitude because we have eternal salvation in Him.
Charles Swindoll, in Understanding Christian Theology, explains “The Christian life comes entirely out of union with Christ. Therefore, we need not seek our identity in our sin, or falter in trials and suffering. When in the midst of life experiences of persecution, loss, divorce, and the many other challenges, those who are not with Christ will reach a breaking point. Without Christ, there is no hope. Because we are in Christ, we can suffer well, knowing Christ suffered on our behalf. We are in fellowship with Christ in an unbreakable union. In this truth, the non-Christian sees little rationale. Not only does union with Christ enable us to endure, it enables us to flourish (1 Peter 3:17). And any believer who endures trials due to their commitment to the Lord suffers righteously and thus shares in His sufferings.” The amazing features of our union with Christ are the very foundation of our sanctification. Read:
- Acts 9:4
- John 14:6; 15:1, 4-5
- 1 Peter 1:4-7; 3:17; 4:13-15; 5:10
- Romans 8:18
In Christ, our perspective changes to see things from a spiritual view rather than merely natural. Christians have been set free from slavery to sin in order to serve righteousness. This is true of every believer. As Rankin Wilbourne writes:
If you choose to find your identity in Christ, you will lose nothing of what makes life beautiful and free. You will move from searching for an identity to being found in Christ.”
The fact that you are united with Christ does not mean that it is no longer possible for you to sin. The power of sin over you has been broken, but it does not mean that you no longer need to pursue holiness and fight sin.
So, how does this work itself out in practical terms? There are other ways in which the gospel contributes to change (sanctification). A key change for the believer is to recognize that Christ is better than the idols which tempt us. Comprehending God’s love and grace to us motivates and enables us to show love and grace. Change takes place through an increase in thankfulness, as opposed to grumbling and self-pity. We are able to bear fruit only through our union with Christ. Read:
- Proverbs 9:1
- Isaiah 55:1-2
- John 4:10; 6:35, 48-51; 7:38; 15:1-11
- Romans 6:12-22; 7:14
- Galatians 2:20
- Philippians 3:9-12
- Colossians 2:12
- Hebrews 7:27, 9:12
- 1 John 4:19
Whether overcoming sin or conquering suffering, you can persevere in the new life and identity to which you’ve been called. Our imitation of Christ is especially evident in suffering (1 Peter 2:21), as we are called to take suffering patiently. We simply can’t go on intentionally sinning, because we are united to Christ Jesus. Grace towards holiness is key in developing new behaviors and new responses, while dependent on the Spirit. Thankfully, Christian perseverance is not a battle we fight alone. Our ability to hold fast is grounded in the Father’s great love.
Our Father is simply inclined to forgive. This distinguishes Him from all invented gods and from all of humanity. He is eager to forgive at the slightest hint that we acknowledge our sin and guilt (Jer. 3:13).” – Ed Welch
As people, we are all looking for the hopeful knowledge that there are answers for hurts, difficulties, and the challenges we face each and every day. In union with Christ, we have found this hope, and we have been made able to steward all of our life for God’s glory. In Part Five, we will consider barriers to change taking place.
How do you define “union with Christ?” How does this compare to the biblical definition of “union with Christ?” Do you feel a gap between your beliefs and your experience? If so, explain.
Where do you find your identity? How do you define who you are? Whose are you? Hope comes from knowing God as our Father. Who is God to you? How should you as a believer in Christ view God? These are questions of great importance that greatly influence your thoughts, feelings, actions, and attitudes.
Reflect on the doctrine of our union with Christ.
- My goals for informing my theology with the reality of union with Christ are…
- As a result of hope for the church, resting in our identity in Christ, I hope…
- My prayer regarding the doctrine of union with Christ in relation to identity is…
All sources for this series are listed here. https://debbieswindell.com/2020/07/22/upcoming-series-biblical-growth-and-change/