“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” 2 Corinthians 5:17
“Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Colossians 1:27
Christians are unified with Christ. We are in Christ, and He is in us. The union with Christ is the very heart of the gospel. We have no hope of salvation without this wondrous union.
Our union with Christ is a paramount feature in the doctrine of salvation. We are born sinners, totally corrupt and in that state, it is impossible for us to have a relationship with God other than the recipient of His wrath. Our sin separates us from God, and more than that, it sets us up in an offensive stance against Him; in our sin, we are at enmity against Him. God is a Just Judge and He sees our sin and has declared that we are guilty before Him. Being a righteous judge, He passes the only appropriate sentence for sinning against the Holy, Immortal, Eternal, Creator of the Universe – an eternity in Hell with His wrath being poured out. But He was merciful on His People and sent Christ to bear the weight of God’s Wrath in our place. By grace, through faith, we can place our trust in Him and be justified in God’s eyes. And by His grace, He also imputes His righteousness onto us so that God sees the righteousness of Christ when He sees us. This is salvation. God being merciful on those who He does not have to be merciful and making a way for our debt of treason to be paid for – so that we may be united with Christ and in His presence.
Within the doctrine of salvation, we can see several ways in which we will be united with Christ. And understanding of this unity is paramount to understanding this marvelous doctrine. Initially, we are united with Christ through the first part of the doctrine of salvation: our election. God chose us before the foundation of the world to receive the gift of salvation. He chose us that we would be united with Christ.
“Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him, in love.” Ephesians 1:4
Within the doctrine of salvation, we are also united with Christ in a Covenantal Union. Those who are saved are called the Body of Christ. This metaphor is a very unique metaphor. Most New Testament metaphors have an Old Testament equivalent. In the New Testament, we have Christ’s Bride, He is the Vine and we are the Branches, He is the Shepherd and we are the Flock. The Old Testament equivalents are that Israel was His Bride, Vineyard, and Flock. This emphasizes that this is to be our single identity: the Body of Christ. We are a communion of believers functioning in unique roles and unique but different gifts to form one body. This mysterious union will be consummated in eternity. We will be able to be with Him forever. We will be glorified with Him forever.
“Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.” 1 Corinthians 12:27
“When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.” Colossians 3:4
John Murray in his book Accomplished and Applied said, “Nothing is more central or basic than union and communion with Christ… It is not simply a step in the application of redemption… it underlies every step of the application of redemption… Union with Christ is really the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation, not only in its application but also for its once-for-all accomplishment in the finished work of Christ. Indeed, the whole process of salvation has its origin in one phase of union with Christ and salvation has in view the realization of other phases or union with Christ.”
John Calvin said that our union with Christ is of “the highest degree of importance” and that unless we understand this rightly, we cannot understand justification completely. Sinclair Ferguson in his book Christian Spirituality: Five Views of Sanctification taught that the doctrine of our union with Christ is the very foundation of the study of sanctification.
When an individual is saved that person is immediately united with Christ. We are united with Him in His death and resurrection as illustrated in Believer’s Baptism. We are united with Christ in His ascension into heaven. Christ is sitting at the right hand of God and we are joined with Him in that we sit with Him in the heavens. And we are even united with Christ in His return, for we shall appear with Him. In all these things, Sinclair points out that we are not rooted in Christ based on what we have done, but in what God has done in Christ Jesus. If we view ourselves in light of Redemption History, it emboldens us and is beneficial in our sanctification.
“For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren,” Romans 8:29
It is through the hope of the gospel, and thusly our unity in Christ, that we can have hope in ever seeing any real change in our hearts, and in the hearts of those whom we counsel. J. Gresham Machen said, “It is inconceivable that a man should be given faith in Christ, that he should accept this gift which Christ offers, and still go on contentedly in sin. For the very thing which Christ offers us is salvation from the guilt of sin, but also salvation from the power of sin.”
“He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,” Titus 3:5
Just as God has provided a way for us to be justified and redeemed from our sin guilt – we are immediately proclaimed righteous, not based on anything that we have done but based on the finished work of Christ. God has also provided a way for us to grow in sanctification: by our unity with Christ. It is by this unity that we are empowered to live for Him and to obey His Word, clinging to the promise that we will one day be fully transformed into His image. This is our longing, our hope, our security: we are united with Him, and because of that we can trust Him to keep His promises. He will not abandon us when we falter, or when life becomes overwhelming because He has promised to complete the work in us that He started when He predestined us.
“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2
“Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.” 1 John 3:2
Our union with Christ grants us the blessings given to us by God through Christ, namely, our redemption, justification, new heart, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It is through this unity that we are set free from sins dominion. Our spiritual growth is not based on our efforts for external conformity, but on the righteousness and fullness of Christ being laid upon us. It is through this unity that we have a secure Hope in our eternity with Him.
“For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God,” Colossians 3:3
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