28 August 2020
The term “union with Christ” was referred to in our sharing of “being born again”. It is a term and concept which is very significant – in fact, it is crucial to, and at the heart of, the biblical teaching of salvation. One theologian went as far as to state, “there are no benefits of the gospel apart from union with Christ”. Our entire salvation can actually be described as union and communion with Christ in grace and glory. It is therefore pertinent for us to understand this concept, not just intellectually, but in experience. The reality of this concept far surpasses the ability of our language to describe it; but as it is so central and important for believers to grasp, here is an attempt to describe it as best as God enables.
In Ephesians 1:3-14, the Apostle Paul sums up the whole of the Christian faith as entailing union with Christ. From election before the foundation of the world (vs 3-4), to redemption by the blood of Christ (vs 7), to the role of the Holy Spirit, who seals us to the daly of redemption (vs 13-14), all happen in Him, in Christ. Indeed, the renovation of the entire cosmos is to occur under the headship of Christ (vs 10).
According to Paul in Romans 5:12-21, just as Adam plunged the whole race into sin and death because of their relationship of solidarity with him, so the second Adam, Christ, brings life and righteousness to all who sustain a relationship of solidarity (union) with Him.
In Romans 6:1, in answer to charges that the gospel encourages moral indifference, Paul clarifies that believers, the justified, live to Christ and do not give themselves over to sin. This is because they died with Christ to sin and rose again to new life in His resurrection (refer sharing on ‘being born again’). Not only did Christ die and rise again for them, but they died and rose with him (Gal 2:20). Union with Christ is the foundational basis also for sanctification and the dynamic force that empowers it. The resurrection of Christ and the future resurrection of the His church is also one reality; the two stand together. In fact, Christ has been raised – and so, therefore, will we be. Christ is the firstfruit of the resurrection of believers at HIs return (1Corinthians 15: 19-23). Not only is His resurrection first in time but as firstfruits, it is of the same kind as the full harvest. Christ’s resurrection and the resurrection of the believers, separated by indefinite time, are identical because the latter occurs in union with the former.
Thus “Union with Christ” is seen and operative in justification, sanctification and resurrection of the believers – such is the centrality of this concept and truth.
The basis of our union with Christ is Christ’s union with us in the incarnation. We can become one with Him because He first became one with us. By taking human nature into personal union, the Son of God has joined Himself to humanity. He now has a human body and soul, which He will never jettison. God’s covenantal promises focus in the incarnate Christ. Christ’s union with us in the incarnation serves as the foundation for all that follows in salvation and, more than that, is at the heart of what salvation involves.
God is exactly like Jesus, since Jesus is identical with God. Not only is God our God in Christ, but in Christ we are God’s people – He is the One who perfectly replies as man to God in faith and obedience. We cannot be God’s people in ourselves, since we are by nature sinners and deserving of God’s wrath. Thus, our election before the foundation of the world is in Christ, and so our whole salvation is in Christ too. It is here that Christ’s work as our Great High Priest fits into the picture. In becoming man, He took our place and bore our sins in His body on the cross, rising for our justification and ascending in our flesh to the right hand of the Father. Thus, all God’s historical covenants are centered in Christ and fulfilled by Him. Moreover, they are centred in union with Christ – it is in union with Him that He is our God and we are His people.
Christ will never divest Himself of His assumed humanity, or else we could not be saved. The incarnation is not for the years of time alone but for eternity. This is so because as our Saviour He is also the head of His church and will continue to be so without end. Moreover, as the Mediator of creation, He has assumed the full authority given to man in creation lost and misused by Adam but now fulfilled in HIs ministry as the second Adam. The incarnation is the indispensable basis for union with Christ. Since Christ has united Himself to us in the incarnation, we can be united to Him by the Holy Spirit. Both the incarnate Son and the Holy Spirit together, distinctly but indivisibly bring about our union with Christ. It is the work of the Holy Spirit in uniting us to Christ, in regeneration, in sanctification, in resurrection, ascension and in reigning with Christ in glory. The Holy Spirit enters, indwells, saturates, and pervades countless human persons and so brings them into union with Christ the Son. This explains the statement “You must be born again” of the Spirit.
Union with Christ is based on Christ’s being our covenant head and is established by His sharing our nature. Since He is our head and representative, who shares our humanity, all that He did in His earthly ministry was done as a substitute and representative. Yet our union with Him goes much further than this. Since He shares our nature, and since the Holy Spirit unites us to Him, all that He did and does is in union with us. He took our place under the wrath of God, while we take His place as sons of the Father. He is the head and we are the members. When the head acts, the whole body of members participates in the action of the head. This union is the ground of our whole salvation, justification included. We receive a right status before God, since we are incorporated into the Son of God Himself. All that He did is ours – we were and are considered by God to be in Christ.