Union with Christ
If I were to ask you to explain what it meant to be a Christian, what would you say?
Many would say it involves mostly rules. Others think it’s doing good things for other people. Or maybe church attendance. Perhaps intellectual belief. But how does the Bible define following Jesus?
Overwhelmingly, we hear descriptions about being in Him.
- Paul says “in Him” 11 times just in the opening chapter to the Ephesians.
- The same phrase, “in Him,” occurs 73 times in the New Testament .
- Just a couple tantalizing examples,
- In love He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself, according to His favor and will, to the praise of His glorious grace that He favored us with in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:5-6)
- Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)
- Just a couple tantalizing examples,
We also hear descriptions about Christ being in us.
- To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27)
- I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
- So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose. (Philippians 2:12-13)
So frequent are these terms used to describe the Christian, and so extensive is the scope of each, that for simplicity’s sake, the entire mystical endeavor is often simply called Union with Christ .
What is Union with Christ?
Christ put it rather succinctly, “In that day you will know that I am in My Father, you are in Me, and I am in you” (John 14:20, HCSB). I think Wayne Grudem’s definition is helpful here: Union with Christ is “a phrase used to summarize several different relationships between believers and Christ, through which Christians receive every benefit of salvation“. In other words, everything noteworthy about salvation–from start to finish, from conversion to glory–is inextricably tied to our union with Christ! We do not have any Christianity apart from our union with Christ.
It underlies all the works of God in our lives: election, calling, regeneration, faith, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, and glorification. To study union with Christ is to explore all of these particular blessings, and therefore the vast range of meaning in that little word in. – John M. Frame.
Why should you care?
Some of you may think of union with Christ an abstract doctrine, useful only for arm-chair theologians who like to spend endless hours nitpicking ethereal concepts that never touch the human experience. I hope to relieve you from this state of indifference!
There isn’t anything in the Bible that touches the human experience more than this. 
When a person becomes a Christian, they are not merely brought into a new set of beliefs, a list of behaviors, or a social club; it is a mysterious, all-encompassing, multi-faceted relationship and realm involving a divine Person. God himself invades our mess in the most literal way possible. Divine beauty and sinful flesh converge in a miraculous display. That mystical relationship has tremendous implications. I’ll just share from my experience of life in union with Christ.
It explains who I am.
- I’m justified in Him (Rom 3:24; 2 Cor 5:17,21; Phi 3:9)
- I’m identified with Him (Eph 2:6,10)
- I’m adopted by Him (Eph 1:5-6)
- I’m brought near to Him (Eph 2:13)
To name a few.
It fuels how I live.
- My sanctification is in Him (John 15:4; Rom 6:4; 1 Cor 1:2,30; Gal 4:19; Eph 3:16-17; Col 1:28)
- The spiritual disciplines I practice are in Him (See my post on a “contemplative approach”)
- My emotional health is in Him (See my sermon on this topic)
To name just a few.
It shows where I want to go.
Perhaps you answered my original question by saying, “Christianity has to do with following a set of rules,” or “It is mainly about being a good person.” I would say Christianity may include or overlap with some of those popular definitions of religion—I certainly hope Christians can be identified with good people, who are consistent in their beliefs and convictions. But I would also suggest that being a Christian is more. It’s about being the version of humanity that God originally intended. But for that to happen, you must be indwelt with the Divine (2 Pet. 1:4).
In his Magnus Opus, The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard suggests that a person cannot keep Christ’s law by trying to keep Christ’s law. That person must aim for something higher. “One must aim to become the kind of person from whom the deeds of the law naturally flow” (142).
I believe our Lord put it this way: “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me” (John 15:4, ESV).
Back to my point, where I want to go.
Well… I want health in my entirety. A healthy Christian is someone who is made more like the Christ who indwells them. Paul said that God’s good purpose is that we would be “conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:28-29), which is also to “mature in Christ” (Col. 1:28). This involves the health of the whole person. To love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (Matt 22:37). It’s what Jesus said was the most important command; the one to write home about, certainly, the one to remember if you are prone to forgetting such things.
I’m sure you’ve heard of nominal Christians. Perhaps judgmental Christians. Or [fill-in-the-blank] Christians. But my obsession is with healthy Christians.
I’m obsessed with how Christians can become healthy. So far, I’m convinced that it has to do with our union with Christ. So I obsess about that too. Mostly because I want to be a healthy Christian. And I want everyone I know to become one too.
What this blog offers
This blog exists in great part to take this far-reaching, all-encompassing, glorious doctrine of our union with Christ, and show it’s daily implications in everyday life. Union with Christ is not for the armchair theologians.
It’s for you. And it’s for me.
How do you experience Union with Christ?
The apostle said, “When you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and when you believed in Him, you were also sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1:13). That’s a great place to start.
Your experience of Jesus starts by believing the truth about Jesus. As J. Todd Billings writes, “Full humanity is humanity in complete union with God” . So most of these posts will explore the realization or practical application of this truth. Even if it’s subtle. For example,
- How my ignorance of union with Christ drove me to a contemplative approach to Christianity.
- How union with Christ draws me to a life of simplicity.
- How understanding union with Christ enabled me to evangelize as the introvert that I am.
- How union with Christ protects us from getting burnt out by overwhelming needs.
- Or why union with Christ means Christians attacking Christians is a really big deal.
- It also shows up in some of my book reviews.
So, stay tuned!
1. Constantine R. Campbell, in his groundbreaking exegetical study on union with Christ, notes that “There are seventy-three occurrences of the precise phrase ἐν Χριστῷ in the Pauline corpus.” Paul and Union with Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012) p.67
2. John M. Frame suggests that “Union with Christ is in Scripture the most general way of characterizing Jesus’ work of salvation. Jesus saves us by uniting us to himself.” Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013). p.913
5. John Murray speaking in relation to the Christian life, said “Nothing is more central or basic than union and communion with Christ.” Redemption—Accomplished and Applied. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1955) p.161
6. J. Todd Billings argues that “Union with Christ centers Christian identity in Jesus Christ himself, and in the claim of the triune God upon the Christian.” Union With Christ. p.9
Here is my full-length sermon on this topic:
Posted on December 5, 2014, in discipleship, doctrine, gospel, realitysb, spiritual disciplines, spiritual formation, theology and tagged Christ in us, dwell, in Christ, indwelling, mutual indwelling, mystical union, union with Christ. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.