Joining the Union

A Forgotten Doctrine

When was the last time you heard a sermon about union with Christ?

Union with Christ might be one of the most neglected, overlooked doctrines of the Christian faith. And yet, as we will see in a moment, this glorious truth is the basis for every blessing and joy we experience as God’s chosen people. Michael Reeves notes, “Union with Christ is not some small, particular blessing that might go alongside the key blessings of the gospel. Union with Christ is the Christian life.” Spurgeon states, “There is no joy in this world like union with Christ. The more we can feel it, the happier we are.”

“In Christ”

While the specific phrase union with Christ is not found in Bible, the doctrine is presented in a number of ways. For example, the phrase in Christ is found over ninety times in the New Testament. Phrases like in him and in whom often refer to this blessed doctrine as well. The Bible also uses a number of metaphors to illustrates this union. For example:

What is Union with Christ?

Union with Christ refers to our vital, inseparable oneness with Him. John Piper defines union with Christ as follows: “The reality of all the ways that the Bible pictures our human connectedness to Christ, in which He is indispensable for every good that we enjoy. No saving good, no eternal good, no God-exalting good, no soul-satisfying good comes to us except as we are connected to Christ.” Every gospel blessing that we have, from eternity past to eternity future, comes to us because of our union with Christ (Eph. 1:3-14).

In his helpful book, The Gospel for Real Life, Jerry Bridges identifies two aspects of our union with Christ. He notes (p. 39), “We can distinguish two aspects of our union with Christ this way: Our legal union with Christ entitles us to all that Christ did for us as He acted in our place, as our substitute. Our vital union with Christ is the means by which He works in us by His Holy Spirit.”

Bridges elaborates, “The legal union refers to His objective work outside of us that is credited to us through faith. The vital union refers to His subjective work in us, which is also realized through faith as we rely on His Spirit to work in and through us. Though our union with Christ has two aspects, it is one union. We cannot have legal union without also having vital union. If through faith we lay hold of what Christ did for us, we will also begin to experience His workings in us.”

The Believer’s Life in Christ
Christ Our Representative

Key Passages: I Cor. 15:22; Ro.5:12-21; 6:1-6; Gal. 2:20)

Every person is either “in Adam” or “in Christ.” Those “in Adam” are dead in sin and separated from God because of their relationship to Adam and his rebellion. Those “in Christ” are dead to sin and spiritually alive unto God because of their relationship to Christ and His obedience.

Christ has taken what was ours so that we could have what is His. He acted on our behalf so that His…

  • Death becomes our death.
  • Resurrection life becomes the guarantee of our eternal life (Ro. 6:3-5).
  • Triumph becomes our victory over sin, death, and hell.
  • Righteousness becomes our righteousness.
  • Inheritance becomes our inheritance.

The “old man” (who were were in Adam) is no more. We are no longer slaves of sin or under the condemnation of the Law. In Christ, we have been made new (2 Cor. 5:17). We are alive unto God and live in the realm of His grace (Ro. 6:1-14). We are indwelt and empowered by the Holy Spirit. We have overcome the enticing, death-dealing snares of this world (John 16:33; I Jn. 5:4; Gal. 6:14). We are a heavenly people who anticipate our final inheritance in the new heavens and earth (Col. 3:1-4; Eph. 1:11-14).

Christ Our Sanctification

Key Passages: John 15:1-11; I Cor. 1:30; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 3:16-17

In Christ, we have everything that we need for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3-4). We are complete in Him, having all sufficiency in all things so that we can abound in every good work (Col. 2:10; 2 Cor. 9:8). Because we are united to Christ, we have power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. Through the Spirit’s transforming work, we can put sin to death (Ro. 8:13), grow in Christlikeness (2 Cor. 3:18), experience the riches of God’s love (Eph. 3:16-17; Ro. 5:5), and bear the fruit of the Spirt (Gal.5:22-24). Furthermore, we can know the joy of walking in vital communion with the triune God as we abide in Christ.

How then should we live? Galatians 2:20 states, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I [the old me] 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.” Laying hold of the precious promises and provisions of our union with Christ, we look to Him for grace and strength to mortify sin, pursue Christlikeness, and walk in newness of life (Col. 3:1-17; Ro. 6:1-14).

A Happy Business

Martin Luther summarizes union with Christ this way: “Faith…unites the soul with Christ, as a bride is united with her bridegroom. From such a marriage, as Paul says, it follows that Christ and the soul become one body, so that they hold all things in common, whether for better or worse. This means that what Christ possesses belongs to the believing soul, and what the soul possesses belongs to Christ. Thus Christ possesses all good things and holiness; these now belong to the soul. The soul possesses lots of vices and sin; these now belong to Christ… Now is not this a happy business? Christ, the rich, noble and holy bridegroom, takes in marriage this poor, contemptible and sinful little prostitute, takes away all her evil and bestows all His goodness upon her! It is no longer possible for sin to overwhelm her, for she is now found in Christ.”

Micah Colbert

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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