Summary: Union with Christ may be the most important doctrine you’ve never heard of. Yet this is a truth that has been taught throughout the history of the church. It needs to be revived for the 21st Century.
“Union with Christ may be the most important doctrine you’ve never heard of” (Kevin DeYoung). Yet this is a truth that has been taught throughout the history of the church. It needs to be revived for the 21st Century. It’s been said that “Once you have your eyes opened to this concept of union with Christ, you will find it almost everywhere in the New Testament” (Anthony Hoekema).
What is true about every Christian? Christ lives in us. He takes up residence in believers…and this is true whether we feel it or not. We may change; He does not. Oneness with Christ is our source of holiness. Christianity is the life of God in the human soul. It is “Christ in you, the hope of glory,” Colossians 1:27. We are personally joined to the living, incarnate, crucified, resurrected Jesus. In our reading from Romans 8, verse 11 says that Christ’s spirit “lives in you”. The original language states that He “indwells” us.
Union with Christ is the central truth of the Gospel message and the essence of salvation (John Murray). Christ is formed within us--resulting in a new identity, a new destiny, and a new nature. “We participate and share in His victory on the cross; we died with Him and are united to Him in all He has done for us” (Rankin Wilbourne). “Jesus is more than a provider of blessings; He is in Himself the blessings He provides” (Marcus Johnson). Our connection with Christ removes our condemnation; but more than that, we are transformed into set-apart saints, new creations. We exchange our old life for new life in Him.
So salvation is not simply ending up in the “right place,” but being made into the right person. Our spiritual union with Christ makes us citizens of Heaven, Philippians 3:20. We begin to experience a bit of Heaven here and now. We’re “standing on the shore with one foot in Heaven” (Buechner). We’re on a spiritual journey, a sacred pilgrimage, an adventure! And Christ is in the beginning, middle, and end of it all.
The Apostle Paul often talks about being “in Christ.” His epistles use this term over-and-over. This union is “the new atmosphere in which we live and breathe and depend upon” (Alec Vidler). My good friend Pastor Dave Nelson says that “The greatest gift God could give to His creatures is Himself. Jesus is our life. Union with Christ is the essence of salvation…and the Giver gets the glory.” The work of Christ is for us, and the person of Christ is in us.
In his Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem writes that, “Every aspect of our relationship with God in this life has occurred in union with Christ. This does not mean that we merely agree with Christ or that His ideas are in us. There is a real, personal dwelling of Christ in us.”
This union is admittedly a mystery of faith. There are some teachings in the Bible that we simply accept. We can’t fully comprehend Christ-in-us, but we need to know it is a reality of our faith and life. As we grow in our faith we may become more aware of our union with the One who not only directs our ways but who is the Source of our life and being. Embracing this mystery can bring us into closer communion with God.
Abiding in Christ doesn’t come naturally for us; it comes supernaturally. This goes against modern thinking that turns a blind eye to God. Our increasingly secular world has grown disenchanted with the supernatural. People see the world in mere material terms. They reject the biblical worldview, which dares to insist in the face of unbelief that there’s more to this world than meets the eye. J.R.R. Tolkien suggested that there is “a fleeting glimpse of joy beyond the walls of the world.” When we accept this and long for it, we’re closer to embracing the reality of this miraculous union.
Salvation occurs by God forgiving and rescuing us from the penalty of sin by the blood of Christ, who then savingly dwells within us. Early church father Irenaus writes: “By no other means could we have attained to incorruptibility and immortality, unless we had been united to incorruptibility and immortality.”
The movie Rudy tells the true story of a young student at Notre Dame who wanted more than anything to play on their football team. But he was too small and too slow. Nonetheless, he was determined to play, and he worked harder than anyone on the team. After a demanding practice the coach told him, “Rudy, I wish God would put your heart in some of my players’ bodies.” That is precisely what God has done for us. He has taken the heart of Jesus and placed it in us. His divine presence gives us power and confidence.