What Does It Mean That We Have “Union With Christ”?

David Finkbeiner  and J. Brian Tucker
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We all like receiving gifts, whether at birthdays, Christmas, or some other time. When people give us a gift, we thank them and think fondly of them from time to time as we enjoy it. But once we receive the gift from them, we can enjoy it apart from them. Salvation too is a gift—the gift of God (Eph. 2:8)—but it is not like Christmas or birthday presents that can be enjoyed apart from the giver. Salvation is inherently personal, a gift inseparable from the one who secured it and gives it. Christ Himself is our salvation. When we trust Him at conversion, we are joined with Him, and in Him we receive all the blessings of salvation. This is called union with Christ. Paul summarizes it nicely in Ephesians 1:3 when he says that God the Father “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing” (esv, emphasis added). There is no salvation apart from the Savior.

Consider some of the ways Scripture pictures our intimate union with Christ. Frequently Scripture says that believers are in Christ (e.g., 1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Cor. 5:17, 21; Phil. 3:8–9) and that Christ is in believers (e.g., 2 Cor. 13:5; Col. 1:27; Eph. 3:17). Christ is pictured as the living vine who gives life and sustenance to believers as branches (John 15:1–11). Christ is also pictured as the head of the body, and believers are all parts of that body in organic union with one another in Him (Eph. 1:22–23; 4:14–16; 5:23; Col. 1:17–18; cf. Rom. 12:4–5; 1 Cor. 12:12–13). Perhaps even more powerfully, Scripture uses marriage to present the personal, intimate relationship between Christ and believers (Eph. 5:22–33; 1 Cor. 11:3; Rev. 19:7; 21:9).

In Christ each of us is adopted as God’s child (Gal. 3:26; Eph. 1:4–5). He is the beloved Son in whom the Father is well-pleased (Matt. 3:17), and in Him we participate in His sonship by faith (John 1:12–13; 1 John 3:1–3; 5:1).

What is this union like? It is life-giving, for our very spiritual life and growth comes only in our relationship to Christ. Christ is our life (Col. 3:4; John 11:25–26; Gal. 2:20). In addition, it is intimate, personally relating us to Christ in a way that touches every part of our being and shapes our identity. Further, the union is Trinitarian. That is, in Christ we are brought into intimate relationship with the Father and the Spirit. Our union with Christ brings union with the Father (John 17:2–23; 1 John 4:15; 1 Thess. 1:1). And not only does the Spirit unite us with Christ and mediate His presence in us (1 Cor. 12:13; Rom. 8:9–11), but Christ also is the one through whom we receive the Spirit (John 14:26; Matt. 3:11; Luke 24:49; Acts 1:5; 2:33; Eph. 1:13). Our union with Christ is also judicial, in that our standing before God as judge is legally inseparable from Jesus Christ. Finally, this union is corporate, for in being united with Christ believers are also organically united with one another as the body of Christ (Eph. 4:15–16).

This amazing union means that what is true of Him is applied to me. The good news of what He has done becomes my story. In Him, I am joined to the new redeemed humanity out of the old fallen humanity in Adam (Rom. 5:12–20). In Him, His perfect life and righteousness become mine, sinner though I am (1 Cor. 1:30; Rom. 5:18–19; Phil. 3:9). In Him, my sin which He bore is paid in full (Rom. 3:23–26; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24). In Him, I died to what I was in Adam and am raised to new life, a life that changes me and secures my final resurrection (Rom. 6:1–23; Eph. 2:4–6). And as He is now exalted at the right hand of the Father, so now in Him I am spiritually seated with Him in heavenly places with future, eternal glory guaranteed (Eph. 2:4–6; 1:19–23; Col. 3:3–4). In Him, as I live this life to His glory, He is in me and with me and working through me to make me more like Him and fulfill His calling for me (Matt. 28:20; John 15:5; 1 Cor. 15:58; Phil. 1:21; 4:13).

Consider just one facet of our union with Christ. In Christ each of us is adopted as God’s child (Gal. 3:26; Eph. 1:4–5). He is the beloved Son in whom the Father is well-pleased (Matt. 3:17), and in Him we participate in His sonship by faith (John 1:12–13; 1 John 3:1–3; 5:1). This reality represents a remarkable reconciliation with God, for prior to being joined to Christ we were enemies of God (Rom. 5:10) and “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3). Because of our adoption in Christ, we are also reconciled with one another and become brothers and sisters in Christ (Eph. 2:11–22). Because of our adoption in Christ, we are joint heirs with Him (Rom. 8:16–17). Because of our adoption in Christ, we can boldly approach the throne of our Father in prayer (Eph. 2:18; 3:11–12; Heb. 4:16; Rom. 5:1–2). Because of our adoption in Christ, we experience blessings that come from being children of our heavenly Father, including His loving care (Matt. 6:25–34) and discipline (Heb. 12:5–11).

There are many other facets of our union with Christ beyond our adoption and reconciliation. By virtue of our union with Christ, we are regenerated (Eph. 2:5, 10), justified (Rom. 3:21–26; Phil. 3:9), sanctified (1 Cor. 1:30; John 15:4– 5; Eph. 4:15–16), secured (Rom. 8:31–39; John 10:27–28), and will be resurrected (1 Cor. 15:20–22; Rom. 6:5) to glory (Rom. 8:29–30; 1 John 3:2). In a sense, we were in Christ even before we were saved. For the Father “chose us in him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:3–4 ESV), guaranteeing that in the future, we would be united with Christ by faith to experience the blessings of salvation.

For Further Reading:

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