Word of the Week: Union with Christ

This week’s word is a theological phrase. Many of the aspects of our salvation can be defined using a word: adoption, justification, regeneration, etc. But this aspect of salvation, union with Christ, requires the qualifying prepositional phrase.

The specific union we are highlighting today is our union with Christ. Union with Christ makes relationship with God the Father possible because Jesus intercedes for us with his righteousness. Union with Christ also makes relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ possible, making us the church, because we are all united in Christ.

John Murray has written that “union with Christ is the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation” (Redemption, 201).

Our union with Christ in salvation is a glorious truth and wonderful privilege. Jesus himself describes it to his followers during his discourse on the last night with them before the crucifixion.

18I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 

John 14:18-20 (emphasis mine)

22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 

John 17:22-23 (emphasis mine)

Jesus is not alone in describing this aspect of salvation. In his letters, Paul referenced union with Christ in one form or another at least 165 times.

As a glorious salvation truth, our union with Christ is utterly dependent on grace. When God saves us through Christ, he invites us into relationship with Christ. He also gives us the Holy Spirit (the spirit of Christ Romans 8:9) to dwell within us.

Our union with Christ is a part of the great exchange that God makes on our behalf. Christ took our sin. And God gave us Christ’s righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21).

We no longer stand before God in our own deeds. We stand before God in Christ. As a result, we can pray to the Father through the righteousness of Christ. We can abide in Christ because we’ve been brought into relationship with God through Christ. We can be assured of eternal life because we are in union with Christ. Our salvation is dependent on the righteousness of Christ.

In his discourse, Jesus went on to describe his union with believers using the analogy of the Vine and branches. Jesus taught his followers that relationship with him means abiding in him.

1 I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 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. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

John 15:1-11

Abiding in Christ is how we apply our union with Christ in our Christian experience.

We abide in Christ by realizing that our union with Christ is a gift of grace. We don’t earn or deserve our salvation. We receive it. But upon receiving it, we have the privilege and responsibility of living it out.

We abide in Christ by loving and obeying Christ. The privilege and responsibility of living in union with Christ is defined by loving and obeying Christ. When we obey, we love; when we love, we obey. We love and obey because we have been made one with Christ. It is our new nature in Christ.

Sinclair Ferguson explains it this way:

In a nutshell, abiding in Christ means allowing His Word to fill our minds, direct our wills, and transform our affections. In other words, our relationship to Christ is intimately connected to what we do with our Bibles! Then, of course, as Christ’s Word dwells in us and the Spirit fills us, we will begin to pray in a way consistent with the will of God and discover the truth of our Lord’s often misapplied promise: “You will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you” (John 15:7b).

Sinclair Ferguson, In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel Centered Life, (kindle locations 933-936).

We are steeped in the Easter season where we reflect on Christ’s passion week, death on the cross, and resurrection. These seasonal themes are more than just for this time of year. They are permanent. This season serves as as reminder of the glories of our salvation. Take some time this week to read your Bible, especially the Gospels and Jesus’ Passion week. Let God speak to you through his Word about his salvation and who you are in Christ.

Rejoice. You have union with Christ. Christ died on the cross taking your sin. You no longer stand before God in your righteousness, or your unrighteousness. You stand before God in Christ.

Abide. You have union with Christ. Love and obey the one who gave his life for your salvation. Let God’s Word guide your thinking and dictate your behavior.

Celebrate. You have union with Christ. Easter is just around the corner. Whether in person or virtual, we should celebrate our union with Christ on Resurrection Sunday.

Hope. You have union with Christ. Heaven is assured for those of us in Christ. Heaven is Christ’s abode. Those of us in Christ are assured to be there.

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