The Blessing of Union With Christ

By Matt Perman

I. Definition: "Union with Christ is a phrase used to summarize several different relationships between believers and Christ, through which Christians receive every benefit of salvation. These relationships include the fact that we are in Christ, He is in us, we are like Christ, and we are with Christ."[1]

A. How it relates to all of the various aspects of our salvation in general.
    1. "Union with Christ is really the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation not only in its application but also in its once-for-all accomplishment in the finished work of Christ. Indeed the whole process of salvation has its origin in one phase of union with Christ and salvation has in view the realization of other phases of union with Christ....Union with Christ is the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation."[2]
B. How it relates to adoption in particular.
    1. While adoption is the pinnacle of our blessing and privilege, "...We cannot think of adoption apart from union with Christ. It is significant that the election in Christ before the foundation of the world is election unto the adoption of sons....Union with Christ reaches its zenith in adoption and adoption has its orbit in union with Christ."[3]
II. Everything that God does is in Christ and thus Christ-centered.

A. God's redeeming plan for the whole universe is in Christ.
    1. Colossians 1:20.
    2. Ephesians 1:9-12.
B. God's specific redeeming plan for His elect is in Christ.
    1. God's love is located in Christ: Romans 8:39
    2. God's grace is in Christ: 2 Timothy 2:1
    3. Salvation is in Christ: 2 Timothy 2:10
    4. All Saints are in Christ: Philippians 1:1
C. The result?
    1. See Ephesians 3:11 and Ephesians 1:12
D. What are the implications of this?
    1. If you are in Christ, you partake of all of the blessings that are in Him such as God's love, God's grace, and eternal life which we will examine more specifically below.
    2. The only way to possess these blessings is through Christ. Thus, no one can have these things without also having Christ through faith.
    3. We should never ever conceive of anything good or any aspect of our salvation apart from our Lord Jesus Christ.
III. The importance and centrality of union with Christ: It is the core of our salvation, for everything involved in the fullness of our salvation flows out of our union with Christ.

A. Every spiritual blessing flows from it: Eph 1:3.
B. Salvation flows from it: 2 Tim 2:10.
C. Our completeness in grace flows from it: Col. 2:10.
D. Everything we need is in Christ and thus comes through union with Him: 1 Corinthians 1:30.

IV. Our union with Christ stretches from eternity to eternity, though not in the same way.

A. How can Ephesians 1:4 say that we were in Christ from eternity past, and yet 2:12 says that before conversion we were "separate from Christ"? The answer is that there are two different modes of our union with Christ: objective union and subjective union.

V. Objective union: This the union we have had with Christ from all eternity past and while He was on earth. Since it existed before we believed and even before we existed, it is a legal union, but not an experiential union.

A. It is a union with Christ in God's eternal decrees, and thus we have had many blessings from eternity past.
    1. When the Father chose us to be holy and blameless, He thought of us as in union with Christ: Ephesians 1:4
    2. When the Father predestined us to be adopted, He did so through Christ: Ephesians 1:5
    3. God predestined us to believe as the means to receiving these benefits: 2 Timothy 1:9; 2 Thessalonians 2:13.
B. It is a union with Christ as our federal head our legal representative. While Christ was on earth, and even now and forever, we were (and are) in Christ by God's sovereign appointment of Him as our federal head.
    1. The concept of representation is very important because it is so integral to so many aspects of our salvation. Adam was our representative in the Garden of Eden, meaning that he was acting for us (in our place). His sin was therefore rightly regarded by God to be our sin as well. Christ was sent as the second Adam and last Adam to represent all of God's elect. He obeyed God for Christians where Adam had failed. Therefore, Christ's obedience is rightly regarded by God to be our obedience as well.

    2. Thus, whatever Christ did as our representative, God counted it as something we did too.
    3. Thus, God can credit Christ's righteousness to us and our sins to Him: 2 Corinthians 5:21.
C. "The work of Christ has direct bearing on our salvation essentially because of our union with His person. If we were not viewed as being in union with Christ when He lived and died, then His life and death could never save us. His death and resurrection, if not viewed as being vicarious and substitutionary by virtue of our union with Him, would be absolutely meaningless."[4]

VI. Subjective union: Whereas objective union is a legal union, subjective union is experiential. It is the personal connection and union we have with Christ upon believing and forever into the future. It is through this union that we receive and enjoy the blessings secured for us by means of the objective union.

A. Our subjective union is based upon and was secured by the objective union.
    1. Because of our objective union with Christ, "When Christ returned to heaven, therefore, all the blessings of salvation were earned for us. God thought of these blessings as being rightfully ours, just as if we had earned them ourselves. Nevertheless, they were stored up for us in heaven in God's mind, actually, and in Christ, our representative waiting to be applied to us personally [in subjective union]."[5]

    2. For example, because the Father chose us in Christ objectively, we come to believe in Christ subjectively (Acts 13:48). Because believers have died with Christ objectively (2 Corinthians 5:14) we will be raised with Christ subjectively (see Romans 6:8).
B. Thus, (as Robert Morey points out) objective union concerns the plan and accomplishment of redemption, whereas subjective union concerns the application of redemption. All of the remaining blessings we will examine in this study most directly concern our subjective union.

VII. Our new life of holiness is all through our union with Him.

A. We are born again in Christ: Ephesians 2:10.
B. We are new creatures in Christ: 2 Corinthians 5:17.
C. We have new life in Christ: Romans 6:4.
D. We have subjectively died with Christ at conversion: Romans 6:6; Colossians 2:12
    1. This gives us power over sin.
E. We have subjectively been raised with Christ and seated in heaven with Him at conversion: Colossians 3:1; Ephesians 2:5-6.
    1. This gives us power to obey.
VIII. Everything we need for living out our salvation is in Christ.

A. Christ is our sanctification: 1 Corinthians 1:30.
B. Truth is in Jesus: Ephesians 4:21
C. In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge: Colossians 2:3
D. Christ is our wisdom: 1 Corinthians 1:30
E. In Christ there is encouragement, consolation of love, fellowship of the Spirit, affection and compassion: Philippians 2:1
F. Faith and love are found in Christ: 1 Timothy 1:14
G. Our spiritual gifts are considered enrichment in Christ: 1 Corinthians 1:5

IX. Everything that we do should be done in Christ.

A. What do you think it means to do something "in Christ"?
    1. It means doing something in the power of Christ and for the honor of Christ. It involves acting with one purpose with Christ in that your desire is that His name be honored and the church be benefitted.
B. Paul's actions done in Christ. He...
    1. Speaks the truth in Christ Ro 9:1; 2 Cor. 2:17
    2. Is proud of his work in Christ Ro. 15:17; 1 Co. 15:31
    3. Reminds the Christians of His ways in Christ: 1 Cor. 4:17.
    4. Hopes in Christ his plans: Philippians 2:19.
    5. Rejoices in the Lord: Philippians 4:10.
    6. Commands, beseeches, and exhorts Christians in the Lord: 1 Thessalonians 4:1; 2 Thessalonians 3:12; Philemon 8.
    7. "Can do all things through Him who strengthens me": Philippians 4:13.
C. In addition to learning from Paul's example, there are many things we are specifically commanded to do in Christ.
    1. In Christ we can labor for His kingdom: 1 Cor. 15:58.
    2. In the Lord children are to obey parents and wives are to submit to their husbands: Ephesians 6:1.
    3. We are to be strong in the Lord: Ephesians 6:10.
    4. We are to rejoice in the Lord: Philippians 3:10.
    5. We are to agree in the Lord: Philippians 4:2.
    6. We are to stand firm in the Lord: Philippians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 3:8.
    7. We are to live a godly life in the Lord: 2 Timothy 3:12.
    8. We are to have good behavior in the Lord: 1 Peter 3:16.
    9. We can work hard in the Lord: Romans 16:12.
    10. We can be made confident in the Lord: Philippians 1:14.
    11. We can be approv3ed in the Lord: Romans 16:10.
    12. We are to abide in Christ: 1 John 2:28; 3:6.
    13. Our entire life is to be lived in the Lord: Colossians 2:6.
    14. In Christ we have boldness and confident access to the Father: Ephesians 3:12.
X. Union with Christ involves close fellowship with Christ

A. Our spirits are united to Christ: 1 Corinthians 6:17
B. Our physical bodies are in union with Christ: 1 Corinthians 6:15
C. Therefore, our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in us: 1 Corinthians 6:19.
D. Because we are members of Christ's body He cherishes and nourishes us: Ephesians 5:29-30
E. Effectual calling is in Christ: 1 Corinthians 7:22; 1:9
F. Becoming a Christian means being called into fellowship with Christ: 1 Corinthians 1:9
G. Christ is in us He indwells us by His Holy Spirit: Romans 8:9-11; Colossians 1:27.
    1. Christ is in us "To overlook this truth would be to neglect the great source of spiritual strength we have within us (1 John 4:4). To remember it destroys our pride, gives us a constant feeling of dependence on Christ, and gives us great confidence, not in self but in Christ working in us."[6]
XI. Through Christ, all believers are united with one another as one spiritual body and thus have deep unity and fellowship.

A. Believers are Christ's body, and thus we are united to each other through Christ: Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 12:27
B. Thus, if one member suffers, we should suffer along with it, and if one member is honored, we should rejoice with it: 1 Corinthians 12:26
C. Spiritual unity among believers is in Christ: Romans 15:5; Galatians 3:28; 6:15; Ephesians 2:13, 21-22
D. Believers are growing into a holy temple in the Lord: Ephesians 2:21
E. In Christ we are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit: Ephesians 2:22
    1. This shows our dependence upon one another.
F. Local churches are in Christ and the Father: 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2:14.

XII. All of the blessings pertaining to our hope for the future are in Christ.

A. We die in the Lord: 1 Thessalonians 4:14, 16.
B. We will be resurrected in Christ: 1 Corinthians 15:22.
C. In Christ we have obtained an inheritance: Ephesians 1:11.
D. Because we are children of God, we are heirs of the kingdom with Christ: Romans 8:17.
E. When Christ returns, we will be revealed with Him in glory: Colossians 3:4.
G. When we suffer, we do so with Christ: Romans 8:17.
H. The result is that we will be glorified with Christ: Romans 8:17.
I. In the ages to come, God will show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness towards us in Christ: Ephesians 2:7.
J. We will be fully like Christ when He returns: 1 John 3:3.

XIII. What exactly is the nature of this union? To what can it be compared? Scriptural illustrations of the union:[7]

A. The union that exists because of Christ between believers is compared with the union between the three Persons of the Trinity: John 14:23; 17:21-23.
    1. What do you think that this analogy tells us about our union with Christ?
B. Our union with Christ and one another is compared to the union between the stones of a building and the chief corner stone: Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Peter 2:4-5.
    1. What do you think that this analogy tells us?
C. It is compared to the union between man and wife: Ephesians 5:22-23.
    1. What does this reveal to us?
D. It is compared to the union between the head and other members in the human body: Eph. 4:15-16.
    1. What does this bring out about the union?
E. It is compared to the relation of the vine to the branches: John 15.
    1. How does this analogy help show you the nature of the union?
D. We must remember that Scripture is using analogies, but not identities. For "just as we may not reduce the union between Christ and his people to the level of the union that exists [between stones], so we must not raise it to the level of the union that exists within the Godhead...Union with Christ does not mean that we are incorporated into the life of the Godhead."[8]

F. The Holy Spirit is the bond of the union: 1 Corinthians 12:13; cf. Romans 8:9-11.

XIV. Union with Christ brings union with the Father (John 14:23; 17:20-23) and with the Holy Spirit (John 14:16, 17; Romans 8:9).

XV. Applications

A. Union with Christ is central to the way we view our identity.

B. Union with Christ is central to the way we view Christ for we must never separate Christ from His people. Christ is close to His people, and thus we see His love more manifest.

C. Union with Christ is central to the way we view our security.

D. It keeps our perspective on life and salvation thoroughly Christ-centered.

E. It shows us our massive dependance on Christ more fully and thus makes Him trust in Him more.

F. It shows that salvation is wholly from the Lord and not at all from ourselves.

G. Because salvation was accomplished by Christ, all blessings of salvation are located in Christ. Because all blessings of salvation are located in Christ, all blessings of salvation come from Christ. Therefore, all of the blessings that we receive are a share in Christ's very own blessings. That is, it is not just "joy" we experience when we rejoice in the Lord, but Christ's very own joy, the same joy that He has, for it is from Him. When we love one another, it is Christ's very own love that is working through us. Therefore, what a close and intimate relationship we have with Christ!

H. "What is it that binds past and present and future together in the life of faith and in the hope of glory? Why does the believer entertain the thought of God's determinate counsel with such joy? Why can he have patience in the perplexities and adversities of the present? Why can he have confident assurance with reference to the future and rejoice in hope of the glory of God? It is because he cannot think of past, present, or future apart from union with Christ."[9]

I. "It is out of the measureless fullness of grace and truth, of wisdom and power, of goodness and love, of righteousness and faithfulness which resides in [Christ] that God's people draw for all their needs in this life and for the hope of the life to come. There is no truth, therefore, more suited to impart confidence and strength, comfort and joy in the Lord than this one of union with Christ."[10]

J. It shows us our unity and dependance upon one another more, and thus should make us strive to experience more fully the deep fellowship and unity of purpose that comes through our common union with Christ.

K. Our cooperate union with Christ as a church should help make us less individualistic.

L. Are you seeing more clearly the massive importance of predestination? Without predestination, the whole stability, continuity, and foundation of our union with Christ breaks down. For without predestination, we could not have been objectively in Christ from eternity past, and neither could He have been our personal representative while on earth. Without predestination, our union with Christ would no longer be eternal and wholly dependant upon God, and thus would not be very strong. But thanks be to God that because of predestination, our union with Christ is solid from eternity past to eternity future.

M. Predestination, coupled with union with Christ, shows that the church is strong because every individual member of the church has been in union with Christ from all eternity as part of the whole community. There is no stone that God intends to place in His church that will fail to be placed, for every stone, and thus the whole building, has been infallibly predestined to its position. Thus, we see that the church which we are a part of is not weak, but very strong and stable. Believing this will in turn make us strong and stable people.

N. "We thus see that union with Christ has its source in the election of God the Father before the foundation of the world and it has its fruition in the glorification of the sons of God. The perspective of God's's people is not narrow; it is broad and it is long. It is not confined to space and time; it has the expanse of eternity. Its orbit has two foci, one the electing love of God the Father in the counsels of eternity, the other glorification with Christ in the manifestation of his glory. The former has no beginning, the latter has no end."[11] Because our earthly lives fall within such a perspective, they have meaning and hope.

1. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 840.
2. John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, pp. 161 and 170.
3. Murray, p. 170.
4. Robert Morey, Studies in the Atonement, p. 92.
5. Grudem, p. 842.
6. Grudem, p. 845.
7. This section draws largely from Murray, p. 168.
8. Murray, p. 168.
9. Murray, p. 164.
10. Murray, p. 165.
11. Murray, p. 164.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1975, 1977, by the Lockman Foundation.

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