Editor’s Note: The Theology in the Everyday series seeks to introduce and explain theological concepts in 500 words or less, with a 200-word section helping explain the doctrine to kids. At For The Church, we believe that theology should not be designated to the academy alone but lived out by faith in everyday life. We hope this series will present theology in such a way as to make it enjoyable, connecting theological ideas to everyday experience and encouraging believers to study theology for the glory of God and the good of the Church. This week, Union with Christ.
I can remember the first time I heard of the doctrine of union with Christ. I was sitting in a classroom in north Texas listening to Dr. Sinclair Ferguson lecture on the doctrine of salvation. He had us to turn to Ephesians 1 and asked a student to read it out loud to the class. Every time the student read the phrase “in Him,” he said in his deep Scottish voice: “IN HIM.”
When the student finished reading, he launched into 45 minutes on the beauty of the doctrine of union with Christ. I sat in the back of the room, tears in my eyes. I had been a Christian for 22 years and the gospel was surprising me yet again.
After class, in the student commons, Dr. Ferguson was chatting with students and I began to pepper him with questions about this doctrine.At one point, after what must have been my tenth question, Dr. Ferguson turned to me and said, “Young Mr. Worley, it’s all in Christ. Every blessing God has for His people. They are all in Christ. Where else would they be?”
He walked back into class, but I didn’t. I walked out of the building in a daze and I walked around the neighborhood for the next two hours. All I could think about was what Dr. Ferguson had said: “Every blessing God has for His people. They are all in Christ. Where else would they be?”
The doctrine of union with Christ changed my life. It changed the way I conceive of my relationship with God. It changed the way I read the Bible. It changed the way I pray. It changed the way I pastor. It changed everything.
Union with Christ
But, what is it? In 500 words or less, here’s how I would explain the doctrine of union with Christ:
Louis Berkhof defined union with Christ as that “intimate, vital, and spiritual union between Christ and His people, in virtue of which He is the source of their life and strength, of their blessedness and salvation.” That’s a really wonderful way of stating it.
This union is intimate in that it takes God’s people and places them into divine fellowship by placing them into the identity and under the covenant headship of the Son of God. It’s vital in that it is necessary for salvation. As John Calvin says concerning salvation, “We are deprived of this utterly incomparable good until Christ is made ours.” It is spiritual in that it is a “mystical” union, it isn’t some tangible thing we can see, but it is real nonetheless.
The doctrine of union with Christ lives in the prepositions of the New Testament and is often overlooked because of its subtlety. But like one of those optical illusions and brain teasers, once you see it…it’s all you can see. Let me just point to a few places: (emphasis added below to spotlight the doctrine)
- Romans 6:5, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
- 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
- Ephesians 1:3, “Blessed the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Chrsit, who has blessed us in Christ…”
- Ephesians 1:4, “…even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world…”
And there are dozens more too!. In Paul’s writings alone we get a total of over 73 uses of the phrase “in (with, into, or through) Christ” with 24 of those times occurring in Ephesians.
John Frame said, “In Christ, is the most general thing that can be said about us as God’s people.”
I have often stressed that the doctrine of union with Christ is not primarily about me in Jesus, but about we in Jesus. The witness of Scripture is consistently pointing to the reality that when we are pulled into identification with Jesus, we are incorporated into His body, that is, all those who have been saved by grace through faith in Christ.
In Christ Jesus, we find all the promises and blessings of God for His people. Nowhere else.
The doctrine of union with Christ is an invitation to make our home with God in Christ Jesus. It is an unbreakable fellowship. Not because we strive to keep the faith, but because God the Father keeps His people in His forever love in the Son of God and by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Brother or sister, whether you have been a Christian for a year or a decade, I appeal to you: Meditate upon this doctrine, let it anchor your soul and may the gospel surprise you all over again.
For the Kids:
Hey kiddos! Imagine you are playing outside and all of a sudden a storm shows up. The rain is pouring down, there is lightning and thunder; would it be better to stay outside the house or to go inside? Of course it would be better to go inside the house, that way you have protection from the storm!
When God created the world, He created it good. But when Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, God’s good world was broken and all of a sudden everybody was caught up in a storm.
But guess what? God invited people to step out of the storm, by stepping into a relationship with God.
God invites us to make our home with Him by placing our trust in Christ Jesus. Jesus Christ is the home where God invites us to live with Him, safe from the storm, free from the penalty of sin.
Do you want to live at home with God? You can! In Jesus Christ, we are invited to live with God forever.