Union with Christ - Part 1

main image

Few doctrines deserve as close attention as Union with Christ.  Understood correctly, union with Christ describes that union that exists between the believer and Christ.  It is a spiritual, mystical, redemptive relationship that affects every aspect of the believer’s life and touches upon every facet of redemption.  The doctrine of salvation cannot be understood correctly apart from this crucial component of how believers are joined with Christ.  This union informs our standing before God theologically but also serves to warm the soul through contemplating our fellowship with Christ in our present lives.

The importance of Union with Christ:

There have been many theologians who have written on the subject of union with Christ; few have written better than John Murray has in his little but life changing book, Redemption Accomplished and Applied.[1]  Here Murray points out the all importance of this doctrine:

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.[2]

Scripturally, the Bible teaches union with Christ in a series of prepositional constructions.  These explain the transactions and relationships between Christ and His people and how we are joined with Him through this spiritual union:

  1. We are in Christ.
  2. Christ is in us.
  3. We are like Christ.
  4. We are with Christ.

But the importance of union with Christ is not just understood through the believer’s individual experience; there are also the crucial corporate dimensions of the doctrine as well.  Dr. R.C. Sproul point this out:

The union of believers is grounded in the mystical union of Christ and His Church. The Bible speaks of a two-way transaction that occurs when a person is regenerated. Every converted person becomes “in Christ” at the same time Christ enters into the believer. If I am in Christ and you are in Christ, and if He is in us, then we experience a profound unity in Christ.[3]

Union with Christ therefore is more than personal piety or personal spirituality— it is an ecclesiastical reality that extends to every member of God’s church throughout all ages and for all time.  This reality stresses the blessedness of the Church being united to Christ and His redemption resulting in the church’s own unity as well.  As we think about the importance of studying and understanding union with Christ, we must understand its importance for the whole church.  In future posts on this doctrine we will explore the ecclesiastical effects that union with Christ has on the church; here we will simply state its importance and immense relevance by considering its Christ-centered focus.  The teaching of Union with Christ reaches a climax in Jesus’ sayings found in his farewell discourses (John 14-17). 

Jesus teaches union in Christ:

John 17:22–26 22 “The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; 23 I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. 24 “Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. 25 “O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me; 26 and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”

The words of Jesus reveal several very important things about union with Christ: its Christ-centered nature, “I in them” (17.3); its redemptive effects, “I have given to them” (17.22); its sanctifying effect, “that they may be one” (17.22); its Trinitarian implications, “I in them and You in Me” (17.23); its covenantal love, “be with Me where I am” (17.24) (this is the pinnacle of covenant theology, God with us and we with Him; cf. Jer. 31.34; Rev. 21.3); its love-basis and love-purpose, “loved them, even as You have loved Me” (17.23), “so that the love with which You loved me may be in them, and I in them” (17.26); and its eschatological design, “so that they may see My glory which You have given Me.”  This makes union with Christ immensely comprehensible and practical.

This is why it is so crucial to study and understand our union with Christ— it touches so many areas of theological truth.  Christ’s prayer reveals both the doctrinal depth of the doctrine and the devotional value it possesses.  When we understand that union with Christ is rooted in God’s covenantal love it enlarges our capacity to worship the Father who has joined us to His Son through His eternal covenant (cf. Heb. 13.23).  Much more will have to be said about Union with Christ in our next posts.

Soli Deo Gloria

[1] We simply cannot endorse and encourage the reading of this classic work enough.  Redemption Accomplished and Applied should be read and reread by believers everywhere.

[2] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied p. 170.

[3] R.C. Sproul, Tabletalk, p. 7, June 2004, Ligonier Ministries, Used by Permission. “in Christ”.