Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE BELIEVER’S UNION WITH CHRIST”

John 15.5

 

Do you ever wonder why certain things happen? Do you ever question the reasons that lie back of things? For instance, have you tried to understand the explanation for the radical alteration of some person? Want to know why one fellow is marginal at church, on and off again in his attendance, and robs God by not tithing or participating in his church’s outreach, while someone else shows a high level of commitment?

How does one explain my uncle, Leon Waldrip? He was born a sharecropper’s son, joined the army and ended up at Corregidor, a Japanese prisoner of war who had descended into a life of drunkenness and carousing, only to suddenly convert from a lifetime of complete selfishness to Jesus Christ. He became passionate about reaching the lost with the gospel, passionate about giving to the cause of Christ, and passionate about diligently studying God’s Word. How is that to be explained?

How does one explain the profane and barely literate tinker named John Bunyan, who was converted to Christ and became a Baptist pastor in England, suffered terrible persecution and imprisonment for his faith, and became the prolific author who wrote “Pilgrim’s Progress,” second only to the Bible as the most widely read book available in the English language? How is that to be explained?

As well, consider the failures. Two brothers, John and Charles Wesley graduated from Oxford University, became Anglican missionaries to the North American colony of Georgia, but despite all their advantages of position and education returned to England as failures in the ministry. How do you explain their transformation, becoming genuine Christians, the one proceeded to become one of the most fruitful evangelists of all time, and the other the writer of many thousands of famous and helpful Christian hymns?

Then, there is the uneducated cobbler. Founder of the modern missions movement, William Carey set sail from England for India to become a pioneering missionary, humanly responsible for the reaching of thousands of Hindus with the gospel, and the translation of scripture into some 45 different languages. Explain these people for me, if you dare try.

Why would a teenage girl risk her life by bringing her Muslim friend to Christ, and then show the courage to resist the efforts of more than fifty rapists to brutalize her into denying her savior and capitulate to their demands that she renounce her faith? How do you explain what set Saleema apart from the other young girls in Pakistan?

To be sure, not every believer becomes so obviously heroic following his conversion to Christ. The Bible clearly states that no two Christians are given the same measure of grace, and we certainly remain flawed individuals throughout the course of our lives here on earth. However, the Apostle Paul was very clear in pointing out that when a sinner comes to genuine and saving faith in Christ things change. The thief stops stealing. The fornicator becomes chaste. The taker becomes a giver. Not only does the sinner’s standing before God change, Romans 5.1, but there is also a radical alteration of the new believer beyond his status. That is why Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.”[1]

It was not the status of John Bunyan or William Carey that bore fruit. Neither was it their new standing before God that explains John and Charles Wesley’s great success in the gospel ministry. For that matter, my uncle’s transformation and Saleema’s courage in the face of danger and humiliation cannot be explained by anything as common as a decision to turn over a new leaf. In the lives of the heroic Christians, as well as those whose lives are relatively unnoticed by most people, there is astonishing change. The Apostle Paul asserts the same in Second Corinthians 5.17: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” I have noticed over the years that most that cite this verse focus on Paul’s declaration of the new creature, and the passing away of the old and the becoming of all things new. It is in the first phrase of the verse, however, that Paul implies the explanation for the Christian’s change: “Therefore if any man be in Christ.”

How are we to explain the lives of these people I have mentioned? How are we to explain the changed lives of every other believer in Jesus Christ? Paul uses the phrase “in Christ” in this verse. However, in John 15.5, the Lord Jesus Christ provided some measure of explanation in a far more graphic, or should I say illustrative, way: “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.”

We considered this verse during the video series, “The Secrets Of The Vine,” some time back. Notice the phrases “He . . . in me” and “I in him.” Those phrases are built around the Greek preposition en; look briefly at number eight in the center of the cube in the diagram below. There you can see the use of this small Greek word illustrated. “. . . expressions such as en Christo, en kyrio, en Christo Iesou, en auto, etc. occur 216 times in the Pauline corpus and twenty-six times in the Johanine writings.”[2] Those many phrases comprise at least a partial explanation of the Christian’s change after conversion; why he is faithful to church, why he is faithful to tithe, why he is faithful to witness, and why his personality undergoes such changes.

It is a concept that is called union. The heart of the Christian religion is union with Christ. That the believer’s union with Christ is taught in the New Testament is doubted by no one. What is meant by this idea of the believer’s union with Christ is variously interpreted.

Throughout Christian history, there have been some who tended toward an exaggerated mystical understanding of the believer’s union with Christ that was said to involve experiences of ecstasy and rapture. Some even claimed that the souls of the truly spiritual could become lost in God or even fused with God. Modern day “name it and claim it” preachers on television, who insist they have such an intimacy with God that miracles are worked at their directive, are heirs of these mystics.

Others claim that union with Christ is achieved by, or enhanced by, the sacraments. That is, their view is such that baptism and observing the Lord’s Supper is believed to unite a person with Christ or incorporate a person into Christ in a real way, and not just in a symbolic way. Those holding to this view are Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Anglicans, basing their view on the notion that the bread and wine actually are the body and blood of Christ in a something more than symbolic way, and those baptismal waters actually cleanses away sins.

Many Reformed theologians hold a third understanding of the believer’s union with Christ. Their strong commitment to predestination and the concept of God’s covenants persuades them that union with Christ is not so much experienced by the believer as it is a legal reality that results in the privileges associated with it. Further, they tend to believe that union with Christ is from eternity past, rather than beginning when a sinner is justified by faith in Christ.

A fourth view is held by theological liberals, who deny the supernatural and look at the believer’s union with Christ as being more along the line of sentiment and friendship, and even as being the result of God’s presence in all men’s spirits. Such a union is said to occur in those who follow the ideals of Jesus.

The Bible presents the union of the believer and Jesus Christ as being significantly different from the four views I have rehearsed to you. It is not so mystical that the distinction between the believer and Christ is blurred so that the servant becomes the Sovereign. Neither is it a union that is established by eating bread and drinking wine, as though works of righteousness establish one’s relationship with Christ. Third, it is more than the merely legal reality of some Reformed theologians, and has not existed from eternity past. Finally, it is certainly a supernatural union, and therefore cannot be what theological liberals think of. The Bible shows the believer’s union with Christ as beginning when the sinner actually comes to Christ, and not before. It regards the born-again believer’s union with Christ as profound and personal, resulting in both identification and fellowship with the Savior.

Though time does not permit us to consider it today, inherent in the believer’s union with Christ is the notion that the believer has died with Christ and is raised to a new life with him, Romans 6.3-11. Accordingly, the New Testament portrays the believer in Christ (John 14.20; Romans 8.1; Second Corinthians 5.17; Ephesians 2.13; First John 2.6; 4.13), Christ in the believer (John 14.20; Romans 8.10; Galatians 2.20; Colossians 1.27), Jesus and the Father in the believer (John 14.23), and the Christian as a partaker of the divine nature (Second Peter 1.4). Being in Christ means the believer’s situation, sphere, or environment as been transferred from the domain of sin to the realm of new, spiritual life. This transference is mentioned by Paul in Colossians 1.13: “Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son.” Union with Christ thus marks the end of the old existence and the beginning of the new.

I know this subject can be overwhelming. However, settle in your mind this one thing: If you know Jesus as your savior, a union exists between you and Him. That is, where sin has separated between the sinner and his God, so that He will not hear, Isaiah 59.2, a very real union with Christ exists with every believer. That union accounts for the difference in Christian’s lives.

Five things about the believer’s union with Christ:

 

First, IT IS A SUPERNATURAL UNION

 

Being a supernatural union, it is of divine origin. We read Ephesians 1.11-14, where we see the progression from hearing to believing, to then being in Christ:

 

11     In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will:

12     That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.

13     In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise,

14     Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.

 

Now, we read First John 3.24, where we see the union with Christ further declared: “And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.” The Spirit of God effects this union. Notice, however, how this union begins, from John 1.12-13:

 

12     But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:

13     Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

 

Thus, this union begins with faith in Christ, showing the position of some Reformed theologians to be incorrect. It is established by faith and not by works, showing the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Anglican position to be erroneous. Moreover, it is a supernatural union, showing the liberal position to be wrong.

Being a supernatural union, it is not a natural union. It is not something common to every person, but occurs only when the sinner is born again. Romans 5.12-21 clearly shows (had we the time to read it this morning) that the relation between the believer and Christ is not grounded in the nature of things, as is the relation between Adam and the human race. That relationship was based upon generation, whereas the believer’s union with Christ is based upon regeneration.

 

Next, IT IS A VITAL UNION

 

We need to be very clear to maintain that union with Christ does not involve a unity of essence between man and God, as proposed by Christian mystics and pantheists. God is always, in one sense, Other, while man, even when elevated by the new birth and enjoying union with Christ, is always God’s creature, even when he is empowered by the Holy Spirit.

That said, union with Christ is vital. It is real. It is experienced. It is life. We read our Lord’s words, in John 15.2-7:

 

2      Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.

3      Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.

4      Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.

5      I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.

6      If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.

7      If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.

 

We now consider Romans 6.11, where the word “through” is our Greek preposition en: “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” So you see, outside of Christ all is death. In Christ, there is only life.

 

Third, IT IS A MYSTERIOUS UNION

 

The Christian mystics are of the opinion that the individual in union with Christ is swallowed up in Christ, thereby losing his identity and become one essence with Christ. This is not true. John’s Revelation refers to individual’s names written in the Lamb’s book of life in the hereafter.[3] Thus, identity is not lost, and even after union with Christ is fully realized in eternity there is preserved the individual identity of every believer.

That said, the believer’s union with Christ really is a mysterious union, in that scripture does not unfold the precise nature of the relation. Just because it has now been revealed to us that God has made of two people one, Jews and Gentiles one people in Christ, does not mean the mystery of our union with Christ is fully illuminated to us, Ephesians 2.21-22 and Colossians 1.27.

“But pastor, you mentioned some verses that declared Jesus is in the believer. How can that be?” More than twenty-five New Testament verses locate the physical body of Jesus Christ at the Father’s right hand in heaven. As well, it is important to recognize that justification refers to the outside-of-you imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the sinner by means of faith, a truth that is not clearly grasped by sinners influenced by the Roman Catholic notion of the infusion of grace. Therefore, I make no apology whatsoever for steering sinners away from a confused and confusing attempt to be saved by asking Jesus into their hearts, which frequently betrays a tragic misunderstanding of gospel truth. Is Jesus in the believer? Yes, in the person of the Holy Spirit of God, who indwells each one who knows Christ as his savior.

However, there are things about the believer’s union with Jesus Christ that no one fully grasps. Therefore, we strongly assert what we clearly see, and carefully tread through the glorious mysteries that are not yet fully understood. Thankfully, illustrations are found in God’s Word (such as the vine illustration in John chapter 15) that are very helpful to our understanding of this thing called union with Christ.

 

Fourth, IT IS AN ETERNAL UNION

 

Once established, the union between Christ and the believer is never broken.

In John 10.28, Jesus said, “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” If words have meaning, the union between Christ and the believer is understood to be an eternal union, an everlasting union, and an indissoluble union.

This is clearly seen in Romans 8.38-39, where the Apostle Paul wrote,

 

38     For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,

39     Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

Keep in mind that the Apostle Paul was a man who had been caught up to the third heaven, where he saw things it was not lawful for him to utter.[4] Therefore, when such a man makes a comment about being persuaded of the eternal union that exists between believers and Christ, it is not a statement of belief. Rather, he has seen something that has convinced him that our union with Christ is eternal.

 

Finally, IT IS A UNION THAT IS BOTH INDIVIDUAL AND CORPORATE

 

Consider two things:

First, consider that the believer’s union with Christ is an individual union. A few minutes ago, we looked at Second Corinthians 5.17: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” There is no escaping the reality that only individuals come to faith in Christ, only individuals repent of their sins, only individuals trust Jesus Christ. Therefore, union with Christ is certainly an individual reality. Therefore, when someone says something like, “The United States used to be a Christian nation,” or “Armenia was the first Christian nation,” what is meant is not that everyone in that nation was in union with Jesus Christ. That is a generality that refers to the broad beliefs of most people, not the certainty of any individual’s union with Christ. How do we know this to be true? We know this is true because only individuals come to Christ. Only individuals have their sins forgiven. Jesus Christ shed His blood for individuals, not for groups or for nations.

That said, those who individually enjoy union with Jesus Christ form a group that corporately experiences union with Christ. It is known as the family of God, and is comprised of each person who is a child of God by means of the new birth. As Peter wrote, “. . . to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.”[5] To be sure, the outward expression of this union with Jesus Christ is supposed to be the church relationship, with each person who claims a spiritual union with Jesus Christ exhibiting a physical union with others in the body of Christ, which is the church, Colossians 1.18: “And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.”

 

Think, for a moment, of the very idea of union with Jesus Christ. Is it not an astonishing concept? Is it not a marvelous reality? Does it not explain so many things? For some of you, it explains why you are different than you were. You are experiencing union with Jesus Christ. For others of you, it explains why you are no different than you were. There is no union with Jesus Christ, not really.

The believer’s union with Christ was planned in eternity past in the sovereign counsel of God (Ephesians 1.4), was objectively established via Christ’s death and resurrection (Romans 6.5), and is subjectively realized by the regenerating and sealing ministry of the Spirit in individual lives at the moment of conversion (Ephesians 1.13). Union with Christ is experienced the moment a believing sinner is made alive in Christ, Ephesians 2.5: “Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved).”

The believer’s union with Christ is supernatural, vital (that is, it is life giving), it is mysterious, it is eternal, and it is both individual and corporate. No wonder the sinner come to Christ changes. When union with Jesus Christ is established, how can the believer not change?



[1] First Corinthians 6.11

[2] Bruce Demarest, The Cross And Salvation, (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, hardcover edition 2006), page 313.

[3] Revelation 13.8; 17.8

[4] Second Corinthians 12.1-4

[5] Second Peter 1.1



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pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org