Calvary Road Baptist Church

“ILLUSTRATIONS OF THE BELIEVER’S UNION WITH CHRIST”

 

One of the most beneficial books ever written is titled The Seven Laws Of Teaching. Written by John Milton Gregory and first published in 1884, it sets forth in clear and concise language those necessities for teachers imparting truth to learners. Those teaching laws presented in the book, not surprisingly, are implicit throughout God’s Word, the Bible. Anyone who would excel at teaching, be he a parent, a teacher, or a preacher, finds this book to be a prize.

I bring this up because the message from God’s Word last Sunday morning was titled “The Believer’s Union With Christ.” In that sermon, I pointed out the mystery of the relationship that exists between the believer and the Savior that is described as union. The believer’s union with Jesus Christ is a profoundly spiritual reality, yet we are flesh-bound creatures who do not easily or readily comprehend spiritual realities. For instance, how does one who is time-bound grasp the reality of eternity? Or, how does one who is sinful understand the nature of holiness?

To get hold of truths that are outside our experience and understanding we must be taught. Though we recognize those who are unsaved, referred to as natural by the Apostle Paul, “receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned,” we must understand that even Christians must be taught spiritual truths.[1] However, for the Christian to learn of spiritual things, and for the Spirit of God to graciously shed some light by which the unsaved can see things leading to their conversion, we find that a definite process must be followed. John Milton Gregory, in The Seven Laws Of Teaching, describes that process in the fourth of his seven laws of teaching: “The lesson to be mastered must be explicable in the terms of truth already known by the learner -- the unknown must be explained by means of the known.”[2]

Thankfully, the Spirit of God, Who inspired this blessed Book, made effective use of this principle to shed light for our understanding of this glorious spiritual reality of the believer’s union with Jesus Christ. Think about it, my friend. Union with Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of the living God!

In the New Testament, we find six analogies used to improve our understanding of the believer’s union with the Lord Jesus Christ:

 

THE FIRST TWO ANALOGIES, FOUND IN JOHN’S GOSPEL, SHOW OUR LORD ADDRESSING THE INDIVIDUAL RELATIONSHIP HE HAS WITH EACH BELIEVER

 

First, there is the Lord Jesus Christ’s imagery of a vine and its branches, found in John 15.1-17:

 

1      I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.

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.

8      Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.

9      As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.

10     If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.

11     These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.

12     This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.

13     Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

14     Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.

15     Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.

16     Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.

17     These things I command you, that ye love one another.

 

In this imagery, we find concepts easily grasped by everyone of that day. There is the husbandman, the vine, and the branches. Who cannot relate to such things and understand the vital connection between the vine and the branches as a parallel of the relationship between the Lord Jesus Christ and individual believers? Significantly, the combination of the Greek word for abide, menw, and the Greek preposition en, which I dealt with at length last week, occurs ten times in verses 1-10 to describe the reciprocal union between Jesus Christ and His disciples.[3] As branches live and bear fruit only in union with the vine, so we who are disciples derive our life and productivity from intimate union with Christ and in fellowship with His Word, verse 4. This is a wonderful example of explaining the unknown by means of the known.

As well, there is the Lord’s imagery of the union He shared with God the Father to show His union with believers, John 14.20 and John 17.21-23:

 

14.20    At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.

 

17.21    That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.

22     And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:

23     I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.

 

Recognize that the precise nature of the Lord Jesus Christ’s relationship with the First Person of the triune Godhead is not completely fathomable to us. However, that it is a God the Father to God the Son relationship makes it somewhat comprehensible to us. Is our union with Jesus Christ precisely the same as His union with God the Father? Not at all. His union with the Father is a union of essence and nature, with both the Father and the Son being equally and eternally God, while believers are and always will be creatures. What is to be learned from our Lord’s comparison of His relationship with the Father as an explanation of our relationship to Him is that His union with the Father and His union with believers are both unions of life and love in the bond of the Spirit. The union between the Son and the Father is one of “being,” John 10.38, where He said, “the Father is in me, and I in him.” The union between the Son and believers, on the other hand, is one of “abiding,” as is seen in the verses I read a few moments ago. Please note that throughout the Word of God, there is no notion whatsoever of a believer’s nature somehow becoming divine. Where Second Peter 1.4 refers to being “partakers of the divine nature,” “He meant that by Spirit regeneration believers become partaker’s of God’s grace, mercy, holiness, etc., not of God’s essence.”[4] To recap this point, how important it is that a father be a godly Christian father, representing God the Father in the home, and providing an analogy whereby the believer can better understand his union with Jesus Christ.

 

Next, THERE IS THE ANALOGY OF THE APOSTLE PAUL DRAWING A COMPARISON BETWEEN THE FAMILY OF ADAM AND THE FAMILY OF GOD

 

This how the corporate union of all believers in Jesus Christ is illustrated by means of the union of the entire human race in Adam. By this analogy of us all being physical descendants of Adam we are taught about our spiritual union with Christ in the family of God.

In First Corinthians 15.22, the Apostle Paul writes, “For as in Adam all die.” In Romans 5.12, he wrote, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” A few verses later, in Romans 5.19-21, Paul completes the thought:

 

19     For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.

20     Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound:

21     That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

Everyone by birth possesses natural solidarity with Adam, the biological head of the human race. Thus, the human race is joined in Adam in a union of death. How do we know this to be true? Everyone dies as Adam died. The death of each man declares his solidarity with Adam in a union of death. This is not a difficult concept to grasp since it is the universal human experience.

Using this kind of analogy, we are taught that by faith Christians enjoy a spiritual solidarity with the Lord Jesus Christ, the head of a new race. Spiritually, the people of God are one in Christ in a solidarity of life. The unity of people who are “in Christ” is comparable to the unity of lost mankind “in Adam,” because both Christ and Adam each began an order of life by their decision and actions.”

Do we not all know by observation and personal experiences this union with Adam that binds the lost to death? The truth about mankind’s union with death is used by the Apostle Paul to draw a similar comparison to the union with Christ that binds believers to life.

As Jesus said to Martha, the sister of Lazarus, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.”[5] If you are in Christ, you are not going to live and experience life. You are already alive for ever more.

 

Then, ELSEWHERE IN THE APOSTLE PAUL’S WRITINGS, WE FIND ANALOGIES OF A CORPORATE RELATIONSHIP WITH CHRIST THAT IS EXPRESSED IN THE CHURCH

 

There are three:

First, there is the concept of the church being likened to a temple of God, First Corinthians 3.9-17:

 

9      For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building.

10     According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.

11     For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

12     Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;

13     Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.

14     If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.

15     If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

16     Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

17     If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.

 

Time constraints prohibit anything more than a very superficial consideration of this passage, though a couple of things stand out: First, this passage clearly addresses the Christian congregation at Corinth. My friends, God’s plan is for the Christian life to be lived in concert and cooperation with other Christians in the local church context. Freelance Christianity is not a scriptural or biblical concept. Second, the individual Christians who comprise this church are seen here as part of the congregation, as engaged in building the congregation which is likened to a temple, are informed that they will be judged and rewarded on the basis of their efforts, and are solemnly warned against defiling or in any way harming the holy temple which is the congregation. The Apostle Paul employed this same symbolism of a building to explain the union of the Christian church members, with each other and with Christ, in Ephesians 2.19-22. The cornerstone (Jesus Christ), the foundation (the apostles and prophets), and individual stones (Jewish and Gentile believers) together constitute a single building or temple in which God lives by His Spirit. Similar is the description in First Peter 2.4-8, where Christ is the “cornerstone,” and believers are “lively stones” that together form a “spiritual house” formed and indwelt by the Spirit of God. Everyone in Paul’s day could learn from the comparison of a temple, which all had seen and were familiar with, church members combined by God to be the spiritual temple of God.

Next, there is the congregation being likened to a human body, referred to as the body of Christ. Who is not familiar with his own body? Therefore, by drawing parallels between a congregation and a normal person’s body, Paul teaches his readers about the corporate union with Christ they have as a congregation. Notice what Paul writes to the Romans, in Romans 12.4-5:

 

4      For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office:

5      So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.

 

Paul is more elaborate in First Corinthians 12.12-27:

 

12     For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.

13     For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.

14     For the body is not one member, but many.

15     If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?

16     And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?

17     If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?

18     But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.

19     And if they were all one member, where were the body?

20     But now are they many members, yet but one body.

21     And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.

22     Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary:

23     And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness.

24     For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked:

25     That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.

26     And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.

27     Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.

 

The Apostle Paul also uses the analogy of the living organism of the human body in his letter to the Ephesians to teach believers vital lessons about their union with Christ and its outworking in Christian’s daily lives.[6] What a great tragedy it is when the professing believer accepts his barren existence and lifeless pretense as the best Christ has to offer, without the fulfillment and delight that comes from sacrificially giving and fully participating with church members in worship and service to the King in the body life of the congregation.

Finally, we see an illustration of union with Christ as the lifelong physical, spiritual, emotional, and legal union between a husband and wife in Christian marriage. Ephesians 5.23-32 is where the best-known analogy is found:

 

23     For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.

24     Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.

25     Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;

26     That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,

27     That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.

28     So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.

29     For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:

30     For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.

31     For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.

32     This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.

 

However, Romans 7.2-4 is also important:

 

2      For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband.

3      So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.

4      Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.

 

In Christian marriage, two formerly unrelated individuals, a man and a woman, become an interdependent unity. Indeed, “they two . . . become one flesh,” Ephesians 5.31. In like manner, saints are united with the Savior in the body of Christ, which is the church. What a great tragedy it is, then, when both spouses are not committed Christians, when the ability to enjoy the spiritual union that speaks so profoundly to the believer’s relationship with other Christians to Christ is marred by spiritual disharmony. How important it is to be a Christian before marriage, and then to marry a Christian.

 

Though we have only skimmed the surface of these six analogies, allow me to quickly review what we have seen and make a single summary comment. The believer’s union with Jesus Christ is shown by means of six common analogies, useful in the process of teaching by taking the learner from that that is already known about common relationships to that which is to be learned about union with Christ. These six analogies are, the individual relationship believers have with Christ using the vine and branches analogy and the God the Father and God the Son relationship, the corporate relationship believers have with Christ using the family of Adam analogy to the family of God, and the corporate relationship believers have in their churches using the temple analogy, using the body analogy, and using the marriage analogy. Thus, using these six easy to understand analogies, we can learn much of the believer’s union with Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ’s union with believers.

This brings me to my final comment. Each of these analogies is experienced. The branch experiences its union with the vine. The father and son relationship is easily observed, even if it is not universally experienced. The family of Adam and family of God analogy is experienced. The temple analogy, the body analogy, and the marriage analogy of the church are obviously relationships that are also experienced. Thus, we see that there can be no doubt from the way in which God has chosen to teach us about the union of the believer with Christ that this union is not only a reality, but is an experienced reality. The believer lives his union with Christ, participates in his union with Christ, works to enhance and develop his union with Christ, and profoundly benefits in every conceivable way from his union with Christ.

Is this not your experience? Is there nothing of felt experience regarding your union with Christ? With respect to the three analogies that are derived from the church, which are the temple, the body, and the marriage analogies, are you one who comes and goes and treats these relationships as if there is no accountability and no responsibility? Is that possible in a temple? Is that possible with a body? Is that possible in a marriage?

Are your experiences in union with Christ valid experiences, properly analogous to the examples used in scripture to teach us about the believer’s union with Christ? If not, then you should seriously consider whether your union with Jesus Christ is real or imagined.

Union with Jesus Christ.

Astonishing.

How it ought to affect us.

How it does affect the real Christian.



[1] 1 Corinthians 2.14

[2] John Milton Gregory, The Seven Laws Of Teaching, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, revised 1954), page 19.

[3] Bruce Demarest, The Cross And Salvation, (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, hardcover edition 2006), pages 327-328.

[4] Ibid., page 299.

[5] John 11.25

[6] Ephesians 1.22-23; 4.4, 12, 15-16; 5.23, 30



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pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org