Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE RELATIONS OF THE BELIEVER’S

UNION WITH CHRIST”

 

The nature of the believer’s relationship with Jesus Christ is one of union, supernatural union. However, what union precisely means is puzzling to believers because our relationship with Jesus Christ is quite unlike any other relationship any of us has ever experienced. Thankfully, God’s Word provides some analogies that give us an idea of how the believer’s union with Jesus Christ is comparable with other relationships we observe on a daily basis; fathers and their sons, vines and their branches, bodies and their members, temples and their building blocks, and Christian marriages and their partners. However, such analogies only partially reveal the wondrous and supernatural union every believer experiences with the Savior.

This morning we will take an excursion into the realm of the theological to better understand the believer’s union with Jesus Christ. However, there is no reason to be apprehensive about theology, since things theological can be surprisingly interesting and beneficial to believers, so long as a warning is heeded. Here is the warning. Just because various points of theology can be distinguished from each other does not mean they are properly separated from each other. Allow me to provide an example of what I am referring to. You can discuss the Biblical doctrine of God separately from the Biblical doctrine of salvation. However, a mistake is often made to think that because you can discuss the topics separately they are, therefore, separate matters. God and salvation are actually inseparable, even though you can talk about the one without mentioning the other. In fact, the tendency to subdivide and categorize things can result in the erroneous thinking that items in different categories are not intimately related, when in fact they really are closely related.

Consider several questions to better understand what I am trying to communicate. Have you ever wondered why the Bible was not written differently than it was? Are you curious as to why God’s Word does not provide a list, say, of the five things you need to know about sin, or the eight things about the Rapture that result in four considerations about the Tribulation? Here is another question for you. Why do Jewish scholars not write systematic theologies like many Christian scholars do? Allow me to address these questions by pointing out that the tendency to divide and subdivide into a systematic classification of theological topics is the way western thought is typically organized. However, it is not the way all thought is typically organized, is not the way eastern thought is usually organized, and is not the way the Bible is ever organized. Therefore, we must be careful when we try to understand the Bible to make sure (and westerners have not always done a good job of this) we understand that what we divide into different categories is not because it was intended by God to be thought of or understood separately. I say that to prepare you for a consideration of the relations of the believer’s union with Christ to other important truths. Keep in mind that what we can distinguish for our discussion is not, in fact, separated in God’s Word or in reality. The things we consider in this message are actually inseparable, even if they are talked about separately.

Nine relations of the believer’s union with Jesus Christ:

 

First, THE RELATION OF THE BELIEVER’S UNION TO CHRIST TO GRACE

 

Any consideration of God’s grace should at once be both interesting and thrilling to the child of God, since believers know we are undeserving. “Undeserving of what?” some may ask. “Undeserving of anything and everything from God besides punishment,” we respond. We do deserve punishment. This is where grace comes into the picture, that unmerited favor of God that is the basis for His blessings in the lives of the undeserving. It is by the sheer grace of God that believers are incorporated into Christ. So Paul celebrated “the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved,” in Ephesians 1.6. He also wrote, “I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ,” First Corinthians 1.4. Interestingly, the Greek word found in the phrase “by Jesus Christ” is the preposition we have paid attention to in this series of message, the word en.

One Bible scholar of days gone by who I am frequently in disagreement with, nevertheless rightly said about this relation of the believer’s union with Christ and this matter of grace, “the working of God’s grace gift by incorporating the believer in Christ makes him capable and meet for the presence of God.”[1] Does the Bible not clearly show that salvation is by grace? Then the union with Jesus that is a part of and a result of that salvation is also by God’s grace.

 

Next, THE RELATION OF THE BELIEVER’S UNION TO CHRIST TO SOVEREIGN ELECTION

 

Whether some people like it or not, God is sovereign. As well, whether some people like it or not, election is a Bible doctrine that is not to be withheld from babes in Christ, from new Christians. To those only weeks old in the Christian faith, the Apostle Paul wrote these words to those in First Thessalonians chapter one:

 

2      We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers;

3      Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father;

4      Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.

 

The consequence of the relation of the believer’s union to Christ to sovereign election is that God planned the union of Christ and His people in eternity past by his own free decision. In Ephesians 1.4, the Apostle Paul wrote, “According as he [God] hath chosen us in him (en auto) before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him.” Drop your eyes down to Ephesians 1.11: “In whom (en autw) 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.” Notice, to tie up this thread, Second Timothy 1.9: “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in (en) Christ Jesus before the world began.”

We understand that election is selection, and that God is sovereign. Therefore, though you may not have articulated the thought before, it should come as no surprise to you that the believer’s union with Christ is related to God’s sovereign election.

 

Third, THE RELATION OF THE BELIEVER’S UNION TO CHRIST TO FAITH

 

Union with Christ is both appropriated by and sustained by faith centered in the Son of God. The New Testament is very clear in showing Jesus Christ to be the only proper Object of the believer’s saving faith. That being true, notice what Paul wrote in Ephesians 1.13 concerning the relation of the believer’s union with Christ to faith: “In whom (en w) ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom (en w) also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise.”

Similarly, Galatians 3.26 declares, “For ye are all the children of God by faith in (en) Christ Jesus.” Is this not also born out by that portion of Galatians 2.20, which reads, “the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God”? Therefore, you see, this union experienced by believers in Jesus Christ is a union of faith and not works, a union of grace and not merit, and a union brought about by God’s sovereign election. Amazing.

 

Fourth, THE RELATION OF THE BELIEVER’S UNION TO CHRIST TO REGENERATION

 

Union with Jesus Christ is established in the believer’s life by the grace of regeneration, which Jesus referred to when He told Nicodemus he needed to be “born again.” Do you know people who profess to be Christians but seem to possess no evidence of a new life in Christ? Ephesians 2.10 reads, “For we are his workmanship, created in (en) Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” The aorist tense of the verb ktizo points to God creating new life at the moment of regeneration.[2]

The person who is in Christ has experienced a new birth and shares the life of the age-to-come provided by his Lord. This is clearly seen in Second Corinthians 5.17: “Therefore if any man be in (en) Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

 

Fifth, THE RELATION OF THE BELIEVER’S UNION TO CHRIST TO JUSTIFICATION

 

Scripture presents forensic or legal justification as an important outcome of personal identification with Christ. Therefore, Paul wrote in Romans 8.1, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in (en) Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Abolishing condemnation is the essence of forensic justification, which issues from the believer’s new situation in Christ. Moreover, Second Corinthians 5.21 reads, “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in (en) him.”

Since righteousness is inherent in God’s justifying verdict whereby He pronounces innocent those who are guilty, it is clear that justification ensues from union with Christ. First Corinthians 1.30 supports this conclusion, “But of him are ye in (en) Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” Philippians 3.9 also supports this conclusion: “And be found in (en) him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.”

A wonderful theologian named W. G. T. Shedd once wrote, “Because they [Christ’s people] are spiritually, vitally, eternally, and mystically one with him, his merit is imputable to them, and their demerit is imputable to him. The imputation of Christ’s righteousness supposes a union with him.”[3] Personal reconciliation accompanies legal or forensic justification. By that, I mean that two parties are no longer in conflict once the One pronounces the other innocent, bringing about reconciliation. Therefore, personal reconciliation is seen as an outcome of the believer’s union with Christ. In Ephesians 2.13 Paul wrote, “But now in (en) Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.”

Being reconciled to God, believers are also reconciled to other saints in Christ as a result. Galatians 3.28 shows this clearly: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in (en) Christ Jesus.” Colossians 3.11 also shows this glorious truth: “Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in (en) all.” The implications of this are staggering to the sinner who was once estranged from God and from other people, who realizes he is now reconciled to God and can be reconciled to other people should they also come to Christ.

 

Sixth, THE RELATION OF THE BELIEVER’S UNION TO CHRIST TO FORGIVENESS OF SINS

 

Ephesians 1.7 declares, “In whom (en w) we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.” Colossians 1.14 says much the same thing: “In whom (en w) we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins.”

Incorporated into Christ and in the family of God, believers are emancipated from the realm of darkness and enjoy remission of sins. As for forgiveness of sins, Hebrews 8.12 concludes, “their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more,” and Hebrews 10.17 reads, “And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.”

 

Seventh, THE RELATION OF THE BELIEVER’S UNION TO CHRIST TO ADOPTION

 

Ephesians 1.5-6 reads,

 

5      Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,

6      To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in (en) the beloved.

 

Adoption is “God’s act of making otherwise estranged human beings part of God’s spiritual family by including them as inheritors of the riches of divine glory.”[4] “Legal membership in the family of God results from identification or union with Jesus Christ.”[5]

What a stunning accomplishment of Jesus Christ is enjoyed by the believer by being in union with Him. No longer need we strive to be accepted by this group or that clique, because we are accepted by God in Christ, and we have been adopted into God’s family.

 

Eighth, THE RELATION OF THE BELIEVER’S UNION TO CHRIST TO SANCTIFICATION

 

In First Corinthians 1.2, the Apostle Paul writes, “Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.” By virtue of our union with Christ, believers are positionally set apart for God and consecrated to a holy purpose. We also experience the process of sanctification that follows from union or identification with Christ.

In Galatians 5.24, Paul wrote, “And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” Thus, the sinful nature of the believer with its passions and desires are already crucified. Only for one who is in union with Christ is crucifixion of the works of the flesh and cultivation of the fruit of the Spirit possible, Galatians 5.19-23:

 

19     Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,

20     Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,

21     Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

22     But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,

23     Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

 

The connection between the believer’s union with Christ and his experience of sanctification is made in First Corinthians 6.17-20:

 

17     But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit.

18     Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body.

19     What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?

20     For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.

 

We know that no Christian is sinless, First John 1.8: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” However, we also know that our union with Christ demands that continuous and habitual sinning like lost people cannot continue, First John 3.6: “Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him.” Christians grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, Second Peter 3.18. This is sanctification.

 

Finally, THE RELATION OF THE BELIEVER’S UNION TO CHRIST TO PRESERVATION OR PERSEVERANCE

 

Referring to the “sheep” given to Him by the Father, Jesus said in John 10.28, “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” In the next verse, He said, “no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.”

The Bible is very clear to show that once the believer’s union with Jesus Christ has been formed, it is irrevocable; the Father and the Son relentlessly guard the relationship. The truism thus stands firm: once “in Christ,” always “in Christ.” This is born out in Romans 8.35-39:

 

35     Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

36     As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.

37     Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.

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.

 

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Paul is essentially asking, what can possibly separate the believer from the Christ he is in union with? His answer in so many words is nothing. Union is always union and union is never disunion.

 

We have dealt with a wide range of topics this morning. Grace, sovereign election, faith, regeneration, justification, forgiveness of sins, adoption, sanctification, and perseverance. What could these different issues have to do with each other? How are they connected? Where do they intersect? What do they have in common? They intersect at the believer’s union with his Savior, Jesus Christ. What they have in common is the grace of God mediated to believers through His Son Jesus Christ. They are connected to the Christian and his Savior.

What folly it is for the sinner to insist that he understand everything connected to Christ’s saving work on the cross for his sins, the death of Christ, the burial of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, and the ascension of the risen Savior to the Father’s right hand on high. No sinner will ever grasp the full significance of what Christ offers to those who with the heart believe in Him unto righteousness. Yet, just as there is no end to the glory and enjoyment of those who are joined to Jesus Christ and enjoy a union with Him that begins in this life and endures forever, so also there is no comprehension of the horror and the terror that awaits those who despise Him and reject Him and are doomed to suffer “the vengeance of eternal fire.”



[1] Quoted by Bruce Demarest in The Cross And Salvation, (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, hardcover edition 2006), page 336.

[2] Bruce Demarest in The Cross And Salvation, (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, hardcover edition 2006), page 337.

[3] Quoted by Bruce Demarest in The Cross And Salvation, (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, hardcover edition 2006), page 337.

[4] Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzki & Cherith Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), page 7.

[5] Demarest, page 338.



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