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Union with Christ: Historically Most Basic (Part 3)

In this third post on union with Christ (first post here, second post here), I want to highlight some of the realities that spill out from a full understanding of this crucial doctrine.

In my experience of discussions related to the different facets of salvation, the conversation can quickly or immediately turn to which salvific facet is the greatest motivator for the Christian life. For example, when facing temptation does my adoption take the lead as an organizing reality that drives me to fight against sin as an adopted child of God? Does my justification and the reality that I am no longer shackled with condemning guilt spur me to conquer sin and to face a fallen world today?

While those kinds of questions are vitally important for pastoral counsel and the Christian walk, they are not addressing the same topic that was mentioned in the previous two posts. There is a difference between a believer’s salvific reality in the transition from wrath to grace and the motivation of individuals in their Christian walk. So we can ask the question this way: Based on 1) the salvific reality of union with Christ as most foundational and 2) the benefits of salvation that flow from that union, how does that salvific structure permeate my life? I’ll briefly highlight just a few implications.

1) A person-centered understanding of salvation rather than a benefit-centered understanding puts proper focus on the ongoing relationship with Christ as our covenant Mediator, both at the time of transition from wrath to grace and no less powerfully at every subsequent point in our lives.

2) Grounding our salvific benefits in union with Christ helps us work out our salvation (Phil 2:12) in a way that focuses properly on the Benefactor, not our benefits in themselves. Our justification, sanctification, and adoption are only as sweet as the Person who earned them for us.

3) Union with Christ should naturally point us both to redemption applied to us and, more basically, to the redemption that Christ accomplished for us. That redemption was accomplished not only on the cross but through Christ’s life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. This helps us broaden our understanding of redemption and points us back to the Person who accomplished all aspects of redemption.

4) Being “in Christ” is necessarily linked to the covenantal aspect of salvation. Union with Christ is the most fundamental reality of being in God’s covenant, while being “in Adam” is the most fundamental reality of being outside God’s covenant (Rom 5:17). Adam’s sin was a covenantal breech that simultaneously caused 1) guilt, 2) corruption, and 3) alienation for everyone under the curse. Christ’s redemptive accomplishment was a covenantal fulfillment that simultaneously applies 1) justification, 2) sanctification (definitive and progressive), and 3) adoption for everyone under God’s grace.

5) Our union with Christ is a communal, churchly union. The church is not primarily a set of individuals who have been saved. The church is that, but is more primarily a people God is gathering together in his Son to the end of the age and beyond.

6) Christ’s pattern – suffering unto glory (Heb 2:9-10), death to life – is likewise our pattern as members of his body (1 Cor. 12:12f). In union with Christ be both died with him and resurrected in him (Rom 6:5f). We are, for example, justified by his blood (Rom 5:9) and his resurrection (Rom 4:25).

7) Finally, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Cor 5:17). Union with Christ is an eschatological reality for the believer. As Christ has conquered death and ushered in the age to come (in the midst of the not yet), in Christ as the firstfruits we are the harvest he is gathering.

While these descriptions do not even scratch the surface of our salvific reality, can you see why this picture can be more helpful than, for example, simply “remembering” an aspect of our conversion? When we wake in the morning to face the day – the hardships, the blessings, the mundane, etc. of being in this world – a robust understanding of our salvation should be in the mind of God’s people, equipping them to work out all aspects of their salvation. While discussions surrounding union with Christ can sometimes get technical and abstract, it is my hope that church leaders far more capable than myself will continue to work on both the theological details and how those details shape our daily Christian lives before God.

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