Bible & Theology

Union with Christ

Question: You mentioned in Sunday school that union with Christ is the basis of our justification as well as our sanctification. Why don’t more people talk about union with Christ?

I suspect union with Christ did not get much attention in most preachers’ systematic theology classes. What a shame! It is foundational to salvation, sanctification, the Church, and even eschatology. My friend and colleague, Dr. Steve Oliver, wrote a fine dissertation on this subject, which bears extensive quoting.

He writes,

Election, justification, redemption, and eternal life are all found in Christ. Believers are reconciled to God and are the righteousness of God in Christ; anyone not in Christ is not saved….

Union with Christ involves the entire Trinity, bringing one into union with the Father (1 John 3:24) and the Spirit (Rom. 8:9) as well as the Son. The Spirit is the One who initiates and witnesses to union with Christ (Rom. 8:2, 15-17), and Christ and the believer share the same Spirit (2 Cor. 1:21).

The New Testament contains five main metaphors for union with Christ: manna, the vine and branches, the body of Christ, marriage, and the Temple or a building. The manna metaphor emphasizes the new life that union with Christ provides (John 6:49-58), while the vine metaphor presents Christ as the ongoing source of spiritual life and growth (John 15:1-8).

In its various contexts, the body of Christ metaphor pictures the relationship between believers (1 Cor. 12:12-27; Rom. 12:4-5), the authority of Christ as Head (Col. 1:18; Eph. 1:22-23), and the life that Christ provides for the body (Eph. 4:11-16). The marriage metaphor presents the need for a holy life (2 Cor. 11:2) as well as the close relationship between Christ and the believer (Eph. 5:22-33).

The building metaphor sometimes focuses on corporate growth (Eph. 2:20- 23; 1 Pet. 2:4-5) and other times on God’s dwelling with or in believers (2 Cor. 6:16; Rev. 3:12; 13:6).

Every phase and aspect of the Christian life involves union with Christ. Growth in the Christian life comes through union with Christ (John 15:2). The moral obligations of the Christian life relate to union with Christ (1 Thess. 4:1; 5:18)…. The blessings that the believer enjoys are in Christ (Eph. 1:3) or in the believer as Christ is in the believer (1 John 4:16).

The experiences of Christ are reflected in the lives of believers, so that salvation is “death with Christ to sin” (Gal. 2:19-20), the righteous life of believers is sharing Christ’s resurrection life (Rom. 6:4), suffering is “sharing the sufferings of Christ” (1 Pet. 4:13; Rev. 1:9), and dying is being “conformed to His death” (Phil. 3:10).

Believers now possess the life of the eschaton as a result of their union with Christ, and death does not end this union. They will experience closer and deeper union throughout eternity.

In union with Him, their bodies will be “conformed to His glorious body” (Phil. 3:21), they will inherit all thing (Rev. 21:7), will rule with Him (Rev. 2:26-27), and will bring eternal glory to the Father (Eph. 3:21).

When we recognize that salvation is obtained only through union with Christ’s death and resurrection, we also recognize the utter absurdity of salvation by works. Our work express our union with Christ: they certainly do not accomplish it.

Similarly, progressive sanctification—growth in grace, in knowledge, in love, and in faith—is growth in union with Christ.

The all-too-human attempt to use works alone to achieve a higher level of spirituality is futile…. A life of sin is inconsistent with union with Christ’s resurrection (Rom. 6) and thus indicates a lack of union with Christ (1 John 3).

To expand on Steve’s last point, Romans 6 teaches that our union with Christ has broken sin’s power over us. Experiencing freedom from sin is the personal application and appropriation of what is already ours in Christ!

As we reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to God and yield ourselves as obedient servants to God, we enjoy the victory over sin that Christ has already won. No wonder Paul says, “Blessed be the God…who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings…in Christ!”


Originally posted in the Ministry Library of God’s Bible School & College.