Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Union with Jesus Christ, What It Is, And How It Roots Christian Identity - Romans 6:8-11



    In today's post I want to explore the most common truth we find about Christian identity in the New Testament epistles - union with Christ. This is in keeping with the last series of posts which have aimed to explore the subject of Christian identity through Romans 6,7, and 8. For reader's desiring to review the last couple of posts in the series, click on the following links.

What it means to be united to Jesus Christ

    The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology defines "union with Christ" as having to do with identification with Christ. It notes on page 588:

"...the theological concept of identification with Christ relates a Christian to the person and work of Christ by Divine reckoning, by the human experience of faith, and by the spiritual union of the believer with Christ effected by the baptism of the Holy Spirit."

    Theologian Michael Horton on page 587 of his volume:"The Christian Faith" describes this union of the believer and Jesus Christ in both salvation and sanctification as follows:

"Nevertheless, our subjective inclusion in Christ occurs when the Spirit calls us effectually to Christ and gives us the faith to cling to him for all of his riches."

    To understand this union more concretely, Jesus compares union with Him as a branch to a vine and the vine to the branches (John 15:1-7). The "vine and branches" metaphor employed by Jesus gives us a grand introduction to this truth. In Ephesians 5:22-33, the union of Christ and His people is likened unto the union shared between a husband and the wife. Other metaphors are used throughout the New Testament to describe the Christian's union with Jesus Christ, including the body (Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12); bread (1 Corinthians 10); a field (1 Corinthians 3:9) among others.
    This idea of "union with Christ" is vital, since Christ connects not only our justification and sanctification together, but also connects His Person and current work to us by the ministry of the Holy Spirit that both initially and progressively continue such a connection (see 1 Corinthians 12:12-13). In the New Testament, wherever we find phrases such as "in Christ" or "with Christ", we can have certainty that the author is talking about "union with Christ". To say "in Christ" means "in association with Christ" or "in participation with Christ". Paul most often talks of this truth. We also find it in Peter's letters, chiefly in 2 Peter 1:4

"For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust."

Tying our new Christian identity into the doctrine of union with Christ
    I wrote in the last post about the top five ways a Christ-follower is described in the New Testament. This whole matter of "Christian identity", whether "disciple", "saint", "elect", "believer", or "Christian", is rooted in the larger theological truth of one's "union" with Jesus Christ. 

    This reality of no longer "united to the first Adam" and transferred into "the Second Adam", Christ, by faith, is traced out in Romans 5:11-21. Romans chapters 6-8 spells out the implications which follow from the sinner's transferral from "Adam" to "Christ". Notice what we find, beginning in Romans 6:3-7

"Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; 7 for he who has died is freed from sin."

    You'll notice in the above quote I put into bold those phrases that allude to the believer's union with Christ. As stated already, to be "in Christ"or "with Christ" refers to "association" or "participation" in the life of that person. 

    We can note that the term translated “united” derives from a Greek word found only once in the Greek New Testament. Elsewhere in other Greek literature outside the New Testament, certain ancient medical literature uses the term to describe the knitting of bones together in a mother’s womb. Or, in referencing forestry, particular Greek authors used this term "united" to describe a dense forest of trees growing together. 

    In other words, to have "union" with Jesus Christ speaks of a spiritual, organic union. To put it another way, the experiences and life of one Person (Adam for sinners; Jesus for saints) becomes mapped onto those with whom they are shared. The Apostle John notes in 1 John 4:19

"By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world."

    As Paul expounds upon what all is involved with our Christian identity "united" to Jesus Christ, we read in Romans 6:8-11

"Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, 9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 11 Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus."

    Did you notice how life and death are wrapped up in this personal identity of the Christian life? Although the Christian life in this world still deals with the corruption of sin, that secondary reality cannot subtract from who the Christian is in Jesus Christ.

Closing thoughts
    Let me close with how powerful this union with Christ is in rooting the new Christian identity. Paul writes in Colossians 2:13-14

"When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross."

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