Soteriology – Our Union with Christ
Paul begins the letter of Ephesians by reminding believers of their blessings “in Christ”, past, present and future. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ…” He elaborates fully and is obviously carried away in recounting these magnanimous benefits that belong to those who are “in Christ”.
And so it should be for every saint. Paul refers to our union with Christ in many other passages also, using terms like “in Christ”, “in Him”, “in the Beloved” over 160 times in his letters. Without doubt this was an important doctrine to Paul. He tells us that our union with the Jesus occurred when we were “baptized into Christ Jesus” by the Holy Spirit. (Rom. 6:3). Union with the One who is infinitely good secures redemption for the sinner - the forgiveness of sins (Eph. 1:7). His blood is efficacious to present the one who is united to Him holy and blameless before God (Eph. 1:4).
Jesus spoke of our union with Him in John 15:4, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” So in Him we not only receive the once-for-all blessings mentioned in Ephesians 1, but there is also power to live today a life that glorifies Christ, a life abounding in spiritual fruit, a life with divine results. This is possible because we are in Christ.
God actually sees the believer as He sees Christ. Romans 6:3-4 explains how this is possible. “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
James Boice elaborates, “When Jesus died on the cross those of us who are united to him by saving faith also died with him so far as the punishment of our sin is concerned. God the Father put the Son to death. Since we are united to him, there is a sense in which we have been put to death too.” (Boice, James Montgomery. Foundations of the Christian Faith, [Downer’s Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1986], p. 392).
Paul also tells us in Romans 6:14 that our union with Christ means that we have been freed from sin. “For sin shall not be master over you for you are not under law but under grace.” When Christ died, we died with Him in every spiritual sense. As sinners, the perfect law of God had rightfully condemned us as violators and sentenced us to death. The law held us guilty and demanded our punishment.
I was like a man in prison on death row, unable to free myself and without hope. The law had to be carried out in order for me to go free. "Since the law clamors for my death as a law-breaker, how can I possibly be justified? Only by meeting the law's requirement and dying the death it demands. If I were to do this myself, however, that would be the finish of me” (Stott, John. The Cross of Christ, [Downer’s Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1986], p. 341).
But God, in His great goodness and mercy saw me on the cross with Christ. “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me” (Gal. 2:19-20, NASB). Since I am in Christ, God imputes His death to me. My sin has been paid for.
The man on death row is finally freed from the penalty of his crime and from the law when he is executed. And so, having died with Christ, I am free from the law and from sin and its penalty in Him. Sin is no longer my master because my death released me from its rule. I was a slave, owned by sin, the cruelest taskmaster, but because I died and was buried, I am free.
Still, the news gets better. I have not only died and been buried with Christ, I have also been raised from the dead for when Jesus walked out of the tomb I was in Him and was made alive together with Him. Like Paul, I now say, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20 NASB).
How wondrous to be in Christ. In Him I am no longer enslaved to sin. I now serve the glorious, gracious King with great freedom and eternal joy. What sacrifice, condescension and unfathomable love that the only One who is good would die for one who was only hateful toward Him being, in fact, liable for His death. I can not understand the immense love of God!
Obeying this compassionate God is my highest delight. I have received back that greatest good, given to man at Eden, who tossed it aside for a mouthful of fruit. By His goodness I have come full course. I am reconciled to Him, ready to listen, learn, love and do His bidding. In Christ this is possible. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (II Cor. 5:17).
All things are new and continue to remain new, unlike anything else in this world. God’s mercies are new every morning in Christ and I am given strength for today to do whatever He puts before me. Hallelujah! Praise be to our good God!
And this indeed does bring us full circle to the final task of this investigation into theology, which is to demonstrate just how the truths about Christ that we embrace will have an impact, both now and eternally, upon the relationships we have with our God, with others, upon how we think about ourselves and also upon every aspect of our lives. Look for that in the final post of Theology - Necessary Soul Food for the Good Woman.