Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
– Ephesians 3:3-14
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
– Romans 6:3-11
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
– Colossians 3:1-4
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.
– Galatians 2:20
God chose to make known how great…are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
– Colossians 1:27
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
– 2 Corinthians 5:17-21
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death…we are fellow heirs with Christ.
– Romans 8:1-2, 16-17
“Union with Christ is…the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation… It is not simply a phase of the application of redemption; it underlies every aspect of redemption.”
– John Murray, Redemption—Accomplished and Applied
“[Union with Christ] is the cause of all other graces that we are made partakers of; they are all communicated unto us by virtue of our union with Christ. Hence is our adoption, our justification, our sanctification, our fruitfulness, our perseverance, our resurrection, our glory.”
– John Owen
“Every aspect of God’s relationship to believers is in some way connected to our relationship with Christ. From God’s counsels in eternity past before the world was created, to our fellowship with God in heaven in eternity future, and including every aspect of our relationship with God in this life—all has occurred in union with Christ.”
– Wayne Grudem
“Union with Christ, rather than justification or election or eschatology, or indeed any of the other great apostolic themes, is the real clue to an understanding of Paul’s thought and experience.”
– James S. Stewart, A Man in Christ
“I confess that we are deprived of justification until Christ is made ours. Therefore, that joining together of Head and members, that indwelling of Christ in our hearts—in short, that mystical union—are accorded by us the highest degree of importance, so that Christ, having been made ours, makes us sharers with him in the gifts with which he has been endowed… We do not, therefore, contemplate him outside ourselves from afar in order that His righteousness may be imputed to us but because we put on Christ and are engrafted into His body—in short because he deigns to make us one with Him.”
– John Calvin, Institutes (3:11:10)
“[Union with Christ] is at once the center and circumference of authentic human existence.”
– Lewis Smedes, Union with Christ
“Once you have your eyes opened to this concept of union with Christ, you will find it almost everywhere in the New Testament.”
– Anthony Hoekema, Saved by Grace
“It is one of the most glorious aspects of the Christian truth, one of the most profound, one of the most stimulating, one of the most comforting—indeed I rather like to use the word exhilarating. There is nothing, perhaps, in the whole range and realm of doctrine which, if properly grasped and understood, gives greater assurance, greater comfort, and greater hope than this doctrine of our union with Christ…If you have got hold of this idea you will have discovered the most glorious truth you will ever know in your life.”
– Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones, The New Man
“If you want an introduction to the doctrine of union with Christ, John Murray’s chapter in Redemption—Accomplished and Applied is helpful, as is Anthony Hoekema’s chapter in Saved by Grace. Below are a few notes on the latter:
The New Testament uses two interchangeable expressions to describe union with Christ:
- We are in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17; John 15:4, 5, 7; 1 Cor. 15:22; 2 Cor. 12:2; Gal. 3:28; Eph. 1:4, 2:10; Phil. 3:9; 1 Thess. 4:16; 1 John 4:13).
- Christ is in us (Gal. 2:20; Col. 1:27; Rom. 8:10; 2 Cor. 13:5; Eph. 3:17).
Hoekema says that we should see union with Christ “extending all the way from eternity to eternity.” He outlines his material in this way:
- The roots of union with Christ are in divine election (Eph. 1:3-4).
- The basis of union with Christ is the redemptive work of Christ.
- The actual union with Christ is established with God’s people in time.
Under the third point, he shows eight ways that salvation, from beginning to end, is in Christ:
- We are initially united with Christ in regeneration (Eph. 2:4-5, 10)
- We appropriate and continue to live out of this union through faith (Gal. 2:20; Eph. 3:16-17).
- We are justified in union with Christ (1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:8-9).
- We are sanctified through union with Christ (1 Cor. 1:30; John 15:4-5; Eph. 4:16; 2 Cor. 5:17).
- We persevere in the life of faith in union with Christ (John 10:27-28; Rom. 8:38-39).
- We are even said to die in Christ (Rom. 14:8; 1 Thess. 4:16; Rev. 14:13).
- We shall be raised with Christ (Col. 3:1; 1 Cor. 15:22).
- We shall be eternally glorified with Christ (Col. 3:4; 1 Thess. 4:16-17).
And here’s a helpful quote from Sinclair Ferguson (in Christian Spirituality: Five Views of Sanctification [IVP, 1989], 58), explaining in a nutshell why union with Christ is the foundation for sanctification:
“If we are united to Christ, then we are united to him at all points of his activity on our behalf.”
- in his death (we were baptized into his death),
- in his resurrection (we are resurrected with Christ),
- in his ascension (we have been raised with him),
- in his heavenly session (we sit with him in heavenly places, so that our life is hidden with Christ in God), and we will share
- in his promised return (when Christ, who is our life, appears, we also will appear with him in glory) (Rom. 6:14; Col. 2:11-12; 3:1-3).
This, then, is the foundation of sanctification in Reformed theology.
It is rooted, not in humanity and their achievement of holiness or sanctification, but in what God has done in Christ, and for us in union with him. Rather than view Christians first and foremost in the microcosmic context of their own progress, the Reformed doctrine first of all sets them in the macrocosm of God’s activity in redemptive history. It is seeing oneself in this context that enables the individual Christian to grow in true holiness.”
– Justin Taylor, Union With Christ: A Crash Course
“The Father is the source of our union; the Son is the object of our union; and the Spirit is the bond of our union.”
– Seng-Kong Tan, Calvin’s Doctrine of Our Union with Christ
“I recently listened to Richard Gaffin’s lecture “Union with Christ in the New Testament,” recorded in 2006. And these are my notes.
We see a comprehensive sweep of our union with Christ from eternity to eternity:
• Eternal origin: Predestinated in Christ (Eph 1:4)
• Eternal end: Glorified in Christ (Rom 8:17, 1 Cor 15:22)
Gaffin then makes three categorical distinctions of this union:
• Predestinarian or decreetal union with Christ (Eph 1:4).
• Redemptive-historical union with Christ (Rom 6:1–14). The union that is involved as we are seen as one with Christ when he actually accomplished our salvation. We are crucified, buried, raised up with Christ.
• Applicatory (or existential) union with Christ. Paul percieved himself as one chosen in Christ from eternity (1) and as one who was contemplated in Christ during his death/resurrection (2). But Paul also knew that he was at one time NOT united to Christ, but was rather a child of wrath (Rom 16:7). So what effects the transition from wrath to grace? That point came when Paul was united to Christ by faith.
These are not three distinct unions but three facets to the single union.
Under “applicatory union” Gaffin makes these further points:
• Mystical union. It is mystical union because it involves a great mystery, a mystery that has its closest analogy in the relationship between a husband and a wife (Eph 5). Marital union and intimacy does not blur the distinctions between the husband and wife. So our union with Christ does not blur the clear personal distinction between Christ and the Christian. Christ remains our representative. This point protects us from mysticism.
• Spiritual union. It is spiritual because of the activity and indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This union is not ontological (like the Trinity), not hypostatic (like the two natures of Christ), not psychosomatic (body-soul relationship), not one flesh (like marriage), nor is it merely intellectual and moral (as if Christ and the believe now merely share a common purpose). Spiritual union is rooted in the relationship between Christ and the Holy Spirit.
• Reciprocal union. Believers are in Christ and Christ is also in them. The hope of the church is that Christ “is in you” (Col 1:27).
• Vital union. Christ’s indwelling is the very life of the believer (Gal 2:20, Col 3:4).
• Permanent union. Rooted in election, our union will reach its final consummation in glorification. At the end of Romans 8 Paul says that nothing, not even death, can separate us from the love of Christ. Why? Because not even death can separate us from Christ. Westminster Confession: “The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves till the resurrection.”
• Corporate union. Union is obviously very personal. But it’s also corporate (1 Cor 1:9, 12:13). The call that comes to each believer is also a call into fellowship with His Body. There is no union that is not also fellowship with other believers. Never polarize the personal and corporate concerns.
• Union and justification. We do not have our justification apart from, or prior to, our being united to Christ. Justification is a manifestation of our union with Christ.
John Calvin, Institutes, 3.11.10: “that joining together of Head and members, that indwelling of Christ in our hearts—in short, that mystical union—are accorded by us the highest degree of importance, so that Christ, having been made ours, makes us sharers with him in the gifts with which he has been endowed. We do not, therefore, contemplate him outside ourselves from afar in order that his righteousness may be imputed to us but because we put on Christ and are engrafted into his body—in short, because he deigns to make us one with him.”
Conclusion. A focus on our union with Christ will keep our focus on Christ himself, on his person, rather than being preoccupied merely by the benefits we receive from Him. It keeps Christ central. It will not allow him to fade into the background as a mere facilitator of these benefits.
The beauty in stressing union with Christ is that you are much less likely to pit various elements of the person and work of Christ against one another. So when I think of my wife I do not ask what I like more, her cooking or her intellect. She is my wife and all her strengths and beauty are mine becuse we are united.”
– Tony Reinke, Union With Christ
“Dr. Ferguson began talking about the structure—or grammar—of the gospel. Natively, the gospel is a foreign language to us and we need to learn that the grammar of the gospel is shaped by the gospel itself. He noted how hard it is for us as Americans to learn Latin. The verbs go at the end end. We are a doing community and it’s hard for us to put the “doing” at the end. But the gospel teaches us to put our doing word at the end and Jesus’ doing word at the beginning—but our native tendency is to drag back the doing word and put it at the beginning, and then top that up with Jesus’ doing, just to make life a little better.
There’s a very clear grammar, he said, in the gospel…
The Mood of the Gospel
We need to learn that the grammar of the gospel has its appropriate mood.
In our languages today we speak in the indicative mood and the imperative mood. The indicative mood is saying these are the things that are true. The imperative mood is saying these are things you need to do. And in the gospel, the structure of the grammar is always indicative gives rise to imperative…
The Tense of the Gospel
There’s also a tense of the gospel: the present is to be rooted in the past. You need to go backward to what Christ has done in order to go forward in what you are to do. There is an emphasis of the already and the mopping-up operation of the not-yet.
The Prepositions of the Gospel
Do you remember how Paul uses prepositions in Galatians 2:20-21, where in a few words he summarizes the work of Christ:
The Son of God loved me and gave himself for me;
and therefore I am crucified with Christ;
nevertheless, I live, but not I; Christ lives in me.
In these three prepositions the apostle Paul has, in a sense, summarized the basic structure of our union with Christ.
Since we were chosen in Him before the foundation of the world, he came as our substitute and representative—there is this sense in which we now know through faith that we were crucified with Christ. And the past that dominated us has been nailed to the cross; the dominion of sin that reigned over us has been broken—so that he has died for us and we have been crucified with him, and wonder of wonders there is this third dimension of our union with Christ: a mutual union, in which not only are we are said to be in Christ, but Christ the Lord of glory, in all the fullness of his role as our benefactor comes to dwell in the heart of the merest believer.”
– Justin Taylor, Do You Know the Grammar of the Gospel?
– Michael Reeves, Q&A + Scripture Teaching (or mp3)
– Sinclair Ferguson, Paul on Union with Christ (or mp3 or PDF)
– Sinclair Ferguson, Union with Christ in Christian Living (or mp3)
– Sinclair Ferguson, Paul on Union with Christ (or mp3 or PDF)
– Sinclair Ferguson, Union with Christ in Christian Living (or mp3)
– Richard Gaffin, Union With Christ in the New Testament
– Richard Gaffin, The Mystery of Union with Christ—Part 1
– Richard Gaffin, The Mystery of Union with Christ—Part 2
– Richard Gaffin, The Mystery of Union with Christ—Part 3
– Richard Gaffin, The Mystery of Union with Christ—Part 4
– Richard Gaffin, The Mystery of Union with Christ—Part 5
– Richard Gaffin, The Mystery of Union with Christ—Q & A, Part 1
– Richard Gaffin, The Mystery of Union with Christ—Q & A, Part 2
– Phil Gons, Union With Christ
– R. David Rightmire, Union with Christ
– Theopedia, Union with Christ
– Wikipedia, Union with Christ
– J.V. Fesko, Union with Christ in Paul’s Epistles
– J. Todd Billings, Union with Christ: Reframing Theology and Ministry for the Church