Union with Christ: A Biblical Overview
Every person is either “in Adam” or “in Christ.” Those “in Adam” are dead in sin and separated from God because of their relationship to Adam and his rebellion. Those “in Christ” are dead to sin and spiritually alive unto God because of their relationship to Christ and His obedience.
A Forgotten Doctrine
When was the last time you heard a sermon about union with Christ?
Union with Christ might be one of the most neglected, overlooked doctrines of the Christian faith. And yet, as we will see in a moment, this glorious truth is the basis for every blessing and joy we experience as God’s chosen people. Michael Reeves notes, “Union with Christ is not some small, particular blessing that might go alongside the key blessings of the gospel. Union with Christ is the Christian life.” Spurgeon states, “There is no joy in this world like union with Christ. The more we can feel it, the happier we are.”
While the specific phrase union with Christ is not found in Bible, the doctrine is presented in a number of ways. For example, the phrase in Christ is found over ninety times in the New Testament. Phrases like in him and in whom often refer to this blessed doctrine as well. The Bible also uses a number of metaphors to illustrates this union. For example:
Jesus is the Head, and we are His body (Col. 1:18; Eph.1:22)
Jesus is the Vine, and we are the branches (Jn. 15:1-11)
Jesus is the Bridegroom, and we are His bride (Eph. 5:31-32; Rev. 19:7-9)
Jesus is the Cornerstone, and we are the living stones built upon Him (I Pet. 2:4-7)
What is Union with Christ?
Union with Christ refers to our vital, inseparable oneness with Him. John Piper defines union with Christ as follows: “The reality of all the ways that the Bible pictures our human connectedness to Christ, in which He is indispensable for every good that we enjoy. No saving good, no eternal good, no God-exalting good, no soul-satisfying good comes to us except as we are connected to Christ.” Every gospel blessing that we have, from eternity past to eternity future, comes to us because of our union with Christ (Eph. 1:3-14).
In his helpful book, The Gospel for Real Life, Jerry Bridges identifies two aspects of our union with Christ. He notes (p. 39), “We can distinguish two aspects of our union with Christ this way: Our legal union with Christ entitles us to all that Christ did for us as He acted in our place, as our substitute. Our vital union with Christ is the means by which He works in us by His Holy Spirit.”