The Practical Implications of Union with Christ
I wanted to write a short blog post about the nature of “union with Christ” and its practical ramifications. The doctrine is so profound that I’m not sure it is possible to write a short blog post about this and do it justice! But my goal is not to lay out a complex doctrine, but rather offer encouragement to the saints, because I agree with John Owen when he stated:
Our greatest hindrance in Christian life is not our lack of effort, but our lack of acquaintedness with our privileges.
My brief thoughts fall under two headings:
- Because of Union with Christ we have lost everything
- Because of Union with Christ we have gained everything
We’ve Lost Everything
Jesus makes it pretty clear that when we follow Him we are leaving everything behind (Mark 8:36, Luke 9:60) – and that “everything” may seem like a lot at first blush. But the Spirit clearly gives us eyes to see that what was formerly “everything” is really rubbish.
As Paul said, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:8).
That “rubbish” is first and foremost our sin. We leave that behind when we’re saved – we’ve lost all the guilt of our past deeds. We have nothing of that past life to hang onto and have been completely freed from the punishment due to us (Romans 6).
We’ve also, secondarily, lost our desires for the things the world has to offer. This is not the instant transaction that occurs at justification, rather it is part of the slow process of sanctification. It is the change of our desires. It is the subordination of all other earthly goals to one higher goal: the know Christ – as Paul mentioned above.
By nature of our union with Christ, we begin to have His mind because we are filled with His Spirit. The practical upshot is that the football game may not seem as exciting or worthwhile as reading Scripture or spending time at church. Wow…that seems odd. Pretty much. But after a few years I guarantee that you’ll look around at your life and begin to see a fundamental reorganization of your priorities – not because you “feel it’s the right thing” from legalistic duty (I hope not!), but simply because your own desires have changed. This comes from the Spirit and from beholding Christ (2 Cor. 3:18) – you are united with Him…and that has implications.
We’ve Gained Everything
By nature of our union with Christ we stand to gain everything. Jonathan Edwards remarks upon this eloquently (though its old English so bear with him):
By virtue of the believer’s union with Christ, he doth really possess all things. That we know plainly from Scripture. But it may be asked, how [doth] he possess all things? What is he the better for it? How is a true Christian so much richer than other men? To answer this, I’ll tell you what I mean by “possessing all things.”
I mean that God three in one, all that he is, and all that he has, and all that he does, all that he has made or done—the whole universe, bodies and spirits, earth and heaven, angels, men and devils, sun moon [and] stars, land and sea, fish and fowls, all the silver and gold, kings and potentates as well as mean men—are as much the Christian’s as the money in his pocket, the clothes he wears, or the house he dwells in, or the victuals he eats; yea more properly his, more advantageously more his, than if he [could] command all those things mentioned to be just in all respects as he pleased at any time, by virtue of the union with Christ; because Christ, who certainly doth thus possess all things, is entirely his: so that he possesses it all, more than a wife the share of the best and dearest husband, more than the hand possesses what the head doth; it is all his.
But it is certain, so much shall the true Christian possess all things; ’tis not a probable scheme, but absolutely certain.[i]
I think that the reality as well as the practical outgrowth of this is difficult for us to comprehend. But we know that because Christ rules over all things, we have assurance that we too will one-day rule with Him.
The idea of ruling with God’s Son is so far removed from the daily beat-down that life offers emotionally, physically, spiritually and so forth, that I think its worthwhile on a Saturday morning to step back and rejoice in these realities, and the hope which is to come.
The practical implications are not all future, however. They extend into the present day. The one I’d like to leave with you is that because of our union with Christ we are completely unassailable before God’s throne. The Devil may accuse all he wants to no avail. This morning this was brought home to me powerfully once again by Tullian Tchividjian. Tchividjian quotes Luther and then adds on an eloquent rejoinder:
“So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: ‘I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!’” (Martin Luther).
Well may the Accuser roar, of sins that I have done; I know them all and thousands more, Jehovah knoweth none![ii]
[i] From the Edwards Center at Yale University: http://edwards.yale.edu/archive?path=aHR0cDovL2Vkd2FyZHMueWFsZS5lZHUvY2dpLWJpbi9uZXdwaGlsby9nZXRvYmplY3QucGw/Yy4xMjo0OjE6Mjkud2plbw==
[ii] From Tchividjian’s blog ‘Liberate’ at the gospel coalition website: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tullian/2014/02/07/what-of-it/