Union with Christ: what is it? (01)

4 11 2008
Image by Peter Riches  

Union with Christ is a prevalent theme in Paul’s writings, yet seems to be somewhat underdone in preaching. The theme is expressed through phrases such as ‘in Christ’, ‘with Christ’, ‘through Christ’, ‘in the Lord’, ‘in him’, and other related phrases. Notice how often such phrases occur within Ephesians 1:3–13.

‘3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, in Christ; 4 for He chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love 5 He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself, according to His favor and will, 6 to the praise of His glorious grace that He favored us with in the Beloved.

7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace 8 that He lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. 9 He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure that He planned in Him 10 for the administration of the days of fulfillment—to bring everything together in the Messiah, both things in heaven and things on earth in Him.

11 In Him we were also made His inheritance, predestined according to the purpose of the One who works out everything in agreement with the decision of His will, 12 so that we who had already put our hope in the Messiah might bring praise to His glory.

13 In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation—in Him when you believed—were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.’

(Ephesians 1:3-13 HCSB)

There’s little question that ‘in Christ’ and related phrases are common for Paul, appearing all over the place in his letters. As readers of the New Testament, then, we would do well to contemplate two related questions: what is union with Christ? and what are the implications of this theme for preaching? I’ll be exploring these questions in my next few posts.

posted by Con Campbell

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9 responses

4 11 2008
Dave Miers

hoping you finish this series before a certain exam next wednesday!

5 11 2008
mattwdodd

Con, looks like a cool new blog.

I preached on Colossians 2 a couple of weeks ago, and it’s full of this language as well.

Especially key is, “9For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.”

All of deity in Christ, all of you in Christ, then continuing on in the chapter to fully outline what that looks like.

Matt.

romans1133.wordpress.com

5 11 2008
Des Smith

Hey Con,

Funny you should mention this, I’m about to do a two week ‘series’ on union with Christ at church (it’s even called ‘The State of the Union’, which should surely warm your West Wing heart!). I’ve done them once before and would like to work them up into something I can use again, if I shot you through the recordings would you be up for listening to them and giving me some feedback? No pressure, just if you have a moment. Cheers,

Des

6 11 2008
Con Campbell

Sure!

7 11 2008
StephenMac

I too did a sermon which touched on this topic (Eph. 3:14-21) where Paul reminds the reader of the implications of this union. In particular, I found the phrase in 3:16 particularly striking, in that Paul says that the Ephesians are “to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man”, which seems to run parallel to 3:17 “that the Messiah may dwell in your hearts through faith”, and again in 3:20 “to Him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think– according to the power that works in you–

I don’t think that I have ever really though about the implications of union with Christ in terms of it being a powerful and person-changing phenomenon. This was the big thing that I was impacted by in preparing the sermon, and I was challenged to remember that sermons must first by applied to the preacher before the congregation.

10 11 2008
Eleni Waugh

Forgive me for being more than a little over my head in this discussion (I definitely am!) but I thought it worth mentioning that one aspect of our union with Christ that seems rarely addressed is it’s implications on our place relative to the Father.
In some ways we address it whenever we consider the gospel: the temple curtain is now torn afterall, but what I find more elusive in my churchgoing experience is comment on the aspects of our unity that are a little harder to get our head around: in what sense are we both the judged and those who sit in judgement in the last days as mentioned in Revelation? In what sense are the saved Jesus’ inheritance and glory but also those who inherit and share in His glory?
Perhaps there are useful books or papers that address the final nature of the family of God?

11 11 2008
Con Campbell

Those are some intriguing questions Eleni. I’m not sure I’m in a position to attempt to answer them at this stage, but stay tuned as keep looking at this theological theme.

A couple of books that may be of interest:

Smedes, Lewis B. Union with Christ: A Biblical View of the New Life in Jesus Christ. Revised edition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983.

Gaffin, Richard B. The Centrality of the Resurrection: A Study in Paul’s Soteriology. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978.

12 11 2008
Mark Earngey

Hey Con – nice timing just prior to NT Exam (though you couldn’t post up a question or two could you?!)

V. keen to hear your thoughts on this one. I had a read of Horton’s book (Covenant and Salvation – Union w. Christ) earlier this year and I sparked a few thoughts! …. Reckon you could post up on how you see Union with Christ and Election linked together?

Cheers!
Mark

25 11 2008
Paul

“Union in Christ” is intriguing indeed! ‘Tis the name of my blog. Is the expression “in Christ” a place, a state of being, all of the above, or something else altogether?

Just thinking…




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