In my life, I have had a wide and varied exposure to the word union. As a kid in school, we studied the War Between the States which, of course, was fought between the Confederacy (the South) and the Union (the North). During that same period in my life, I lived under the shadow of the threat of nuclear holocaust—a possibility that existed because of the USA’s Cold War with the Soviet Union. As an adult, I learned much from friends who experienced a sense of job security because they were members of a labor union. And, as a pastor, I performed marriage ceremonies that served to create the union of a man and a woman.
All of those realities feel rather tangible, concrete, and substantial. But, when you begin to consider the theological reality of our union with Christ, it feels much more abstract and philosophical. How then are we to understand and live into what is clearly an issue of vital importance?
What Union with Christ Is
On Crossway.org, union with Christ is described this way:
Our union with the living Christ is the essential truth of our new and eternal existence. In a way that gloriously transcends our finite understanding, we are really and truly joined—spiritually and bodily—to the crucified, resurrected, incarnate person of Christ. There is no better news than this.
As the word union implies, when a person comes to faith in Christ there is a new oneness that occurs. And yet, as important as that personal reality is for you and me as individual followers of Christ, the corporate reality of the church, the body of Christ, being in union with Him is what Jesus spoke about in John 17 as He prayed before arriving at Gethsemane:
“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; 21 that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” (John 17:20–21)
“Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24)
Notice that our union with Christ both resembles and is part of Jesus’ oneness with the Father. How complete is this oneness with Jesus? As complete as His union with the Father, to which we are now mysteriously connected. It is an extraordinarily humbling thing to consider—in Christ, we are not only sons and daughters of the Father, we are one with Him as well!
How Union with Christ is Expressed in the Scriptures
There are any number of implications of this oneness, but many of the biblical affirmations of our union with Christ fall into two general categories: what it means to be with Christ and what it means to be in Christ. We’ll consider only a couple of examples of each…
Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him… (Romans 6:8)
In Christ’s redemptive work, we are identified as entering into that experience with Him because He did it on our behalf and in our place. As His cross paid for the sin that demanded our death, His resurrection engulfs us with new, risen life. This oneness not only looks back to how union with Christ resolved our sin, it looks forward to our future status and standing with Him:
The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. (Romans 8:16–17)
Just as union with Christ redeems our past, it also secures our eternal future!
Therefore there is now no condemnation at all for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)
Because of his sacrifice on the cross, union with Christ takes us out of a place of condemnation and into a place of full and absolute forgiveness. In the eyes of our Father, we are now declared “just”—or as it is sometimes stated, “just as if we had never sinned.” No condemnation can be brought against us for we in Christ.
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, this person is a new creation; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Parallel to the absence of condemnation is the presence of new life. This means that, not only do we escape death to new, eternal life, we have, in Christ, a new quality of life. This life is intended to be characterized by the heart and spirit of the Christ with whom we are one—reflecting him and his goodness to the world around us.
Union with Christ may not be the most tangible aspect of our relationship with Jesus, but it is a wonderful reality that we can celebrate. Even more, we can ponder and reflect on the many blessings that are ours because we are in and with Christ. I encourage you to search the many times in the New Testament those two phrases are used to describe our relationship with Jesus—and marvel at all the wonderful things His cross and resurrection have done for us.