The Union of Believers with Christ

by Leland M. Haines

  In the discourse on the bread of life, Jesus spoke about Moses and manna and about "true bread from heaven . . . which . . . giveth life unto the world" (John 6:32, 33). Jesus is this "bread" from heaven (v. 41), and "he that believeth on me [Jesus] hath everlasting life" (v. 47). When Jesus, the Living Bread, said, "If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I give for the life of the world" (v. 51), He was referring to giving His life on the cross. Jesus continued to speak figuratively when He said, "He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him" (v. 56). This eating is not like eating manna (v. 58) but is the union of two brought about by belief in Christ. Since the disciples thought this was a "hard saying," being impossible to follow, Jesus told them, "It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life" (v. 63). It is the indwelling Spirit that gives spiritual life (John 3:6; Romans 8:9-11). This partaking involves a union between Christ and the believer that brings life to the latter.

In a discourse involving branches and the vine, Jesus told His disciples to "abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. . . . If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love" (John 15:4, 10). Abiding in Christ yields Christian growth: "Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit" (v. 2; cf. vv. 5, 6). If there is no growth, the "branch" is taken away. Later, in His high priestly prayer, Jesus prayed that His disciples "may be one, even as we [Jesus and the Father] are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me" (17:22, 23). This indwelling of Christ and abiding in Him is the basis of the union between believers and Christ.

Repeatedly Paul wrote of this union. When we surrender all to Christ, committing our lives to Him in faith, we become united to Him. Paul used several Greek compound words with the prefix su, which means with, to describe this mystical relationship. In English these are co- compound words. These Greek words which could be translated co-crucified, co-buried, co-quickened, co-raised, and co-seated are used in three of Paul's epistles to express the union of Christians with Christ.

The first word co-crucified involves the believers' union with Christ in death. Paul wrote, "We have been planted together in the likeness of his death. . . . our old man is crucified with him [Christ]" (Romans 6:5, 6). This co-crucifixion renders the old nature powerless. Paul used the Greek term meaning rendered powerless thirty-five times to show that Satan can no longer enslave those united with Christ. This union does not destroy Satan but liberates Christians from the bondage of the flesh, that is, from the sinful nature due to original sin. As Paul wrote to the Galatians, "They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts" (Galatians 5:24; cf. 6:14). In Philippian 3:10 Paul spoke of his own goals, "that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his suffering, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead."

The Greek conditional particle ei, translated if in "If we be dead with Christ" (Romans 6:8), is used in the sense that this statement is true. Thus Christians are to reckon themselves "to be dead indeed unto sin" (v. 11). This being dead to sin is a fact and therefore "sin [should not] reign in [a Christian's] mortal body, that [he] should obey it in the lusts thereof" (v. 12). Having died with Christ, Christians are co-buried with Him: "We are buried with him by baptism into death" (Romans 6:4) and are "buried with him in baptism" (Colossians 2:12). This spiritual burial of Christians in baptism shows they have died and that the power of sin in their lives has come to an end. Having been buried with Christ, Christians do not lie in the grave; they "are risen with him through faith of the operation of God" (v. 12). "If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God" (3:1). "As Christ was raised up from the dead . . . so [Christians] also should walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:4; cf. Ephesians 2:5).

As Christ was quickened, that is, made alive, so God has "quickened us together with Christ" (Ephesians 2:5; cf. Colossians 2:13), so that we "live with him" (Romans 6:8). Those who died with Christ receive life because of their union with Him. God makes those in Christ dead to sin and alive to God; in other words, they receive a new life (v. 11).

Wenger wrote about some important aspects of union with Christ.

Union with Christ does not blur the integrity and distinction between the personality of Christ and that of the believer. Christ remains the Lord of glory, while the believer continues as a creature on earth. Union with Christ does not involve irresponsibility on the part of the Christian for holiness or for one's decisions. Christ remains Christ and the Christian remains Christ's disciple. Union with Christ is rather the attachment of faith. Becoming a believer is turning to the Lord. A large number of people at Antioch, upon hearing preaching about the Lord Jesus Christ, "turned to the Lord" (Acts 11:21). Having faith in Christ is one of the conditions for divine indwelling: "Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God" (I John 4:15). Union with Christ also involves the devotion of love, for John also states: "God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him" (4:16). . . .

To be united with Christ is not only to exercise faith in Him, and to love Him: it also involves an identity of will and intention, the rendering to Him of full obedience. "By this we may be sure that we are in him: he who says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked" (I John 2:5). John also wrote: "And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who keep his commandments abide in him, and he in them" (3:23, 24). To be in Christ is therefore to be His disciple, His bond servant, completely united with Him in will and purpose: "If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love" (John 15:10). (J. C. Wenger, Introduction to Theology, pp. 299, 300. Copyright 1954, renewal 1980 by Herald Press, Scottdate, Pa. USA. All rights reserved.)

The end result of being united with Christ is that we "sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the coming ages he might show unmeasurable riches of his grace in his kindness toward us in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:6, 7 RSV).


The above is from Redemption Realized through Christ by Leland M. Haines (pp. 176-79), © copyright 1996 by Leland M. Haines, Northville, MI. All rights reserved. Used by permission. This book is available from Biblical Viewpoints.


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June 22, 2000