Mar1ThuMarch 1, 2018
We often talk about the gospel in terms of a legal transaction that results in a life change. Through faith, we accept the payment that Jesus made for our sins when He died on the cross and rose again to new life. Our sins are forgiven, our debt has been paid, and Christ’s riches of righteousness are credited to us. As a result we live our lives differently out of gratitude and through the power of the Holy Spirit who is transforming us. What an amazing truth! Praise God for His salvation! But the good news of Jesus Christ doesn’t end there. There’s more to it, and unfortunately, we often neglect this part. When we follow Jesus through faith in His death and resurrection for us, we aren’t just forgiven our debt, we’re united to Christ. In his letter to the Colossians Paul says that his great privilege as an apostle is to proclaim the amazing truth of union with Christ to God’s people.
I have become [the church’s] servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. - Colossians 1:25-27
Paul says that our sin has alienated us from God (see v 21) and that “for ages and generations” the way to resolve that problem has been a “mystery that has been kept hidden”. Through Christ’s sinless life, death for us, and victorious resurrection, the mystery has been revealed, our relationship with God is reconciled (restored) because Christ is in us and that is our hope of glory (our hope that at the end of this life, we will be with God and not punished).
But what does it mean that Christ is in us? It’s a difficult concept to understand. I can’t really draw a picture of it or explain it as easily as I can explain the idea of my debt being paid (which is probably why Christians tend to focus on that part of the gospel and neglect our union with Christ). When we become Christians, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in us. We are the new temple. God is with us and we have direct access to Him. And through the Holy Spirit, our lives are joined with Christ’s. We are connected to His death and our old self is crucified with Him and we are raised to new spiritual life that we live in Christ’s power. (Galatians 2:20 - I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.)
Yeah, but… what does it mean? What does it look like? The Bible uses a few pictures to try to give us a sense of what it looks like. It’s kind of like the union we have in marriage where two become one (Ephesians 5:21-33). It’s kind of like the union a body has with its head (1 Corinthians 12:12-31). It’s kind of like the union of a branch growing on a vine (John 15). I want to take a minute to look at this last one, because it will help us know what to do, even if we can’t quite wrap our minds around the spiritual realities of our union with Christ.
In John 15:5-6, Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” A branch that is cut off from the vine will not grow grapes. It can’t. It can’t even stay alive. It’s cut off from the roots of the plant and will die. Jesus tells His disciples, and us, that in order to live our Christian lives, we need to remain in Jesus and Jesus in us. Our union with Christ is our source of strength, life, and spiritual vitality.
When we become a Christian, we don’t just make a mental choice of belief and then choose to live differently, no our lives are plugged into the life of Jesus in a way that makes us truly alive for the first time. We don’t just trust in Jesus for a transaction, debt paid, sins forgiven, no we trust in Jesus for new life that comes from Him. That new life in Christ is why the transaction can happen, why He can take our punishment and we can take His righteousness. And it also empowers us to live differently every day. Our job is simply to remain in Him. To find our life and strength and hope in Him rather than in anything else. To choose every day to live it with Jesus and in His power rather than without Him (which we default to if we don’t intentionally remain in Him).
I recently read a book on our union with Christ called, appropriately enough, Union with Christ. The author, Rankin Wilbourne latches on to the biblical metaphor of walking as how we live our lives in Christ. He says,
This turns out to be one of the most challenging aspects of the Christian life—the simple repetitiveness of it. Left, right, left, right. Again and again, over and over. Every day. All the way. Like a long walk uphill…. The first step in the life of God is always the step of faith…. And following just behind faith, as surely as the right foot follows the left, is repentance.
We remain in Christ by choosing in each moment to believe the gospel, that you are united with Christ through His death and resurrection and made new in Him and His is pleased with you. We remain in Christ by choosing each moment to repent of sin, turning aside from what you know displeases Him and disrupts you from remaining in Him. And then by remembering the gospel again, that though I failed to remain in Him, I am still united with Him. And then by turning away from sin again. “Left, right, left, right. Again and again, over and over. Every day. All the way.”
As we believe and repent and believe and repent, we will remain in Christ and grow in Him. He will empower us to keep going and give us hope and strength and life. And we will bear fruit for Him and be used by Him to bring glory to His name. “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” - Colossians 2:6-7