Have you ever been frustrated with the gap between your head knowledge of God and your heart experience of the Living God? Of course you have; and so have I. I can speak with such certainty because I have never met a person who was completely satisfied with their experience of God moment by moment. The Gap, as I’m calling it, is ubiquitous and in a sense will always be with us before we see God face to face. When you understand the biblical tension between the now and not yet, then so much of the bible will become intelligible. However, I think that the gap does not need to be nearly as large as it usually is for most of us. How do we overcome it?
May I ask another question: how would you define the gospel or what a Christian is? There is more than one way to answer that, but Paul never used the term ‘Christian’, and when it is used in the NT (3 Times) it is probably not a term of endearment. For Paul, by far his favorite way of referring to Christians are those who are ‘in Christ.’ About 160 times in his writings that or a similar phrase is used. That little prepositional phrase is sooooo easy to overlook when reading the bible, but once you see its significance you begin to see it almost everywhere! When Paul is addressing people in an epistle, he will often refer to them as so and so ‘in Christ.’ The church of (blank) in Christ Jesus. What is being referred to is our union with Christ. ‘In Christ’ is shorthand for the most central motif in all the bible—our union with the Triune God through Christ. We are in Christ, and Christ is in us (John 14)—and as a result, we are to abide in the Lord. It is interesting how Pauline John sounds in his gospel, or the reverse.
I actually delayed doing this segment because it is so rich, and so crucial, that I never felt that I was ready or adequate to explain it. I still don’t..but am plunging ahead. We NEED to grasp this teaching.
We live as pilgrims in a foreign land. Nevertheless, I am convinced that knowing our union with Christ is the key to substantially decreasing the size of the The Gap. Yet many Christians are ignorant of this notion of union with Christ. Union with Christ—what is that?
Satan is the great identity thief; he confuses Christians as to who they are in Christ; to close our eyes to being ‘in Christ.’ He wants us to struggle and see ourselves as ‘in me.’..which is terrible news and recipe for anxiety ridden life. Satan muddles our essential identity as people who are no longer ‘in Adam’ and are now ‘in Christ’. It answers the age old question: who am I? Identity! Being in Christ includes being forgiven of our sins but it is so much more.
To say that we are in union with Christ contains two elements: we are in Christ, and Christ indwells us. Our union is unchangeable, unalterable (cannot be increased or decreased) instantaneous and irreversible. But our abiding in Christ is what we do; it is our active communing with the Christ with whom we are in union. I am not going to exegete this text in Ephesians, but I chose it to show how prevalent this notion of ‘in Christ’ is. But being in union with Christ is like having an indissoluble umbilical cord between you and the Lord Jesus in heaven.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 (full stop—all of our spiritual blessings find their origin in our union with Christ) even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world (union with Christ is from eternity past to eternity future), that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5he predestined usb for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9making knownc to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guaranteed of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it,e to the praise of his glory.
11 times in 13 verses he speaks of us being’ In Christ’! This is picked almost at random because it so common that it is a phrase that one easily passes over without ever really seeing it. But for Paul it was everything! Some have said that both in the OT and NT union with Christ is the central motif. And the apostle John was so similar in his assertions to Paul, using pictures of our union, like the vine in Jn 15.
1If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is youra life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.(Col.3:1-4)
The first thing to note about our union with Christ is that it extends from eternity past to eternity future.
And that Christ is our very life.
The Colossian Christians were under attack. It seems that false teachers were preying on new converts, who are so susceptible. They have come to Christ and freed from occult bondage in mighty way, but as time passes they inevitably discover that this sin is still in them; bondage broken but they still wrestle with the world, the flesh and the devil. So, they are ripe for false teachers who come along and say: “Are you frustrated? Well, what Paul said is all well and good but to get fullness, you need to do x,y and z.” The key word of these false teachers seems to have been ‘fullness/pleroma’—and this seems to be a proto-gnostic type heresy. The key to false teachers was that they sought to add to Christ to bring them to fullness of spiritual reality. But in reality, in Christ is all the fullness and to be in Christ is to have all the fullness. That is why it says in Eph 1 all spiritual riches are found in Him. Same in Col.
30 And because of hime you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor.1:30-31)
This is why in chapters 1 and 2 of Col. Paul stresses how all the fullness of deity dwells in Christ bodily. To be united with Him who is fullness of deity is to experience full fullness; why seek angels (as we do today as well) to round out or top off Jesus Christ, when angels are infinitely inferior to Christ—He made them! But more importantly, why look to angels and (supernatural experiences) or human traditions to make you more spiritual when you already have all you need in Christ? How many believers hop from one conference, video, experience or book to the next because they are restless—seeking some something that will add to ‘just having Jesus.’ We do not need more; what we need is to understand more fully what it is that we have already, as Paul prays in Eph 1 and 3. As I said, few Christians have even begun to plumb the depths of the meaning of our union with Christ. It is not talked about very much from pulpits, which is odd given how often it is mentioned.
What does it mean to be saved than to be united with our savior? So, the eminent theologian John Murray asserted: ‘Nothing is more central or more basic than union with Christ…it is the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation.” The accomplishment and application of redemption is brought to our experience via our union with Christ.
Elsewhere he likens it to the hub of a bicycle wheel—all the salvation blessings flow out like spokes from this central core. We come to experience all of Christ and all He did by our union with Him. Christ came, lived, died, rose and ascended so that He might bring us into vital union with Him. He speaks of this in His High Priestly prayer in John 17.
We must not separate what Christ has done FOR us from the person of Christ who indwells us. We must not separate the benefits from the Benefactor. Union with Christ first brings us into vital union with the Person of Jesus Christ, and His death and resurrection FOR US.
1. Let us first look at our being ‘in Christ’. In Rom. 5 we are born into the world ‘in Adam’ as our representative, and when he sinned, we sinned with him. It is as if we were there with him because he was our federal head/representative. When Adam sinned, we inherited his guilt and corrupted spiritual nature which has darkened every aspect of our humanity and left us spiritually dead (Eph 2:1). Guilty and totally corrupted and darkened.There are only two kinds of people in the world: those who are still ‘in Adam,’ and thus spiritually dead and under God's wrath, and those who are ‘in Christ’ and have been regenerated and baptized with the Holy Spirit, which water baptism represents—and united with all our new Adam accomplished for us.
But being united to Christ by faith, our new representative is Jesus Christ. Everything He did He did as our representative. Now the astonishing thing is that, starting with the Incarnation, if we are in Christ, then we were with Him in all these salvation events. Since we are in Christ and He is our very life, then we can say: that we were united with Him in His incarnation; His 33 years of perfect obedience to the law and to the Father, it is as if we were living that perfect life. His righteousness is imputed to us.
And, we were crucified and died with Him (Gal, 2:20; 2 Cor 5:21; Rom. 6:1ff)
20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
There is a very real sense in which when Jesus hung on the cross, we were with Him. As our substitutionary penal atonement, Jesus died for our sins. ‘Huper’ is Greek word ‘for us’ and since we are united with the whole Christ then we are united with the whole of what He did. He died for us and He accomplished what He set out to do.
Next, we were with Christ when He was entombed.(Rom. 6:4) The Holy Spirit was perfectly united with the corpse of Jesus in the grave, just as Christ is united through the Holy Spirit with our dead bodies. We were raised with Him, ascended and glorified with Him, and now in some wonderfully mysterious/mystical way, our life is now hidden in heaven with Christ (Col. 3:1ff) and we reign with Him; that is eternal security. Even our dead, rotting bodies in the grave are in union with Christ because our bodies matter to God—and they will be raised incorruptible on the Last day. 1 Cor 15; 2 Cor 5. And it is as if Jesus considers Himself incomplete as long as all those whom the Father has given Him are not with Him.
And the dead in Christ will rise first (1 Thess 4) 13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord,d that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.
Dead in Christ? What can that mean since glorified saints have never been more alive.
Paul cannot be talking about glorified souls because they are not dead—they are in Christs presence. He is referring to our bodies, which are ‘sleeping.’ What a lovely truth that even our corpses are precious to our Lord and are in Him! And at the Second Coming He will raise our bodies from the grave and make them wonderfully glorified bodies, such His own is now.
I have thought about this and the decaying bodies of believers are holy to God, so I do not think the demonic can mess with them but I do think that demons inhabit cemeteries because of the bodies of unbelievers, which are unholy. Why do so many foolish folks seek to have experiences in cemeteries? There are many sad tales of people being followed home by unclean spirits because of doing this.
These realities are so amazing Paul actually invented new words to convey our being crucified and raised with (Greek-syn)Christ. And we read in Rom 8:11 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
We can rest in Christ and cease anxiously striving and trying to prove ourselves through our looks, actions, ministries ect. We are in union with Christ NOW, and this union is unbreakable.
Christ has so closely identified Himself with us that He asked Saul why was he persecuting Him?! To touch those ‘in Christ’ is to touch Him. This is a union of extraordinary closeness.
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.b The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Cor.5:17)
We have a new identity in Christ. Many speak of the battle of the old man and the new man, but this is confusion. The old man (identity) is gone forever—that would be like Adam and Jesus fighting inside us!! But indwelling sin does remain. So, the new man does battle with sin, world and devil—but not with old self/man. I have heard even the finest theologians get confused on this point. With Christ, we have died to old identity and to tyranny of sin. In heaven the very presence of sin will be evacuated.
When we are baptized (as children or adults—there are good arguments for both) we are given a new name. When I was born my parents named me Mark Andrew Hunnemann, which is quite a mouthful! It became what I responded to as it represented me. It was/is my name…its me. Someone says ‘Mark Hunnemann’ I know who they are talking about.
In baptism the old name of Adam is replaced by the name of the Triune God (Jesus said baptize them in the Name….), in whose name we are baptized. Paul refers to this in Romans 6. So, our baptism and the Lord’s Supper both celebrate our union with Christ and each other. It certainly is a devilish thing that we fuss and fume over amount of water to baptize with when the focus is on being ‘immersed’ (if you will) into the new identity of being in Christ. We have placed on us the mark of our union with the Triune God. That is why Luther, when troubled, would often say to himself-“I have been baptized.” We have a new identity. So many today are on an unconscious quest to discover who they really are. But being ‘in Christ’ is our new identity. It is a glorious new identity which entails all that Jesus accomplished and the Holy Spirit applied to us.
2. Not only are we in Christ, but through the Holy Spirit, He is in us--Christ indwells us. So He not only gives us a new identity but new power to live holy lives. Union with Christ is of the most intimate nature. Christ comes into our entire beings as a homemaker (John 14) 18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him (John 14)
Christ was telling His disciples that it was to their benefit that He ascend and send the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the agent of the Trinity, so when He indwells us, then the entire Trinity indwells us. Indeed, in a lovely reality, the Triune God comes into us as a homemaker. Those of you ladies who are homemakers know what this entails and think of the dignity this homemaking of God gives to your calling, as it patterns after God’s own crowning work in us. But let us focus on God and His indwelling of us and how we not only have a new identity, but because the Trinity indwells us we have a new power. There was a massive change inside of us at regeneration and then we were united to Christ by faith and this power of the omnipotent God now indwells our feeble and frail bodies. Regardless of whether you feel His presence is not the issue—His presence is more certain than our fluctuating feelings.
What Christ did for us on the cross in defeating sin and becoming a curse for us, He now indwells us to give us the power to live in a way pleasing to God. In Col. we are then told to put off the old man and put on the new man. Some communions still have the practice of providing new and clean clothes for all those who undergo baptism. We are to become who we are in fact. The imperitives are grounded in the indicatives of our union with Christ. An indicative is a statement of fact and imperative is a command. So, before we are TOLD to be like Christ, we are filled with Christ, so that we have the power to become in practice what we are in fact.
Remember that the pattern for Christ was suffering and then glory, so we who are in union with Christ are to follow that same pattern: we shall suffer here but it shall prepare us for glory.
The beauty of union with Christ is that the guilt and power of sin are both dealt with.
“How few of us are experimentally (experientially) acquainted with this privilege of holding immediate communion with the Father in love.” So said the great Puritan, John Owen. The Trinity now has made His home in us and we are to abide in the Vine. How is this done? Union is a fact, but abiding is something that we do. It was George Mueller of Bristol England who stated that he made it his first priority of the day to get his heart happy in the Lord; which is another way of talking of abiding. I think that is a helpful way to view reading/prayer as a means of abiding. God has given us His means of grace by which we abide in Him. The temptation is always there to drift. May the Lord put a short leash on us and gently but quickly pull us back when we begin to drift away from sweet communion with Christ.
See this lovely quote from Calvin:
“We see that our whole salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ. We should therefore take care not to derive the least portion of it from anywhere else. If we seek salvation, we are taught by the very name of Jesus that it is of Him. If we seek any other gifts of the Spirit, they will be found in His anointing. If we seek strength, it lies in His dominion; if purity, in His conception; if gentleness, it appears in His birth. For by His birth He was made like us in all respects, that He might learn to feel our pain. If we seek redemption, it lies in His passion; if acquittal, in His condemnation; if remission of the curse, in His cross; if satisfaction, in His sacrifice; if purification, in His blood; if reconciliation, in His descent into hell; if mortification of the flesh, in His tomb; if newness of life, in His resurrection; if immortality, in the same; if inheritance of the Heavenly Kingdom, in His entrance into heaven; if protection, if security, if abundant supply of all blessings, in His Kingdom; if untroubled expectation of judgment, in the power given to Him to judge. In short, since rich store of every kind of good abounds in Him, let us drink our fill from this fountain, and from no other.” Institutes of Christian Religion
Our part-Abiding. What is the first thing you think of upon awakening? What must I do today?…I do..I..I…I? Instead we should ask: Lord, what shall WE do today? I have an 87 year old friend and prayer warrior who says every morning: ‘Lord, what shall we do today?” In addition to that, I frequently add: I am in union with You, please help me to abide in You as intimately as is possible this side of heaven. God desires deep intimacy with us, and abiding in Christ is the key to bridging the gap between our head knowledge and heart knowledge. 4Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15)
I heard recently the experience of Hudson Taylor, the founder of China Inland Mission which touched countless lives. He died in 1905 but not before seeing extraordinary fruit in China. But he labored for a number of years and suffered terrible trials before he had a life altering experience of discovering union with Christ. It is not that he got something he did not have before, but as Paul prayed in Eph that we would understand more fully the extent of God’s love for us; to more fully possess our possessions, as one man put it; to know more fully what we already know. Any good pastor knows that a big part of pastoral work is patiently explaining to people what Paul was praying for in Eph 3—a deeper awareness of the depth of God’s love. One day as Taylor was laboring under immense weight, he received a letter from a friend which outlined the freedom of knowing and resting in our union with Christ and learning to abide and rest in that union. (this is not passive rest because we must fight) Learning that apart from abiding in Christ we can do nothing. Nothing! Notice the dual emphasis on us in Christ, and He in us, and then the call to ABIDE. Another word might be communion with…walking intimately with.
His son wrote a few decades later that this event was no ephemeral passing fad—his dad was forever changed, and he never seemed perturbed amidst the most stressful situations. He knew in his heart the beauty of his union with Christ—with the whole Christ and all He did. When Taylor understood the implications of being in Christ it melted his heart and he was a changed man. He saw God’s sovereignty and He released his anxieties into the arms of Him whom he was in intimate union with. He learned to abide in his union amidst the terrible tragedies he suffered.
Extravagant grace and radical discipleship are often presented as two opposite ways of pursuing the Christian life; but both are drawn together in union with Christ. While some fall prey to hyper-grace and others to heavy burden of striving for radical discipleshsip, both the beauty of grace and the call to mirror holiness are wed together in our union with Christ. Union with Christ is the key to balance in the Christian life.
But Christ is always greater than our experience of Him, and cannot be reduced to our experience.
My prayer is that by understanding our union with Christ, and the utter security that entails, that we would be forever changed as well. Our anxiety ridden striving would cease. We are accepted in the Beloved , now-we do not have to prove ourselves to God or anyone. Yes, we strive against the world, flesh and devil until we die BUT we now know how much God loves us and that the power of sin to enslave us has been broken. We view ourselves as being in Christ and united to every aspect of His saving life and death, resurrection and ascension. The immense security and sense of significance that should flow from this awareness is staggering. We have a new identity and a new power.
Apart from Christ we can do nothing but sin, but in Christ we can begin to drink deeply from the wells of Living Water. May you begin to experience a depth of communion with the Triune God that you’ve never known, and experience joy unspeakable, IN CHRIST.
Mark Hunnemann is the author of Seeing Ghosts Through God's Eyes: A Worldview Analysis of Earthbound Spirits. It's also available in eBook forma