The following is a transcript of the audio.
Theologian Michael Reeves joins us one more time from the UK, filling in this week for John Piper. Michael you have written and spoken a lot about union with Christ. So why is it so important for Christians to understand and embrace the precious truth about union with Christ? What is lost if we don’t understand it?
What is important about union with Christ for the Christian life? Well, union with Christ, is the Christian life. So it is not some small particular blessing that might go along side the key blessings of the gospel. Union with Christ IS the Christian life.
Now I think there are a couple of pictures. Let’s try to understand what this is we are talking about. There are two main pictures that Scripture gives us.
The first comes up in Romans five and in 1 Corinthians 15. Let’s look at the 1 Corinthians 15 example. Paul writes this. He says that as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be mind alive, each in his own order. Christ the first fruits and then at his coming those who belong to him. So what he has got in mind is that everyone is in either Adam or Christ. No one is a self-determining individual. There is no such thing. You find your identity in either Adam or Christ. And the picture he uses in 1 Corinthians 15 to explain that, this in Adam, in Christ language is that of the first fruits. He sees Adam and Christ as the first fruits of two different sorts of humanity, the old humanity and the new. And I think what has been picked up there is Genesis language where the first fruits of creation on day three of Genesis, Genesis one, you see the fruits there have seed within them. And so just as a seed is found within the fruit, so the way you take the fruit and what you do with it happens to the seed. The seed goes wherever the fruit goes. So it is with Adam and Christ. If you are in Christ you find your identity and status in him. You are like seed in the fruit. You need to be taken out of Adam and re-grafted, born again in Christ. And that means that if that is the case, if we find our identity as Christians in Christ, I found this to be a revolution in my own Christian life that when I came to understand union with Christ I saw so then I do not stand naked before a holy God based on my own pathetic performance. I stand clothed in Christ, clothed in him. That is language that gets picked up a few times in Scripture.
There is another very, very important one, which is marriage. And this is really Ephesians five territory. So where Paul writes: For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and they will become one. And then Paul says: This is a profound mystery, but I am talking about Christians and the Church. He is saying that the relationship that the Church has with Christ is a marital union. And actually Martin Luther used this image as the first way in which he articulated his reformation discovery in 1520. He used marriage to explain the gospel to the world for the very first time properly. It is in a little work called The Freedom of the Christian. And he said what happens is this. It is rather like the story of a great king marrying a harlot. And what happens is this harlot can’t make herself the great king’s wife by anything she does or her performance, but by his wedding vow she becomes his. And he says to her: All that I am I give to you. All that I have I share with you. And so gives to her the status of royalty and all that is his. And she turns to him and says: All that I am I give to you. All that I have I share with you. And so the poor sinner shares with King Jesus all her sin, all her death, all her damnation. And when Luther had articulated this he said: Therefore, the sinner can consider her sins in the face of death and hell and say: If I have sinned, yet my Christ who is mine has not sinned. And all his is mine and all mine, my sins, my death, my damnation, is his.
So union with Christ gives that beautiful, life-changing assurance that I can know the Father as my Abba, call with the son’s own cry to him. But it also changes the very nature of the Christian life. I have not just been given this package of blessing called heaven. I have been brought to know Christ. And that makes real sense of the Christian life and of holiness. I have not been given some package of heaven to wait for later. It is I have been brought to know Christ, meaning when a brother or sister sins I can say: Why are you walking away from the salvation to which you have been called? Knowing Jesus is the only life and liberty for which we have been freely saved.
Yes, so what happens when a Christian truly comes to grasp union with Christ for the first time?
I will tell you my own experience. It meant a freedom from a real despair because I was taking this seriously. I couldn’t be sure of how God would look at me until I knew about union with Christ. And it was actually reading Luther’s Freedom of the Christian that convinced me of that and I saw for the first time I can have confidence before God in Christ. And that brought a freedom to be able to call out to God as Abba and that liberated me from a suicidal despair for me.
Oh my, wow. That sounds like a tremendous story to hear, but we are out of time. Michael Reeves, thank you for your time this week. Mike has written several books like The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation (2010), along with, Delighting in the Trinity. He lives in the UK and currently serves as director of the online theology website: uniontheology.org, and Senior Lecturer at Wales Evangelical School of Theology. We are grateful for his time. And we will be back with Pastor John on Monday. I’m your host Tony Reinke, thanks for listening to the Ask Pastor John podcast — have a great weekend.