What the Bible Means When It Says We’re “In Christ”

From the early days of creation, the goal that God had in mind was ever-deepening fellowship with his people. This communion is emphasized over and over again in the New Testament as what we now have through God’s Son. The Bible points to our union with Christ with the prepositional phrase “in Christ” (Eph. 1:4; 11; 2 Tim. 1:9; Rom. 5, 6:1–23; 1 Cor. 15:35–58).

The phrase, “union with Christ,” has enjoyed a resurgence of interest. This important element of Scripture was something that I only came to understand in part within the last ten years of being a Christian. 

Until I started studying this important doctrine, it never really struck me how important it was for my whole outlook on Christianity, and especially how we as Christians relate to Jesus. Union with Christ represents the sum of our salvation, fellowship, and communion with Jesus. 

This reality of union with God in Christ is not something we ever move on from. We only move "further up and further in" as we progress in the Christian life. The mystery of God's grace as we are united to Jesus has only just begun in this life.

Through the Holy Spirit who gives us faith, we are united to Christ like branches to a vine (John 15:1–11; Gal. 3:14–4:7). Dead branches are now being grafted into a new, living vine. Being united to the first Adam who fell, we were dead in trespasses and sin. But now, we have been granted new life because of the work of Jesus, who is called the second Adam (Rom. 5). Knowing the following three aspects of your union with Christ is the first step to have more joy, hope, and confidence in your daily Christian walk as you learn to commune with God. 

1) Our union with Christ is mystical.

The earthly analogies we have for how close we are to Jesus fall far short of the reality—hence the mystery. The closest thing we find is the intimate relationship of marriage, which, according to the apostle Paul, was created as an expression—or a sign post—of Christ and his love for the church (Eph. 5:22–33). In a mystical way, we are the body of Christ, and he is our head.

This is one of the great mysteries of the Bible. All that Jesus did and does flows down to us and benefits us. He is our mediator to God, and because of that we can stand in the shadow of his glory and never fear the wrath we justly deserve. We can expect God’s favor and love.

2) Our union with Christ is legal.

The original relationship man had with God required much of both parties, just like a marriage. Demands, promises, and curses were attached to the agreement (i.e., covenant) made with the first Adam. These obligations were broken, and the curses of the betrayal (like in marriage) had not only relational effects but legal ones as well.

All of humanity fell because we were attached to those verdicts and curses. In order to reverse the effects of sin, Jesus had to become one of us and undergo the penalties of the court. He willingly took on the death sentence we deserved in order for us to be restored to that fellowship with God which no man has ever imagined or could hope for (1 Cor. 2:9). Because Christ took the penalties and shame of the curses on his back, we can now have that divine relationship with the triune God. We are heirs of the kingdom, legal children who are no longer illegitimate (Gal. 4:6–7).

3) Our union with Christ is organic.

Our life is now flowing from the life of Christ. We are like the tree planted by the rivers of living water (Ps. 1:3). Previously, we tried to attain meaning, happiness, and purpose through our conquests at work or at home or in living for pleasure—but never actually obtaining it. Those things in themselves could never fill us up. Before Christ saves us, all of life is vain and fruitless.

Yet now, we have been made fruitful and meaningful. We have been filled by Christ’s eternal love. Everything that we do is in the power of his love, in the power of his work, and in the power of his Spirit (John 15:1–11). Jesus does not open the door to the new life in order for us to just try harder. No! He himself is the new life God has promised to anyone who has faith. We find life by abiding more and more in him. In him are all the riches God has prepared for those who love him.

If you are struggling for faith, look to Jesus. If you need assurance, it is found at his side. If you doubt God’s goodness, it is in Jesus. Our Christian life from beginning to end has been won by the captain of our salvation.

This reality is not something we ever move on from. Being a Christian is constantly rehearsing and leaning into these realities. When we see our God, either when we die or Jesus returns, we will realize our communion and fellowship with him has only just begun. Without these three realities, our confidence before God would fail. And yet, with these three truths, our confidence is sure.

Photo of Timothy W. Massaro

Timothy W. Massaro

Timothy Massaro has written for Core Christianity, Modern Reformation, and other publications. He oversees the Christian Education ministry at Resurrection PCA in San Diego and serves as a hospice chaplain. He has an affinity for all things J.R.R. Tolkien (except the movies) and has interests in the intersections of philosophy and theology. His biggest prayer is that the gospel in all its beauty might re-kindle a wonder and joy of God’s goodness in our hearts and that our lives might adorn the gospel. Connect with Timothy on Twitter @word_water_wine.‚Äč

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