In this article we come onto the last of three descriptions that Paul uses in Ephesians 1:1 to describe who a Christian is – “in Christ”.
A cursory look at the New Testament will reveal that this description is one of the commonest that the New Testament writers use to convey the glorious state of the believer – one who is in the Lord Jesus! This short phrase introduces us to the doctrine of the Union of the believer with his Lord.
Truly, a Christian is one who is in Christ. The Christian life starts and ends with Him. There is no life apart from Him, and all the blessings a Christian enjoys come in and through Christ. Paul would write few verses later that we are “blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places in Christ. “ There it is. Every blessing that come to us as New Testament believers, do so because we are “in Christ”.
United with Christ
There are various ways in which this Union of the believer with Christ is depicted in the New Testament. The analogies are that of the body and the head, a building and the cornerstone, a husband and wife, and by way of contrast, the union of Adam’s entire progeny with him by nature. Our Lord Himself taught this doctrine in John 15 using the analogy of the vine and the branches. He said, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” (vv5a). The same life that flows in the tree flows in the branches. This is another way of stating the fact that we have become partakers of the divine life by reason of our Union with Christ.
The obvious question is how has this come to be?
The simple answer is that it is a miracle. Jesus speaking about the regeneration of the believer in John 3 likened it to the wind – we can’t tell where it is coming from or where it is going. Nevertheless its presence cannot be denied. Similarly, at the new birth, the Holy Spirit miraculously unites the believer with Christ. Truth is, it is difficult to separate the Union of the believer with Christ from regeneration. What we glean from the Scriptures is that these two go hand in hand. It is at the point when one becomes united with Christ that all that is true of Christ become true of him. The Union implies that the believer becomes one with Christ. It is as a result of this that our sins are imputed to Him and His life imputed to us. Needless to say, it is because of our Union with Christ that God can declare us justified, freely forgiven and accepted before Him.
Paul extensively expounds this doctrine in Romans 5 and 6. His argument there is that of Adam as the federal head of the human race. We (all his prodigy) were in him when he fell, thus the consequences of his fall affected the entire human race. This is why Adam’s sin is imputed to us by nature. In the same way, those who place their faith in Christ for salvation are federally united to Christ as a result of their Union with Him as the second Adam. By this, all that is true of Him becomes true of us. We were crucified with Him (Romans 6:6), united together in the likeness of His death (Romans 6:5), buried with Him (Romans 6:4), raised with Him to walk in the newness of life (Romans 6:4-5), and freed from sin to live a life of obedience to God. Further, Paul says in Ephesians 2:6:
“Even when we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ (gave us new life / regenerated us) and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places (all because we are) in Christ!” (Ephesians 2;5-6, paraphrase).
It is as Paul said elsewhere, “We are complete in Him”.
The nature of the Union
It is important to note that this Union is true of every believer. This is crucial because there are some who would have us believe that the believer can only have Union with Christ through the “Church” or in a corporate sense only. However, the scriptural teaching is that, each believer who has come to saving faith in the Lord Jesus is “in Him”. We are joined to the (rest of) the body because we are joined to Christ, not the other way round. This Union is personal in that each of us derives our life from Him. As we noted in our reference text (Ephesians 1:1), every believer is a Saint, Faithful, and at the same time, in Christ!
The doctrine of our Union with Christ also takes the wind from under the sails of the present erroneous teaching that regeneration is an on-going process (whose end is not defined), and that one is not saved in the final analysis until he has been able to produce enough good works that qualify him to attain unto salvation. This is nothing but the false doctrine of salvation by works wearing another cloak, and Paul’s teaching here and indeed the entire New Testament kicks against that. There can be no Christian who is not in Christ, and one cannot be in Christ except he/she is a Christian. We have already established that the Union with Christ cannot be separated from the believer’s regeneration or new birth. If only the regenerate (born again) is joined spiritually to Christ, and this happens at the moment one comes to saving faith in Christ, then wherein is the need for works before one can be regenerated (born again)? It is not our works that make us Christians, but rather it is the fact that we are in Christ! That is why this doctrine is so vital to the Christian life!
This truth has many other benefits and consequences which cannot be covered in this short article. However this article would not be complete without mentioning the fact that it is the Union of the believer with Christ that guarantees our security as Christians. Once united spiritually with Christ, one cannot be un-joined from Him. The Union is an inseparable one. It is as irreversible as one cannot be un-born. This is what it means to be in Christ!