Union with Him

Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:
~ Romans 6:3-5

The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.
~ Romans 8:16-17

And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; That ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
~ Luke 22:29-30

Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.
~ John 14:23, John 17:24

Union with Christ, by Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

In our consideration of the work of the Holy Spirit in the application of redemption—the redemption that has been worked out and purchased by our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ—we have now arrived at a consideration of the doctrine of the union of the believer with Christ. I was at pains, in introducing this doctrine in the last lecture, to emphasise the fact that it is a doctrine which, of necessity, must always be taken in conjunction with the doctrine of regeneration. The two things are almost simultaneous. Logically, the union should be put first, but not chronologically. We are regenerated because of our union with Christ; it is from Him we derive our life; it is from Him we derive everything. Therefore we are looking together at one of the most glorious of all the doctrines of the Christian faith. There is none which is more sublime than this, in which we are reminded that we really are made partakers of Christ, that we are partakers of the divine nature, so it goes naturally and inevitably with the doctrine of regeneration. And in the last lecture, having given the reasons why this doctrine must come at this point and not at the end of a series of doctrines, we simply gave the scriptural terms used to describe the nature of the union. So now we are in a position to proceed to a more detailed consideration of this doctrine.

The first thing, clearly, to consider is the nature of the union. Now the very terms that are used in the Scriptures with respect to it, and which we have looked at, give us the key to the understanding of the character of the union. But again, perhaps we had better start with a negative. We must not think of this union between the believer and Christ as if it involved a kind of confusion of persons. It must not be thought of in the sense that our substance, or the essence of our being, becomes merged and lost in the substance, or the essence of the being, of our Lord. Now I emphasise that because of the teaching of the mystics who always tend to think of this union in those terms. Ultimately, their conception of complete salvation is that we become lost, absorbed, in the eternal.

That is the idea in certain eastern religions and there is a sort of kinship between a great deal of mysticism that goes by the name of Christian with the more general mysticism that characterises those eastern religions. In all of them one finds the idea of what is called Nirvana. You become lost. You go out of existence altogether by being absorbed into the divine and into the eternal. Now the scriptural doctrine of the union of the believer with Christ does not mean that at all. The Bible teaches very clearly that you and I will exist as individuals throughout the countless ages of eternity. We do not become lost or merged and absorbed into God. We, ourselves, as persons, will not only always be and exist, but we shall enjoy the beatific vision. We shall enjoy seeing God, and we shall enjoy being in His glorious presence.

When we considered the doctrine of the person of our Lord we had to emphasise exactly the same thing. The two natures in our Lord—his human and divine natures—are separate and distinct, but they are joined. There is not a new nature which is partly human and partly divine. No: He is God, and He is man; He is divine and He is human. The two remain separate and yet they are together. They are not intermingled. They are not fused in a materialistic sense. So the union of the believer and his Lord must likewise not be thought of in terms of a confusion or intermingling of substance.

But, on the other hand, I am equally anxious to stress another negative which is that the union between the believer and Christ is not merely a union of sympathy or a union of interest. It is not merely a loose, general, external association of separate persons who happen to have the same interest, or the same enthusiasm. No, that again is important because there are some who, in their anxiety to avoid the errors of mysticism, have represented this union in just that way. You know what I mean by that? You can have people joining together to form societies. They may be interested in music or in some particular musician, so you have a Beethoven society or a Mozart society, and so on. Or people may have an interest in art and they form a society. They have a common interest which brings them together and they call it a union. Well, of course, in a sense it is a union, but my point is [p 108] that that is not the kind of union that binds together the Lord and any one of us His followers. It is not merely that we are interested in salvation. It is not merely that together we are interested in God and in His kingdom. We are, but the union is much bigger and deeper than that. So I am anxious to emphasise those two important negatives, though they happen to be at opposite extremes.

What, then, is the nature or the character of the union? First, it is a spiritual union. Now this is where the doctrine of the Holy Spirit is so vitally important. We are joined to Christ and we are in union with Him by means of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in us. It is the function, the special work of the Holy Spirit to join us thus to Christ, and we are joined to Christ by the Holy Spirit’s presence in us. Let me give you some Scriptures to substantiate that. Take the statement in 1 Corinthians 6:17: ‘But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit.’ Here the Apostle is reminding the Corinthians that their bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit, and that is why they must avoid certain sins of the flesh. Paul says, ‘He which is joined to an harlot is one body’ with that harlot (v. 16). Then he adds the opposite truth: ‘He that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit.’ So it is a spiritual and not a materialistic union. Or take again 1 Corinthians 12:13: ‘For by one Spirit are we all baptised into one body, … and have been all made to drink into one Spirit’—the same idea again. We are joined to Him in this amazing and mysterious manner by the Holy Spirit.

Secondly, it is a mystical union. Now what do we mean by this very difficult term? Well the best way to explain it is to take the comparison which the Apostle himself uses in the last portion of Ephesians 5. These verses are sometimes read at marriage services, and rightly so. In some marriage services we are told that the relationship between a husband and a wife signifies unto us the mystical union that is between Christ and His Church. Certainly there in Ephesians 5, the Apostle does say that the union between the Lord and the Christian believer is comparable and similar to the union between a husband and a wife. Now that is what I mean by a mystical union. It is very difficult to put this in language. There is a union, and you cannot find a better term for describing it than this term mystical. Not only are the two made one flesh but they are bound together in an intimate manner and the two really become one—it is a mystical union.

Then the next way of describing the union is to say that it is a vital union, and this is obviously of the greatest importance. It means that our spiritual life is drawn directly from the Lord Jesus Christ. We are sustained by Him through the indwelling Holy Spirit. There is nothing more important in the Christian life than to realise that our union with Him is a vital one. It is a living thing. It is not something mechanical or conceptual; it is not a thought or an idea; it is really a vital, spiritual union.

Look at some of the statements of Scripture which demonstrate that. Take the great statement in John 1:16, one of the most amazing and marvellous statements in Holy Writ: ‘And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.’ That says it all. That is our relationship to Him, says John; something of His fulness and of His life is passing into us and we are receiving it. And many other statements say the same thing. Take John 14:19–20 where our Lord says in this very connection, ‘Because I live, ye shall live also. At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.’ You see how vital a relationship it is, and all because of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Or, again, take John 17:22–23: ‘That they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one.’ What sublime teaching!

The trouble with all of us is that we do not realise the truth of these things. But this is the truth given by the Lord Himself. It is His prayer for His people that they may know the meaning of this vital spiritual relationship. And he does not hesitate to compare it with the relationship that subsists between the Father and Himself: as the Father is in Him so He is in us and we are in Him. But take the statement of this truth which is made by the apostle Paul in Galatians 2:20: ‘I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.’ There is nothing greater than that, and what it does teach is that this is a life‐ giving relationship; it is a union of life, ‘not I, but Christ liveth in me’. And then Paul goes on to say, ‘And the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.’

The next term, therefore, that I must use is the term organic. Now the difference between organic and vital is that the term ‘organic’ suggests a kind of two‐way traffic, it is a union in which we give as well as receive. In many ways, the best statement of this is to be found in Ephesians 4:15–16: ‘But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in [p 110] love.’ What a statement! But you see how it brings out this organic element. We are to grow up into Him who is the head, yes, but you notice that Paul says that the whole body is ‘fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth’. So that we do not only receive, we also give; we all are active members. Every part of the body is playing a vital role in the life of the body. We are not simply passive. There is an organic relationship, an organic union. There is an activity and a vitality in the parts as well as in the head. They all make their contribution.

Now that is the concept of the Church as the body of Christ and it is a tremendous idea. Nothing, surely, is more stimulating to our faith, nothing more encouraging, nothing more stimulating to our practical holiness, than the realisation of this wonderful and exalted truth about ourselves. I say once more that I am increasingly convinced that what chiefly accounts for the low state of spirituality in the Christian Church is the failure to grasp these doctrines. We think so much in subjective terms, and we spend so much time in trying to work something up, that we fail to see that the way to become holy is to understand the truth about ourselves and to realise our high calling and our privileged position.

Then the other statement of the organic union is again in that same passage in Ephesians 5 where Paul compares it to the relationship between the husband and the wife. Each has his or her duties, each has a separate function, but in the union the two play their part, and that is the relationship between Christ and the Church. We have our part to play, our lot to contribute.

The next term is personal: this union is a personal union. Now I use that word in order to emphasise that every one of us, separately, is in union with Christ. This needs to be emphasised because there is a teaching which is very popular, especially among Roman Catholics and Anglo‐Catholics, and, indeed, I notice that it is insinuating itself into those who like to call themselves ‘liberal evangelicals’, a teaching which maintains that we have no direct union with our Lord as individuals but that we are only connected to Him through the Church. This teaching does away with the individual aspect, and emphasises the corporate aspect. Indeed, therefore, it goes on to say that in a sense we cannot be born again except in and through the Church, which is a complete denial, not only of scriptural teaching, but particularly of the evangelical emphasis. The evangelical emphasis is that we all have a personal relationship with our Lord, and it is only because of that that we are members of the body.

Of course, in a sense you cannot separate these things, but I am anxious to emphasise that I do not derive my life from the Church, I derive it from the Lord. Because we all share His life at the same time, we are all member of His body, and we are all in the Church. You cannot be a Christian without being a member of the mystical body of Christ. But the right order is to put the person and individual first and the corporate second. So that I am not born of the Church—the Church is not my spiritual mother—I am born of the Spirit. And the moment I am, I am in the Church, the unseen, the mystical Church. So let us emphasise the personal aspect, and let us make certain that we will never allow any specious teaching to rob us of that individual element. We do not have to go to Him through the Church; we can go to Him one by one, and we are united to him singly as well as in a corporate manner.

The last term is that it is an indissoluble union. I need not emphasise that. It follows of necessity from everything we have been considering together during the past lectures. It is inconceivable to me that we can be joined to Christ in this way by the Spirit and then go out of that union, and then come back and enter into it again, and then go out again, and keep on coming in and going out. This is once and forever. Nothing, no one, ‘nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Rom. 8:38–39). It is an indissoluble union. Thank God for it.

So let us go on now to consider how the union is established. If that is the nature and the character of the union, how is it brought about? Clearly we are face to face here with a very great mystery and we must tread very carefully. But at any rate we can say that two main elements are involved. First and foremost, it is clearly the work of the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 2:5 puts it like this: God ‘hath quickened us together with Christ’. It is the work of the Spirit to quicken us. We have already looked at that. And He quickens us ‘together with Christ’—that is the union. So in the effectual call, in our regeneration and in all that we have been considering, the main work is done by the Holy Spirit.

But then we must also emphasise that as the result of that, our faith comes into operation, and our faith is a vital part of the union. It is not the first thing, it is the second, and quite inevitably this leads us on to the consideration of the biblical doctrine of faith. Our faith helps to sustain the union, to develop it and to strengthen it—this union that is primarily established as the result of the work of the Holy Spirit. It is only as faith becomes active that we become aware of this union and of our regeneration and all the other things that we have been considering. It is only as our faith comes into operation that we rejoice in it and desire it more and more. So in the biblical passages dealing with the union of the believer with his Lord, the element of faith is of necessity emphasised. It must be. The Spirit establishes the union and leads to faith, and faith, as it were, desires it more and more and keeps it going. So we eat of His flesh and drink of His blood and as we do so, the union between us becomes closer and dearer and deeper. Faith draws increasingly on His fulness and the more we realise the truth about the union, the more we shall draw upon it. You see the difficulty of establishing an exact chronological order in these things, indeed, it is almost impossible, but that is the way in which the union is established and maintained.

But, again, let us be careful about our negatives in this section. We must repeat that the union is not established by or through the Church. We have shown how the Roman Catholics would teach that without mother Church you can never be born again at all, you can never become a Christian, the Church, they say, is absolutely essential at that point. We deny that strenuously. There is nothing to indicate it in the Scriptures. And equally, we must be at pains to emphasise that the union is not established by the sacraments. It is not established by baptism; let us emphasise that again. We do not believe in baptismal regeneration in any shape or form. Nor is it brought into being by the sacrament of the Lord’s supper. Both these sacraments can be invaluable in maintaining the union, and in stimulating our desire that the union may be deeper and greater, but they do not bring it into being.

You will be familiar with that false sacramental teaching which would have us believe that grace is actually transmitted mechanically, in the water or in the bread or in the wine, and that these sacraments act—I must use the technical term, because it is used so frequently that it is good that we should all be familiar with it—ex opere operato, which means that they act and operate in and of themselves. We deny that completely. Without our faith there is nothing in the sacraments. The act of christening or baptising an infant does not transmit life or join a child to Christ. No, it is impossible. Nowhere do you find that conception in the Scriptures, and we must resist the teaching in a most strenuous manner.

So, then, we have seen the way in which the union is established. Next we come to something in which we should all delight and for which we should praise God—the consequences of the union. What a glorious, endless subject this is! It should always be the great theme of preaching to believers and yet how infrequently do we hear sermons on the consequences of the union of believers with their Lord.

We can subdivide this under two main headings: you can think of this great subject objectively or subjectively. Let me give you parallel terms. Put by the side of objective: federal; put by the side of subjective: spiritual. I cannot do anything more at this point than just give you a number of headings. When we come to deal with the doctrine of sanctification, I trust we shall be able to elaborate some of them. But for now let us try to look at it as a whole, that we may see something of what our union with Christ must of necessity mean with regard to us.

Here are some of the things which are taught in the Scriptures. Take the federal and the objective aspect first; we must start with that. I am almost tempted to stop there and digress! We must always put the objective before the subjective. We do not like doing that, of course. We are all interested in the subjective; we want the feeling of the experience, and in our concern about that, we are not careful about the grounds. The result is that as our feelings come and go, we become unhappy, and all because we have not based our understanding on the objective truth. Certain things result from our union with our Lord, quite outside the realm of our experience, and these apply to our status, our standing, our position.

Now the term federal is the term that Paul has in mind in Romans 5. By nature, all of us are joined federally to Adam. God made Adam the representative of humanity. He is the federal head. Take the illustration of the United States of America. That country consists of a number of different states and each state has its own legislature—its own government, in a sense—but then in addition to that there is what they call the federal government which includes them all. They are all related in this federal union. Now the teaching of the Scripture is that the whole of mankind is in that kind of federal union with Adam and, as we have seen, it was because of that that Adam’s sin is imputed to us. Because we are joined to Adam federally, in this legal sense, what he did applies to us. He sinned—we sinned; he fell—we fell. That is the doctrine of original sin and original guilt.

But now, on the other side, we are told—and you will notice the parallelism in the teaching—that we who are Christians are in precisely the same relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ. We are federally related to Him. What does that mean? It means that we have been crucified with Him. We must not interpret Romans 6:6 in a subjective or experiential sense. It is not, it is objective. It says that because I am joined to Christ federally, when He was crucified I was crucified. That is a statement of fact. God regards it like that. We are told that, ‘We have been planted together in the likeness of his death’—that is Romans 6:5. Romans 6:8 says we are ‘dead with Christ’. We have died with Him. More, ‘we are buried with him by baptism into death’ (Rom. 6:4). And Romans 6:11 adds, ‘Reckon ye also yourselves to be … alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.’

Now all these things are true of all of us who are Christians, all of us who are in Christ. Because of this federal relationship I must believe that I have been crucified with Him. In exactly the same way that when Adam sinned, I sinned, so when Christ was crucified I was crucified. I died with Him, was buried with Him, and rose with Him. Go on to Ephesians 2:6: ‘And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.’ Now Paul is not talking here about something that is going to happen to us. What Paul says there is that, federally and in terms of this relationship, though we are still on earth, we who are Christians are in Christ seated with Him in the heavenly places now.
But we have not finished. We are told that we are ‘complete in him, which is the head …’ (Col. 2:10). That is obviously, again, a federal statement, a legal statement, or a forensic statement. I hope that nobody feels that all this is bewildering and baffling. My dear friends, I am telling you the greatest things you will ever hear, I am telling you the truth about yourself and about myself, thank God! Do not be thrown by these terms, these are the scriptural statements. Of course they are difficult, but anything worth having is difficult. And if you are not interested in it because it is difficult, I say that you had better make sure that you are a Christian at all. We are seated in the heavenly places, we are complete in Him. Listen again: ‘But of him are ye in Christ Jesus,’ Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:30, ‘who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.’ Already that has happened. Of course, actually and experientially it has not all been worked out. But I am already finally redeemed in Him. That is why in Romans 8 Paul jumps from justification to glorification and says that those who have been called have already been glorified. That is why the union is indissoluble. But let us hold on to these things one by one. He ‘is made unto us wisdom, and [p 115] righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.’ So, what this teaching really says is something like this: our sins were imputed to Him; His righteousness is imputed to us. When we come to the doctrine of justification I shall elaborate that, but that is what it means at this point, that all that is in Him is put to my account because of our union.

The next thing, therefore, that I must emphasise is that we are sealed by the Holy Spirit because of our union with Him. It is by the sealing, in a sense, that the union comes about; but the two are separate. Because I am joined to Him, I am sealed by the Spirit. It is because I am one with Him that I receive the Spirit which He received without measure.
The next consequence of this union is that we receive the adoption. That is a separate doctrine and we shall be dealing with that. The union of the believer with Christ is not the same thing as the adoption, as we shall see, but the adoption is one of the consequences of the union.

And the last thing is this: because we are adopted, Paul argues, again in Romans 8, that we are ‘heirs of God’ and, therefore, ‘joint‐heirs with Christ’ (v. 17). Christ is an heir, so we must be joint heirs, and we are joint heirs of the glory which God has prepared for those who love Him. So there in that list I have been giving you the federal and the objective results of our union with the Lord Jesus Christ.

Finally, let me just give you the list of the vital subjective and spiritual results. It means that we have fellowship with Him. That is a term that includes it all. This is elaborated in John 17 and in the first epistle of John. Again, you find it in John 1:16: ‘And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for [upon] grace.’ It also means, as we are told in 2 Corinthians 3:18, that we ‘are changed into the same image from glory to glory’. What a concept! Because we are joined to Him, we become like Him. That is the purpose of salvation—to make us ‘to be conformed to the image of his [God’s] Son’ (Rom. 8:29). As we are joined to Him, and as we look at Him with unveiled face, we become changed into His image.

That is the Christian life. That is what is happening to all of us. That is what must happen to all of us if we are truly Christian. We are not static. I am referring, of course, to our likeness to Him in His human nature. We do not become divine, but we do become as He was when He was living in this world. We become like God’s dear Son. He is the firstborn among many brethren in that respect. And then, of course, it has the consequence that we bear fruit and become people He can use. That is the great teaching of John 15.

And then the last thing that I would emphasise is our fellowship in His sufferings, and our fellowship even in His death. ‘That I may know [p 116] him’ says Paul in Philippians 3:10–11, ‘and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.’ What great thoughts! We must work them out, think them out and pray them out. Paul puts that in another way in Colossians 1:24: ‘Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church.’ I do not pretend to understand that fully, but I do know that there is no higher statement of the doctrine of the union of the believer with His Lord. The Apostle interprets his own sufferings in the flesh and in the body as, in a sense, filling up what remains of the sufferings and the afflictions of Christ Himself. Paul is bearing that in his own flesh. The result of the mystical union is that he enters into this mystical fellowship of the sufferings of Christ. There were people living in the Middle Ages of whom it is said that they so meditated upon and contemplated their Lord and all that He had done for them, that some of them even developed in their physical hands the imprint of nails, the stigmata. I do not know, it is not impossible. Such things do happen.

But all I am concerned to emphasise is that the more deeply we realise the truth about this union between us and our Lord, the more we shall know something of the fellowship of His sufferings. In this world He was ‘a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief’ (Isa. 53:3). That was because of the sin of the world. And because He saw the enmity of the human heart against His Father, it hurt Him, it grieved Him and He suffered. There is no more delicate test of our relationship to Him and our union with Him than the extent to which you and I know something about this suffering. It is not a glib talking about ‘wanting souls to be saved’. No, no. It is much deeper than that. That can be purely carnal. But this is something that is always spiritual; we really suffer because of the sin of men and women and their lost condition. Because of our union with Him, we may know something of groaning in the spirit as He knew it; this deep concern, this pain, this agony of soul. It is one of the subjective consequences of our union with our blessed Lord and Saviour.

May God through the Holy Spirit open our eyes to this wondrous doctrine of the union of the believer with His Lord, and may we be at great pains to work it out in detail, to apply it to ourselves, to tell ourselves, ‘I am crucified with Him. I am planted into the likeness of His death. I have died with Him. I have been buried with Him. I have risen with Him. I am seated in the heavenly places with Him. That is my position. It is true of me because I am in Christ and joined to Him.’