The Doctrine of Salvation (part 6)

June 22, 2009     Time: 00:25:20

What we want to turn to now is a new topic in the doctrine of salvation. We are going through the doctrine of salvation. We’ve been looking at the topic of election. I had said that today we would turn to the issue of perseverance of the saints or eternal security, as it is sometimes called, but it was pointed out to me that in fact that is point (5) on the outline and we’ve got some other points to cover first. So we are going to do these other points in order and we’ll eventually get to that.

The next point on the outline that we want to come to today is what is called mystical union – our mystical union with Christ. This doctrine lies at the very heart of the doctrine of salvation. The heart of the doctrine of salvation is that as Christians we are incorporated into Christ. We are identified with him. We have a kind of mystical union with Christ. It is in virtue of our being “in Christ” that we are saved and have all the benefits that go with salvation.

What do we mean by a mystical union? We do not mean the sort of union that you have in Eastern mysticism, as in pantheism or Hinduism, where one’s personal identity is expunged and you become one with the All. That is not what I am talking about or theologians are talking about when they speak of mystical union with Christ. This is not the kind of union that you have in Eastern religions where the drop of water returns to the ocean and in so doing the drop of water loses all individual identity. Its identity is annihilated and it just goes back to the ocean; back to the All. That is not what we are talking about.

Rather, what we are talking about here is the wonder of personal fellowship with and identification with Jesus. It is personal fellowship and identification with Jesus. It is not identity with Jesus. We don’t become Jesus. But we identify with him. We are aligned with him and incorporated into him. A good example would be the marriage relationship. In Ephesians 5 – perhaps we could just turn to that if you have your New Testament with you – Paul draws a comparison between the union that a man and a wife have in marriage and the union that Christ has with his church. In Ephesians 5:31 he quotes from the Genesis creation account, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.” There it speaks of how a man and a woman leave their families, they come together and particularly in sexual intercourse they bond together as one flesh. But then Paul says in verse 32, “This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” Paul says this passage in Genesis – he takes this as really a reference to the relationship between Christ and his church. The union that the church has with Christ is like the union of a husband and wife in marriage. They are still two separate individuals, or at least distinct individuals. They each have their own personal identity. But they are bonded together in an indissoluble union as one flesh. That is the way our union with Christ is. Our identity is not annihilated as it is in pantheistic religions. Rather, it is a union of personal fellowship and identification with Christ.

Let’s look at what Jesus in the Gospels has to say about this union with him. Jesus identified himself first of all with his disciples. For example, look at John 15:1-8. This would be one of the clearest examples. This is the parable of the vine and the branches. Jesus says,

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.[1] You are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you. Abide 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. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples.

Here you have this wonderful image of Christ being the vine and we are like the branches on the vine. The branches will bear fruit insofar as the life of the vine – that life-giving sap – flows through the vine and into the branches and into the leaves and so forth. It is in connection – abiding in the vine – that the branches will bear the grapes and be fruitful. That would be a kind of parable or image of our union with Christ.

Another example would be Luke 10:16. This is when Jesus is sending his disciples out on mission to proclaim the Kingdom of God. In Luke 10:16 he says, “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” There you see the identity with the disciples is so tight that if people hear the disciples proclamation and they reject them, this is taken as a rejection of Christ himself, and ultimately a rejection of God the Father. That would be another example of this kind of union of Christ with his disciples.

One last example would be in John 17:20-21. This is Jesus’ high priestly prayer for his church for those who believe in him. In John 17:20-21 Jesus says,

I do not pray for these only [That is to say the immediate disciples who were there with him.], but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.

Here Jesus is praying not just for unity among the disciples. Sometimes we take this prayer to be a prayer that we would exhibit unity with each other. But the unity that he is actually talking about here is far deeper. It is that we may be in Christ, in the Father, the Father in Christ, Christ in the Father, and we united with them in mystical union as we are identified with Christ and so with the Father as well.

In the Gospels we see this identification that Jesus makes of himself with his disciples. There are many images of this in the Gospels as well. I already mentioned the vine and the branches, but also, for example, Jesus says that he is the light of the world, but then he also says to the disciples, You are the light of the world as you shine in the darkness. They are also the light as Christ is the light. Or, again, he says that as people treat the disciples they are treating Christ. Those cities that reject their message will be rejecting Christ because it was through the disciples visiting those cities that Christ was, in fact, visiting those cities. In the Gospels you have this sort of identification of Jesus with the disciples as they are identified with him.

In addition to that, we also have in Paul many, many passages of our union with Christ. Paul uses in his letters the phrase “in Christ Jesus” 164 times in his letters.[2] “In Christ Jesus” – over and over again Paul uses this expression. I want to look at some of the passages with you. I think if you’ve never done this before you will be startled at all that is true of us insofar as we are in Christ – all of the benefits that accrue to us by virtue of our union and identification with Christ.

1. In Christ we are chosen. Ephesians 1:4. This is one of the passages that we’ve been looking at. It says, “even as he [God] chose us in him [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” So in Christ we are the chosen ones of God.

2. In Christ we are called. 1 Corinthians 7:22. “For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ.” There he says it is in Christ that you are called – that is to say, called to salvation, called to be part of Christ’s body.

3. In Christ we are foreordained or predestined. Ephesians 1:11-12:

In him [Christ], according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will, we who first hoped in Christ have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory.

Again, in Christ we are foreordained or predestined to live for the praise of his glory.

4. In Christ we are created to good works. Ephesians 2:10. Paul says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” So we are called or created to good works in Christ.

5. We are sealed in Christ. Ephesians 1:13-14,

In him [Christ] you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

There Paul says that in Christ we are sealed with the Holy Spirit.

6. In Christ we are justified. Galatians 2:17. Paul says, “But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we ourselves were found to be sinners, is Christ then an agent of sin? Certainly not!” The phrase that I wanted to camp on there is “justified in Christ.” Insofar as we are united with him we are justified.

7. We are sanctified in Christ. 1 Corinthians 1:2. “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.” Notice the phrase there “sanctified in Christ Jesus.”

8. We are crucified with Christ. Romans 6:1-11.[3]

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For he who has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

In Christ we are crucified with him. Our old sinful self is put to death as we are united with Christ including his crucifixion.

9. In Christ we have adoption as sons and heirs of God. Galatians 3:16, 26-27, 29. Paul says,

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many; but, referring to one, “And to your offspring,” which is Christ.

. . .

for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

. . .

And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

Here he says that the promise of justification and salvation was given to Abraham and to his offspring who he interprets to mean Christ. It is given to Abraham and to Christ. But then he says in virtue of our identification as adopted sons of God we are Abraham’s offspring and therefore heirs according to the promise. So by virtue of our identification with Christ we become heirs of the Abrahamic promise and also adopted sons of God.

10. We are one body in Christ. Galatians 3:28 – the verse I skipped over. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This does speak about the unity among the brethren. As we are all one in Christ Jesus, and that transcends all of these national and gender differences between us. One body in Christ.

11. We have redemption in Christ. Romans 3:23-24. “Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” Insofar as we are united with Christ we have redemption. We are redeemed from our sins by his blood.

12. In Christ we have eternal life. Romans 6:23. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” By virtue of being united with Christ you have eternal life.

13. You have forgiveness in Christ. Ephesians 1:7.[4] “In him [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” So we have forgiveness in Christ.

14. We are a new creation in Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:17. “Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.” We are part of the new order already insofar as we are in Christ, though the end hasn’t come yet. It still lies in the future. But already in Christ we share in that future hope and status because we are a new creation in him.

15. We have liberty in Christ. Galatians 2:4. Paul speaks here, “But because of false brethren secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy out our freedom which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage.” Then he goes on to condemn these people. These were Judaisers – people who were trying to get the Galatian Christians to go back under the Jewish law and submit to all of the regulations and clean and unclean ceremonial laws in the Old Testament. Paul says no, we have freedom in Christ. We have liberty in Christ. We’ve been set free from the Old Testament law.

16. We have spiritual blessings in the heavenly places. Ephesians 1:3, “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.” We can only guess what those are, but insofar as we are in Christ he has blessed us with all of these spiritual blessings.

17. In Christ we always have triumph. 2 Corinthians 2:14 – a wonderful verse of encouragement. “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumph, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.” I love that verse. Don’t think that this is some kind of prosperity Gospel – some sort of health and wealth Gospel. When Paul wrote this passage he was in the midst of terrible persecution and depression. This was a very difficult and trying time for Paul. But what Paul is saying is that even in the midst of our suffering and calamity nevertheless in Christ he leads us in triumph and does his work through us.

Just look at that list that we have gone through all that is ours in virtue of our union with Christ: chosen, called, foreordained, created to good works, sealed, justified, sanctified, crucified, adopted as sons and heirs of God, one body, redeemed, we have eternal life, forgiveness, we are a new creation, we have freedom, spiritual blessings in the heavenly places, and we are always led in triumph by God. Certainly I think you can see that this lies right at the heart of the Christian doctrine of salvation – our union with Christ.[5]



[1] 5:03

[2] 10:08

[3] 15:00

[4] 20:06

[5] Total Running Time: 25:20 (Copyright © 2009 William Lane Craig)