Doctrine of Salvation (Part 6)

February 16, 2014     Time: 00:31:25

We’ve been thinking about the mystical union between Christ and his church – the individual, regenerate believer and Jesus Christ and the Godhead. Last time we saw that the expression “in Christ” or “in him” is a favorite of Paul’s; some 164 times Paul uses this expression to describe all that we are and have in Christ. We saw last time that in Christ we are chosen, called, foreordained or predestined, created to good works, sealed by the Holy Spirit, justified, sanctified, co-crucified with Christ.

Let’s continue now that list by looking at some of the other blessings that we have as we are united with Christ.

9. 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.

[That is to say, the promises are made primarily to Christ as the offspring of Abraham. But then, in verse 26, he says,]

. . . 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.

So the promise is primarily to Abraham’s offspring which Paul says is Christ, but insofar as we are united with Christ, we also are Abraham’s offspring and therefore heirs of this promise of God. This is a wonderful illustration of the union that we have with Christ and, in virtue of that union, sharing in a promise made, according to Paul, first and foremost to Jesus Christ.

10. We are one body in Christ. Galatians 3:28, the verse that I just skipped. “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.” All these ethnic and gender and other barriers are dissolved in Christ. We are one body in Christ. Though we have our differences, nevertheless there is this deeper commonality that we all share in virtue of being members of the one body of Christ.

11. In Christ we have redemption. Romans 3:24. Paul says, “They are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” So insofar as we are in Christ, we have redemption from our sins. We are saved from our sins and no longer bear them.

12. Similarly, in Christ we have eternal life. That is stated in Romans 6:23. Paul says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” So those who are in Christ have eternal life.

13. We have forgiveness in Christ. Ephesians 1:7: “In him [that is, in Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses . . .” So we have forgiveness of our sins in Christ.[1]

14. As we are in Christ we are a new creation. 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul writes, “Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.” When a person is in Christ, the old life – the old self – is done away with. It is forgiven, it is abolished, and we now become new creations insofar as we are in Christ and united with him.

15. In Christ we have liberty. Galatians 2:4. Here Paul, speaking of these Judaizers that were threatening the freedom of the Gospel, says, “. . . 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 . . .” and then the sentence goes on. These Judaizers wanted to deny the liberty which Christians enjoy from all of the demands of the Jewish law, such as circumcision and so forth. Instead, Paul says in Christ we have freedom. We have liberty from the demands of the law.

16. In summary, we have all of these spiritual blessings in Christ. Ephesians 1:3 says, “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.” So, as we are united with Christ, we enjoy this multitude of spiritual blessings in virtue of being united with him.

17. The last one I wanted to share is that as we are in Christ, we always have triumph. 2 Corinthians 2:14, insofar as we are united with Christ, we always have triumph. Paul says, “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.” This doesn’t mean that our lives are going to be trouble-free and that we won’t be subject to failure and defeat in earthly things. This is, after all, written by a man who suffered enormous adversity because of his commitment to Christ and who was finally martyred for his faith. Yet, when Paul says, “Christ always leads us in triumph” what he is assuring us of is that insofar as we are abiding in Christ and walking in his will, even the adversities and the defeats and the failures of life ultimately redound to the purposes of the triumph of God’s Kingdom. So he can say “through us he spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ everywhere.” That is a tremendous comfort and encouragement, as we go through the ups and downs of life, to know that, even in those valleys, even in those times of failure and hardship, if we are abiding in Christ we have triumph in him as we follow his will and his leading.

To sum up, just look at the list of things that Paul says we have in Christ. In Christ we are chosen, called, predestined, created to good works, sealed with the Holy Spirit, justified, sanctified, crucified with Christ, adopted as sons and heirs of God, one body in Christ, we have redemption from our sins, eternal life, forgiveness, we are a new creation in Christ, we are set at liberty, we have all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places, and we are always led in triumph. What a tremendous encouragement this is for us as Christians of all that we have insofar as we are united with Christ.[2]


There are a couple of key metaphors in the New Testament for this mystical union with Christ that I want to hone in on. The first of these is the relationship between a bride and a groom, or a husband and a wife. As they are united in marriage, they are a symbol of the union of Christ with his church, with his people. Paul explains this in Ephesians 5:21-35. Paul writes,

Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. [then, quoting from Genesis] “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” [Paul says, commenting on this Scripture] This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church; however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Now, this verse in its original context referred to the union of the man and his wife in sexual intercourse as they become one flesh in the conjugal act of marriage. But Paul says, in a deeper sense, this verse refers to the union between Christ and his church. The man and the wife become one flesh, and this is a symbol or representation of the intimate, personal union of Christ with his church. So the marriage relationship is a living parable, as it were, of this mystical union that is the subject of this lesson. That is why, I think, the marriage relationship is so sacred to God and must not be violated. This is why adultery or homosexual activity is so abhorrent to God. Because it is a profaning of this symbol of the union of Christ and his church.

A good example of this is found in 1 Corinthians 6:15-20. Here Paul talks about the importance of chastity in the marriage relationship as well as for those who are single. In verse 15 of 1 Corinthians 6, Paul says,

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? [There is that union that we have with Christ. Your bodies are members of Christ.] Shall I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who joins himself to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, [quoting that same passage from Genesis] “The two shall become one flesh.” But he who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.[3] Shun immorality. Every other sin which a man commits is outside the body; but the immoral man sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

So we see here in Paul’s commands for observing chastity, both within marriage as well as for single people, the importance of this union with Christ and not allowing that to be profaned in any way by making the members of Christ illicitly members of some union physically other than the union between a man and his wife. So the marriage relationship is a living picture of this mystical union. It is no wonder, I think, that our Catholic friends see marriage as a sacrament. You can see why it would be regarded in that way in the sense that it pictures the union of Christ and his church.

The second metaphor that we find in the New Testament that also expresses the intimate union of the believer with Christ – and we’ve already alluded to it – is the analogy of the body with its many members or parts. The way the many parts of the body go to make up one living functioning organism and are not independent of one another.

Paul also speaks to this in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27. He says here,

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the organs in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single organ, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those parts of the body which we think less honorable we invest with the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior part, that there may be no discord in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

So we are Christ’s body. Just as the body has all of these interdependent parts that function for the whole and each of which is important for the proper functioning of the body, so we, too, make up this one body in Christ and need to care for one another in order that the body of Christ not be impaired.

Paul also speaks to this analogy in his epistle to the Ephesians 3:4-6, 4:4-16.[4]

When you read this you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; [What is that mystery that is now revealed? Well, he says:] that is, how the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

This is what we saw in Romans 9, you’ll remember, that God has sovereignly elected to save all those who place their faith in Christ Jesus whether Jew or Gentile. Now the Gentiles are also members of the same body with Jewish believers and therefore partakers of the promises in Christ Jesus because they, too, are united with him in Christ.

Then over in chapter 4 verses 4-16 he goes on to say,

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said,

“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men.”

(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is he who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ; so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love.

Here, now, Christ is said to be the head of this body of which we are members. As we are in him, submitted to him, and exercising our spiritual gifts in the context of the local body – which for us means here at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church[5] – then the body of Christ locally will be healthy and will build itself up and will grow up into maturity. Notice that maturity is characterized by a stability and maturity that is not buffeted and carried about by every wind of doctrine. That emphasizes the importance of a class like this – in learning Christian doctrine as part of maturity in Christ.

In the analogy of the body with its many members, we have another symbol of our union with Christ and the importance of exercising our spiritual gift in the context of the body so as to build up the body of Christ.


Question: Dr. Craig, I think that the love and submission that we see portrayed by Paul within the marriage relationship and also within the church – love and submission to Christ – is not some artificial construct but actually flows out of the Trinity itself – the Godhead. The love and submission – submission of the Son to the Father and the love of the Father for the Son and the Spirit – it is all a perfect unity.[6] I have been taught that that is the basis for the family, for the church, and the family and the church are not just some artificial constructs but they actually are a reflection of the nature of God. That is why they are so special to him.

Answer: I think that many feminists who object to Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 5 on submission of wives to the leadership of their husbands – they think that this implies inferiority. The example of the Trinity shows that that is not true because Christ – the second person of the Trinity – is fully equal to the Father in terms of the attributes of God: omnipotent, omnipresent, perfectly holy, omniscient, and all the rest. Yet, for the sake of the plan of salvation and for our redemption, he submits to, and does, the will of the Father. So there is no inferiority implied whatsoever in this economy of submission in order for the Father’s will to be done. So I do think you are right in saying that in the Trinity we have an example of this relationship between husbands and wives that helps to put it in its proper perspective and doesn’t imply a kind of domineering superiority on the part of the husband, but a loving care in the way that Christ cares for the church and the Father loves the Son.


In conclusion, let me say a couple of words of application that this has for our lives. I think all of this is nicely summed up by Paul’s statement in Galatians 2:20. Paul says,

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

I want to just read that one more time so that you can reflect on it, and ask yourself: can you put your name in there in the place of “I?”

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

This expresses the union between Christ and the believer so intimately that here Christ is described as living out his life through us as we abide in him and he abides in us.

This doctrine of the mystical union of the believer with Christ, I think, is tremendously encouraging.

1. It is a source of strength as we’ve seen as we go through the adversities and trials of life. As we abide in Christ and he abides in us, we are like the branches of that vine which draw their life from the vine. As long as we are abiding in Christ we can be drawing upon that supernatural strength which is given to us through the indwelling Holy Spirit to get through the trials and adversities of life.

2. We’ve seen that it is a call to holy living. As we are united with Christ we are called to live out the holiness and sanctification that we properly have in Christ. In Christ, we are redeemed, forgiven, cleansed, we are a new creation in him, and we need to now live like that and to live holy lives separated from sin and do nothing that would rupture or profane this experiential union that we have to Christ.

3. It is a summons to closer fellowship with Christ. Insofar as we are in Christ, this is not, as I said, something that is dependent upon our experience day to day. Our subjective experience will rise and fall, will wax and wane. And our union with Christ isn’t dependent upon that experience. Nevertheless, insofar as Christ lives within us and we abide in him, I think this is a summons to work out in our experience what we really are in Christ and to draw close to him in prayer, in study of his Word, in fellowship, in worship, and so forth so as to try and actualize in our experience what we actually are in Christ.[7]

4. It is a source of security for us as believers. Insofar as we abide in Christ and he in us, we are eternally secure. We are redeemed, we are sealed, we are a new creation, justified, sanctified, and all the rest. So this is a call to stay close to Christ because that is where our security lies. For the believer who is in Christ, he will remain in Christ and nothing can snatch him out of God’s hand.

I hope that you have been encouraged by this section of the Doctrine of Salvation. I think it is a tremendous encouragement as we reflect on all of these blessings that we have in Christ and to live our lives in light of them.[8]


[1] 5:11

[2] 10:11

[3] 15:06

[4] 19:53

[5] Johnson Ferry Baptist Church is Dr. Craig’s local church where he is teaching this class, and thus he is directly addressing the students in his classroom. Obviously, the reader’s local body will be their own local church to which they are a member.

[6] 25:04

[7] 30:16

[8] Total Running Time: 31:25 (Copyright © 2014 William Lane Craig)