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Unity with Christ | The Work of Christ and Salvation

As taught by Zach Thompson.

In this equipping time lesson, we learn that unity with Christ is intimate, vital, spiritual, and a covenantal reality.

Union with Christ

Good morning everyone. This morning, we’ll be continuing our semester working through the Work of Christ and Salvation.

And today, we will begin a new segment on what we have been going through. We are going to discuss what Reformed theologians have called the order of salvation. 

When we see salvation addressed in Scripture, there are several senses that the word salvation is used. Some of what we’ll be exploring is this: When you see salvation realities addressed in Scripture, how can we understand those things? 

What is Election? Or when the Bible talks about God calling people, how should we understand that? The Bible talks about us receiving new life. We call that Regeneration, and, at the same time, there is this big turn in the direction of our life and our affections that we call conversion.

Conversion. Before God, we are justified and counted as Sons through adoption. Then our salvation is worked out as we persevere in the Christian life--as the Lord makes us more like Christ through sanctification. And we look ahead to a final consummation of our salvation. We call that Glorification. 

For the rest of our equipping times this semester, we’ll be working through all of this. 

But today, we are going start our meditation on these things with a lesson on our Union with Christ. 

We say this all of the time. When we believe in Jesus, what is true of him becomes true for us. Honestly, this is a really good summary of what we are going to talk about today and for the next several weeks. 

We are joined with Christ, and when we are in him, God looks at us and sees Christ. 

Let’s start with a couple of examples to try and highlight this reality.

What happens if you jump off your roof? Can you fly? No. You can’t. If you jump off your roof, you will get a broken leg. You can’t fly. But, if you are in an airplane, you can fly. In fact, most of us probably don’t even think twice about it. 

Or what about this? Maybe this one will be easier. We are going to let you run as fast as you can and as powerfully as you can. And we are going to have you run head-to-head with an F150 truck. Whichever one can still move at the end is the winner. You would lose. Of course, you would. But if you were in a tank, things would be different. That F150 wouldn’t stand a chance. 

What you are in changes what you can do. 

What are you in this morning? Or rather, who are you in? 

The New Testament says it over and over and over. Those who have believed in the name of Jesus are in Christ. I don’t know who it was, but I heard it referenced in a talk where one Scholar worked through the New Testament and counted 216 references to our unity with Christ.

Consider Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” What is the qualification for those who will receive no condemnation? 

To be in Christ Jesus. That’s it: Union with Christ. Now, there are a lot of realities that play into this, and you can go read Romans to see them, but look at Ephesians 1 as another sample. 

Ephesians 1:7, “In him, we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.”

Ephesians 1:11, “In him, we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him, you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.”

In him, In him, In him. 

In him, we have redemption. In him, we have obtained an inheritance. In him, we were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. 

We have redemption and salvation and hope only because we are found in Christ. 

If you picture a bicycle wheel with the central hub and the spokes that go out to the wheel, our unity with Christ is like the central hub that is connected to every other piece of salvation. 

Why are you saved? Because you are in Christ. Why would God count you as Righteous and give you eternal life? Because you are united with Christ. Why would God count you as his son? Because you are united with Christ. Why can you persevere and pursue holiness and hope in eternal glory? Because you are united with Christ. 

If we are not united with Christ, then none of the rest matters because it won’t apply to us. 

Let me try and illustrate some of this. Martin Luther used the analogy of a prostitute in a kingdom. 

In a certain kingdom, there was a prostitute. She lived in the streets doing the things that prostitutes do. How could this woman become the queen? Think through it with me. How can this prostitute become the queen? What if you taught her etiquette? If you helped her get an honorable living? Cleaned up her life and helped her to understand the ways of the king’s court? 

Would this make her the queen? 


There is only one way for her to become the queen. It’s by marrying the king--by being joined to the one who holds the position of king. 

Only then will she be the queen. And it won’t matter if she still has the manners and the funny accent of a woman on the streets. It won’t matter if she doesn’t quite understand the etiquette that a queen needs to know or if she understands the court. She becomes the queen because the king has taken her and joined her to himself.

This isn’t a perfect analogy, but I found it helpful for me as I considered these things, so I wanted to share it. 

Brothers and sisters, we are the prostitute. We aren’t worthy to be joined to royalty. But in his unfathomable love, Jesus has united us to himself, and we are counted as the bride of Christ. The very sons of God. He is the vine, and we are the branches. He is the head,  and we are the body. 

Or let’s think of a story from scripture to illustrate this. 

Think of the story of Jacob and Esau. Jacob wants Esau’s blessing, and he wants his father to think that he is Esau. So what does he do? He covers himself with his brother’s clothes so that he smells like his brother, and he puts goat skins on his hands so that he feels like his brother. And he walks into the tent and he receives the blessing that belonged to his brother. Now, obviously, Jesus isn’t helping us deceive God, and we aren’t taking away a blessing from Jesus. 

But this is what I think this story illustrates for us. When we are united to Christ, God smells the sweet aroma of Christ when he smells us. When God sees us, he sees the righteousness of Christ. 

Let’s look at a couple of definitions. 

Some Definitions:

Definition from Grudem: “Union with Christ is a phrase used to summarize several different relationships between believers and Christ, through which Christians receive every benefit of salvation.”

What Grudem is trying to emphasize with this definition is that the Bible doesn’t talk about Union with Christ in a single way. It also doesn’t encapsulate a single reality, but this theological term, “Union With Christ” encapsulates all of those realities. 

All who believe are in Christ. Christ is in us. We are like Christ. We are with Christ.

All of these are included in this single reality that we are united with Christ. 

Berkhof defines the same reality but with a slightly different emphasis. 

Definition from Berkhof. “This union may be defined as that intimate, vital, and spiritual union between Christ and His people, in virtue of which He is the source of their life and strength, of their blessedness and salvation.”

Honestly, I think that Berkhof’s definition is better as an actual definition of the reality that is Union With Christ, but I think that Grudem’s is worth mentioning because he is making a valid point that is worth consideration. 

Let’s think through that definition really briefly. 

First, he says that it’s “intimate, vital, and spiritual.”  Let’s think through each word. 

Unity with Christ is:

  1. Intimate

Berkhof says that the word intimate is appropriate because of the pictures that Scripture uses to talk about it. Think about the relationship between a vine and its branches. The branches are literally connected to the vine, and they will die without it (John 15:5). Or think of the relationship between a foundation and the building that is on it. (1 Pet. 2:4-5). Or of a husband and wife (Eph. 5:23–32). Or of the head and the rest of the body (Eph. 4:15-16). 

These images from Scripture, and they still don’t get at the full picture of what Scripture says about it. 

In another place, Berkhof says that this union is organic. And I think that he is thinking of a similar reality here. Think of 1 Corinthians 6 when Paul is rebuking some of the Corinthians for sleeping with prostitutes. “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16 Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.”

Paul’s entire point here is that you are united with Christ, and how could you possibly justify joining Christ with sexual immorality? 

Our union with Christ is an intimate thing. 

The next word is Vital. 

  1. Vital 

Now, maybe this word is a bit confusing. But if you begin to look across different systematic theologies about Union with Christ, you’ll see this word come up quite a bit. And the way it’s used feels a little bit different than how we usually use the word Vital. We usually use it as a synonym for “important.” It is vital that you do this thing. 

But as it relates to this doctrine, theologians usually use the word “Vital” in a technical sense that is more related to the word vitality. Life-giving. Energizing. 

Our union with Christ gives us life and energy and desires that are Christ’s life–Christ’s energy–Christ’s desires. 

The next word Berkhof uses is “spiritual.”

  1. Spiritual

I think that one of the main realities Berkhof is trying to emphasize here is that this Union is deeply related to us at a fundamental level and that it’s enacted and maintained by the Holy Spirit. 

“Through the Holy Spirit Christ now dwells in believers, unites them to Himself, and knits them together in a holy unity (1 Cor. 6:17; 12:13; 2 Cor. 3:17, 18; Gal. 3:2-3).”

And then the rest of the definition flows from these realities. Because we are united to Christ in an intimate, vital, and spiritual way, He is the source of our life and strength, of our blessedness and salvation.

That’s the end of the elements that Berkhof lays out, but I want to tag a couple more things onto his definition. 

  1. A Covenantal Reality

There are a lot of places we could go for this. But look at 1 Cor. 15:21-23. 

“For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.”

In those verses, I want to zero in on verse 22. “As in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” 

In what sense are we in Adam? 

I made a graphic to illustrate this. Naturally, we are in Adam by virtue of being born humans. And in Adam, we get the same things that Adam had. We are rebels against God. We sin against God. We get the death that Adam earned in the garden. 

Why? Because he is our covenant head. In ourselves, what is true of Adam is true of us. In Christ, what is true of Christ is true of us. 

Specifically, when we are in Adam, then God sees us through the lens of Adam. When we are in Christ, God sees us through the lens of Christ. 

We see this demonstrated in Romans 5. 

Romans 5:12, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned”

Then Romans 5:17. 

Romans 5:17, “For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.”

Do you see the picture being formed here? Adam is this covenantal figurehead for all humanity. And Christ is a covenantal figurehead for all who confess with their mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in their heart that God raised him from the dead. 

This is the reality that Paul was referring to in Galatians 2:20-21. “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. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”

You weren’t actually crucified. Paul wasn’t actually crucified when he wrote this, but he knew that it counted toward him. He knew that he was in Christ. Christ’s death is our death. Christ’s life is our life. Christ’s righteousness is our righteousness, otherwise, Christ died for no purpose. 

And this is related to our next point. 

  1. Demonstrated in the Ordinances

In our Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, we aren’t just getting wet and then getting a snack. We are proclaiming that we are united to Christ. In our baptism, we die with Christ and are raised with Christ. In the Lord’s Supper, we are remembering the New Covenant of his blood. 

We are under a new covenant head– Jesus. 

Romans 6:3-4 addresses Baptism. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

This same thing is in Colossians 2:12-13. We don’t have time to turn there, but this is all over the place.

We were baptized into Christ Jesus. And with that baptism, we take part in what he has already accomplished. We were baptized into his death. Just as Jesus was raised to new life, we live in the newness of life, and we have the promise of future eternal life in a glorified body just like Jesus. 

Then consider 1 Corinthians 11 which we read every week before we take of the Lord’s Supper. 

1 Corinthians 11:24, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

What are we remembering? We are remembering that he is what Adam never was. He was faithful, and he has accomplished a new covenant for us. His body is for us. His blood was spilled for us. Because we are in him. 

Let’s move to some quick applications. 


  • Live in Unity with one another. (Jn 17)

  • We have one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. For all of us who have trusted in Jesus, we have the same covenant head. We are one. 

  • This is true, even when you don’t feel it. So if you are in Christ, you always belong with others who are with Christ, even if you don’t feel it. Maybe you feel awkward and like you are an imposter or an outsider. If you are in Christ, and you feel that way with us, then banish the thought. It isn’t true. 

  • Read the New Testament with this reality in your mind. 

  • It is everywhere. And because of that, we are going to be teasing out applications to this reality 

  • Use this in Evangelism. Union with Christ is essential to the gospel, so when someone believes a false gospel, they usually have this wrong. 

  • IF there is time, consider Mormonism. The big narrative of Mormonism is that Eve transgressed so that we can all be with our families forever as we (hopefully) live subordinate Gods under our God for all eternity. In Mormonism how does someone reach that state? They do it by doing good works. In Mormonism, it will depend on who you will talk to, but I think that most people will recognize that Jesus gives you a blank slate, and the difference between someone in the highest heaven and someone in the second heaven is their works. And that’s because they are getting this doctrine wrong. Mormonism doesn’t see us as in Christ, I think that Mormonism sees us as beside Christ. 

  • As we talk about this doctrine biblically, there is a balance between an emphasis on the individual and an emphasis on Christ. When God sees us, God sees Christ. But at the same time, we still have individual gifts apportioned by the Spirit. The church isn’t flat. It isn’t uniform. So we see this balance. We are united with Christ, but we still exist and function as genuine individuals. 

  • One of the places where Mormonism gets this wrong is that it leans too much into the individual. If you have to work in order to be with God for eternity, then you aren’t united with Christ in any meaningful way, and Christ died for no purpose.  


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