Union with Christ
A study of Christian teaching on "union with Christ," focusing on the subjective interpretation of this union..
©2003 by James A. Fowler. All rights reserved.
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UNION WITH CHRIST
Did you ever play the childrens game where one person whispers a phrase to another, and that person to another, and the whispering action continues down the line or around the circle? What the last person hears (or thinks he hears) seldom resembles the statement that was originally made.
The Christian expressions concerning union with Christ are complicated even more by the fact that the original Biblical statements about the Christian life did not refer directly or explicitly to the phrase, union with Christ. Centuries after Christs historical incarnation, Latin Christian writers began to refer to unio cum Christo, union with Christ. As that phrase was passed down the line in Christian circles through the subsequent centuries of Christian thought, it has become very convoluted with many accretions of doctrinal and devotional understanding. This study will seek to discover a Biblically balanced understanding of the Christians union with Christ.
It will be instructive to commence with a brief mention of the definition of union. Union is to be differentiated from unity. A unity is something that exists as one. A union is the bringing together, or uniting, of multiple (two or more) distinct, disparate or separate entities, not previously conjoined, but now brought together, joined, formed, unified, and united into a singular entity.
Using this distinction of definition, it would not be proper to speak of Trinitarian union, for the divine Trinity is a tri-unity wherein the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have existed in eternal unity and oneness. Despite the contention of Arius that there was a time when the Son was not, the orthodox Christian understanding denies that there was a time when particular persons of the Godhead did not exist or were brought into being, and subsequently a time or occasion when the separate persons of the Godhead were conjoined in a union. The Trinity of God has always existed as a Tri-unity of divine oneness.1
At the heart of Christian teaching, however, is the unique and singular historical act of the Son of God being united with humanity in the union of the God-man. This Christological union was the union of deity and humanity in a particular historical individual, Jesus Christ. The functional objective of the Christological union is also expressed as the Mediatorial union, for Jesus Christ as the God-man was the one mediator between God and man (I Tim. 2:5).
The particular means of the uniting of God and man in the historic person of Jesus Christ is referred to as the incarnational union. The Apostle John explained that the divine Logos, the eternal Son of God who was God (Jn. 1:1) was incarnated in physical flesh as a man. The Word became flesh (Jn. 1:14). This incarnational union was a singularly unique union. There was only one Son of God, the divine Word (Logos), and the historical singularity of His being incarnated as a man was once and for all. The reason this emphasis is necessary is due to the common usage of incarnational union among some Christians in reference to the union of the Christian with Christ. If the phrase incarnational union is to be used to explain the Christians subjective union with Christ, adequate clarification must continually be made between the singular historic event of the Son of God becoming a man when the Word became flesh (Jn. 1:14) and the generalized or generic use of the word incarnational to refer to the embodiment or enfleshment of the life of Jesus in the Christian.
Christian theology has traditionally explained the Christological union of incarnational union as the hypostatic union of deity and humanity in the person of Jesus. Since the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451, Christian theology has sought to explain that the two natures, or substances, or essences, or essential properties of deity and humanity were united in the union of a distinct individual or person (Greek hypostasis), i.e. Jesus. Again, we must point out that this was a singularly unique hypostatic union, an unrepeatable singularity of divine action, because some have attempted to use hypostatic union to explain a substantial, essential union of two natures (deity and humanity) in the Christian when the Christian is united with Christ.
Historical and Theological Review
When we begin to consider the Christians union with Christ, which is contingent upon the historic foundation of the Christological union of the person of Jesus Christ, we find a quagmire of semantic and interpretive confusion throughout the literature of Christian history. What we discover is that the term union has been employed in a multitude of different ways. The first major differentiation in explaining union with Christ is between the attempts to explain union with Christ in terms of an objective union, a union effected outside of and external to the person and experience of the individual Christian, and those explanations of union with Christ as a subjective union that takes place internally within the person and experience of the Christian individual.
Concepts of objective union with Christ sometimes begin with the race union of Christ with mankind. As the Son of Man, Jesus was united with humanity as the federal head of the human race. This race union is explained as a federal union or a judicial union or a legal union of Christs representative union or solidarity union with mankind. In the predestined plan of God, and by the predetermined decrees of God, it is alleged that those who were predestined, elected, and called of God are united with Christ in election union, and that often in the context of a covenantal union of Gods people. This objective union of Christs identification union or vicarious union with mankind is often referred to as the vital union of Christ with man in an objectified positional union.
Both Roman Catholic and Protestant theologians proceed to explain the objective union of Christians with Christ in the collective union or corporate union that all Christians have with Christ in the Body of Christ, the Church. This ecclesial union, ecclesiastical union, or church union is usually closely aligned with the sacramental union that Christians are said to have with Christ as the church administers the sacraments that are alleged to establish baptismal union and eucharistic union with Christ. The collective church union that Christians have with Christ in the Body of Christ is often called an organic union with Christ based on the fact that the church is not just an institution or organization, but an organism, a Body united to Christ as Head (Eph. 1:22,23; Col. 1:18; Rom. 12:15; I Cor. 12:27).
The historic co-active union with Christ is often explained by the crucifixion union, resurrection union, and ascension union of the Christians being united with Christ in co-crucifixion (cf. Gal. 2:20; Rom. 6:5,6; Col. 2:12; 3:1) and identification with the historic acts of Jesus Christ. This is also referred to as the positional union of identification union with Christ. The Christian has been united in Christ, so that when He died we died, when He was raised we were raised, and when He ascended we ascended in historic co-active union with Christ.
Theological concepts of objective union with Christ also include the expected eschatological union with Christ in the final-state union or heavenly union the consummation union of the eternal union of glory union when Christians hope to be involved in reigning union with Christ. The theologians sum up all of the above-mentioned concepts of objective union with Christ as mystical union, for they are regarded as the great mysteries of Christian thought and theology.
Others who want to focus on the subjective union of Christ with Christians would prefer to reserve the phrase mystical union for the internal mystery which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Col. 1:27). If ever there was a phrase that has become all things to all people, it is this phrase unio mystica, or mystical union. It is even employed in the kabbalist teachings of Judaism, as well as in Islamic and Buddhist teaching. Its extensive usage has rendered it a rather inane and meaningless phrase for the discussion of union with Christ.
The Christians subjective union with Christ is often identified as a spiritual union based on the Pauline statement that the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him (I Cor. 6:17). When an individual is born of the Spirit (Jn. 3:5,6), a spiritual union of the Spirit of Christ and the spirit of that person is established (Rom. 8:9,16). This has been called regenerative union, saving union, or new-creation union, although distinction in these terms can and should be made. Evangelical theology has often referred to the faith union effected between Christ and the Christian when the supplied life of Gods grace in Christ is received in the derivation of faith-receptivity. In this fiduciary union a personal union is established. It is a relational union that is likened to the conjugal union of marital union (Eph. 5:28-30) between husband and wife. This personal union of the Christian with Christ is more than a union of alliance or mere personal relationship, for it involves the deepest intimacy of oneness in spiritual union and relational union.
Spiritual life union with Christ is to be expressed in the practical union of Christian living. This functional and operational union with the dynamic life of Christ has been termed experimental union, experiential union, and existential union. In many cases this has been regarded as a progressive union of behavioral ideals that are to be attained or achieved through various spiritual disciplines of meditation, prayer, Bible reading, liturgical exercises, dying to self, etc. Such religious works are regarded as developmental for attaining confessional union, obedience union, transformational union, and myriad forms of moral union with Christ by confessing, obeying, and keeping His commands. A more Biblical perspective realizes that a real spiritual union with Christ has been established in regenerative union with the indwelling Spirit of Christ. This new-creature union (II Cor. 5:17) has created such oneness of spirit between Christ and the Christian (I Cor. 6:17) that the spirit of man has no capacity or capability to function apart from the Spirit of Christ. The living Lord Jesus within us has become the basis of a vital union whereby a Christ-one, a Christian, lives out Christs life in a manifestational union or an evidentiary union, which others have called a life union or sanctification union. Reference to incarnational union (referred to above) and the enfleshment of Christs life in Christian behavior, finds some Biblical justification in Pauls statement of the life of Jesus manifested in our mortal flesh (or body) (II Cor. 4:10,11). As we abide in Christ (Jn. 6:56; 15:4-7; I Jn. 2:24) in abiding union, such a fellowship union allows for union to become communion, even to the extent of intercessory union that allows the life of Christ to be laid down and lived out for others through us.
We must beware, however, of allowing the subjective union of spiritual union with Christ to be cast as a metaphorical union that is nothing more than a figure of speech rather than an actual spiritual union. Neither is union with Christ to be portrayed as merely a psychological union that causes one to attempt to think, feel and will in accord with Christs example, as the separated Spirit seeks to induce such by influential union. The objective of union with Christ is not to experience a consciousness union that is continually conscious of Jesus, or an ecstatic union that gets high on sensate emotions. Caution must also be observed in allowing spiritual union with Christ to be formulated into the varying forms of metaphysical union that postulate an essential union or a consubstantial union whereby man becomes substantially fused, merged, or commingled with God in a deification union. References to hypostatic union or organic union of the Christian individual with Christ lend themselves to concepts of coalescence union or virtual union that can depersonalize and deify the human individual. This is also present in the monistic and pantheistic emphases of oneness with God that promote a universalistic union of all men with God, wherein God is all in all.
In this review of how Christian theology has addressed the concept of union with Christ, we have observed the objective and subjective senses of Christs union with man through Christian history. But specifically within the subjective interpretations of union with Christ where Christs presence affects us internally, there is a void in the history of Christian teaching, an absence of explanation, of how union with Christ affects who we are, our identity. That particular emphasis of identity union was the focus of Norman P. Grubb, and others who followed him.
In the twentieth century there was a movement called union life. Via the teachings and writings of Norman Grubb, there was an emphasis on the Christians spiritual union with Christ. A periodical magazine entitled Union Life was published for many years. It heralded the Christians union identity with Christ, as did Grubbs last two books, Who Am I? and Yes I Am. Regrettably, the union life movement fractured and splintered in the latter part of the twentieth century, prior to the death of Norman Grubb, and much to his chagrin and sorrow. Failing to maintain a balance of emphasis on regenerative union identity with Christ, the various splinter groups developed divergent emphases: (1) one group taught that union life is contained in all men in monistic universalism. (2) one fellow taught that union life is ordained for all in inevitable predetermined fatalism. (3) one group taught that union life is retained through identification, repudiation, and suppression of sin in group accountability. (4) one group taught that union life is attained experientially through the discipline of centering prayer. Somewhere along the chain of whispers, they all heard and expressed a distorted message, leaving only scattered remnants who understand that union life is obtained by receiving the Spirit of Christ into ones spirit by faith and continuing to derive all from the One who is Life Jesus Christ.
This study will attempt to illustrate in the graphic form of a chart, the necessary balance and tension that must be maintained if we are to have a Biblical and theological tenable teaching of union with Christ. The format we will employ to seek this balanced understanding will be the context of dialectic. Our first order of business will be to differentiate dialectic from other forms of divided thinking.
A dichotomy is a division of elements into two parts. Etymologically the word means, to cut in two. A dichotomy is a bifurcation of elements, separated and distinguished. The constitution of man is often explained as a dichotomy of body and soul, or alternatively as a trichotomy of body, soul, and spirit. Man, however, is not cut in two or cut in three, but is a functional whole with physical, psychological and spiritual function.
Dualism in its most generic meaning simply refers to two elements or substances. As a classic philosophical concept it refers to two opposing principles or powers, often regarded as being equal and counterbalanced. One power is identified with good, and the other with evil. The yin-yang dualism of oriental philosophy is an example where good and evil are equally balanced. The Platonic dualism of spirit and matter presented a constant conflict of good and evil: spirit being identified with good, and matter with evil. One approach to avoiding the conflict was to give in to the evil of physical matter, and indulge oneself in hedonism and Epicureanism. Another approach was to avoid the evil of the material by denial in asceticism and monasticism. Neither approach solved the dualism.
Sometimes opposites are cast as antinomies, meaning against the law of reason. When opposing principles or tenets form an unreasonable and irresolvable contradiction this is an antinomy.
A paradox is very similar to an antinomy. It involves opposing truths that do not have an apparent logical solution. They are juxtaposed alongside of each other in order to note their distinction.
Dialectic is a process of thought where a concept is preserved and fulfilled by its opposite. Opposite tenets are held in tensioned balance, creating a logical dialogue of how they relate to each other. This is not necessarily the Socratic method of thesis and antithesis seeking a logical synthesis. Rather, it involves living with the contradictory opposites and finding completeness and totality only in the counterbalance of the two, allowing a dynamic interchange and interplay of two concepts to challenge and balance each other. The Western mind, steeped as it is in the linear cause and effect of Aristotelian logic has a difficult time with dialectic. Western thought wants to get everything figured out, systematized, organized, categorized, and boxed up in the absoluteness of an airtight system with no loose ends. The Eastern mind, on the other hand, seems more able to maintain opposites in tension, perhaps because there has often been a dualistic base to their thinking.
By way of personal testimony, I can admit that I was a product of my Western world, even to the extent of being a religious fundamentalist with absolutist thinking of right and wrong, good and evil, orthodoxy and heresy. I came to understand philosophical dialectic through the writings of the Danish author, Soren Kierkegaard. Theological dialectic was learned through the writings of the Swiss theologian, Karl Barth. The writings of the French sociologist, Jacques Ellul, provided me with sociological dialectic. In personal and spiritual matters the writings of the British missionary, Norman Grubb, provided a perspective of spiritual dialectic. Together these mentors have taught me to view everything in terms of dialectic to see the other side of everything, in the Bible, in theology, in sociology, and in spiritual matters.
There is such polarity and one-sidedness in Christian thinking today. Calvinism is set against Arminianism, and they both need to see the dialectic of divine sovereignty balanced with human responsibility. In eschatological matters preterism is on the far side of futurism, and they both need to see the dialectic of the already and the not yet. Dispensationalism battles against Covenant Theology, and they both need to recognize the dialectic of continuity and discontinuity. Creationism opposes scientism, and they both need to find balance in the dialectic of the supernatural alongside of the natural. The Biblicists and the charismatics need to see the dialectic of objectivity and subjectivity. The polarized extremes can only find common ground in an understanding of dialectic.
Having already noted the dialectic of objective and subjective interpretations of union with Christ, we shall proceed to consider the dialectic of union and distinction within the subjective understanding of union with Christ. This is not to deny or deprecate the objective interpretations of union with Christ, but our intent is to emphasize the subjective union with Christ. Within this graphic formatting of subjective union we shall observe the sequence of the union of being and the union of doing. These can also be referred to as ontological union and operational union, and can also be seen in the tension of dialectic.
Union of Being
The subjective union of Christ and the Christian is referred to throughout the New Testament literature, and was expressed by early Latin Christian writers in the phrase, unio cum Christo. Others used the phrase unio mystica or mystical union, but (as we have previously indicated) this phrase has been so broadly employed in Christian teaching that it is basically meaningless.
The Apostle Paul wrote, The one who is joined to the Lord is one spirit (with Him) (I Cor. 6:17). This one spirit union of the Christian with Christ is contextualized by the distinction of the one being joined to the Lord. In the preceding verse, I Cor. 6:16, which quotes from Genesis 2:24, the oneness of the one flesh marital union of husband and wife establishes the basis of contrast with the one spirit union of Christ and the Christian. The joining in one flesh in marriage and the joining in one spirit in Christian relationship are both real unions, but the distinction is evident in that they are relational unions, neither party being diminished or lost in the union of the two.
Writing to the Romans, Paul makes the distinction of the spirit-union, explaining, the Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Rom. 8:16). The Spirit of Christ relates to the human spirit by the assuring witness that we have an identity-union with Christ as children of God. This requires, of course, the indwelling presence of the Spirit of Christ, for Paul wrote earlier, If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His (Rom. 8:9), i.e. that person is not a Christian if the Spirit of Christ does not dwell in him.
In his epistle to the Galatians, Paul wrote, I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who lives, but Christ lives in me (Gal. 2:20a). Some have interpreted the words, it is no longer I who lives, to mean Pauls individuality and personality have been annihilated or absorbed into the Christ who lives in him or as him. The latter part of the same verse disallows such, for it states the remaining distinction, and the life that I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me (Gal. 2:20b). The distinctions between the Christian I and the Son of God Himself reveal the relationalism of this spiritual union between Christ and the Christian.
In the second epistle of Peter we read, His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence, and granted to us His precious and magnificent promises , in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature (II Pet. 1:3,4). There is a union of the Christian with the divine nature of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but this does not imply that the Christian implicitly or inherently becomes divine nature in any kind of fused merging or coalescence. The Christian can never declare, I am divine nature. Rather, this verse indicates that we are partakers of the divine nature of the Godhead, and the Greek word koinonoi means that we take part in, share in, and have commonality with the divine nature of God. Distinction is preserved in the union with divine nature, and this is certainly evident in the preceding part of the sentence in the triple distinction of Him and us.
The epistle to the Hebrews also indicates that Christians are partakers of Christ (Heb. 3:14) and partakers of the Holy Spirit (Heb. 6:4). A different Greek word, metochoi, is used in these verses, meaning, to participate in as recipients (cf. Heb. 3:1; 12:8). In vital union with the persons of the Godhead, Christians are recipient participants with Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but the word partakers implies that distinction is maintained.
It is the privilege of the Christian to participate and have fellowship with God in intimate communion (common union). We are called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ (I Cor. 1:9), and our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son, Jesus Christ (I Jn. 1:3), as well as fellowship of the Spirit (Phil. 2:1). The Greek word in all of these verses is koinonia, which indicates a commonality of participant relationalism, but does not allow for essential equivalence.
The most used New Testament phrase for the Christians union with Christ is the simple phrase, in Christ, or in Christ Jesus, or simply in Him. These prepositional phrases are used several hundred times in the New Testament writings. Whenever we read this in Christ phrase, we can legitimately interpret it as in union with Christ. For example: By His doing you are in Christ Jesus (in union with Christ Jesus), who became to us wisdom, righteousness, and sanctification and redemption (I Cor. 1:30). If any man is in Christ (in union with Christ), he is a new creature (II Cor. 5:17).
We have such a spiritual union with the Triune God that our life is hid with Christ in God (Col. 3:3), and Christ is our life (Col. 3:4). In Him (in union with Him) we have been made complete (Col. 2:10). Every spiritual blessing in heavenly places is ours in Christ Jesus (in union with Christ Jesus) (Eph. 1:3) all things belong to you (I Cor. 2:21,22) everything pertaining to life and godliness (II Pet. 1:3). Our union with Christ is such that we are seated in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (in union with Christ Jesus) (Eph. 2:6).
There are a number of analogies employed by the New Testament writers to illustrate union with Christ. Every analogy is such that it simultaneously presents distinction within the union.
The vessel/contents analogy. We (Christians) have this treasure (Christ) in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves (II Cor. 4:7). The Christian is the vessel. Christ is the spiritual content. Though distinct, there is a vital union that allows the dynamic of our action to be the power of God.
The branch/vine analogy. Every branch in Me (in union with Me) (Jn. 15:2), cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine (Jn. 15:4). Jesus clearly states, I am the vine; you are the branches; he who abides in Me (in union with Me), and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me, you can do nothing (Jn. 15:5). The analogy obviously pictures a union between the vine, Christ, and the branch, a Christian. At the same time there is a distinction between the Me and he with the responsibility of the Christians abiding in Christ.
The house/occupant analogy. Paul refers to the earthly tent that is our house (II Cor. 5:1). The occupant of our physical house is intended to be God, allowing for an indwelling union that allows God to control everything that takes place in our house. Though intimately united, the house and the occupant remain distinct.
The temple/god analogy. Do you not now that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (I Cor. 3:16). Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, and that you are not your own? (I Cor. 6:19). This analogy is has both individual and collective connotations (cf. II Cor. 6:16). Individually and collectively we are the temple in which God is to dwell and reign.
The body/head analogy. This analogy is specifically collective, but maintains the distinction of the individual also. You are Christs body, and individually members of it (I Cor. 12:27). We are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another (Rom. 12:5). God gave Him (Christ) as Head over all things to the church, which is His body (Eph. 1:22,23). He is the head of the body, the church (Col. 1:18). Head and body obviously form a living union, but are not to be indistinguishably synthesized.
The wife/husband analogy. As the church is to Christ, so ought wives to be to their husbands. Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:24,25). This mystery is great: I am speaking in reference to Christ and the church (Eph. 5:32). The relational union of the marital union between husband and wife is the analogous pattern for the spiritual union between Christ and Christians. The one flesh union (Gen. 2:24; I Cor. 6:16; Eph. 5:31) is the physical picture of the one spirit union (I Cor. 6:17). Distinction between the relational parties is always recognized in the union.
Christ in you
These union analogies all retain distinction in the elements being united. The vessel is not the contents, and the content is not the vessel. The branch is not the vine, and the vine is not the branch. The house is not the occupant, and the occupant is not the house. The temple is not the god, and the god is not the temple. The body is not the head, and the head is not the body. The wife is not the husband, and the husband is not the wife. Distinction exists within the union of the two.
Some of these analogies (vessel, house, temple) picture the indwelling of Christ in the Christian. Not only is the Christian in Christ (in union with Christ), and this is the predominant New Testament phrase, but there are clear Biblical statements that the living Lord Jesus, the Spirit of Christ, dwells in us as Christians. It is no longer I who lives, but Christ lives in me (Gal. 2:20). This is the mystery Christ in you, the hope of glory (Col. 1:27). Do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? (II Cor. 13:5). The entire Trinitarian God dwells in the Christian. God abides in us (I Jn. 4:12,15,16). If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, He will give life through His Spirit who indwells you (Rom. 8:11). By the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, guard the treasure which has been entrusted to you (II Tim. 1:14).
We must remember, however, that union with Christ goes beyond the distinction of Father, Son and Holy Spirit located within and indwelling the Christian. The location of God in man must be kept balanced by the emphasis on a real union of Being with God. By the reception of the living God into our spirit in spiritual regeneration, the Christian, the Christ-one, becomes something/someone that he was not before. There is a change of identity, and that by an identity-union with Jesus Christ.
The Christian becomes a new creature in Christ (in union with Christ); old things have passed away, and all things have becomes new (spiritually) (II Cor. 5:17). The Christian becomes a new man. The old man was crucified with Christ (Rom. 6:6). The old man was laid aside (Eph. 4:22; Col. 3:9) when we became a Christian. The Christian has put on the new man created in righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4:24), and renewed in accord with the image of God (Col. 3:10). The identity of this new creature and new man is only in Christ (in union with Christ).
The New Testament uses many designations for the new identity-union of the Christian. The Christian is a child of God (Rom. 8:16; Jn. 1:12; I Jn. 3:1,2). The Christian is an adopted son of God (Rom. 8:17; Gal. 3:16). Christians are referred to as saints (Eph. 1:18; 4:12) or holy ones.
Christians are designated by character traits that can only be understood as a result of our union of being with Christ, and are not contingent on our doing. The Christian is identified as holy and blameless (Col. 1:22). The Christian is also called righteous. Through the obedience of the One (Christ) the many (Christians) are made righteous (Rom. 5:19). We become the righteousness of God in Christ (in union with Christ) (II Cor. 5:21). Christ Jesus has become to us righteousness (I Cor. 1:30). Despite the protestations of the reformers that Christians are only declared righteous in a legal and juridical pronouncement from the divine Judge, the scriptural record indicates that we are made righteous. In fact, Christians are perfect (Phil. 3:15), perfected (Heb. 10:14) and regarded as the spirits of righteous men made perfect (Heb. 12:23).
Christians need to realize that in Christ (in union with Christ) they are acceptable to God. Christ accepted us to the glory of God (Rom. 15:7). There is, therefore, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (in union with Christ Jesus) (Rom. 8:1). The world employs an abundance of self-talk about self-image, self-worth, self-value, self-concept, etc., but the Christian can have an assurance of a secure identity that is far greater that the criteria that the world relies on. The Christian can have a positive personal concept of who he is in Christ (in union with Christ).
Collectively, in the church of Jesus Christ, we also have a union-identity. We are the people of God (I Pet. 2:10). We are a royal priesthood (I Pet. 2:9) of kings and priests (Rev. 1:6). Together we are a covenant community (Heb. 8:10,11), comprising the Body of Christ (I Cor. 12:13; Rom. 12:15).
It is so important for Christians to be aware that their union-identity, individually and collectively, is a result of a real union with Christ. The Christian life is not a charade of play-acting or role-playing, trying to live like Jesus and love like Jesus. The Christian is so spiritually united with Christ, as a Christ-one deriving being and identity from Christ, that it can be said, There is no explanation for me apart from Him.
We are forced to observe distinction, though, in the recognition that the Christian is not any of these things in and of himself, i.e. intrinsically, inherently, self-existently, or self-generatively. Our union of identity is in Christ (in union with Christ). It is a derived identity, derived from our union with Christ. We are holy ones because the Holy One, Jesus Christ, lives in us (Acts 3:14; 4:27,30). We are righteous ones because the Righteous One, Jesus Christ, lives in us (Acts 3:14; 7:52). We are perfect ones because the Perfect One, Jesus Christ, lives in us (Heb. 7:28).
Distinction must be noted in the Christians derivation from Christ to be who we are, and do what we do. God created us as derivative creatures. As derivative man, we always derive from another, a spirit source beyond ourselves. We are not the quality, the virtue, the character, the identity, the action in ourselves. We are not gods, and never become gods or God. There is always the distinction of the divine Supplier and the human receiver or deriver. The basic human function is derivation, dependency, receptivity, i.e. faith. We are responsible choosers, and faith is a choice to receive from, depend on, and derive from another.
Deriving our life, being, and identity from union with Christ does not mean that we are no longer human, as some have claimed. It does not mean that we are no longer a distinct individual with a particular personality. Though identity is formed in our spirit by union with Christ, we retain individuality within the function of our soul. There is always a distinct me that relates to and derives from He; even though there is no explanation for me apart from He.
Modern evangelicalism has not placed much emphasis on being, much less union of being in Christ. American evangelicalism, in particular, has emphasized pragmatic productivity in precepts, procedures and programs for doing Gods work. Success in the accomplishment of doing has become the basis for significance and identity.
The distinction of Christ and the Christian has been pushed to the extreme of an objectified and separated concept of the Christians relationship with Christ. The vast majority of those who call themselves Christians today are essentially deistic in their understanding of God. God is a detached and separated deity. God is up in heaven, and I am down here on earth. In addition, this disjoined deity is regarded as an offended deity who is angry and judgmental about the sinfulness of man. God is viewed as opposed to and against man. Jesus is likewise regarded as far removed in His transcendence, seated at the right hand of God the Father. There is very little sense of the immanence or internal presence of Jesus in the Christ, much less any sense of union with Christ. Jesus is usually considered to be interceding for Christians, acting as the legal advocate who is trying to convince the Father to accept us. Such an outlook severs the essential unity of the Trinity.
This detachment of God and man has been fostered by a theological paradigm that has over-objectified the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Their perspective is that Jesus died vicariously in our place on the cross, and then went to heaven before the Father to convince Him to impute certain benefits to those who would assent to His redemptive efficacy. On the basis of Christs substitutional work, God is then alleged to be willing to grant a new standing, a new status, a new position to those who identify with Jesus, and He will declare them righteous.
Instead of an indwelling presence of the Spirit of Christ allowing for a new spiritual identity, evangelicalism has offered identification with the historical and theological Jesus, and more tangibly with the church organization. The one who would become a Christian is encouraged to walk the aisle, raise their hand, and join the group. They must assent to the veracity of the historical and theological Jesus, go to catechism, agree with the creed, and sign the statement of faith. Having thus become a member, they must consent to serve on a committee that promotes what the church is doing. This offers no real indwelling union-identity with the living Lord Jesus, but only a social association in alliance with Jesus. Ones casual personal relationship with Jesus is assumed because they now have the wet passport of a baptismal certificate. The new church member is assured that they have received a static deposit of impersonal eternal life which will serve as a ticket to heaven for future union and intimacy with God. Their only sense of identity is that they are identified and denominated as a Methodist, a Presbyterian, an Episcopalian, a Baptist, etc., or polarized as a Calvinist or Arminian, a fundamentalist or a charismatic, a dispensationalist or a covenantist, a liberal or a conservative, mainline or non-denominational. There is no sense of a spiritual union-identity with the living Lord, only a sense of identification with a belief-system cause or an institutional entity.
In like manner, instead of an awareness of union with Christ as partakers of the divine nature (II Pet. 1:4), evangelicalism has fostered the double-minded duality of the Christian having two internal natures that are in conflict. This is illustrated by the hypothetical presence of a black dog and a white dog dwelling within the Christian, and these are involved in a life and death struggle to determine who will win. This produces a schizophrenic understanding of identity that results in a paranoid uncertainty of whether one is being motivated by self or Jesus. Is this me, or is this Jesus? The confused Christian can then engage in the denial of being able to win the behavioral battle, and resign themselves to antinomian sinfulness. Alternatively, they may conscientiously have doubts about their salvation that are relieved through periodical emotional and ecstatic religious experiences or ritual observances.
When evangelicals do attempt to consider who they are, they usually develop a negative sense of self that is self-denigrating and self-deprecating. Their self-talk goes something like this: Jesus died for such a worm as me. I am nothing. I am just a sinner saved by grace. I am still a dirty old man inside. If you knew the real me, you would not want anything to do with me. Neither would Jesus. So, what I have to do in order to be what God wants me to be is to engage in self-denial and suppression of the real me and my sin. I have to put myself down in self-surrender and brokenness. I have to die to self in masochistic self-crucifixion. Basically I am bad, evil, and sinful, but praise the Lord, my past is forgiven, the future is assured, even though the present is the pits.
If that is all the typical evangelical Christian knows, and a deeper life teacher comes to explain that you as a Christian have Christ in you, the hope of glory, that is good news indeed. Its almost like being born again again! And if someone comes to tell you that Christ in you means that you are one spirit with Jesus, and that you have a new spiritual identity in union with Christ WOW a whole new world of life and freedom opens up in understanding our union identity of being by the indwelling Jesus. In my own personal experience, it was the writings of W. Ian Thomas who first introduced me to the awareness of the indwelling Spirit of Christ, and it was Norman P. Grubb who filled out the dialectic understanding of an identity-union with Christ.
In fairness, we must explain that there is another extreme in the opposite direction, when one fails to take into account the distinction of Christ and the Christian and over-emphasizes union to the point that it is no longer a union of two brought together but is regarded as a monistic oneness. Distinction is denied. Union is preempted. The resultant premise of unitarian oneness posits that God only exists in all things and as all things. When God is viewed in such singularity as the only reality or person in the universe, the Christian understanding of the Trinitarian God is often sacrificed, and replaced with a God who is alleged to be all in all. This premise of monistic and unitarian oneness is inevitably aligned with pantheistic concepts and the variant theses of panentheism. It is very similar to the foundational premises of many Eastern religions, as well as the teaching of Christian Science and the New Age Movement. If God is all in all, then all is one with God. This monistic pantheism implies a universalism wherein God is contained in all things and persons, and the light or seed of Christ is intrinsically present in all humanity. Such monistic universalism produces a divine determinism that denies human responsibility and the consequences of human choices, effectively denying Christian faith.
Those who have moved out of the dialectic of the tensioned balance of distinction and union with Christ often mistakenly attempt to portray their God only oneness in union terms. They may refer to an organic union between God and man, which they inaccurately liken to Christs analogy of vine and branch. They may refer to hypostatic union of deity and humanity in the Christian, utilizing the terminology of the singularly unique Christological union of the God-man, Jesus. They often seek to explain that there is an essential union between the cosmic Christ and the Christian. The Gnostic knower of God alleges himself to be mixed, merged, fused, or absorbed into coalescence with God. It is claimed that God and man are now equivalent and indistinguishable, united in the oneness of consubstantiation, i.e. of the same substance. Man is thus deified, divinized, or supernaturalized into godness, and regarded as intrinsically divine. Some within these circles blatantly declare, I am God or I am Christ or I am the Spirit, and claim that everything Jesus said about Himself, they can now declare about themselves.
What does this do to the concept of humanity? If humanity is absorbed into deity, then humanity is essentially displaced, replaced, abandoned, dissolved, annihilated or obliterated. This reductionist depersonalizing of humanity within the absorption of the deification of humanity causes some to proclaim, I am no longer human. I am not; only He is. In such a thesis of obliteration and replacement, the union of being with Christ has been eschewed and jettisoned by failure to give due emphasis to the dialectic of distinction and union between Christ and the Christian. The loss of tensioned dialectic facilitates a return to the Greek dualism that fostered the first heresy of the early church. Docetism asserted that Jesus was not really human, but only appeared to be human, thus destroying the dialectic of deity and humanity in the Christological union. Those who advocate monistic merging perpetuate a variation of the docetic heresy in the claim that the Christian is no longer human, but just appears to be human, while essentially divine.
As noted previously, Norman P. Grubb often reiterated the dialectic balance of distinction and union in his teaching and writing. Some representative quotations from his writings are contained in an addendum to this article.
Union of Doing
The union of being that recognizes the distinction of Christs indwelling the Christian and the union of the Christians identity with Christ must, of necessity, find actuation and experiential expression in the union of doing whereby the living Lord Jesus dynamically lives out His life in Christian behavior. The union of being and the union of doing, or more technically ontological union and operational union, can be considered as another dialectic, but this study will only observe them as the sequential follow-through from being to doing. In previous writings I have often used the phrase, ontological dynamic. My intent in employing that phrase is to express that the Being (ontology) of God must find functional expression in the dynamic of His operational activity within and through the Christians behavior.
God is an active God. It is the deistic perspective of God that views Him as a distant and detached deity not actively involved in the universe and in His people. The inherent attributes of God demand that He actively express Himself as the Love, Justice, Holiness, Savior, etc. that He is. God does what He does, because He is who He is. When the very Being of the Triune God has joined Himself to a receptive individual to become the basis of that persons Christian identity of being, then He must be allowed to act as the God that He is in that Christians behavior. In other words, it is imperative that the Christian behave like who he has become in Christ (in union with Christ). This Christian behavior, however, is not a self-produced, self-generated, self-actuated activity whereby a Christian strives to succeed at the project of Christian living in accord with some proceduralized how-to formulas for doing what God expects. Just as our union of being was divinely initiated, the union of doing is also divinely actuated by the grace of God.
You cannot live the Christian life. I cannot live the Christian life. The Christian life is impossible, if conceived as the actions that a Christian must self-generate to live like Jesus and love like Jesus. But God is not interested in our works by which we might try to measure up and please Him (cf. Isa. 64:6; Phil. 3:8). It was not our works which effected our union of being with Christ (Eph. 2:9; Rom. 3:28), and it will not be our works that facilitate the doing of Christian living. The only One who can live the Christian life is Jesus. He lived out the divine life perfectly in history, and now He wants to live out His life in, as, and through us.2 All good works in the Christian life are the outworking of His life and character. We are created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Eph. 2:10). God equips us in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight through Jesus Christ (Heb. 13:21).
The Christian life is the supplied life. The active provision for living the Christian life is supplied by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. The Christian, therefore, lacks nothing required to be and do all that God desires in him. Some have labeled this as triumphalism, going so far as to declare that, It is too good to be true. On the contrary, God revealed Himself to Paul, saying, My grace is sufficient for you (II Cor. 12:9), and Paul asserted, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phil. 4:13). When Paul wrote, God is able to make all grace abound to you, that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed (II Cor. 9:8), his statement was valid not only for Christian giving, but for the entirety of Christian living as well. We have what is required to live the Christian life in the union of doing with the living Lord Jesus.
The dynamic for the union of doing is provided in every Christian by the presence and provision of the entire Trinity Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is at work in us, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13), Paul advised the Philippians, but that was directly following the admonition to, work out your own salvation in fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12), which emphasizes the distinction of personal responsibility. Paul gave a list of admonitions to the Thessalonians (I Thess. 5:11-22), but followed it up with the assurance, Faithful is He who calls you, and He will also bring it to pass (I Thess. 5:24). God the Father is the dynamic for our union of doing in the Christian life. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God (II Cor. 3:5).
In like manner, God the Son, is operating in the Christians as the energizer and expresser of His life. It is no longer I who lives, but Christ lives in me (Gal. 2:20), Paul explained to the Galatians. It is not just that Christ resides as an occupant in me, but that Christ lives in me, as the dynamic expression of His life, that Paul is proclaiming. Having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life (Rom. 5:10), Paul wrote to the Romans, and this saving life of Christ is the means by which we are made safe from dysfunction in order to function as God intends, reigning in life through Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:17). The very life of Jesus is manifested in our mortal bodies (II Cor. 4:10,11), because we have the treasure (which is Christ) in these earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God, and not of ourselves (II Cor. 4:7). The living Lord Jesus is the dynamic of our union of doing in the Christian life.
Since the Lord is the Spirit (II Cor. 3:17), the union of doing is also attributable to the Christians being filled (or controlled) by the Spirit (Eph. 5:18), in order that we might walk by the Spirit (Gal. 5:16,25) and live by the Spirit (Rom. 8:13). The Holy Spirit even serves as the pray-er in the Christian,3 for we do not know how to pray as we should (Rom. 8:26). Likewise, we worship in spirit and truth (Jn. 4:24), as the Spirit of Christ is the worshipper4 expressing the worthship of Gods character in the union of doing.
It is not necessary or advisable for the Christian to attempt to analyze or evaluate how the Triune God is expressing His life in the union of doing. Believing that we have a union of being with Christ, the Christian can spontaneously behave like who he has become as a Christ-one. That is part of the freedom for which Christ has set us free (Gal. 5:1). We are free to be and do whatever Christ wants to be and do in, as, and through us.
In our Christian freedom we are also responsible to allow for the divine dynamic of the union of doing. It is here that we commence to observe the necessary distinction that balances the union of divine action. God created humans as choosing creatures, and since our humanness is not displaced or dissolved when we are joined in union of being with Christ as Christians, the Christian remains responsible for his choices. If we view our responsibility as the response-ability to make behavioral choices of faith that allow Christ to live His life and energize the union of doing in our behavioral expression, we can avoid falling into a works oriented system of religion performance.
Jesus discourse about the vine and the branch in John 15 is often used to explain the Christians union with Christ. It is not organic union that Jesus is teaching, but a balanced perspective of union and distinction in the union of doing. Apart from Me you can do nothing (Jn. 15:5), Jesus declared. Legitimate exegesis does not allow us to isolate the phrase, you can do nothing, and emphasize a totally divine expression. The entire analogy of vine and branches refers, not to essential union of being, but to the functional expression of divine activity in the Christian. Observe the distinction of pronouns in the complete verse: I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing (Jn. 15:5). What is the Christians responsibility? To abide in Christ (Jn. 15:5-7). What does it mean to abide? The word means to reside, to settle in, to make yourself at home. The Christian is to make himself at home in Christ (in union with Christ), to settle in and live there. That does not involve any works of performance, but it does involve a responsible decision of abiding faith. In his first epistle John wrote, If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father (I Jn. 2:24).
The response-ability of the Christian is the choice of faith. Faith is not just believing or assenting to correct data. Nor is faith the conjuring up of enough trust to rely on Christ. Faith is a constant choosing of receptivity to Gods activity, a continuous availability to Gods ability. As noted earlier, our union of being is a derived identity, and in the union of doing we continue our human function of derivative, dependent, and contingent faith. Paul explained to the Colossians, As you received Christ Jesus the Lord (by faith), so walk in Him, established in your faith (Col. 2:6,7). The Christian life is lived only by the grace-dynamic of Gods action received by faith. Pauls references to the obedience of faith (Rom. 1:5; 16:26) seem to indicate that Christian obedience is comprised of faith. Christian obedience is not to be viewed within the legal paradigm of strenuous striving to keep the rules and regulations of the Law, but is simply to be understood as listening under (Greek word hupakouo) God to ascertain the next situation where one can be receptive to His activity in and through us.
James statements become all the more meaningful when we understand faith as Christian receptivity to divine activity. Faith without works is useless (James 2:20) and dead (James 2:17,26), James writes. If there is no consequent outworking of divine activity, then it can safely be surmised that there was not faith-receptivity to Gods activity, i.e. whatever faith was alleged, it was useless, dead, non-existent or false because it did not allow for the receptivity of the outworking of divine activity. Grace is God in action, doing what He does because He is who He is, and our responsibility is to be receptive in faith to allow Him to be and do what He wants to be and do in us in the union of doing.
What about all of the imperative action-commands that are stated throughout the New Testament? Someone counted more than one thousand (1000) imperative verbs in the New Testament. The distinction between Christ and the Christian seems to loom so large when we consider the concept of commandments. Didnt Jesus say, He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me (Jn. 14:21)? Yes, but Jesus did not command anything that He is not willing to keep and perform in our union of doing. He is the dynamic of all of His own demands. Within the new covenant concept of grace, imperatives are always based on indicatives. The indicative statements of Gods presence and sufficiency are always the foundation for the fulfillment of the imperative action verbs. Christ does not ask anything of us that he is not willing to fulfill in our union of doing.
As noted previously, Pauls admonition to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12) is an imperative. The indicative statement is, God is at work in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13). Another imperative is, Do not worry about anything (Phil. 4:6). The following indicative is, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phil. 4:13). Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, abstain from every form of evil (I Thess. 5:16,17,22) are the imperatives. Faithful is He who calls you, and He will bring it to pass (I Thess. 5:24) is the foundational indicative. Love one another (Jn. 13:34,35) was Jesus command. The supply for such is indicated in that the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Rom. 5:5). The imperative is, Be strong in the Lord (Eph. 6:12), but the indicative awareness is that this is in the strength of His might (Eph. 6:12), for we are strong only by the strength which God supplies (I Pet. 4:11). Let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus (Phil. 2:5), Paul commanded the Philippians, and to the Colossians he wrote, Set your minds on things above (Col. 3:2), but he advised the Corinthians, we have the mind of Christ (I Cor. 2:16). Discipline yourself unto godliness (I Tim. 4:7) was the admonition to Timothy, but Peter indicates, His divine power has granted us everything pertaining to life and godliness (II Pet. 1:3). The imperatives are always based on the indicatives of Gods grace in Christ, and are never commands for self-produced behavioral works of righteousness.
Many of the imperative verbs demand action that cannot possibly be construed as work, but only as a faith-choice. As noted above, to abide is simply to settle in, stay put, and make oneself at home in Christ Jesus (in union with Christ Jesus). To reckon yourselves dead unto sin (Rom. 6:11) is to count it as a fact that you were crucified with Christ and are alive unto God in Christ Jesus (in union with Christ Jesus) (Rom. 6:11). To present your bodies a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1) and your members as members of righteousness (Rom. 6:13) is simply to hand yourself over to God in surrender. These imperatives simply reveal that the Christian is obliged to be receptive in faith to the union-activity of Christ in the Christian.
When we are receptive in faith to allow the living Christ to be the ontological dynamic whereby He manifests His own life in our behavior, there are two general areas of Christian expression. We must emphasize again that these are not to be regarded as criteria by which one might measure Christian maturity or success. As we spontaneously allow Jesus Christ to re-present His life in us, He will inevitably manifest His character and His ministry in the union of doing that we call the Christian life. In other words, Christ will be and do what he desires to uniquely be and do in each of us.
The divine character of Christ is expressed as the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and godly control of oneself (Gal. 5:22,23). These always come in one cluster, for together they are the character of Christ, and should not be severed from one another for independent acquisition or development. When a Christian says, What I need is more patience or more kindness, one might respond, Do you not have Christ? He is our patience. He is our kindness. He is our joy. He is our peace. Etc. We do not need something more than Jesus. He is everything to us in the Christian life. Our only need and response-ability is to allow Him to experientially express Himself in the union of doing. As we abide and make ourselves at home in Christ, we bear much fruit (Jn. 15:5). Notice, the verse does not say, we produce much fruit, but rather, that we bear the fruit of goodness and righteousness (Phil. 1:11; Heb. 12:11) and truth (Eph. 5:9), and in so doing we walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, pleasing Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work (Col. 1:10).
The character fruit of Christ that is inclusive of all other expressions is divine love. Love is the first character trait mentioned as the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22), and Paul explained that faith working through love (Gal. 5:6) fulfills the entire intent of the law (Gal. 5:14; Rom. 13:8-10). God is love (Jn. 4:8,16), the apostle John twice states, and when we express His character of love in the union-doing of our Christian lives, we are manifesting the intimate heart of God for others. Love is always other-oriented, in contrast to the natural self-orientation of man. The divine character of love can only be derived from God by faith, which is why John wrote, Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God (I Jn. 4:7). If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us (I Jn. 4:12).
Having all things pertaining to life and godliness (II Pet. 1:3), the mystery of godliness (I Tim. 3:16) is revealed as we desire to live godly in Christ Jesus (II Tim. 3:12). Godliness cannot be generated by mans performance, but is always and exclusively the expression of the character of God in man. The holy character of God that is set apart from all others has come to dwell in the Christian in Christ Jesus (I Cor. 1:30). God is holy (Isa. 6:3) and Jesus is the Holy One of God (Lk. 4:34; Acts 2:27), having called us with a holy calling (II Tim. 1:9) that we might share His holiness (Heb. 12:10). God has called us for the purpose of sanctification (II Thess. 4:7) that we should be set apart to function as He intended in the manifestation of His holy character unto His own glory.
In like manner as the character of Christ is expressed in the fruit of the Spirit, so the ministry of Christ is expressed by the grace-gifts of the Spirit. The charismata,5 the grace-expressions of the Spirit of Christ in the Christian (Rom. 12:6-8; I Cor. 12:1-31) are the means of Christian ministry (Eph. 4:11-13). These so-called spiritual gifts are not specialized job descriptions or trophies of spirituality. They are just the expressive means by which the Spirit of Christ serves others in the new covenant ministry of the Spirit (II Cor. 3:6,8), the ministry of reconciliation (II Cor. 5:18). Christian ministry is not the actions we engage in to serve Jesus, since God is not served by human hands, as thought He needed anything (Acts 17:25). Rather, Christian ministry is the outflow and overflow of Jesus actions for others in the Christian union of doing. Barnabas and Paul returned to Jerusalem to report what God had done through them among the Gentiles (Acts 15:12). To the Romans, Paul explained, I do not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in the power of the Spirit (Rom. 15:18,19). In his epistle to the Ephesians, he writes, I was made a minister, according to the gift of Gods grace which was given to me according to the working of His power (Eph. 3:7). In the context of ministry giftedness, Peter exhorts Christians, whoever serves, let him do so by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ (I Pet. 4:10,11).
Legitimate Christian ministry must be Christs action in the union of doing of our Christian lives. Thus we serve as ambassadors for Christ (II Cor. 5:20) desirous that people be reconciled to God and to one another. As priests (I Pet. 2:9; Rev. 1:6), we minister to others and re-present God. As witnesses (Acts 1:8), we lay down our lives for others. (The Greek word for witness is marture, the etymological root of the English word martyr.) The Christians becomes a praying and living intercessor for others, for Christ always lives to make intercession (Heb. 7:25) before God and for others. As we minister in the union of doing with Christ, evangelism is not a propagational task we perform in order to win the world to Christ, but is the spontaneous expression of Christ shared as you are going (Matt. 28:19) through life, thereby allowing the living Christ to draw all men to Himself (Jn. 12:32), that they, too, might becomes disciples and Christ-expressers. St. Francis of Assisi is reported to have said, Share Christ wherever you go, and if you have to use words.
Much of Christian ministry is within and in conjunction with the collective Body of Christ, the Church (I Cor. 12:27; Eph. 1:22,23; Col. 1:18,24). Christians must not engage in a lone ranger individualism that fails to recognize the corporate church union that we have with Christ, the Head of the Body (Col. 1:18; Eph. 1:22). Many who have emphasized personal and subjective union with Christ through the ages have lacked a meaningful understanding of ecclesiology, the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ. Christians are in Christ (in union with Christ) together with one another, and must be united in spirit (Phil. 2:2) in a one spirit (Phil. 1:27) unity of the Spirit (Eph. 4:3) that recognizes their mutual oneness (Jn. 17:21,22). The unity of doing expression of our union with Christ encompasses our interactive function as members (Rom. 12:5; I Cor. 12:12-27) of the Body of Christ. In the church community we appreciate our common unity in Christ and enjoy the fellowship and communion (common union) with Christ together, allowing the interpersonal and relational oneness of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to produce harmony and unity as we love one another (Jn. 13:34,35; I Thess. 4:9; Heb. 13:1; I Pet. 1:22; I Jn. 3:23; 4:7-21). In our unity of doing with Christ, we need each other! Christ in me desires to love and cooperate with Christ in you!
Mutual encouragement (Heb. 10:24,25) is particularly important when we experience the testing (Jn. 6:6; Heb. 11:17; James 1:3) and temptations (I Cor. 10:13; I Thess. 3:5; II Pet. 2:9) of the trials (James 1:2) of life. Our union with Christ is tested when we are tempted to doubt that we are who we are in the union of being with Christ. In like manner, we are tempted to question that our actions in the union of doing are of any consequence or significance, rather than seeing through the situation to recognize Gods opportunities to manifest the life of Jesus, regardless of how tough the going gets. Gods opportunities may even involve the privilege of suffering with Christ (Rom. 8:17) in the fellowship of His sufferings (Phil. 3:10), whereby we fill up what is lacking in Christs afflictions (Col. 1:24), allowing the living Lord Jesus to continue to experience the pain and sufferings of the worlds assaults in our bodies and in His Body.
In the midst of the temptations and trials of life, Christians may lose perspective of their union sufficiency in Christ. Despite our knowing that we are new creatures (II Cor. 5:17) who are complete in Christ (Col. 2:10) and one spirit with Him (I Cor. 6:17), failure to spiritually appraise (I Cor. 2:11-16) our union with Christ can result in an operational distinction that chooses to act in a manner that misrepresents who we are in Christ (in union with Christ). When we do so, we are not acting like ourselves, not manifesting the character of Christ, and thus missing the mark of Gods intent and desire to express Himself in us, and as us, and through us at all times; i.e. we have sinned. Whatever is not of faith is sin (Rom. 14:23) whatever is not receptive of Gods activity is sinful misrepresentation. Was it Christ in us who sinned? May it never be! Christ cannot and does not sin in our union of doing, so sinful expression evidences that in the distinction of our union we exercised our freedom of choice to act contrary to our spiritual identity and Christs character. Does this alter who we are in our spiritual union of being with Christ? Definitely not! The privilege of the Christian is that he knows how to respond to sinful misrepresentation: If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (I Jn. 1:9).
An understanding of union with Christ should not produce a perfectionism that asserts, Christians cannot sin. Let it be clearly stated, though, that this is not to maintain that Christians must sin, or will inevitably sin. In our union of being and union of doing with Christ, we have everything necessary to manifest righteousness and avoid sinfulness. Again, Jesus Christ in us does not sin! This is not to say that the Christian cannot sin, but that the Christian can not sin as he remains receptive to Christs expression of His righteous character in our Christian behavior. The assertion that we are making is that it is possible not to sin as the Christian operates by faith and manifests the Christ-life, but we must not claim that it is not possible for the Christian to sin. The apostle John addressed this issue in his first epistle, stating, If we say (as they, the Gnostic perfectionists, say) that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us (I Jn. 1:8). If we say (as they, the Gnostic elitists, say) that we have not sinned (because we have union with Christ), we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us (I Jn. 3:10). But if (when) anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous (I Jn. 2:1).
When the Christian is joined to the Lord at regeneration in a new creature union, old things passed away, and all things became new (II Cor. 5:17) spiritually. Distinction becomes evident, though, when the Christian recognizes and admits that there are idiosyncratic patterns of selfishness and sinfulness within the desires of his soul. Paul refers to these patterned desires of the soul as the desires of the flesh (Gal. 5:16; Eph. 2:3), and urges Christians to make no provision for the flesh in regard to its desires (Rom. 13:14). A functional antagonism of behavioral conflict is staged in the soul as the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, for these are in opposition to one another (Gal. 5:17). The Christian must remember that his union-identity with Christ is a spiritual reality in the spirit of man. Distinction is experienced in our soul and body the psychological and physiological function when the Christian fails to set his mind on the Spirit (Rom. 8:5,6), and instead sets his mind on the flesh (Rom. 8:5,6,7) in response to temptation. This need not be! The Christian is no longer in the flesh (in union with the evil one who patterned those selfish and sinful patterns of fleshly desires), but in the Spirit (in union with the Spirit of Christ), as Paul states in Romans 8:8,9. Walking according to the flesh (Rom. 8:4), and living according to the flesh (Rom. 8:12,13) are a misrepresentation of who we are in Christ.
When the Christians union of doing in Christ is neglected or denied, and the distinction of faithful responsibility is over-emphasized, the resultant extremism of human potentiality creates an emphasis on mans doing and performance of religious works. Failing to take into account that the Christians adequacy is from God (II Cor. 3:5), and Jesus statement, Apart from Me, you can do nothing (Jn. 15:5); much of contemporary evangelical Christian religion has reverted to the fallacious thesis of self-generated righteous behavior in accord with codified behavioral standards (cf. Gal. 2:21). They employ such phrases as, Do your best, and God will do the rest, or God helps those who help themselves, often thinking that these are Biblical injunctions. These are not Biblical concepts, but are contrary to the new covenant concept of Gods grace in Jesus Christ functioning as the dynamic of the Christians union of doing with Christ.
Performance incentives have become the motivational focus of most evangelical preaching. Christians are urged to act in ways that are acceptable and pleasing to God, despite the fact that Christ accepted us to the glory of God (Rom. 15:7), and we are accepted in the Beloved (Eph. 1:6 KJV). Active striving to be perfect is often encouraged, whereas Christians have been made perfect (Phil. 3:15; Heb. 12:23), and need only be receptive in faith to the expression of Gods perfect character in their Christian behavior. Trying to be like Jesus in a conformational Christlikeness that imitates Jesus example is a common theme in popular evangelical teaching. It is not copycat imitation of Jesus that God desires, but that the life of Jesus might be manifested in our mortal bodies (II Cor. 4:10) manifestation, rather than imitation! The issue is not what would Jesus do, but wanting/watching what Jesus does. Calls for commitment, consecration, and dedication are laced throughout most contemporary exhortations in the churches today. It is not personal commitment to performance that God desires of Christians, but that they might submit themselves to God (James 4:7) and thus to all that He is committed to be and do in, as, and through them. Seeking to discover and do the will of God, is another performance pursuit of popular religion, as they fail to understand that the will of God is always Jesus His life lived out in His people in every situation.
The treadmill of performance is never-ending. Christians are admonished to pray more, to read their Bibles more, to be more involved in church activities. Churches employ guilt-producing incentives to manipulate people to behave in such a way as to have a good testimony and to engage in the pressurized evangelistic procedures of active witnessing for Jesus. People are even encouraged to serve the Lord in the ecclesiastical programs of church ministry until they burn-out for Jesus. God is not served by human hands, as though He needed anything (Acts 17:25), Paul said in Athens. Operating by the inexhaustible grace of God, the Christian will never burn-out. Whereas religion advocates performance service, the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ recognizes that Christians are available servants of Christ who function by the union of doing with Christ.
When the dynamic union of doing in Christ is turned into performance expectations, then Christianity (Christ-in-you-ity) has degenerated into religious exercise. Christianity is not religion!6 The word religion is etymologically derived from the Latin words religare and religio, meaning to bind, tie, or attach. Religion ties people to the believe-right doctrines and teachings of fundamentalistic belief-systems.7 Religion attaches people to social organizations and denominations with hierarchical control.8 Religion binds people to the legalistic keeping of rules and regulations of behavioral laws and codes of conduct. Many have been deceived into thinking that the Christian religion is the advocacy of morality,9 that educates people in character values so they might behave in ethical conformity. This is another denial of the Christians union of doing in Christ by which the life and character of Christ is lived out in Christian behavior to the glory of God. But the evangelical do-right religion persists in the utopian dream that social activism for the purpose of ethical consensus will solve the problems of the society in which we live.10
The religion of performance does not foster the peace that passes understanding (Phil. 4:7) in an assurance of understanding (Col. 2:2), faith (Heb. 10:22), and hope (Heb. 6:11). The freedom (Gal. 5:1,13) and liberty (II Cor. 3:17) of spontaneous expression of Christs life and action are quenched in the performance expectations that produce fear, insecurity, paranoia, and resignation. Never sure that they have done enough for Jesus, work-oriented Christians are always fearful (cf. I Jn. 4:18) that their performance is inadequate. Not that we are adequate to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is of God (II Cor. 3:5). Despite the once saved, always saved eternal security doctrines in some evangelical churches, the majority of Christians experience an inevitable insecurity about the performance of their behavior and service, which often leads to doubts concerning their regeneration. Some Christians become paranoid about what they are supposed to do, engaging in an equivocating questioning, Is it me, or is it Jesus, that wants to do this? Others just resign themselves to misrepresentation, declaring, I cant help but sin. Im only human, effectively denying their union of being and doing in Christ.
Genuine Christians, however, cannot sin with indifference or impunity. The living Christ within them will not let them get away with it. Granted, there are those who engage in the hypocrisy of attempting to impress others of their spirituality, but most performance-oriented Christians are seeking to repress or suppress their sin inclinations and propensities by pushing them below the surface of their behavioral acting out. Many obsess in a sin-consciousness that focuses more on their sinfulness than on the living Christ whom they have received (cf. Heb. 12:2). Via navel-gazing introspection, these Christians seek to assess their progress of performance as gauged by the religious standards of spiritual success, but they continue to be overwhelmed by guilt, shame, and condemnation for their sin. In many churches, they repeatedly run to the so-called altar to confess their sins, and seek Gods forgiveness for a failure to perform what God never expected them to perform in the first place. Gods desire is simply that the Christian be receptive and available to spontaneously express the character of Christ.
The institutional church, meanwhile, is guilty of keeping Christians on the treadmill of do-right religion. Guilt and condemnation are intense psychological motivators that keep people involved and attending the church services, where they continue to confess their sins, plead for Gods forgiveness and help in prayer, and give generously to the Lords work. In return, they experience an emotional and sensate ecstasy, which they call worship, which temporarily masks the sin-consciousness of their inadequate performance, and induces them to dedicate and commit themselves to better performance. A cyclical pattern of mutually self-serving activity, indeed!
Though less common, the opposite extreme of denying the distinction of Christian responsibility and pushing union with Christs action to the point of a unified inevitability of divine action also destroys the tensioned balance of the Christian union of doing. The misemphasis of a monistic merging in the Christians union of being becomes a deterministic inevitability when applied to the Christians union of doing. The dynamic of the divine activity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, without the distinction of human responsibility, disallows any real sense of union and results in a mechanistic oneness that loses or repudiates the personal relationalism of the Christians union with Christ.
If the essential equivalence of deification is advocated as the explanation of Christian union, and He is me, and I am He, then it follows that whatever I do is what He does, and everything I do is Christ in action, even though it may not appear to be so to others. Such a deterministic expression of divine action within the Christian produces a fatalistic denial of responsibility which has led some to declare, God doesnt mean for man to have faith, but just to be the inevitable God-expresser that he is. According to this thesis, the Christian, as a passive instrument of automatic divine action, just goes with the flow of divine inevitability, and the Christian life becomes a non-participatory autopilot experience of just being the channel or conduit of Christs action.
Consistently, the thesis of absorption into God and the obliteration of humanness should lead to the nirvanic nihilism of nothingness, but such is not the case for those who tout their acquiescence to the direct-drive of divine expression. They are prone to well up with the pride of Gnostic elitism, claiming to be spiritual knowers and see-ers that have advanced spiritual perception and God-consciousness. Despite their claims of a consubstantial coalescence with Christ, their distinct egocentricity is revealed in their assertions, I do what I will, for what I will is what He wills, since He is my willed activity. On this assumption (or presumption) of deity-identity, such spiritualizers claim to speak the word of faith and creatively call into being what was not, or call what is not, is. Contrary to the Biblical concept of faith as our receptivity of Gods activity, they indicate that faith is just speaking your word as the God-person that you are, and thus functioning as co-creator, co-god, co-redeemer, co-savior in fused oneness with the divine. This is no longer the union of doing of a relational union with Christ, but is the presumptive arrogance of an indistinguishable deity expression.
Unconcerned about the distinction of sinful misrepresentation, the extreme oneness advocates argue, Christ cannot sin. Christ is the new man in me. Therefore, I cannot sin. In direct parallel with the nascent Gnostic thinking of Asia Minor towards the end of the first century, they declare, we have no sin (I Jn. 3:8), and we have no sinned (I Jn. 3:10). Behavioral incongruities are justified and explained away as mere appearances (trace of docetism) incorrectly perceived by those who are not pure God-see-ers who can see God in everything. What appears to be sin is but an illusion; sin is nothing, is their mantra. What is this, but the delusion of libertine antinomianism that disregards the divine expression of Gods holy behavior, and flaunts their alleged liberty to sin by becoming a law unto themselves? The apostle Paul was aghast at such thinking, Shall we sin to our hearts content and see how far we can exploit the grace of God? What a ghastly thought (Rom. 6:1 JBP).
Collective union with Christ in the Body of Christ, the Church, is eschewed by the individualistic spiritualists. Prayer and worship are regarded as irrelevant and unnecessary. Since we are one with God, why pray to ourselves? Why worship ourselves?, is their reasoning. What they call ministry is often a condescending (and sometimes deceitful) attempt to raise others awareness and consciousness of the cosmic and universal monistic oneness.
Neither deistic detachment nor monistic merging allow for the balanced dialectic tension of union and distinction that are required in a Biblical understanding of union with Christ. It is of utmost importance that Christians in every age understand both their union of being and union of doing in Christ in accord with the Biblical data and Jesus declaration, I am the vine. You are the branches. Apart from Me, you can do nothing (Jn. 15:5).
In commencing our study of both the union of being and the union of doing we presented careful and thorough Biblical documentation for the ontological and operational union with Christ. It is always important to note the Biblical documentation for the distinction involved in union with Christ, for it is we, human creatures, who are joined in a real union to the Lord, Jesus Christ, and apart from the distinction of the two being joined together there is no real union. But the more one emphasizes the distinction of mans responsibility, the more there begins to be a shift away from the Christocentric focus towards a more anthropocentric perspective. If the emphasis on distinction is pushed to concepts of separation and detachment that abandon the recognition of union, then the anthropocentric becomes humanism humanism dressed in the garb of Christian religion evangelical humanism.11 On the other hand, any concept of union with Christ that loses sight of the Biblical balance of distinction can cause union to be lost in the monistic merging of Gnosticism and pantheism. The Biblical balance must be maintained, and we must maintain the dialectic tension of union with Christ.
If our theology does not begin with and maintain a focus on who Christ is and what Christ does, then it soon degenerates into thoughts and practices that glorify man rather than God. The starting point must be the divine action of union with Christ. The popular evangelicalism that pervades the Western expression of Christian religion today has such a minimal understanding of union and such a deistic emphasis on the detached separation of Christ and the Christian, that they do not even appear to be in the ballpark of a balanced Biblical understanding of union with Christ which comprises the gospel of Jesus Christ. At the same time, Eastern philosophical concepts are gaining popularity in the West, and the resultant monistic unitarianism, often referred to as New Age spirituality, is equally outside of the Biblical balance of union with Christ.
It is important to remember that the Western mind chafes at the balanced tension of dialectic. Western man seeks to push his thought into categories that end up being static systems of closed extremism. Rare is the Christian who will respond to the constant direction of the Spirit of Christ and open-mindedly allow for the tension of union and distinction. When one emphasis is made, he says, Yes, but When the other emphasis is made, he says, Yes, but The Yes, but exchanges are healthy within the tensioning balance of dialectic. The problem comes when people want to push the Yes, but outside of the interaction of union and distinction, and thus advocate what is not Biblical and not Christian, but rather an aberrant construct of man.
Allow me to conclude with this warning: The Christian who attempts to maintain a tensioned balance of union and distinction, refusing to camp out on one side or the other, will constantly be accused of dancing the spiritual two-step in a wishy-washy waffling that refuses to take a static stand in one camp or the other. The dynamic of the dialectic balance of union with Christ will always be impossible to pin down in a system of thought, for Jesus Christ lives in each Christian as the unique and novel expression of Himself. We must allow Him to so live in the union of being and the union of doing of our union with Christ.
1. Fowler, James A., Three Divine Onenesses. Fallbrook: CIY Publishing. 2002.
All of these writings are available for free downloading on the Christ in You website: http://www.christinyou.net
Quotations from the writings of Norman P. Grubb on Union and Distinction.
The Liberating Secret - ©1955
The Deep Things of God - ©1958
The Key to Everything - ©1960
God Unlimited - ©1962
The Spontaneous You - ©1966
Who Am I? - ©1974
Yes I Am - ©1982