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Vitally Connected: The Bible’s Teaching on Union with Christ

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One of the most influential books I’ve read is The Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin.

In the religious world, Calvin is known for predestination but I would argue that the heart of Calvin’s magnum opus is actually his doctrine of union with Christ. The Swiss Reformer wrote:

We do not, therefore, contemplate him outside ourselves from afar in order that his righteousness may be imputed to us but because we put on Christ and are engrafted into His body – in short because He deigns to make us one with Him.[1]

In other words, any benefits we receive from Christ, we receive not from a distance but because we are one with Him. If that is indeed true, that then begs the question: what do we mean by union with Christ?

Grudem (as ever) gives us a concise but loaded definition of this teaching:

Union with Christ is a phrase used to summarize several different relationships between believers and Christ, through which Christians receive every benefit of salvation.[2]

Those “several different relationships” are crucial to understand and I want to highlight two of them:

1) We are in Christ: It is so easy for us to read the words “in Christ” in the pages of our Bible and not grasp the weight behind them. The Bible uses this phrase in a load of different ways:

  • We were in Christ before the foundation of the world: Ephesians 1:4 talks about our being chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world
  • We were in Christ during His earthly life: Christ’s obedience is counted as ours because Christ obeyed for every one of His own (cf. Rom. 5:19, 2 Cor. 5:21, Gal. 2:20, Eph. 2:6)
  • We are in Christ right now: According to Romans 6:4 and 11, we have both died and been raised with Christ (cf. Col. 2:12). Having been raised with Him, we experience newness of life (cf. 1 John 5:11, Eph. 1:3). In this life, every action of ours can be done in Christ (cf. Rom. 9:1, Rom. 15:17, Eph 6:10, Phil 2:1, 1 Thess. 3:8, 2 Tim. 3:12, Rom. 16:12)

2) Christ is in Us: Not only are we in Jesus, but in a living and real way, Jesus is in us, empowering us to live the Christian life. Galatians 2:20 talks about this – in our union with Christ, we no longer live in our own power but Christ lives in us (cf. Col. 1:27, 1 John 3:24, Rom. 8:9-10)

If this is true, then what a comfort has just been handed to us! It’s amazing that the perfect Son of God would invite anyone to partake of all the blessings  poured on Him – especially ill-deserving sinners like us!

I can’t help but think of the classic hymn:

Oh! to be like Thee, oh! to be like Thee,

Blessed Redeemer, pure as Thou art;

Come in Thy sweetness, come in Thy fullness;

Stamp Thine own image deep on my heart.

I pray He would indeed stamp His own image deep on our hearts as we gaze on His grace daily.

[Contributed by Kofi Adu-Boahen]


[1] Calvin, J. (1960). The Institutes of the Christian Religion. London: Westminster John Knox Press. 737.

[2] Grudem, W. (1994). Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 840.