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

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.



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