“In Christ” – Union with Jesus (part one)
In Christ – Union with Jesus
The death of Jesus saves us and reconciles us with God. Our reconciliation brings us into a relationship of peace, so we are no longer enemies, but we are God’s children.
In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he tells the saints that we receive much more than reconciliation (Romans 5:10). Our salvation goes beyond the forgiveness of sins. It also brings us in union with Christ.
Paul does not use the word Christian to describe believers. His most common phrase is to say that those who put their faith in Jesus are “in Christ.” It is a short two-word phrase that is easy to read over. Although it is a short phrase, do not make the mistake of underestimating its significance.
One New Testament scholar says, “Being ‘in Christ’ is the essence of Christian proclamation and experience … Without treating the ‘in Christ’ motif, we miss the heart of the Christian message.”
Did you get that? If we do not understand the idea of what it means to be “in Christ,” we do not know the heart of the Christian message.
In short, to be “in Christ” means that He is in me, and I am in Him. All who are in Christ are one with Jesus.
In writing about our union in Christ, Paul invented words to describe the new reality. The phrases “crucified with,” “raised with,” “buried with,” and “seated with” are each a single word in Greek beginning with the prefix syn, meaning “with.” In Greek, it reads as one word, such as “withburied.” The words did not exist before Paul created them. Something so unique happened that a new vocabulary was necessary to describe the experience.
Our union with Christ is an essential truth of our unity with God. If someone asks if we are in unity with God, Christians may answer, “Yes, we are in perfect unity because we are ‘in Christ.’” The blessings of being ‘in Christ’ reach beyond our imagination.
The Blessings of Unity with Jesus
If we get a job at an ice cream factory, the likely question our friends will ask is, “do you get the benefit of free ice cream?” The blessing of the unity of the employee and the ice cream company is free ice cream.
The blessings of being in Christ are far too numerous to mention in a sermon. It is a worthwhile exercise to look for them as we read our bibles and cherish these promises of Scripture.
Here are just a few of the many example blessings.
We are justified and receive redemption (Romans 3:24). We are alive to God (Romans 6:11). We receive eternal life (Romans 6:23).
There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ, and we are set free from the law of sin and of death. (Romans 8:1-2).
Those who are in Christ are new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17) and become the children of God (Galatians 3:26). We are together alive, risen, and seated with Christ in heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6).
In Christ, we receive all the blessings of Abraham (Galatians 3:14), all the spiritual blessings of heaven (Ephesians 1:3), and we are joint-heirs with Jesus (Romans 8:17).
The blessings are beyond our imagination. The Apostle Paul says it best when he writes:
“THINGS WHICH EYE HAS NOT SEEN AND EAR HAS NOT HEARD, AND which HAVE NOT ENTERED THE HEART OF MAN, ALL THAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)
In other words, the blessings of being in Christ are literally “out of this world.”
Pictures of Being “In Christ”
When we think about being “in Christ,” it is difficult for our minds to comprehend. It is an abstract concept. “How is it that Christ is in me and that I am in Him?” How do we describe this relationship in ways we can understand?
God knows our understanding of the spiritual abstract of our union with Christ is difficult to grasp. To help us, Scripture gives metaphors that describe what it means to be in Christ. The metaphors are word pictures. They allow us to look at concrete examples of life to understand abstract truth.
For example, Paul says:
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
The metaphor is that we are a new created being. As a new creature, we do not do old creature things, but we do what the new creature ought to do. We replace old ways of living and habits with new ways and new habits. We walk by the Spirit and not by our flesh.
There are many metaphors. Jesus is the Cornerstone, and we are the building stones of God’s temple. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and we are the sheep of His pasture. He is the Head of the church, and we are His body. He is the vine, and we are the branches. Jesus is the Bridegroom, and we are His bride.
Each of these pictures describes a union. We are in unity when we are the body, and Jesus is the Head. We are in unity when Jesus is the Cornerstone, and we fit in as a stone that is in alignment with the Cornerstone.
What does it mean Christ is in me, and I am in Him? Look at how sheep belong to the flock of the shepherd. Look at a building and see how the stones align with the Cornerstone making the building sound. Look at the relationship between a bride and the Bridegroom and understand the unity of their relationship.
We need to understand our union with Christ. When we know the idea of what it means to be “in Christ,” we know the heart of the Christian message.
Unity is not a ‘One-Way Street”
As we travel through the journey of life, we need to understand that unity is not a one-way street. Unity involves roles and responsibilities, give and take, and cooperation between two or more beings. Unity is a relationship. There is not unity when there is a relationship of opposition.
We see unity in nature when the traits of the zebra and the wildebeest complement one another. The zebra looks for danger as the wildebeest listens for danger. One eats the tall grass, and the other eats the short grass.
To be in unity with Jesus requires a collective response. Those things we used to do that are in opposition to Christ must stop and discontinue. As new creatures, we need to live in a way that demonstrates a relationship of being in unity with the will of God.
Some people will say that being in unity with Jesus as involving “doing this and not doing that” is a works-based salvation. They may characterize our requirement for unity by saying, “It sounds like you are saying, ‘do this for God because He did this for you.’” Some will interpret encouraging people to live as a new creature in Christ as legalism.
Our wording needs to be right. We need to be careful in how we understand and describe the delicate balance of faith and works. We need to realize God has expectations that are a response to salvation.
For example, after writing eleven chapters in the letter to the Romans, Paul says,
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. (Romans 12:1)
Paul describes presenting our bodies as a sacrifice as being a reasonable response to God’s mercy. Our presenting our bodies is worship, which shows we value God. To not do so is not to worship God.
Another example is in Galatians.
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. (Galatians 2:20)
We are crucified with Christ. We are in union with Him, which makes His crucifixion our crucifixion. When that happens, Paul says that Christ lives in us. Because Christ lives in us, as our being in union with Him, the new life we live as a new creature in Christ is not a life of living in the flesh. Our flesh is still alive, but we disregard living according to our fleshly nature. Instead, we live in unity with Jesus by living by faith in the Son of God. Christ lives in us, and we live by faith in Him.
Jesus describes what it means for us to be in unity with Him when He says,
If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. (Luke 9:23)
Jesus expects His followers, who are in unity by following Him, as willing to deny themselves. As Paul says, they no longer live by their flesh, but they deny their flesh and live according to the ways of Jesus.
Because we are in union with Jesus, James may confidently ask his readers, “But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? (James 2:20)” Having faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins but being unwilling to walk in unity with Jesus is useless. Faith, if it has no works displaying unity, is dead, being by itself.
Our desire as elders is for each member of the church to be in unity with Jesus. I know you want the same for us. When we are in unity with Jesus, we are in unity with one another.
When we encourage one another to live in such-and-such a way, the goal is for the good of one another. We need to encourage one another to rightly respond to our salvation in a way that is pleasing to God and in unity with His will.
Living as a Branch in the Vine
To understand what it means to be in unity with Jesus, we will be looking at three pictures of unity which the Scripture provides. This week we will look at the picture of what it means to be in union with Jesus as a branch is in union with the vine.
The metaphor is to help us live as Christians, as we dwell in our tent of flesh.
We already read the passage (John 15:1-11) during our Scripture reading, so we will not reread the passage. Before we get to the blessings of unity, we will first see what God expects of us as we live as a branch in the vine.
Be fruit-bearing (15:2)
Jesus expects we will bear fruit. But, not just any fruit. We are to no longer bear the fruit of the flesh. Instead, Jesus expects us to bear fruit that is in keeping with Him. Our fruit is a testimony that we are in Christ. Jesus told His disciples that people would know us by our fruit (Luke 6:44). A person in Christ will be Christlike fruit.
We are to bear the fruit of the gospel (Romans 1:13); a regenerated life that responds to the message of salvation.
Bearing Christlike fruit is not just about doing things. It has much to do with our character. We are to bear fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8). We are to bear fruit of the Spirit, which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness (Galatians 5:22). We are to bear fruit of goodness, righteousness, and truth (Ephesians 5:9).
Those who are living as branches in the vine will bear fruit.
Abide in Jesus and His Word (15:3, 4, 5, 7)
When we live as a branch in the vine, we will abide in Jesus and His Word. Of all the commands, abiding in Him is the most frequent in the passage. Every Christian abides in Christ.
When we abide, we maintain a vital connection to Jesus and His word. To abide is to make ourselves at home. We all have a place where we abide.
Think about a fisherman who makes a living on his boat. He abides in the boat. As we observe him on the boat and of someone who visits the boat for a day, we will see a distinct difference between the fisherman and the person visiting the boat.
In the same way, it is easy to tell by observing a person and listening to what they say as to whether or not they abide in Jesus. Abiding in Jesus is to know Him intimately. He and His word are to be familiar. Jesus expects (and desires for) us to spend time with Him and His word. They are to saturate us and soak us as a person who lives in the ocean. When we abide in His Word, we meditate on it day and night (Psalm 1).
John describes what it means to abide in Jesus in his second letter to the church. He says that we know we are in Him when we live in the same manner as Jesus lives.
By this, we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. (1 John 2:5-6)
To abide in Jesus is to walk in the same manner as Jesus walks. Jesus lives doing the will of God. Jesus seeks to serve and not be served. He demonstrates humility and meekness. When we abide in Christ, we continually ask ourselves, “what would my Savior do in this situation” or “what would my Savior say”?
The more we abide in Jesus, the more familiar it will be for us to live as He lives. We will be like the fisherman who spends every day on the boat. He doesn’t have to think about being a fisherman; it comes naturally.
We will never abide in Jesus and His word perfectly. And in those times, we rely on God’s grace and mercy. We can thankfully call upon God to lead us by His Spirit and put our faith in Jesus’ salvation in those times we fall short.
Abide in love by obeying Christ’s commands (15:9-10)
Jesus tells us to abide in His love. He then describes what abiding in His love will look like in our lives. Jesus says that if we keep His commandments, we will abide in His love. Jesus’ commands are summed up in the two great commands. Love God and love others. It is that simple.
It is interesting how Jesus describes His love for the Father. Right before Jesus shares with the disciples the illustration of the vine and the branches, He tells them this in the Upper Room as they leave after finishing the Seder meal, or what we know as the Last Supper.
but so that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded Me. (John 14:31)
Jesus equates obedience with love. How may the world know that Jesus loves God the Father? We know because He does exactly as the Father commands. We know Jesus loves the Father, not because Jesus says so, but because Jesus does so.
Jesus is in unity with the will of the Father.
In the same way, Jesus tells us that our obedience to His commands demonstrates our love for Him. We will not obey Jesus perfectly. But, He asks us to do our best. The Scriptures tell us to practice righteousness. We will never love Jesus perfectly while we are in the flesh. But, we are to endeavor to obey His commands, and in doing so, we abide in His love.
The Blessings of Being a Branch in the Vine
God is good. Our end of the “unity bargain” is small. In other words, God gives us the requirements for living in unity, and when we look at the blessings of unity, we would be fools not to do as God asks. In other words, the blessings of unity far outweigh our investment.
The first blessing we see in the picture of the vine and the branch is that the vine gives us nourishment. It is an implied truth that is obvious from understanding a branch and a vine. The vine is in the ground makes contact with the moisture and nutrients of the soil. The branch does not get moisture from the rain. The branch, if it touches the ground, will not obtain nutrients from the soil. The blessing of being part of the vine is that the branch receives nourishment.
Another blessing is that if we abide in the vine, we are pruned by God as the vinedresser (15:1-2). A cultivated branch yields more fruit. It is a blessing when God prunes our lives. God does not want us to be a wild and abandoned branch that is useless. Instead, we are better off being abiding in the vine because we bear fruit. We are happier as Christians when we see the fruits of Christianity in our lives.
All Christians desire to bear good fruit. We long for the fruit of peaceful relationships. We crave to lead lives that have a trajectory of holiness. We want to feel useful as servants in the Kingdom. Our heart yearns to be in peaceful relationships within the body of Christ. God promises us that when we abide in Christ, He will prune us and help us so that we bear much fruit.
Branches that do not abide in Jesus dry up, become brittle, fall to the earth, and die. Those who are in Christ do not dry up. Jesus provides the nourishment we need, so we are fresh and supple. When the sun comes out, and the heat is scorching, those who are in Christ remain. They bear much fruit and prove useful in this world.
When we are in Christ, we abide in love. We make our home in His love. Abiding is a beautiful picture. We are at home and comfortable as our Savior loves us and cares for us.
We know what it is like to have people that love us, and we abide in their love. We experience their affections; they shower us with good things and encourage us when we are ill or feel downcast.
We need to take our earthly experiences of abiding in the love of others and apply it to abide in the love of Jesus. It is an incredibly beautiful experience to abide in the love of Him who created us and gives us life. He knows our needs better than people. He loves us by laying down His life so we may experience His love.
Listen to how the Apostle Paul describes what it means for us to abide in the love of Christ.
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. (Romans 8:35-37)
When we abide in the love of Christ, we know the dangers of this world do not affect our future. We overwhelmingly conquer famine and the sword because we look to the resurrection. The distresses of life take a back seat because we know our future is secure.
Jesus promises that we will receive the joy of the Trinity and that our joy will be made full. Picture a cup filled with water. Imagine so much joy that there can be no more joy.
Think about joy. Joy is the ultimate end of what we seek. We want health because sickness doesn’t bring joy. We want security because being unsafe is not a joyful experience. We seek love because it makes us joyful. Everything leads to joy. The ultimate blessing Jesus promises for us as we live as a branch in the vine is joy. Joy is the pinnacle of the human experience.
As we mature, the way we seek joy matures. Children think they will find joy in a new toy or a new thing. Teenagers seek thrills in life to find joy. We sometimes look for joy in careers and status. When we become spiritually mature, we realize this world cannot fulfill our need for fulness of joy. Only Jesus offers and only He can deliver.
While we were yet sinners, God demonstrates His love by sending His Son to die for our sins. Jesus pays the ultimate price to bring us in unity with the Trinity.
Take time this week to think about a vine and branches. Ask God to show you how this works in your life.
Our relationship of unity with God is for our good. He promises the fullness of joy. Our unity with God is what our heart and soul desires. Attain fullness of joy by abiding as a branch in the vine.
 Wilbourne, Rankin. Union with Christ: The Way to Know and Enjoy God (p. 35). David C Cook. Kindle Edition.
 Wilbourne, Rankin. Union with Christ: The Way to Know and Enjoy God (p. 36). David C Cook. Kindle Edition.