“In Christ” – Union with Jesus (part two)

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October 25, 2020

Ephesians 1:9-12

Allen Burns

In Christ – Union with Jesus

The focus of our study on unity is now centered on our union with Christ. The most frequent words used in Scripture to describe our union with Christ are “in Christ.” Our union with Christ is a truth that dominates the New Testament.

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.

As we saw last week, the Apostle Paul fittingly invents Greek words to create a vocabulary to describe our union with Christ. Paul adds the prefix syn, which means with, to other words, to tell the closely-knit reality of the Christian experience. He creates words such as “withburied,” “withraised,” and “withseated” in his effort to describe the spiritual realities of our union.

The Saints in Antioch are the first to call themselves Christians. Before that, believers were known as The Way. Some theologians believe that when Paul came to Antioch as a teacher, the word Christian became coined.

The word Christian is a perfect word used to explain our union with Christ. The Greek word, Χριστιανός (Christianos), is a combination of two Greek words. We know the first, Χριστός (Christos), which is the Greek word for the Messiah. It means anointed one. The second word is a descriptive suffix added to Christos. The suffix was used in Rome to speak of someone who belongs to a great household as a slave. People of the Burns home are called Burnsians. Therefore, a Christian is a person belonging to the household of Christ, the anointed Messiah of Israel.

We can see how the name Christian is fitting for those who are in union with Christ. Christians are those who belong to the household of Christ.

When beginning to research and study for this sermon at the beginning of the week, the original plan was to look at John 10, which speaks about us as a sheep belonging to the Good Shepherd. The study took a different but meaningful life of its own. So, we are not going to get to John 10 this week.

In studying, I realized that it is essential for us to have more background perspective regarding our unity in Christ. Hopefully, what we talk about today will help us to have a better idea of how to live out our union in Christ. So, when we get into pictures such as being a sheep belonging to the Good Shepherd or how to live as the bride betrothed to the Bridegroom, we will have more understanding of our application of these biblical realities.

This week, the goal is to answer two big questions:

  1. Why does God put us in union with Christ?
  2. What does our union with Christ have to do with God’s overall plan for His creation?

Once we understand the answer to these two questions, we will have a greater understanding of our responsibility of being a branch in the Vine, a sheep belonging to the Good Shepherd, and so forth.

We will begin by thinking about two analogies. These two analogies will help us relate to our union with Christ and how our union is part of God’s purpose and plan.

The first analogy is a pizza restaurant, and the second analogy is about a valet who serves British nobility.

Unity is Serving Cooperatively for a Common Goal

The first analogy helps us to see that unity is serving cooperatively for a common goal.

At our favorite pizza place, there is a need for unity in the making of pizzas. Early in the morning, a worker prepares all the dough for the pizza pans. The vegetables and meat are sliced and ready for the storage bins for the person assembling the pizza. Shelves are stocked, and the restaurant prepared for opening.

After opening, a friendly greeter welcomes the customer and takes the order. The pizza is assembled and put in the oven by a cook. When it exits the oven, a talented employee removes the finished pizza, slices it, and puts it in a box.

Everyone works in unity. They cooperate. Each person does their part. They do their best to assist one another, and, most importantly, they work hard at not being in opposition to the purpose and plan of making great pizza.

When people desire to be part of the team, they know the goal as an employee is to make pizzas. They will share the benefits of employment if they pledge to work in cooperation to make pizzas. The employees commit to the purpose and plan.

The owner of the restaurant interviews the prospective employer to see if they will be a good fit. One of the key characteristics the owner looks for is whether the person will fit in unity. A work environment needs unity with people cooperating for the purpose of accomplishing the same goal: making great food the customer will enjoy.

The team works in unity because they know that if the restaurant owner is successful, they will find joy in their work, and will be well compensated. It is for the good of everyone when all employees work in unity with the team.

Unity is serving cooperatively for a common goal.

Love Produces Obedience (not duty)

We can all agree working in unity is necessary for accomplishing a goal. Now, let us look at another example and think about the relationship between obedience and love. True love will produce obedience.

In this example, we will see the servant is not one who grudgingly does their duty. There is a difference between serving out of duty and serving out of the motivation of love.

Imagine we are hired by a noble man as a valet. Our position is that of a servant. We receive commands to shine shoes, brush clothing, and polish buttons. Our responsibility is to serve our lord (small case) by making our lord look good. We want to make sure our lord is not embarrassed but looks impeccable for every occasion.

We take great care to polish his shoes, brush lint from the garments, make sure buttons are tight, and the favorite tie clip is ready. We care for our lord’s wardrobe, and we enjoy our responsibility.

We love how our lord is thankful. We hear from others that our lord looks great in public. It is our joy that our lord is made glorious in appearance. Our joy comes from serving our lord.

We may not enjoy shining shoes. We do not find brushing garments to be the most gratifying experience. Deep down in our inner-being, it is not the task that we love so much, but who we serve. Many people do not understand why we do the lowly services of shining shoes and polishing buttons. Our friends don’t know why we take such a demeaning job of being a servant.

But, there is more to the story than meets the eye. We find great joy and satisfaction in serving because of our love for the man we serve. Before we were a valet, we used to be a street beggar. We were cold and hungry. We did nothing to deserve working for our lord. But, he saw our condition, took us in, and gave us a job working in his mansion. He gave us everything we need. We love this man because he loves us. He shows us undeserved favor.

The love for our lord is transferred to serving. When we serve our lord, others can see the affection we have in our task. Our affection is not for polishing the shoes, but for polishing shoes for our lord. We are not just making the brass buttons shine, but we are making the brass buttons shine for our lord.  

We give our lives to serving as valets to the nobleman because he first loved us. Now, we love him. There are times when we are hungry, but the shoes need to be ready. We willingly deny ourselves of eating right away and get busy on the shoes. We joyfully give our life to serving because we love our master. We obey his commands because his commands are not burdensome or our duty, but our joy.

True love will produce obedience.

Let us keep these analogies in mind and think about God’s glory and God’s plan and purpose for the Messiah of Israel and God’s creation.

Prophecy of God’s Purpose

Old Testament prophecy tells of God’s purpose in Christ.

The Psalms, Isaiah, Daniel, and other Old Testament prophecy reveal that the Messiah will be King of kings.

We read Psalm 2 during our Scripture reading. Psalm 2 is a Messianic Psalm that tells that God will install Jesus on Mount Zion. David writes:

“But as for Me, I have installed My King Upon Zion, My holy mountain. I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.’” (Psalms 2:6-7)

The Psalms and history books repeat the truth about the Messiah King.

Isaiah speaks multiple times of how the Messiah will sit on David’s throne on Mount Zion and reign for eternity. All the nations will be under His rule as well as the animals, for the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the lion will eat straw like the ox (Isaiah 11).

Jesus refers to Himself as the Son of Man, a title that belongs to Him and is from Daniel’s prophecy. The Son of Man is how Jesus most often refers to Himself.

The name Son of Man is from Daniel chapter seven. It reads:

I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)

The Apostle Paul is a scholar of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and tells us that Jesus is the Messiah who fulfills these prophecies.

God’s Purpose In Christ

Ephesians chapter one states God’s purpose explicitly.

He made known to us the mystery of His will (Before Jesus, it was a mystery as to who will sit on the throne, but the answer is now made known), according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him (in Jesus Christ) with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times (God has in His view, an administration, which is a government, that is suitable for all the remainder of eternity), that is, the summing up of all things in Christ (everything is in Christ, Jesus is to have first-place in all things), things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. (Ephesians 1:9-12)

God is putting all things under the authority of Jesus.

Paul understands this truth. He writes:

For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)

The answer to our two big questions:

  1. Why does God put us in union with Christ?

We are in union with Christ because God is summing up all things under Christ. We are in union, but we are not equals with Jesus. (The branch is not equal to the vine, sheep with shepherd, and so forth.) Jesus is our Savior and Lord. We belong to Him. God is establishing an administration suitable for eternity. We are citizens of the kingdom of Christ that is for all eternity. The New Testament tells us that we no longer belong to this world, but we are aliens. We belong to the kingdom where Christ is the King.   

  1. What does our union with Christ have to do with God’s overall plan for His creation?

The downfall of creation took place with the destruction of unity. We are born as rebellious sinners. God restores us in unity with Jesus. God’s overall plan is to bring harmony and peace through Christ. Those who are in union with Jesus are at peace with Jesus. Our union restores

Our union with Jesus is not just about our salvation. We often share with others that they need Jesus to be saved from hell and sin. These are excellent reasons for people to receive Christ as their Savior.

However, being saved from sin is only part of the picture. We need to help people see the big picture. God gave all authority to Jesus as King of kings and Lord of lords. Heaven is wonderful because Jesus is King, and there is no rebellion. The citizens of Jesus submit to Him and His laws.

Praying for God’s kingdom to come and for His will to be done takes on more meaning when we know God’s will is for Jesus to have first place in all things.

Obedience to Jesus is For the Good of All

Look carefully at the Great Commission in Matthew’s gospel.

Jesus says, “All authority is given to Me in heaven and on earth, go therefore and make disciples teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.”

The Great Commission is a call for salvation and a call to bring all people under the authority of Jesus. When we share the gospel, we are to let them know that their life is no longer their own. They are new creatures in Christ. As new creatures, we are called to a life of obedience. When we disciple, we are to teach obedience to all that Jesus commands.

Let’s remember the two analogies from the beginning and apply them to being branches in the Vine.

Unity is serving cooperatively for a common goal.

Remember the analogy of the pizza restaurant. The world is not a pizza restaurant, and God’s purpose is not to make pizzas. God’s purpose is to put all things under the feet of Jesus. God gives all authority to Jesus.

Our working in unity with God is for the good of all people. There is no greater calling. Imagine every person obeying Jesus. Imagine a world without sin, and there is perfect unity. We have a name for such a world: heaven.

As branches in the Vine, God prunes us, so we bear fruit. The pruning is to make us holy and righteous so we bear fruit. The fruit of the employees working together in the restaurant is pizza. The fruit of the Christian branch abiding in the vine is love, joy, righteousness, holiness, and peace. Ultimately, the command we are to obey is to produce the fruit of disciples.

Our Savior and Lord grants us talents and abilities. He wants us to work in unity with Him to make Him famous. We study His word, so we better learn how to serve Him (the best employee knows the job and mission well). We encourage one another to run the race to the finish (It’s almost quitting time, c’mon, you can make it!). We sanctify ourselves because we are Christians who belong to His house (bear the name of Jesus before others). We gladly serve because our Master is good. We want many people to know of His great love and that they will find their joy as being citizens of His kingdom.

We abide in unity as a branch in the Vine having the same goal as God. Our ultimate purpose is, to sum up all things in Christ. When we abide in the Vine, we help others to know about the joys of being in union with Jesus. The common goal that we are seeking when we work in unity with God is the joy of all peoples.

Love produces obedience.

Remember the analogy of the valet. The truth about that analogy is that great love produces great obedience. Rather than find discouragement in obedience, we ought to be encouraged. We need to think of ourselves as the valet serving nobility. The valet doesn’t enjoy the task of shining shoes, but he does enjoy shining shoes for his lord. Brushing garments is not the most exciting job, but brushing garments for the one who found you as a beggar is a joyous job.

Similarly, when we keep our eyes focused on Christ, our obedience to Him becomes our joy. It is a joy and not a duty to serve Christ when we focus on the One we serve. Serving is an act of love. Giving of our time is a joy because it brings glory to the name of our Savior and Lord. The love, forgiveness, mercy, and grace He has shown us is our motivation for serving Him. Our greatest joy is to bring glory to His name.

Demonstrate Love for Jesus by serving in unity to Glorify Christ

Abide in Christ as a branch in the Vine. Abide in Jesus’ word. Bear fruit. Show love for Jesus by obeying His commands. His commands are for the joy of the nations.


Demonstrate love for Jesus by serving in unity to glorify Christ for the joy of the nations.