Union with Christ is an essential and most wonderful component of the gospel. The believer’s security and acceptance with God depend on his association—indeed, his union—with Jesus Christ. Because believers and Christ are mutually united—believers in Christ (Col. 3:3) and Christ in believers (Col. 1:27; see also 1 John 3:24 and 4:13)—all the merit and infinite worth of Jesus Christ become the shared experience and possession of every believer. This is mind-boggling when we realize that in Christ dwells ‘all the fulness of the Godhead bodily’ and that believers are complete in Him (Col. 2:9-10).1
Tragically, too many Christians, who are in fact united to Christ, do not consciously and deliberately take advantage of what that union means and all it guarantees for a happy Christian life. As a result, these Christians struggle with doubt, intimidation, and fear, facing the issues of life and death as though they were alone. Many genuine and sincere believers, desiring with all of their hearts to serve the Lord and do what pleases Him, live under the constant burden of guilt. They realize correctly that all of their best efforts are tainted with sin and imperfection, but under that load of guilt, they constantly search for more and more issues in their lives that they can surrender to salve their consciences for a while.2
If only Christians would realize that regardless of personal failures, imperfections, and sins, the merit of Jesus Christ encompasses and subsumes all of their service to Him. What we do personally cannot increase or decrease God’s acceptance of us. What we do as believers is pleasing and acceptable to God because He always sees us together with His Son, His dearly Beloved. Sadly, the reality of the believer’s union with Christ, which is so much a part of gospel theology, is so little a part of modern Christianity.3 I don’t know how many times in my teaching career I have addressed this particular theme only to find students supposing it to be some new doctrine. They have often asked me, ‘Why haven’t we ever heard this before?’ I could never answer that question.
Let me, however, add this caution. Do not take this truth in the wrong direction, and beware of those who do. The fact that our personal behavior neither adds to nor distracts from our acceptance before God in Christ is not license to sin or reason to abandon the pursuit of personal purity. Rather, it is faith in the reality of our union with Christ that leads to the proper obedience of God’s laws for holiness. Right thinking about the gospel produces right living in the gospel, not wrong or careless living. Fixing our minds on the amazing truth that we are united to Christ will profoundly impact the way we live. It will give us boldness and motivation for life and confidence for death. It is as we learn to take advantage of everything that we are and have in Christ that we will experience all the benefits of our completeness in Him.
Union with Christ—this nexus in the gospel—itself is multifaceted.4 On the one hand, one of the greatest advantages that union with Christ provides is the profound sense of assurance and security flowing from the knowledge that God deals with us only and always in terms of Christ. On the other hand, this union puts progressing in holiness in proper perspective. This aspect addresses directly the issue of this book concerning God’s radical and comprehensive call to holiness. The knowledge of union with Christ generates the appropriate motivation for obeying that call. Progressing in holiness is not in order to somehow gain favor or acceptance with God; it is in view of and because of the acceptance fixed in Christ. The Scripture reveals this essential doctrine from different perspectives, each of which has its own application and all of which coalesce to form one glorious and indissoluble union with the Savior.
A Radical Comprehensive Call to Holiness
Joel R. Beeke, Michael P. V. Barrett