Living in Union with Christ

Richard Burgess. 09.02.2021

The wrong foot. Jesus said, “Go and make disciples…” We are called to be disciples of Jesus Christ, but in thinking about discipleship there is a very real danger of starting out on the wrong foot; now I am saved I need to live for Jesus, I’ve got to read my bible, I’ve got to pray, I’ve got to witness, I’ve got to live differently, and we put a lot of self effort in. Faced with challenging situations we might ask ourselves ‘what would Jesus do?’

We hear messages calling us to greater commitment, and we make our responses. We try harder, giving ourselves to various activities, and suddenly everything becomes about doing, doing, doing, only to find it beyond us and we end up disappointed feeling that we’ve failed, again, because we can’t overcome some sin, frustrated because it doesn’t turn out as we imagined…. And all because we’ve started off on the wrong foot.

The first principle in discipleship is ‘being,’ more, it is the governing principle.

When Jesus first called people to him, to be his disciples, it was first of all a call to be with him and learn of him. “Come to me all you who are weary and heaven laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matt. 11:28-30. Before ever his disciples would go and do they had to be with him and learn.

You see the gospel before anything else is about a life in Christ. The gospel calls us not to live out our own lives with or for Christ, but to live out our new lives in Christ – there is a world of difference.
• The first has a tendency to focus on me, the second on Jesus.
• The first is prone to weakness, frustration, and failure, the second to fullness of life.
• The first frustrates the grace of God, the second releases it.

“In Christ,” “Christ in you,” “Christ our life,” “abiding in Christ” are not figures of speech but blessed facts! Our faith is not in a saviour who is out there somewhere, or simply in the facts of his history – his life, death, resurrection and ascension, but in one who has also come into our hearts, who dwells within us by His Spirit, who is Emmanuel, God with us and in us. We are both in Christ and Christ in us!

In Jesus then we have been drawn into the very life of God, a new and different kind of life, “the life of God in the soul of man,” to quote Henry Scougal, or as Peter said, “we are partakers of the divine nature.”

The blessing of being in Christ. Before we go any further it would be good to just stop and note something of what God has done for us in Christ and the impact it has on our lives.

We are justified freely forever in Christ, therefore we are not earning our salvation.
We are sanctified, made holy, in Christ, therefore we are living from holiness not towards it.
We have died with Christ in regard to sin, therefore we have died in our relationship to it, and it is no longer our master.
We have been raised with Christ, therefore we can live a life of victory.
We are free from condemnation in Christ, therefore we don’t need to live in guilt and fear.
We are seated in heavenly places in Christ, a place of authority above the powers, therefore we no longer need to be dominated and ruled by them.
We are blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ, therefore we are abundantly resourced.
We are hidden with Christ in God, therefore we are safe, secure, protected.
Christ is our life.

In thinking about union with Christ we need to note there are two extremes:

Separate identities, me and Jesus (The emphasis is on personal effort, self life is prominent, but it results in depletion and disappointment, and we are only as sure of God’s presence as our emotions and performance allow, and frequently we end up blaming God).
Total union (here Christ is everything, just Jesus, no personal identity, no personal responsibility, leads to pretense, and a failure to facing reality or accept responsibility).

The truth of the happy middle:
● United but distinct (we are in Christ, but having our own distinct identity, free to make choices). Gal 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. The life that I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God.”
• I no longer live – the life that I now live
• Christ lives in me – I live

Therefore being a Christian is not about becoming an improved, better moral versions of ourselves, but becoming ourselves in Christ (Paul-in-Christ, Richard-in-Christ, Pam-in-Christ – you can put your name there) and so inhabiting him that we manifest his moral identity.

Is He a guest or the host?
An important question arises, is Christ the guest or the host in our lives? This is important – in Paul’s prayer in Eph 3:14-21, Paul prays that “Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith… ” The word “dwells” has the sense of increase to it, that there is room for expansion, for more of Jesus in our hearts.

We might think of it in terms of rooms. At new birth Christ comes to live in our spirit, but he wants to be in every part. It’s like he’s the guest staying in a room, and we pop in and pay him a visit at certain times, when actually he wants to be in every room, in fact more than a guest, the host, and involved in every part of life.

How can we cultivate our lives in union with Christ?
• Recognise it is a fact, you are in Christ – practice active identification by faith in Christ. This is the defining truth of who you are. Your life is enfolded in his.
• Recognise that he has not come to be a guest but to be the host – practice unconditional and daily surrender to him in every part of your life.
• Recognise it’s something we grow into – learn to be.
• Make much of Jesus – take time considering, communing and delighting in him – the writer to Hebrews says, “Consider (contemplate, participate, delight in and dwell) him…” Heb 3:1. Paul talks about “beholding the Lord” in 2 Cor 3:18 and its transforming power.
• Make use of the ‘Means of Grace’ – go to church in faith, worship, pray, listen in faith, When you come to the Table, come in faith and feed on him.
• Cultivate dynamic faith in Christ by faithful obedience apart from feeling.
• Cultivate an awareness of Christ and appreciation of his love, with a constant leaning into his grace by the Spirit
• Cultivating an awareness of Christ in community

● The very trials and difficulties that you are experiencing, that you wish would just go away or you could walk away from, are opportunities to press into the life of Christ and for the life of Christ to be manifest in you. 2 Cor 4:11.

Prayer (I’ve adapted the prayer, God be in my head)

Christ be in my head, and in my understanding;
Christ be in mine eyes, and in all my looking;
Christ be in my mouth, and in all my speaking;
Christ be in my heart, and in all my feeling;
Christ be in my being, and in all my doing.

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