United to Christ

The devil loves to divide. We see it right back in Eden, where he divided man from his Creator, husband from wife, man from the very ground beneath his feet. It was just the start of a long career of causing strife, conflict and division in the human race, having already stirred rebellion in the heavenly host. And so it has gone on. Wherever the devil is at work there is division – political, social, familial, psychological, religious. At root it is because he himself is a rebel, separating himself from his Creator and Lord, setting up his own dominion in defiance of the King of the entire creation. In all he does his aim is to lever men and women away from their proper allegiance to God and into commitment to his evil empire.

God, however, is a God of unity – unity in diversity, but unity none the less. As a Trinity, God himself is a unity in diversity. The great proclamation at the heart of Israel’s religion was, ‘Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.’ The uniqueness and the unity of God was fundamental to the Old Testament revelation. Even in the Old Testament, however, there were indications of a plurality within God that did not compromise his unity. The creating Word of God in Genesis 1 and the figure of the Angel of the LORD who speaks as God are but two examples.

In the New Testament the testimony to the oneness of God is just as clear, whilst the indications of his triune nature become so much clearer. Indeed the son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity takes human flesh and walks among men. Here in visible form is the Word who was with God and who was God according to John 1:1. In the Triune God unity and plurality are brought together in perfect harmony.

The salvation provided by this incarnate Son is also to be understood fundamentally in terms of uniting the divided by the grace and power of God. The most comprehensive way of describing salvation is in the language of union with Christ. There was an ungodly union with Adam in his sin, bringing a curse on all mankind, but there is also a holy, saving union with Christ that brings life in fellowship with God and restoration of the image of God that was defaced in the Fall. As Paul sums it up, ‘For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.’ (1 Corinthians 15:22).

Christ as the representative of those whom the Father gave him in eternity (John 17:2) lived a life of perfect obedience, died a death as the bearer of all the consequences of sin and rose in triumph, all in the place of those who deserved divine condemnation and eternal punishment. Christ has become to those who are in him ‘our righteousness, holiness and redemption’ (1 Corinthians 1:30). Everything we need in order to be saved and become children of God is already provided in him. There we have the justification, adoption and sanctification that God, by the working of the Holy Spirit, will grant to those he brings to new life and saving faith.

Those who are saved are united to Christ in his death and resurrection, as if they had lived the life of perfect obedience, died the atoning death and risen in victory. It is an awe-inspiring truth. It is for this reason that Paul, for example, can say in Galatians 2:20 ‘I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.’ The whole Christian life is lived ‘in Christ’.

There is a precious spiritual union between the Lord and his people and as a result they are united to one another. This is expressed, for example, in the language of the one body with many parts that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 12. The diversity of God’s people, which mirrors the glorious richness of the Creator in whose likeness they are being remade, is not obliterated by grace. Indeed it is in their union with Christ that they become most fully, by the work of the Spirit, all that they can be as unique individuals. Fundamentally, however, they are one in Christ. That union is a fact of grace, not the result of human effort. It should be expressed visibly where possible, as the Saviour indicates in John 17, but it is nevertheless a fact.

The Triune God produces unity among his people, reflecting the unity in diversity of God himself. To fracture the visible expression of that unity in the Church for anything less than the preservation of gospel truth is a grave sin which profoundly dishonours the Lord.