Identity and Union With Christ, Part 2
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
1 John 1.1-10
I am convinced of the importance of what we call Union with Christ. It doesn’t appear to be a flashy or catchy or altogether useful doctrine for those on the outside looking in. On the one hand it isn’t controversial, though perhaps you could say it has been twisted or obscured by the me and my Jesus movements of the last few generations.
However, this doctrine is of utmost importance. I have probably mentioned it in these devotions (I believe I have written on it in previous meditations but I have at least referenced Ephesians 1 often enough). If I were to counsel you more individually, I would probably allude to the importance of our union with Christ in how we change. You see, although it might not be a doctrine we argue about today, it is still of utmost importance because it reminds us of our identity. Last week I mentioned how our relational identity is important Biblically. It is just different than the way the world talks about it. Certainly I could make much my identity as an American and Minnesotan, of my German-Scandinavian heritage, of my children and wife. And these influence my identity somewhat. But what really matters is my relationship to my creator: how am I related to Yahweh, the creator, the Triune God of the scriptures? This is the identity that matters, and when we fully understand its import, we can more readily live in freedom, in goodness, and in beauty.
This is one of the essential problems of sin and death: it severed our relationship with our Creator. It threw us and therefore our identity out of whack. So now if we were to chase anything else as our greatest and ultimate identity, we would become ‘undone.’ And many have been. We see lesser identities in our day destroy or debase individuals: whether democrat or republican, American or immigrant, white or black, mother or child. When these are made our essential and ultimate identity, they are idolatries that ruin us from within and without. We can imagine this in the dependent 30 year old child or the overbearing mother who doesn’t let her son play in the mud or use scissors. We see this in Aryan ideology of the third Reich or the vilification that is current in our politics. But when other relational identities are subsumed under our created and redeemed identities, we can more easily give a proper weight to these lesser identities. So when a republican and democrat actually learn to love one another as humans made in God’s image as opposed to living as though in war, we have moved into more profitable territory.
The point is that we must begin from human identity (created) and then our redeemed identity (as Christians) to properly order who we are as people. Ephesians 1 and 1 John helps us to meditate on the importance of our redeemed identity. We are in Christ, Paul says in Ephesians 1 over and over again. What does this mean? We can go through the whole of the passage to consider it. We are blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. Although we are lacking some physical blessings here (as were the Ephesians), we overabound with the best spiritual blessings we could have. This is the rest of the chapter: God chose us … to be holy and blameless. He predestined us … to be adopted as sons and daughters through Jesus Christ. We receive these spiritual blessings only because we are in Christ. Christ died for us. He rose for us. He ascended into heaven for us. Because we are in him, the worst broken relationship we could ever have is restored.
1 John fills this out: John reminds the church how the gospel of Jesus Christ in ‘what we have seen, heard, and touched’ proclaims eternal life. And this proclaimed gospel allows us to have fellowship with the Father and Son. In other words, when once we were enemies and separated from God because of our sin, now in Christ, we have fellowship with Him. This is one of the main messages of the letter 1 John. What does this fellowship look like? We acknowledge our sin, but we also don’t habitually practice it. This confession of sin cleanses us from all unrighteousness and we have fellowship with one another (that is to say God and us), and God’s love abides in us. This relationship defines our redeemed identity. Meditating on the benefits of our relationship with Christ is essential to understanding how to order and evaluate ourselves. And this begins what we also look forward to: eternal life with perfect unhindered fellowship with our glorious Creator.