Union with Christ and the Christian Life

Understanding the doctrine of Union with Christ plays a pivotal role in the Christian life. Bro. Ezekiel shared this in the Christian Worldview Project podcast on December 13, 2021.

Introduction: Union with Christ is one of the neglected and misunderstood Christian doctrines

  • In Scripture, the term “Christian” is used only three times (Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Pet. 4:16)
  • Paul uses the language of “in Christ” or “in him” or “in the Lord Jesus” roughly 40 times in Ephesians
  • The whole of our salvation can be summed up with reference to this reality, Union with Christ

“union with Christ is not one aspect of the process of salvation but is the overall context in which all aspects are to be seen”

[Robert Letham, Union with Christ: 89]

Point: The aim of this study is to bring us to a higher appreciation and worship to our Trinitarian God, particularly in the works of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.


  1. Biblical and Theological Presuppositions
  2. The Covenant of Redemption
  3. The Mediatorial Works of Christ
  4. The Application of the Spirit of Christ

Biblical and Theological Presuppositions

Note: Union with Christ is crucial to, and at the heart of, the biblical teaching about salvation.

Scriptural Passage: Ephesians 1:3-14
Note: The Apostle Paul sums up the whole of our Christian faith as entailing with Christ.

  • Our election before the foundation of the world (vv. 3-4)
  • Our redemption by the life and death of Christ (v.7)
  • The sealing of the Holy Spirit (vv. 3-5)

Point: All [things] happen in Him, in Christ, Union with Christ

“Union with Christ is not a single specific blessing we receive in our salvation. Rather it is the best phrase to describe all the blessings of salvation. We have unconditional election in Christ (v. 4), adoption in Christ (v. 5), redemption and forgiveness in Christ (v. 7), and the fulfillment of God’s plan in Christ (v. 9), until the final uniting of all things in Christ (v. 10).”

[ESV, Gospel Transformation Bible]

Note: Reformed theologians in seventeenth-century Britain typically posited a threefold union with Christ in terms of God’s immanent, transient, and applicatory works:

  1. Immanent union refers to being elected in union with Christ from all eternity, before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4)
  2. Transient union refers to believers’ union with Christ in time past, in His mediatorial death and resurrection (Rom. 6:3–11)
  3. Applicatory union refers to the believer’s experience of union with Christ in the present time (Eph. 2:5–6)

Teaching: Our Union with Christ is the Fountain of all Salvation Blessings

(Thomas Goodwin) – “union with Christ is the first fundamental thing of justification, and sanctification and all. . . all acts of God’s justifying us depend upon union with Christ, we having him, and being in him first, and then thereby having right to his righteousness.”

Beeke, J. R., & Jones, M. (2012). A Puritan theology, p. 484

The Covenant of Redemption (Immanent Union)


“All the elect of God were, in his eternal purpose and design, and in the everlasting covenant between the Father and the Son, committed unto him, to be delivered from sin, the law and death, and to be brought into the enjoyment of God.” — John Owen
“The covenant of redemption is the eternal and covenantal plan of the Triune God to redeem humanity. It is an atemporal covenant. This is because the Covenant of Redemption was made before creation between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” – Jeffrey D. Johnson

Scripture: You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, and I assign you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” – Luke 22:28-30
Note: The greek word here for “Assigned” or “diatheto” (aorist tense) in verse 29 has the same word concept for “Covenant” or “diatheteke” (noun).

  • According to Greek scholars like Bill Mounce and I. Howard Marshall, the term “Diathetithemai” and “Diatheto” means “to make a disposition, to settle the terms of a covenant, or to make a covenant”.
  • That is, it carries with it a strong “covenantal” sense.

Union with Christ in Election

Note: In Ephesians 1:4 Paul states that the God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ “chose us in him before the foundation of the world.”

  • He affirms that it was an eternal decision that occurred before the creation existed, and states that it was “in Him”, in Christ.
  • Paul says much the same in 2 Tim. 1:9, “who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,”

“…the words “in him” are joined most naturally with “before the foundation of the world,” which shows that election “in Christ” took place in eternity. Goodwin then makes reference to one of his favorite Protestant, scholastic theologians, Girolamo Zanchi, who distinguishes between what God does “in Christ” and what God does “through Christ.” God’s acts “in Christ” have reference to immanent acts of God concerning the elect transacted between the Father and the Son before the world was created. The words “through Christ” denote God’s transient acts that are performed by Christ on behalf of His people. “So,” argues Goodwin, “God redeemeth through Christ, justifieth through Christ, and saveth through Christ; but he chooseth in Christ.”

Beeke, J. R., & Jones, M. (2012). A Puritan theology, p. 151

Point: The foundation of our daily communion with God is our union with Christ before the foundation of the world

The Mediatorial Works of Christ (Transient Union)

In Incarnation

Note: The witness of the New Testament is that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God.

  • He is truly God and Truly Man
  • Jesus’ humanity is real and genuine
  • He experienced growing to adulthood in a normal way (Luke 2:40-52)
  • He experienced weariness and thirst, hunger and sleep (John 4:4-7; 19:28; Matt. 4:1-2; 8:24)

Point: The basis of our union with Christ is Christ’s union with us in the incarnation

“We can become one with him because he first became one with us. By taking human nature into personal union, the Son of God has joined himself to humanity. He now has a human body and soul, which he will never jettison.”

[Robert Letham, Union with Christ: 21]

In the Atonement

Note: Jesus took our place throughout his life and ministry and especially on the cross and in His resurrection and ascension.

  • All that Jesus did and does is on our behalf, Christ our Federal Head
  • Christ, in His obedience, acted on behalf of His own people (Rom. 5:12-21)
  • His obedience is reckoned to us, we are accounted righteous

Point: Our justification is ground on union with Christ
Application: This concept of union with Christ is the motive for good works and mortification of sin. We are united in the death and resurrection of Christ (Romans 6:1-6).

The Application of the Spirit of Christ (Applicatory Union)

Note: The blessings of our Union with Christ wrought in and upon us by the Spirit; as calling, justification, glorification. Thomas Goodwin calls the “last act” of God to unite sinners with Christ.


– “After creation and the incarnation, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is the third great work of God.”

[Herman Bavinck]

Two Positions:

  • Four Pentecosts (1. Acts 2; 2. Samaria, Acts 8:17-18; 3. Household of Cornelius, 10:44- 11:1-18; 4. In Ephesus 19:1-10)
  • Two Pentecosts (1. Jews (Acts 2); 2. Gentiles (Household of Cornelius))

“These repetitions are aspects of the distinct significance of the event in which they occur. Samaria and Caesarea are staging-posts in the advance of the programme of Acts 1:8; Ephesus marks a transition from the world of the old covenant and John’s baptism, to the world of the new covenant and the Spirit-baptism which comes from Christ. Within the book of Acts itself (whatever else may be true of the rest of the New Testament), the tongues of Pentecost are not thought of as a normally repeated element in the initiation experience of later believers.”

[Sinclair Ferguson, The Holy Spirit: 89]

Charismatic Claim: That the events of Pentecost are a model for believers today and, therefore, repeatable…

  1. Spirit-baptism is a second work subsequent to conversion…
  2. Tongue-speaking and the other charismata arc for believers today…
  3. Their absence is an evidence of lack of Spirit-power in Christians and churches…

Key Question: What was that promise fulfilled on Pentecost?
Answer: As prophesied/promised Joel 2:28-32 = The Spirit is the promise of the day of the Lord

  • Abundant – Pour out my Spirit
  • Non-selective – Not limited to the Nation of Israel, upon all flesh
  • Eschatological – The coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord, day of salvation
  • Isa 32:15-18; 44:l-5 = The outpouring of the Spirit will bring about the triumph of God’s righteousness
  • Eze ll:17-20; 36:26-28 = The Spirit is the promise of the new covenant = inward application of the covenant
  • John 16:7 : The sending of the Spirit is conditioned on the exaltation of Christ (cf. 7:39)

Point 1: The change in the Spirit’s operation is grounded on the change introduced by the exaltation of Christ – the Holy Spirit will be poured out in a manner and magnitude never yet done.

“Pentecost is not ‘repeated’ any more than the death or resurrection of Christ is a repeatable event. Rather we enter into it in such a way that the Spirit is poured out into our hearts through faith in Christ. Each one thus drinks of the Spirit for himself or herself (lCor. 12:13). This becomes all the clearer when we view Pentecost as an aspect of the work of Christ, not a Spirit event separate from it and in addition to it. It is the visible manifestation of a coronation. The events of the Day of Pentecost are the public expressions of the hidden reality that Christ has been exalted as the Lord of glory and that his messianic request for the Spirit, made as Mediator on our behalf, has been granted.”

[Sinclair Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, 86]

Point 2: The Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost to indwell countless human persons, uniting them to Christ.
Implication: The Baptism of the Holy Spirit is not repeatable. In the Pentecost, all believers are baptized in the Spirit into Universal Church.

Preaching Pointer: Challenge believers to claim the fulfilled blessings of the Pentecost rather than duplicating the details of the event.

[Noel Espinosa, The Holy Spirit and the Word (Part 1)]

Union with Christ by Faith

Note: This pertains to “applicatory union”, the mystical or experiential union between the believer and Christ.

[Thomas Goodwin] – “All these Acts of Justification, as they depend upon Christ, so upon our being one with Christ; and look what kind of Union there is, answerable is the Act of Justification past forthwith. From all Eternity we were one with Christ by Stipulation, he by a secret Covenant undertaking for us, and answerably that Act of God’s justifying us was but as we were considered in his Undertaking. When Christ died and rose again, we were in him by Representation, as performing it for us, and no otherwise; but as so considered we were justified. But now when we come in our Persons through him to be personally and in our selves justified, and receive the Atonement by Faith.”

Beeke, J. R., & Jones, M. (2012). A Puritan theology, p. 139
  • Since justification is only by faith, faith is logically prior to justification
  • The Holy Spirit gives us the gift of saving faith
  • Though regeneration precedes faith and justification, we are not justified because of our “cleanness” but because of Christ as our righteousness.

Point: We are not justified because of our regeneration, but because Christ has paid the penalty of our sins and has applied all His benefits to us by faith alone.

  • The ground of our justification is our union with Christ
  • Philippians 3:9, “and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”

Union with Christ and the Lord’s Supper

Ephesians 1:3, “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,”
Note: Paul departs from a somewhat normal pattern of a greeting followed by thanksgiving and prayer for the recipients.

  • Paul is worshipping God because of all spiritual blessings that he has given to his elect people
  • The word “blessed” is in the past tense, the spiritual dimension of heaven is total and conscious union with God.

“These blessings are not stored up for us in heaven for the future. They are not blessings to be enjoyed once we get where Christ is. Instead, it is as if heaven has been and is being brought to our souls by the Holy Spirit (through the means of grace) due to the work of Christ in accordance with the Father’s electing and predestinating purpose.”

[Richard C. Barcellos, The Lord’s Supper as a Means of Grace]

Point: Because of our union with Christ, we are already partakers of this spiritual reality and will fully realized in the “final age”.

  • The Lord’s supper points to our union with Christ, to the fact that all of our spiritual nourishment comes from Him
  • The benefits of Christ’s blood and body (1Cor. 10:16) are spiritual blessings (Eph. 1:3), brought to souls by the Spirit of Christ
  • Through the Lord’s supper, communion with Christ and the benefits of his blood and body takes place

“As God doth bless the bread and wine, to preserve and strengthen the body. . . so Christ apprehended and received by faith, shall nourish [the believer], and preserve both body and soul unto eternal life.”

[William Perkins, The Fountain of Christian Religion]

Challenge: Every time we partake the Lord’s Supper, we should exercise faith in the act of eating and drinking
Note: The Lord’s supper reminds us of our communion with one another.

  • 1 Corinthians 11:18, “For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part,”
  • This word for come together is two words in English, but it’s one word in the original Greek.
  • This word “together” is used five times in this section on the Lord’s Supper and then again, it’s used twice in chapter 14 where Paul is addressing other issues and problems that are going on in the corporate worship at the church in Corinth.
  • This idea of coming together has the idea of the gathering together of the church for corporate worship.

Point: The Lord’s Supper is a reminder of our oneness in Christ

  • Union with Christ gives us comfort and assurance of our salvation.
  • Union with Chirst us wider understanding about the Gospel and the overall plan of God.
  • It makes us rely on Christ’s work and not our own.


  • Ferguson, S. B. (1996). The Holy Spirit. Intervarsity Press.
  • Beeke, J. R., & Jones, M. (2012). A Puritan theology : doctrine for life. Reformation Heritage Books.
  • Letham, R. (2011). Union with Christ : in scripture, history, and theology. P&R Publishing, Cop.
  • Ptr. Noel A. Espinosa, GMA. Lectures, Dogmatics: Pneumatology lectures 7-8

Published by Jeff Chavez

Sinner saved by grace

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