Below are a couple excerpts from today’s Reformation Doctrine: Union With Christ. This is the most glorious reality in the universe. None better. I realized the other day that this reality is what almost all of my writing has been trying to get at the last many years. I also realized that I never want to write about anything else–and happily, this reality incorporates everything, so there are no limits. I actually came up with mission statement for myself: All of life in Christ; all of Christ for life. That’s the truth I want to spend my life seeing and reveling in and causing others to see and revel in. You can listen to the teaching here and if you make it to the end you may even get to hear me blubber a bit–because this truth is too beautiful not to cry over.
“Romans 6:3-4, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
You may have thought of your baptism as simply being cleansed. We often think of being baptized like being washed clean of sin. But Paul is giving us another picture to consider. Our baptism isn’t a bath, it’s a drowning. It’s a burial. We see it visually—in baptism we go under the water, as if buried in a water death. Paul says, “Do you not know that those who have been baptized in Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” I think he expects we DO know and, if not, he’s reminding us of what we ought to know.
He goes on, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” So the point isn’t just that we die in baptism, but that we die with him. If we don’t die with him, we won’t be raised with him. We won’t walk in newness of life, because there is no life apart from Christ. None. If you aren’t killed with Christ and made alive in Christ, then you remain in Adam, in death.
Thought experiment: How can a dead person die?
We found out in Romans 5 that we are dead in Adam. And now we see that an absolutely essential part of being a Christian is: YOU MUST DIE. Here’s how we need to think about it: In Adam we are dead IN sin—in Christ we die TO sin. In Adam we are walking in death, walking in sin—in Christ we die to that deathly way of living. Paul says it like this in verse 5:
“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
Let’s keep on this thought experiment. Finish this phrase for me, “Jesus died so you could…” (live!). And that is gloriously true. But let’s think about what Paul is saying here. He’s not saying something contrary to that—he’s saying that, he’s just saying more than that. What Paul’s reminding us is that Christ died so that you could die. He lives so you can live. How can a dead person die? Because of Christ, that’s how. They are united to his death.
I have spent many years recovering from the notion that the being a Christian meant going from life to life. What I mean by that is, I thought, “Well—I was alive before I became a Christian, sinful but alive, and my sinfulness could lead to death… eventually.” Becoming a Christian meant avoiding that death and going from earthly life (although sinful) to eternal life. There are elements of truth there. Some of it is gloriously true.
But in this passage Paul is saying that the Christian life is going from death to death. We were dead in Adam—we bore his name as our family name. We were dead in his sin, which was our nature. And the only way out of Adam is to die. But we don’t die with Adam, we die with Christ, in Christ. And when we do that, Paul says in verse 5, “you shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
One more point on this: When we die with Christ and are freed from Adam, we are immediately brought to life. The death we die remains dead, we leave an old self behind, but the new life that’s been given is the same motion as the death. We don’t die with Christ, wait a while, then get new life. Think of a baptism—it’s one motion: plunged below the water and brought up out of it. Death and resurrection. But not resurrection as the old man with a makeover, resurrection as an entirely new man (woman).
Martin Luther’s favorite analogy for the Christian life was not the courtroom, as glorious as it is to be declared righteous on the basis of another’s perfection, it was marriage. When we are united to Christ all that he has and is becomes ours and all that we have and are belong to him. He takes our sin and ugliness and we take his perfection and loveliness. But even as he becomes a curse for us, he also overcomes the curse for us and kills sin.
Eph. 5:22-33 is the marriage passage. Married people rightly read it to understand how this whole marriage thing works. But try reading it and thinking only of Christ and us.
Here are just a few verses. Ephesians 5:29-32
“For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.” Can you hear our union with Christ? “‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” (ESV)
Friends. Our whole salvation, justification, sanctification and everything else is built on the fact that Christ will hold us fast. We belong to him. When you’re in the grip of the Son of God, when he has apprehended you, you don’t need to worry his grip will fail. He’s holding you and you are his.
We are not standing on one side of the room and he is on another and he hands us a present all wrapped in pretty paper that we open up and discover it’s righteousness. Then he goes back to his side of the room and we to ours. NO! The free gift of righteousness IS CHRIST—it’s through Christ! We get it when we are grafted into his vine—into him.”