So in a theology guided by union with Christ, what is the gospel?
I am in Christ, and Christ is in me. That’s not simply an abstract concept; that’s a reality I abide in.
What is that reality and how do we abide in it?
I think in terms of metaphors. To be regenerate means that the Holy Spirit enters your life; you become a new entity. In fact, as Paul says, “you are not your own” (1 Cor. 6:19). You are in Christ. He is the Sun. From that vital connection flow light and heat, or, in biblical and theological terms, the double grace of justification and sanctification. Our understanding of the mechanics of how it all “works” is irrelevant to the efficacy of our union with Christ. What is primary is what Jesus has done, not our limited understanding of what he has done. Christ is always greater than our experience of Christ. Here’s another metaphor that might help: Union with Christ is the necklace, and there are jewels on the necklace like justification, sanctification, forgiveness, mercy, etc. But the thread that holds those jewels together is union with Christ. Our indivisible connection to him makes those things possible.
So this union is more than simply an intimate association?
Exactly, it’s an ontological union. There is a difference of being that happens when we are united with Jesus. It changes everything about who we are beyond simply our subjective experience. Union with Christ has both an objective and a subjective component to it. But, there’s a tendency for Christians today to make union with Christ to be purely experiential and to place it under the rubric of sanctification. This ignores the objective component of union with Christ. It is not a part of sanctification, rather union with Christ is the very basis upon which our sanctification, justification, and communion with God is even possible. Union with Christ is the fountainhead from which flows all the blessings of God. Therefore Paul’s words in Galatians 2:20 are not an abstract idea or subjective new viewpoint, they are an objective, ontological reality for Christians: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
— Mike Farley (@RevDrMikeFarley) January 29, 2019