Chapter 27: Of the Communion of Saints
What does it mean that we are in union with Christ? What are the benefits from being united with Christ? What are our obligations toward fellow believers?
§1 Union With Jesus Christ
- All saints that are united to Jesus Christ, 1 their head, by his Spirit, and faith, 2 although they are not made thereby one person with him, 3 have fellowship in his graces, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory; 4 and, being united to one another in love, they have communion in each others gifts and graces, 5 and are obliged to the performance of such duties, public and private, in an orderly way, as do conduce to their mutual good, both in the inward and outward man. 6
- Eph. 1:4; John 17:2, 6; 2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 6:8; 8:17; 8:2; 1 Cor. 6:17; 2 Peter 1:4
- Eph. 3:16-17; Gal. 2:20; 2 Cor. 3:17-18
- 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:18-19; 1 Tim. 6:15-16; Isa. 42:8; Ps. 45:7; Heb. 1:8-9
- 1 John 1:3; John 1:16; 15:1-6; Eph.2:4-6; Rom. 4:25; 6:1-6; Phil. 3:10; Col. 3:3-4
- John 13:34-35; 14:15; Eph. 4:15; 1 Peter 4:10; Rom. 14:7-8; 1 Cor. 3:21-23; 12:7, 25-27
- Rom. 1:12; 12:10-13; 1 Thess. 5:11,14; 1 Peter 3:8; 1 John 3:17-18; Col. 6:10; Gal. 6:10
Defining Union with Christ
All the elect are united to Christ. They were united in His death (Gal. 2:20) and share the undeserved blessings coming from his perfect life, death, resurrection, and ascension in glory. This union with Christ does not make us one person with Him or with God, that is blasphemy. Rather, we become one with Him in spirit, love, and communion sharing in all those blessings which the Father has given to Christ. This union with Christ spans from eternity past to eternity future. What is then this union with Christ actually? Simply said, it is the application of Christ's accomplished redemption for the elect in space and time. R. L. Dabney writes:
When made one with His Redeeming Head, then all the communicable graces of that Head begin to transfer themselves to him. Thus we find that each kind of benefit which makes up redemption is, in different parts of the Scripture, deduced from this union as their source; Justification, spiritual strength, life, resurrection of the body, good works, prayer and praise, sanctification, perseverance, etc., etc. Eph. 1:4, 6, 11, 13; Col. 1:24; Rom. 6:3-6, 8; Col. 2:10; Gal. 2:20; Phil. 3:9; John 15:1-5.
John Murray, in his Redemption: Accomplish and Applied, noted that in the Christian life “Nothing is more central or basic than union and communion with Christ.” Therefore, it should be beneficial to us to take the time and see what the Scriptures say about our union with the Savior. In the same place, Murray notes that union with Christ is not an aspect of the application of redemption as repentance, faith, effectual calling, but it “underlies every step of the application of redemption.” In all the steps of our salvation we have to do with our union with Christ. The whole process of salvation, from beginning to end, is the realization of our union with Christ. A. H. Strong defines union with Christ as “a union of life, in which the human spirit, while then most truly possessing its own individuality and personal distinctness, is interpenetrated and energized by the Spirit of Christ, is made inscrutably but indissolubly one with him, and so becomes a member and partaker of that regenerated, believing, and justified humanity of which he is the head.” Louis Berkhof defines it as “that intimate, vital, and spiritual union between Christ and His people, in virtue of which He is the source of their life and strength, of their blessedness and salvation.”
How This Union Is Spoken Of In Scripture
In the New Testament, especially in the Epistles of Paul, this blessed union with Christ is variously mentioned whether by pictures or by the words used. For instance, Paul says that “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Eph. 2:20-22). In this analogy we see the Apostle comparing our union with Christ with a building and its stones. We are a temple, but we are a temple because we are in Christ Who is building us into a temple for God. This is similar to what is said by Peter in 1 Peter 2:4-5. In this passage and others like it, we see that our union with Christ is the foundation for our communion with the believers (par. 2). We are also described as members of a body and Christ being the Head (Eph. 3:6; 5:29-30; 1Cor. 12:12-27; Col. 2:19).
R. L. Dabney gives a helpful summary of the images used by Scripture to illustrate this blessed union:
The nature of this union is to be deduced from a full comparison of all the representations by which the Word illustrates it. In one place it is described by the union of a vine with its branches; and in another, of the stock of an olive tree with its limbs. (John 15:1-5; Rom. 11:16-24) The stock is Christ, diffusing life and fructifying sap through all the branches. Second, our Savior briefly likens this union to that between Himself and His Father. (John 17:20-21). Grace will bring the whole body of the elect into a sweet accord with Christ and each other, and harmony of interest and volition, bearing some small relation to that of the Father and the Son. Third, we find the union compared by Paul to that between the head and the members in the body; the head, Christ, being the seat and source of vitality and volition, as well as of sense and intelligence; the members being united to it by a common set of nerves, and community of feeling, and life, and motion. Eph. 4:15-16. Fourth, we find the union likened to that between husband and wife; where by the indissoluble and sacred tie, they are constituted one legal person; the husband being the ruler, but both united by a tender affection and complete community of interest, and of legal obligations. (Eph. 5:31-32; Ps. 45:9). Fifth, it is illustrated by the union of the stones in a house to their foundation cornerstone, where the latter sustains all the rest, and they are cemented to it and to each other, forming one whole. But stones are inanimate; and therefore the sacred writer indicates that the simile is, in its nature, inadequate to express the whole truth, by describing the cornerstone as a living thing, and the other stones as living things together composing a spiritual temple. See 1 Cor. 3:11-16; 1 Pet. 2:4-6.
Besides the pictures of this blessed union, we also this union mentioned in the words that Paul often uses. For example, “in Christ" comes up 90 times in my Bible software (e.g. Rom. 3:24; 6:11; 8:1-2, 39; 1Cor. 1:2, 4; 4:10; 15:22; 2Cor. 1:21; Gal. 3:14, 26, 28; Eph. 1:3, 12; 2:6). Various aspects of our salvation are captured with this often-used phrase by Paul. Also, there is the “in Him” phrase which is the same (e.g. Eph. 1:4, 7; 2Cor. 1:10; 5:21; Eph. 3:12; 6:20; Phil. 3:9; Col. 1:14; Col. 2:6-7, 11). Marcus Peter Johnson summarizes what we have "in Christ":
Furthermore, in Christ we are justified (Rom. 8:1), glorified (8:30), sanctified (1 Cor. 1:2), called (1:9); made alive (Eph. 2:5), created anew (2 Cor. 5:17), adopted (Gal. 3:26), and elected (Eph. 1:4–5).
Another phrase which shows our union with the Savior is “ with Him” (e.g. Rom. 6:4, 5, 6, 8; 8:17, 32; 1Cor. 6:17; 2Cor. 6:1; Col. 2:12-13; Col. 3:4; ; 1Thess. 5:10; 2Tim. 2:11-12). The alternate phrase “with Christ" is also used sometimes (Rom. 6:8, 8:17; 15:5; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 2:5; Phil. 1:23; Col. 2:20; 3:1, 3). “With Jesus" is used once (2Cor. 4:14).
Not only are we said to be in Christ and with Christ, but Christ Himself is said to be in us (John 15:5; Rom. 8:10; 2Cor. 13:5; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 3:17; Col. 1:27; 1John 4:4; Rev. 3:20)! What a blessing! What a great comfort and love!
The Scope of Union With Christ
The union of Christ with His people begins before time began. In eternity past, the Father gave Him a people to save from their sins (Eph. 1:3-4). He would perfectly obey the Law on their behalf and take the punishment for their law-breaking upon Himself. What the Lord Christ did, He did not do for Himself, but for His people. He is our covenant head. What He did in fulfilling the Covenant of Redemption, He did for His elect, not for Himself. It is said in Ephesians 1:4 that God “chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him”. The sovereign election of God and the plan of redemption was made with Christ as the center of it all. Notice carefully what is said. it is not said that God chose Christ. But it is said that God chose us in Christ.
Christ's Life, Death, and Resurrection
We were also united with Christ in His life because the life that He lived...