Reading Systematic Theology with Wayne Grudem – What does it mean to be “in Christ” or “united with Christ”?

This post is part of a 50+ post series from the classic work by Wayne Grudem (PhD, Cambridge), Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. The aim of each post is to provide an overview of each chapter in the book and related resources for each topic.

Synopsis of Chapter

In the final chapter in section 5, the Doctrine of the Application of Redemption, Wayne Grudem reviews union with Christ. The concept of being united with Christ is used to “summarize several different relationships between believers and Christ, through which Christians receive every benefit of salvation. These relationships include the fact that we are in Christ, Christ is in us, we are like Christ, and we are with Christ.” 

We Are In Christ

As Christians, we are necessarily “in Christ.” There are several ways the New Testament expresses this idea. Here are a few verses that explain the idea of believers being in Jesus:

  • “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him…” (Ephesians 1:4)
  • “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.” (2 Timothy 1:9) 
  • “and because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30)
  • “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—” (Philippians 3:9)
  • “and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6)
  • “having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.” (Colossians 2:12)
  • “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” (1 John 5:11)
  • “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.” (Ephesians 1:3)
  • “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

Christ is In Us

Just as believers are “in Christ,” there’s also another sense in which Christ is in us. As Christians, we are never alone. Jesus is in us to walk with us through whatever we are going through. Here are a few verses that describe that reality:

  • “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
  • “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
  • “To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27)
  • “For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed,” (Romans 15:18)
  • “Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.” (1 John 3:24)

We Are Like Christ

As we are “in Christ” and Christ is in us, Christians are also supposed to be like Christ. The New Testament  pictures believers as striving to be like Jesus. Here are some verses that explain as much:

  • “Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” (1 John 2:6)
  • “As it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.” (Philippians 1:20)
  • “bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Colossians 3:13)
  • “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” (1 Peter 2:21)
  • “and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:17)
  • “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

We Are With Christ

The final aspect of union with Christ is how we are with Christ. Though Jesus no longer lives on this earth in the way he did during his ministry, he is with believers in a real way. Here’s how the Bible describes Christ’s current walking with his people…  

  • Jesus said: “…and behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
  • “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:9)
  • “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.” (1 John 1:3)

Application: Union with Christ – Key to the Christian Life

Personally, I have found one of the core elements to living the Christian life is this idea of being in Christ. The more I depend on my accomplishments, my efforts, and myself, the more I fail. But the more I look to Jesus, trusting him for help in whatever I encounter, the better things turn out. And it’s no surprise. Jesus promises he will be with us as Christians. But it’s not that he’s just with us only: he’s in us, as we are in him, while striving to be like him. This is union with Christ and it’s a tremendous blessing to every believer.  

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

Special Terms

  • being raised with Christ
  • dying with Christ
  • in Christ
  • mystical union
  • one body in Christ
  • communion of saints
  • union with Christ

Resources: Wayne Grudem

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