Union with Christ 1–Identity

I don’t think I’ve ever been to a costume party. I mean maybe I went to one when I was a kid, but not recently. I suppose the church equivalent is youth group theme nights or Christian school spirit weeks, and I’ve participated in those, but never a real costume party. However, if TV is to be believed, that’s a common experience for the rest of America because it’s a regular plot point of movies and TV.

The point of a costume party is to assume an identity not your own. Too often believers forget their identity in Christ and assume identities that aren’t really their own. It makes me wonder if you and your counselees think about your identity in Christ much, and how important it is for Christian living.

Adults try to find their identity in lots of things: sports, education, work, sexual choices, hobbies, and even shame from sin they’ve committed or has been committed against them. God knows those things about you, but that’s not your identity.

1 Corinthians 6:15–18 (ESV) Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16 Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” 17 But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 18 Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.

This passage tells us to flee immorality in part because we are members of Christ’s body. In 1 Corinthians 6:15-18 Paul takes the doctrine of union with Christ and point out its application to our physical bodies. You have a union with Christ if you are saved. Therefore, you can’t be joined to a prostitute. Your body and soul belong to Christ. Sex outside of marriage—even if it were merely physical—would still be wrong because you are joining your body to that person. But there is something going on in immorality that is more than just physical. It contradicts Christ’s lordship over your body, and being in union with Christ means your body is his body.

We learn about our union with Christ from the many passages in the New Testament that talk about believers and Christ. Some passages describe us as being in Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:17 (ESV) Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (cf. Eph 1:3-4, 6-7)

Other passages claim that Christ is in us.

Colossians 1:27 (ESV) 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. (cf. Gal 2:20)

And some passages say both.

1 John 4:13 (ESV) By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.

So what does union with Christ mean? One theologian defined it this way,

Union with Christ is a phrase 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. [1]Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 840.

Union with Christ means that we are credited with all of Christ’s righteousness and holiness. It’s our union with Christ that allows God the Father to look at us as righteous rather than sinners deserving of His wrath. As the song by Chris Anderson says,

His robes for mine: O wonderful exchange!
Clothed in my sin, Christ suffered ‘neath God’s rage.
Draped in His righteousness, I’m justified.
In Christ I live, for in my place He died.

His robes for mine: what cause have I for dread?
God’s daunting Law Christ mastered in my stead.
Faultless I stand with righteous works not mine,
Saved by my Lord’s vicarious death and life.

This is great news! No matter how shameful your past, God can flood you with his favor because you are in Christ.

And Christ’s teaching in John 15 of the vine and the branches adds to our understanding too. Union with Christ is what allows us to bear fruit. You have no ability through your willpower or innate skill to change yourself in a way that pleases God. You cannot produce good fruit outside of Christ. Christ in you and you in Christ—that’s our union with Christ.

So what is your identity? You are in Christ and He is in you. Your identity is found in Christ. It’s not found in sports or music or family or money or appearance or failure or anything else. You are in Christ and, therefore, able to bear good fruit. You can be different. You can change. You can grow. And it’s because you are in Christ.


1 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 840.