10 Steps to Holiness[i] – Three: “For,” “In,” and “With”
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. [ii]
In the last two weeks, we have seen that both justification (being declared right with God) and holiness/sanctification (having God’s image restored in us) are both rooted in the grace (one-way love) of the Triune God, both in their reception and outworking. Now we need to drill down deeper to ask what God does to bring us to his ultimate goal of Christlikeness.
To understand how we are made more devoted to serving God and our neighbors we need to begin learning the New Testament’s teaching on the believer’s union and communion with Jesus Christ. This is the very heart of sanctification. God’s grace transforms us through our union and communion with Jesus Christ.
The most succinct statement on union with Christ is found in Galatians 2:20. Paul’s letter to the churches of Galatia is his earliest surviving letter, written to counter false teachers who held that to be truly assured of salvation, real Christians had to be circumcised, keep kosher, and earn blessings from God by performing works of the Law (good works).
In his argument against holiness by mere performance, Paul writes this wonderful statement in Galatians 2:20 that joins perfectly with the two previous passages we have examined. The apostle tells us the resources for our Christian life are in Jesus Christ and not in ourselves. He reminds us of the critical fact we need to remember daily: sanctification takes place in union with Christ, not apart from him.[iii] He again reminds us that our sanctification has physical consequences (the life I now live in the flesh…). Spiritual facts truly trusted result in physical actions.
In this one verse, the apostle tackles holiness with a series of prepositional phrases that expose us to the heart of his entire theology: (1) God the Son loved me and gave himself FOR me; (2) I live by trust IN the Son of God; (3) I have been crucified WITH Christ; and, (4) Christ lives IN me.
The foundation of the believer’s union with Christ is “the Son of God… loved me and gave himself for me.”[iv] Paul is referring to the way in which Jesus gave himself for us by his death on the cross. God the Son came into the word FOR US by taking and sharing our human nature. His union with us in our flesh, not our faith-union with him, is the foundation of our fellowship with him. At the inception of his earthly life, conceived by the creative power of the Holy Spirit in the Virgin Mary’s womb, God the Son took human nature, in all its frailty and poverty to live a perfect life for us, in our place.
Having died the death for sin all children of Adam deserve, he was carried by friends into the darkness of a garden tomb. Because he has taken our human nature and lived in perfect obedience to his Father for us, and died for our sins, and been raised to new life, and ascended to heaven with a human body and nature permanently wedded to his divinity, the Holy Spirit now has resources to justify, sanctify, and glorify us.
Because Christ Jesus possesses both humanity and divinity, he possesses holiness in a distinct form from the Father and the Spirit. Therefore, he is called Immanuel (God with us). He, being the last Adam who overcame the temptations to which the First Adam gave in, became both justified and sanctified; and he freely offers both those works to his brothers and sisters by faith. Only a justified and sanctified savior can be the resource for a full and real salvation in which we are not only declared righteous but are also transformed into his likeness.
St Author of Hebrews refers to Christ Jesus as the “founder” or “forerunner” of our salvation (Heb. 2:10, 12; see also: Acts 3:15; 5:31). That word means one who is a pioneer or trailblazer, a person whose actions lead others to share in the reality or consequences of his individual accomplishments. In the four times, this word appears in the New Testament, it’s used only of Jesus. The Sanctifier must share in the same nature, and in that sense, be one flesh with those he sanctifies.
This is why Jesus says of the Holy Spirit’s work in the church:
13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth….14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.[v]
The Holy Spirit unites us to Christ and all his benefits. God’s declaration that Jesus was righteous becomes our verdict too. Since Jesus sanctified himself for our sakes, his sanctification becomes ours. All that Jesus has done is mine as a gift. Jesus loved me and gave himself FOR me.
BY TRUST INTO THE SON
Paul has told us about the way in which Jesus gave himself for us. Now he speaks about how we are united to him. By the work of the Holy Spirit, we are brought into living union with Christ by means of faith (trust). “…the life I now live …I live by faith in the Son of God….”[vi] Faith means responding to Jesus’ invitation, “28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”[vii] With all the weight of my sin and guilt, I rest on Christ Jesus and receive both his pardon and his power.
To live “by faith” means to transfer trust from self to Christ, recognizing that only Jesus can carry the heavy load of my sin and guilt. His heavy shoulders stretched out on Calvary’s cross, bore all my sin, all my guilt and shame (1 Pt. 2:24). In order to communicate this faith-union idea, Paul writes about belonging in Christ (en Christo), and also about believing into Christ (eis Christon). The simple translation for the Greek word pistis (in your English Bible, “faith”) is “trust.” Paul writes of our trusting into Christ.
Trusting Jesus with the full weight of my sin and guilt brings us into a person-to-person union and communion with Christ. What was mine becomes his and what is his becomes mine. This is so central a teaching to Paul that we never find him referring to believers as “Christians” (a term rarely used in the NT). Instead, he most often refers to Jesus-followers (including himself, 2 Cor. 12:1-10) as those who are in Christ. For the apostle Paul, the essence of being a Christian is being in Christ. In his letters, the phrase appears in some form two or three times per chapter.
Believers are SO united into Christ that all he has done for us becomes our possession too. If we have trusted into Christ, we have all his benefits already by virtue of our union with him. Most of us understand that we have forgiveness of sin when we trust into Christ. But Paul tells us in Ephesians 1:3 that, in fact, every spiritual blessing becomes ours in Christ. Every resource stored up for us in Jesus Christ is now available to us through faith to enable us to glorify him and enjoy him forever.
CRUCIFIED WITH CHRIST
Paul writes in our passage, “I have been crucified with Christ.” [viii] Trusting into Christ who was crucified for us means there is a sense in which we also came to share in his crucifixion. All the implications of Jesus’ crucifixion for us become our possession. In Christ, we died to citizenship in the kingdom of the world, the flesh, and the devil which was ours by human birth and nature. When Jesus arose from the grave, we rose again into a new life of citizenship in Christ’s kingdom. As a result, all the claims the fallen order had on us are now ended and all the benefits of Christ’s kingdom have been granted to us – even if they are not yet all worked out completely.
Paul is NOT describing things he has done for himself, but what faith-union with Christ brings. Neither is he writing about something we decide to believe because we feel it is true; he is telling us what God says is already true of us. These are facts of which we do not naturally think. So, we must be constantly renewing our minds with the revelation of all the benefits that are ours in Christ. Knowing we have died to the old and are reborn into the new creation gives us a sense of who we are in Christ that drives us to the new life we have been called to live.
John Calvin, in his commentary on this section of Galatians, wrote:
“If we could produce a righteousness of our own, then Christ has suffered in vain; for the intention of his sufferings was to procure it for us, and what need was there that a work which we could accomplish for ourselves should be obtained from another? If the death of Christ be our redemption, then we were captives; if it be satisfaction, we were debtors; if it be atonement, we were guilty; if it be cleansing, we were unclean. On the contrary, he who ascribes to works his sanctification, pardon, atonement, righteousness, or deliverance, makes void the death of Christ.”[ix]
Christ himself puts to death our sin nature by virtue of his death for us on Calvary. As we trust into him, he kills off our old affections (“It’s all about me”). He grows new affections in us (“It’s all about Jesus”) and commands us to live according to those new affections.
CHRIST LIVES IN ME
You may have noticed by now that we have been looking at these prepositional phrases in a theological order rather than in the order they appear in the text: Christ gave himself FOR us; we live by faith IN him; we have been crucified WITH him. We have one more dimension to consider regarding our union with Christ. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”[x]
Paul is teaching us the New Testament doctrine of the indwelling Christ. It was teaching Jesus repeatedly emphasized to the disciples. Consider his words in John’s gospel account:
John. 14:19-20 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. [xi]
John 15:4-5 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 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.[xii]
In John 17:22, 3, Jesus prayed to the Father for his disciples: 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.[xiii]
In John 17:26, Jesus’ final petition to God the Father for the church was, “that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” [xiv]
Knowing the reality of the indwelling Christ is Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians (3:17-19),
…that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. [xv] Trust and comprehension bring fullness.
To the Colossians, he writes, in Col. 1:25-27,
…I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27 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.[xvi]
The privileges we possess in Christ are simply astounding. We often live FAR below the level of our privileges because the vastness, the enormity of them has never truly penetrated our thinking to renew our minds. That is because we rarely, if ever, take the time to know all our privileges and meditate on their significance for our lives. Because these privileges are not natural to us as former citizens of an impoverished kingdom, Paul earnestly prays we will come to know them as new citizens of an unimaginably wealthy and powerful new Kingdom, as he wrote in Eph. 1:17-23 he prayed:
17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know …what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places…. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. [xvii]
Christians become so occupied with doing we rarely take the time to reflect on being. So, we suffer from a loss of our Christian identity. We wind up living as spiritual paupers when we are indwelt by the Lord of all hope, riches of…glorious inheritance, and immeasurable greatness of power. But when we start to grasp our union with the indwelling Christ, a new dynamic begins renewing our minds and grounding our devotion. When we come to trust into Christ, we “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 13:14; Col. 3:12).[xviii] And Christ “puts us on” as well as he joins himself to us spiritually (Eph. 3:17).
All biblical truths are important to renew our minds. But some are fundamental to how we are to live as citizens of Christ’s Kingdom. Union with Christ is central to how we are to live as believers. You can see and grasp that truth in a moment, but it takes a lifetime for the reality to permeate our being. How we think about ourselves impacts how we live. We act according to what we trust.
If you are trusting into Christ Jesus, you have been set free from slavery to a world of sin, delivered from the “kingdom of me” and placed into a new creation. We have been given a new identity – not a fake, witness protection program identity but one in which we actually become what we were created to be. We have been crucified with him who died for us; we have been raised into the new life we live by trust into him who lives in us.
Is that too much to comprehend? If so, then make it a priority to reflect on these gospel principles:
- The Son of God love me and gave himself for me.
- I have been crucified with
- I live by trust into the Son of God.
- Christ lives in me.
Then, go out and live in the light of those unshakable facts.
[iii] For purposes of our study we are speaking only of the believer’s “Existential Union with Christ,” the benefits of Christ we receive upon regeneration and exercising trust into Christ. We may also say we have union with Christ by our election into Christ by the Father in eternity past – what some theologians call “Predestinarian Union” (Eph. 1:4).
[ix] John Calvin and William Pringle, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 77.