The Meaning of Union With Christ
"If, then, ye were raised together with Christ, seek the
things which are above, WHERE CHRIST IS, seated on the right hand of
God." - Col. 3:1.
"WE BEHOLD HIM (Jesus) crowned with glory and honour." - Heb. 2:9.
"LOOKING OFF UNTO JESUS, the author and perfecter of our faith, who
hath sat down AT THE RIGHT HAND OF THE THRONE OF GOD." - Heb. 12:2.
The Meaning of
Christ's Presence on Earth
The presence of Christ here on earth had two purposes. One was that
there might be a perfect presentation of God to man. The other was
that He might take up man according to God's thoughts. There were
very few, if any, who saw Him in the first aspect. "The world knew
Him not." Even those who were most closely and continuously in touch
with Him, looking on Him, hearing Him, watching Him, did not really
see Him. Toward the end He had to say to one of them, "Have I been
so long time with you and yet hast thou not known me? He that hath
seen me hath seen the Father." But in that true sense they had not
seen Him. He was here to personally represent the mind, heart, and
will of God, but it needs the Holy Spirit to open the eyes to Christ
in these respects. Nevertheless, God has had a perfect
representation of Himself here on the earth, and thenceforth all
knowledge of Him is inseparably bound up with the person of Jesus
Christ. In a sense, of old time, the Jews went directly to Jehovah,
the first Person in the Godhead. They did not look upon the
sacrifices, priesthood, etc., as more than things. That is, they did
not personify these, and regard them in the light of a mediating
Person. But from the time that Christ came into this world, entered
upon His ministry, and accomplished His work in the Cross, God could
never be known apart from Him, and in the most direct sense His
words are true, "No man cometh unto the Father but by me." No Jew
from that time would or will ever know God apart from Christ. When
the name "Jehovah" went out of the Jewish Temple - as it did - it
entered in the form of "Jesus" (Jehovah-Saviour) into the Christian
Church. This first aspect of Christ's presence here is, however, not
the object of our present consideration. We are here concerned with
the other side in particular, although they cannot be separated.
Christ was here to take up man as to God's thoughts about man. In
Christ God had a man wholly according to His thought. (In what we
are saying about Christ as man, we are not touching His deity, or
overlooking the fact that Christ was
God. That we believe absolutely, and about it we have no
reservations. We are here dealing with His humanity.)
One of the main purposes why Christ spent some years here was that
as man He should be tried, tested, proved by every kind of fiery
ordeal as to His faithfulness, obedience, and devotion to God. The
meal offering of Leviticus 2 is Christ's humanity, as is well known.
That meal offering was prepared for presentation by fire in three
ways. The oven, the pan open at the top, or the flat pan. The oven
speaks of the fiery ordeal in secret where no life could see. The
second method suggests those trials which only those who are
sympathetic enough to look into can see. The flat pan is the form
and nature of suffering and trial which is patent and open to all.
In all of these ways the Lord Jesus was "made perfect through
sufferings" and "tempted in all points like as we, yet without sin."
He was tried by every realm. He met hell directly through its head -
Satan himself tempted Him - and exhausted its resource to break His
faithfulness and loyalty to His Father. During forty days in the
wilderness He was thus directly assailed. It was but "for a season"
that the Devil left Him then, and doubtless He had many another
secret - oven-like - conflict with the "Prince of this World" over
the matter of faith and obedience.
The world assailed Him. The world system, religious and pagan,
circumstances, relatives, friends (?) and the commercial, social and
professional realms all tried Him out. Even within the narrow circle
of His own earthly home, not excluding the beloved and devoted
mother, was His relationship to His heavenly Father put to the test.
Then, at length, in one terrible moment, heaven was the source of
the supreme test. The Father had to forsake Him, and this broke His
heart. Nevertheless, He triumphed, and almost immediately after the
terrible cry of forsakenness He cried "FATHER, into Thy hands I
commit my spirit." Thus He was tested and triumphant in every realm
- heaven, earth, and hell; and in every form of trial. Thus He, as
the "Captain" - file-leader - of our salvation was "made perfect,
This brings us to the point where we are able to answer the question
as to why the Lord Jesus is as "Son of Man" in heaven: for it was
"the Son of Man" whom Stephen saw standing on the right hand of God.
It was "Jesus of Nazareth" who spoke and appeared to Saul of Tarsus.
It is "Jesus" whom the Apostle says "we see crowned with glory and
honour" and to Whom we are to "look off." It is "One like unto the
Son of Man" who is repeatedly seen in the Book of Revelation. The
truth, then, is that at God's right hand in the Person of His Son
there is a MAN wholly according to His thoughts concerning man. God
has got in His presence in the place of honour and power (right
hand) a MAN who wholly satisfies Him and answers to all His eternal
mind as to man. There is a humanity in God's presence with which He
can be in the most perfect fellowship. Now, this is the whole
foundation of Christianity, provided it is borne in mind what this
includes and involves as to the meaning of His Cross.
Everything in God's interest is bound up with Christ at God's right
hand. This we shall see from several points of view or by taking its
various inclusions. The first main truth in this apprehension of
Christ is that Christ in heaven is
Pattern to which God is Working
in all them that believe.
We are not here saying much about the positional meaning of Christ in glory, but are
chiefly concerned with the conditional
aspect. It is blessedly and wonderfully true that He is there as us,
and that when we are "in Christ Jesus" all that is true of Him there
is placed to the good of those who believe, and they are "accepted
in the Beloved One." All that that means is a comprehensive
revelation of the grace of God and should never cease to be the
believer's theme of praise and ground of confidence.
But it is true that what obtains in Christ there for us is the Father's concern
to make good in us. The
all-inclusive statement concerning this matter, and which leads
right on to the end is Romans 8:29: "Whom He foreknew, He also foreordained to be conformed
to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many
God's object, then, is to have a family fully brought to the image
of the Son who is at His right hand. That object sets the bounds to
the interest of God. All His interest is bound up with that, and He
has no interest outside of that. Christ is "the Alpha and Omega, the
First and the Last" the beginning and the ending.
How will God operate unto that end? Here, again, we are on what is -
although elementary, yet - most vital. He will do it inwardly and
from within. The only but sure hope of glory is "Christ in you."
What is the New
This postulates the absolute necessity of the new birth. What is the
new birth, simply? It is receiving Christ as the Life into the heart
by faith. Not life as a thing, in the abstract, but life in
inseparable relation to the Person. This is emphatically so on the
ground that the Holy Spirit is a Person: He is the "Spirit of
Christ," and He is the "Spirit of Life," and there is no
relationship to Christ apart from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
"If any man have not the Spirit of Christ he is none of his" (Rom.
So, then, Christ, the Holy Spirit, and "Eternal Life" are one as to
the basis and resultant relationship to Him. Christ is the Object
and Central Reality. The Holy Spirit is the Divine Agent. Eternal
Life is the basis of relationship to God.
Whatever terms we may use, whether "New Birth," being "Born anew,"
"Born from above," "Regeneration," or "Born of God," the meaning is
one, and it is that we receive in Christ by the Holy Spirit the life
of that One Who is at God's right hand. Nothing is possible of
conformity to His image until that life has been put within us. As
in a newly born infant the life contains all the elements,
possibilities and potentialities of the fully grown man to be, so in
new birth all that Christ is as "made perfect" is in the life of His
Spirit then imparted.
By nature that life is not
in anyone, it is the "gift of God" in new birth, regeneration by
the Holy Spirit. It is upon that new life within that all God's
interests are centred. The growth, increase, and development of that
life with all its features is the one purpose of the Holy Spirit in
the believer. Paul wrote to certain believers - "my little children
for whom I travail in birth until Christ be fully formed in you."
Christ fully formed within; that is the nature of spiritual growth.
The new birth is the beginning and provides the Holy Spirit with His
basis. That is the first step in answering the question as to the nature of union with Christ. It is oneness with Him in His risen and
enthroned life. That is life which is already in Him consummated in full
The second thing in this union on the side of state is
This great doctrine can be quite adequately brought within the
compass of two simple statements for our purpose here.
Sanctification is firstly an act and that an act of making the
object wholly the Lord's. In Old Testament times when a thing or a
person was sanctified (consecrated, devoted, sanctified; all same
word) it or he was first taken apart and separated from all other
interests and made wholly the Lord's. From that time all the
proprietary rights were His, and it was recognised that He had the
entire claim upon it and government of it. It was consecrated or
sanctified by blood or that which had the same symbolic
significance. This is the simple fundamental meaning of
"Ye are not your own, ye were
bought with a price" (1 Cor. 6:20).
"Ye were not redeemed with
corruptible things, as silver and gold but with precious blood"
(1 Peter 1:18).
It is - in an act - presenting spirit, soul, and body to the Lord
that in every part and in all the details of life He shall have
first and final consideration: be consulted on all matters of mind,
heart, and will; the personal life with the entire self principle
and natural constitution handed up by the Cross to be absolutely
subject to the will of God. Christ at the right hand of God
represents man as in an act abandoned to the will of God; tried as
to that abandonment in every way; and victorious as to that initial
act. That act has to be entered into by the believer, and maintained
in the energy of the Holy Spirit to the end.
There is abiding virtue and power in His act "once for all" for us
in our receiving of His Spirit.
Then, secondly, sanctification is a progressive thing. It is the
process by which all that is true of the moral excellencies of His
glorified humanity is wrought in the believer. The things of Christ,
taken by the Holy Spirit and revealed to His own are not just the
splendours and riches and possessions which He has entered into for
Himself. Neither are they just things gained as a reward. They are
those perfections through sufferings which are to be made over to
believers, and into which believers are to be brought that they may
also share the glory which rests upon perfected humanity as its
native state as invested by an all satisfied and delighted God.
As "we behold Him we are changed from one degree of glory to
another, as by the Lord the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:18).
This beholding is by the Spirit's revealing inwardly, and what is revealed
is the truth of Christ as "made unto us sanctification," that is,
sanctification for us and
I see, by the Spirit that sanctification is not my struggling and
striving to be better. It is the fruit of Christ's conflict and
victory appropriated by faith. It is not my moral improvement by
effort or care, but the appreciation and apprehension of Christ's
moral perfections as secured for me. Christ in glory is the pattern
in the eye of the Holy Spirit, and He would work in me conformity to
that pattern, asking of me yieldedness, surrender, faith, obedience;
unto all of which He is willing to be my strength as I take an
attitude of a positive character in line with His purpose, as over
against a mere passivity of mind.
we are Chastened
Thus sanctification is the meaning of "Christ at the right hand of
God" and of our union with Him in the Spirit. What is true of the
New Birth as the basis, and of Sanctification as the all-inclusive
process, explains the dealings of God with us in training. We must
be careful that we do not fall into the snare of thinking of God as
ever standing over us with a stick, ready to pounce upon our faults
and immediately punish us. "Chastening," as in Hebrews 12 is not just
punishment, it is "child-training." True it represents suffering in
the main. But then there are those of us who, now we are of matured
judgment, justify parents up to the hilt for the chastening which,
when it was given, was regarded as cruel and unloving. We wonder
what we should be but for it, and those of us who are parents have
long since changed our thoughts about many of the unpleasant
experiences of childhood. We may smart under any little bit of
injustice which clings so tenaciously to memory, but we are not now
in the hands of an unjust or unrighteous Father.
God is after an "afterward." What is it? "The peaceable fruits of
righteousness." That is, a state
where there is no discord or strain in relationships. This is nothing other than Christ's present state with the Father being made good in us also. So all the difficult
aspects of our training are to the same end - conformity to His
Motive of Ministry
There is one other aspect of this matter to which we will point
before we close. It is in relation to ministry and fellowship. What
should be the predominant motive and aim of ministry, whether to us
or through us? It most certainly should be with God's one end in
view, and everything should be sacrificed for, or brought into line
with that. God's one end is likeness to His Son. In ministry
everything must be subjected to the test as to how far it is
calculated to reach that end. With God Himself the value of anything
and everything is determined by this. Methods, materials, manner,
personal presence, and everything are to come under this test. Only
the Holy Spirit can bring to Christ and conform to Christ. Hence
ministry is of value according as it is in the Holy Spirit. Not only
does this apply to our ministry, but it must influence us in the
matter of what we accept and where we go.
Are we being built up in Christ? Does what we receive really tend to
inwardly increase Him? Is it Christ being ministered to us in the
Holy Spirit? If not, then no matter how interesting, brilliant,
informing, or attractive, we are wasting our time, the eternal thing
is not being done, and God's end is being missed. This principle
must also apply to the fellowship of believers. It is so easy to
fall into the trap of talking on all sorts of commonplaces, matters
of interest, and often into a spiritually dissipating jocularity and
frivolity, and then when the time is gone to realise that the heart
cries out in hunger for that which alone is its Bread - even Christ.
Fellowship should be unto mutual upbuilding and definitely to impart
Christ to one another.
Hebron was where they made David King and feasted for days in happy
fellowship. Fellowship should always be the festivity of the crowned
- exalted - glorified Lord, and more of Himself in our heart should
be the outcome.
Thus we see that everything in the life of the believer from the
beginning is related directly and in a practical way with Christ in
glory, and the nature of union with Christ is that of the Holy
Spirit's activities unto our conformity to His image, individually
First published in "A Witness and A Testimony" magazine, May-Jun 1932, Vol. 10-3.