If you have been around this blog for a while you may know that I have a laser focus on union with Christ. It has become the framework in which I live. Lately, I have been pondering the beauty, goodness and truth of this reality. On this blog post I want to explore why union with Christ is a good thing. Why does it matter? How does it meet us in the nitty gritty of life? Is it just a doctrine that is amazing but somewhat irrelevant? How is it good for us today?
Why is union with Christ a gift when you recognize consistent and habitual patterns of sin in your life that seem to define who you are? How does union with Christ help you when you are, for the first time, naming the trauma you experienced as a child and start seeing how much your soul has been shaped by shame? Why does union with Christ matter after the 10th sleepless night in a row with a sick child, and now you have a full day ahead of you to care for that child and your other kids?
Think about your day to day life. Typically, what drives you or enables you to do what you do? Often, it is one of these three: your sense of identity, your felt safety or your sense of agency. You are able to live out your humanity more fully when you have confidence in who you are, when you feel safe in what you are about to do, or when you have a sense that you are free and able to do something.
When God first created man, he made him with innocence, power and honor. He made man and woman into his own likeness. He blessed them with goodness, gave them power over the earth and crowned them with honor (Psalm 8).
Enabled by innocence, power and honor, man was able to live in close intimacy with the triune God, live without shame together with his wife, and exercise dominion over creation.
But when man chose to disobey God, he lost it all. He was now riddled with guilt, shame and fear. He couldn’t live the way God intended. He had no way of reflecting the glory of God fully (Genesis 3 cf Rom. 3:23).
In Adam, we are all born with an utter inability to be humans the way God intended. And so when Christ came to rescue us, he came to rescue us completely. Not only did he come to forgive us from our sins and make us right with God, but he came to redeem humanity in a complete way. Which means, my friend, that he came to redeem us in the very nitty gritty of life.
When Christ died, we died too. All that we had in Adam died. And when we rose, we rose as completely and truly new. And everything we now have we have in Christ.
At the cross and upon his resurrection he took our shame and gave us his honor, took our guilt and gave us his righteousness and took our fear and gave us his life and supernatural ability to to live. He embraced us within himself, giving us the safest place from where we can live our lives.
That my friend, is the goodness of union with Christ. In giving us himself the Lord Jesus has given us the way, the new way, to be human. Like the Newsboys song says,
“There’s a new way to be human
It’s nothing we’ve ever been
There’s a new way to be human
It’s spreading under my skin
There’s a new way to be human
Where divinity blends
With a new way to be human
New way to be human
You’re throwing your love across
my impossible space
You’ve created me
Take me out of me into…
A new way to be human
You’re the only way to be human”
My friend, Christ is the only way for us to be humans the way we are meant to be.
Please read on with me as I explore a little more each one of these gifts that Christ gives us through the goodness of his oneness with us:
The Goodness of Identity
Sometimes I hear Christians talk about how God sees us. “God sees you as righteous.” But friend, it isn’t just that he sees us as righteous. God is not a mom that first sees her newborn and sees it as beautiful even though the baby is all wrinkly. It isn’t that he sees what he wants to see. He sees what is true and real about us. Jesus completely changed us. He changed our very being. In him, we truly are saints, we are light, we are free (Ephesians 4: 24, 5: 8).
That is amazing good news for us. When we are really struggling with anger, or fear, or lust – we start feeling that is who we are: angry people, fearful people, lustful people. And a huge reason why we struggle to break free of those patterns of sin or to grow into Christ-likeness is because we think we will be Christ-like when we no longer continually give into fear, or anger or lust. But Paul’s logic in the New Testament is the opposite. “You are like Christ already,” he says. “Your nature has already been changed into his. You are no longer slaves. Be who you are.” We can only put to death the sin we trust Christ crucified.
Being who we are is not wishful thinking. It is the life of faith. Faith in who Christ is, faith in what he has done to make us like himself. I went to a bible study in Arabic recently and noticed that in Arabic Ephesians 4: 24 says we are to put on the new human that has been created into God’s image. I love that. We are new humans in Christ.
The Goodness of Agency
Are there moments, days, or seasons when you feel trapped? Paralyzed? Manipulated? Oppressed? With no real sense of true agency? Christ is the only one who gives us footing to live when the waves around us crash on us and threaten to drown us.
I am way too familiar with those moments. Recently it feels like wave after wave comes – paralyzing doubts, uncertainty, illness. I have felt lost, and have struggled to know the way forward.
Or, do you feel like there are well worn paths in your brain in the way you respond to specific circumstances? There sometimes are neural pathways that have formed over time in response to traumatic experiences, or to hurt that has been done against us. We have automatic, visceral responses to certain cues. Sometimes it feels as if they hijack our ability to respond in healthy, godly ways to stressful circumstances. Friend, even for this our union with our Savior is a huge gift.
Through the help of the word, prayer, counselors and therapists and maybe even medication, new pathways can form. The brain can be shaped and grow. We can develop new muscle memory. But we don’t do that in a vacuum. We draw on the life of Christ for that. Trusting in his ability to live through us, new neural pathways can form as we begin to consciously live in the safety of our “in Christness” in God. We draw on his life and his capacity. Because he has faith, trusts his Father, loves sacrificially, chooses holiness, we can too!
You may have heard someone say or even said yourself when faced with very real limitations, “I am only human.” And while it is true we are human – limited, weak, vulnerable – in Christ we are not just human. As Christians that live by faith, we are humans that live in and through the supernatural Christ.
A caveat: Even in Christ, we are still human, just as he is. So to know our limitations and honor them is a very Christ-like thing to do. He grew tired. He slept. He ate. He said no. And he did all that in dependence on the Father. We are meant to live out our humanity in and through Christ – limited, yes but also as partakers of his divine nature, owning all things that pertain to life and godliness in Christ (2 Peter 1). All of Christ’s resources are ours by faith. His wisdom, his humility, his love, his grace. By faith, let’s tap into all of his riches, which he gladly has given us.
Another caveat: There may be very real circumstances that make us feel trapped and oppressed. If you are experiencing abuse of any kind – emotional, physical, spiritual, sexual – your sense of agency has probably been attacked over and over again. In a twisted way, safety has come at the expense of your autonomy and independence. My friend – if this is you, please read Psalms 9 & 10. Your Father knows the hopes of the helpless. He surely hears their cries and comforts them. He brings justice to the orphans and the oppressed. This is true of all the oppressed – whether they are in Christ or not. The Lord has great compassion and is deeply stirred to deliver from abuse and oppression. But for us in Christ we have even more hope in the midst of abuse. We have a Father, and his great help to us is his very own son, who saves & enables us and takes away our helplessness. Through his strength, we have every confidence to seek protection, to walk away from oppression, to find safe people, and speak up about the abuse.
The Goodness of Honor
Oh friend. Do you struggle with feeling worthless? Unclean? Humiliated? Not good enough?
And I don’t mean, if you have ever felt that? But rather, do you often struggle with that sense of shame that somehow never seems to go away completely? Does it seem to color every experience you go through? Do you feel naked, or exposed somehow? Does self protection shape your decisions and actions?
Shame reinforces our negative view of self. If you have experienced abuse, it is likely that at a very deep level you feel unclean or unlovable. And it leads you to hide or at least hide what feels shameful. Maybe even reading this paragraph is triggering a faster heart rate, or a sense of sadness because you recognize yourself in this. Oh how I pray the Spirit comes to you right now and comforts you with the goodness of your Savior for this very struggle.
Dear friend, if you struggle with shame consistently, it is likely you have suffered a lot. You may be carrying on your body the hurt of sin done against you. Maybe you learned to cope with that suffering in ways that are not mindful of God. And so there is a sense of guilt over real sin you have committed. Which adds to the sense of shame of not only being less but also not good enough.
My sister – your Savior took all the shame. He really did. He saw you and me, friend. He saw our hurt, he heard our cries, he pitied our filth and he took us in. Not only did he pour out all his love on us, and completely cleaned us up…he really gave us his very being. He gave us his honor. When we died, all our guilt and shame died with him. It stayed buried with him. That is the very real unseen reality that he bought for us. And when he rose, we rose up with him….as royalty. He sat us down with himself in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6). That is where you are today.
Because you are completely new in Christ, he takes not only the guilt of sin you have committed, but also the shame of it and the shame of sin committed against you. And then he gives you all that is completely true about him, so that it is true about you. We don’t have to hide behind all kind of fig leaves to pretend we are honorable or to feel worthy. We really are honorable through Christ. Through Christ we are able to have complete confidence, not only before our Father but also before others.
The Goodness of Safety
Lastly, my friend – union with Christ means we are hidden with him in God (Colossians 3: 1-4). We can’t ever be safer than what we already are in Him. You are at home with Christ in God. That at-homeness really changes everything. It enables you to love sacrificially, to repent, to endure, to have joy in the midst of suffering, to cast off guilt and scoff at shame, and, to have unfettered hope in the face of limitations and difficulty.
You have a Father, friend. A father who delights in you, who sits you on his lap, who invites you to weep on his chest. He knows our frame and so he gave us His Son. So that through his Son we may have sure safety, capacity, a new identity and his honor to be the humans he made us to be. He really is our life. Our only life.
May you and I live in the goodness of our oneness with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.