On How Union with Christ is Saving my Life

I often say that union with Christ is saving my life. But I don’t often share how. On this post I finally get to this.

After decades of experiencing religious OCD, anxiety and fear in my relationship with the Lord, I came to a significant turning point. If you remember, when I went through deep postpartum darkness I was really shaken because I thought it had revealed who I really was- a fearful, half crazy woman who had a really weak faith.

But union with Christ gave me a gift that seemed too good to be true. I am afraid this will all sound too heady, too “doctriny” and I will somehow lose you, my reader, especially if you struggle with religious OCD or have experienced spiritual oppression in some form. But, friend, there is nothing more liberating for people in this struggle than to begin to grasp what oneness with Christ really means for us. I say ‘begin to grasp’ because union with Christ is such an astounding mystery that we will never plumb its depths.

Union with Christ refers to the reality that we are joined to Christ in such a way that we are one with Him and He is one with us. When we put our trust in Christ, everything that was ours became his, and everything that was his became ours. Before we put our faith in Christ, we had been in Adam and the life of the flesh defined everything about us. But when we believed, we began a new life in Christ that redefined our whole lives (2 Corinthians 5: 17). Through union with Christ we now share Christ’s holiness, righteousness, sonship and every other spiritual blessing you can think of (Eph. 1).

Union with Christ is the paradigm in which all the New Testament writers lived and wrote and thought about the Christian life. Through it, the believer shares in all that Christ is and all that He does. It is what Paul refers to when, over and over again, he describes the life of the believer as happening in Christ and through him (Eph. 1 and Col. 3:1-4). Our oneness with the Risen Christ explains why when Christ died, we who put our faith in him, also died with him; and why, when he rose, we too rose with him as completely new people (Rom. 6). It is a reality that “extends from eternity to eternity.”

A crucial distinction that union with Christ highlighted for me was that in Christ my very being had changed. I had a completely new nature – Christ’s nature. Up to that point I functionally believed I had been given a new identity but at my very core I still remained the same Aylin somehow. But union with Christ doesn’t just give us a new identity. Christ gives us a completely new being – that looks just like Christ. That was the part that was too to be true.

Paul often addresses churches in light of their new nature. He sees the sin and deficiencies of the churches in the New Testament and yet addresses them as saints, as light, as holy (Eph. 5:1-10). His main framework, even as he challenges them toward holiness, is their new nature. He mainly talks to them as beloved children in Christ, not as sinners.

When I began to understand this reality, it reframed all of life for me. It helped me see that whatever had come out during that time of postpartum darkness wasn’t who I really was. My real, lasting self was already like Christ. I had spent so many years looking in the mirror – deeply introspective, trying to fix myself and never feeling confident of my efforts. I couldn’t enjoy a deep abiding sense of God’s nearness because I was too focused on my efforts to please him…and was never quite sure if I had done enough.

But union with Christ startled me by telling me when I looked at the mirror, Christ looked back. The real lasting me had been created in his image which meant the real me already looked like him! Over time, I realized that my deep introspection was an obsession with the life of my old self, with the flesh that had already been put to death. All that I was in Adam was left at the grave. Anxious, fearful, selfish Aylin died with Christ (Rom. 6:6). A new trusting, courageous Aylin rose with him and the life that she now lives in the flesh she lives only by faith in the Son (Gal. 2:20).

Even when I don’t feel peace, I now differentiate between my experience in the here and now and my lasting reality. When I give in to fearful thoughts, for example, this doesn’t change anything about the new nature Christ has given me. My reality in Christ does not depend on how well I trust my Father. Those fearful thoughts just go to show that the seen/temporal side of me is still catching up with the unseen/lasting side of me. Union with Christ is sharpening my faith eyes so that that which is unseen is far more real to me than anything else.

I can honestly face the ways in which I fall short and fail, and still rest, because in my oneness with Christ, my Father is always for me, in the exact way the Father is always for the Son. I am not as good as my last victory. No, I have something better! By faith, I am as good as Christ’s complete obedience (Romans 15: 14). This isn’t wishful thinking. It is true and has been true since Christ saved me as a young child. I just hadn’t consciously taken hold of it.

As I began to grasp that I am in Christ and that He is in me, I began to see I didn’t just have the power of the gospel at my disposal, but the very life of Christ in me. I had life -LIFE! -not through obeying the law but through Christ. This is why union with Christ is saving my life – because every time I am tempted to give into an anxious or shame-filled spirituality, the Spirit reminds me, “Christ is your life, your only life.”

I have been on this journey for a few years now, learning to breathe in the safety of my Father and to live as one with Jesus. The nearness of my Father is truly my good.

Hidden in Christ, I am tasting a freedom and joy that perfectionism could never give me. I am learning to differentiate its voice from the voice of the Spirit. Perfectionism drives me to obsess over questions like, “have I prayed long enough today? did I meditate on the Word enough? did I say the right thing?” Perfectionism is driven by the functional belief that my safety with God depends on how well I perform. And yet, it fails to deliver that nearness. Perfectionism is actually the voice of the flesh, trying to motivate my old self by shame. It wants me to trust my efforts to get close to a god that is not really my God. But the voice of the Spirit reminds me I don’t have to work so hard to get close to God. It reminds me, “you are safe, the Father is tenderly holding you in his lap, Christ is strong enough for you right now in all the ways you are weak.” I am hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3: 1-4). Always. Even when my enjoyment of my Father is interrupted because of my sin, He remains near.

While I can’t say that the battle with religious OCD is gone or that I never struggle with intrusive, obsessive thoughts regarding standing with my Father or that doubts never come, I can say that the fight looks very different. The Spirit helps me recognize when I am reverting to thinking that my current struggle determines who I am and who I am becoming. In other words, I am learning to differentiate between my struggles and my Spirit-led self. I am retraining my heart to come in faith to my Father as his beloved daughter in whom he is always well pleased. When I start feeling despair over my weaknesses and limitations, the Lord reminds me that ALL of Christ’s resources are mine by faith, and so I truly can do all things through Him who gives me strength (Phil. 3: 14). Christ is a shield around me – I could never be safer than I am in him. He is my glory and the lifter of my head when it hangs down in self-condemnation (Psalm 3).

My obsession now is more and more with Christ himself. Beholding his glory in his word is a consistent place of hope and deepening joy. Whenever I find myself starting to navel gaze, the Spirit gently scoops my face and reminds me to look at the Son. Every single time, I find him willing and able to rescue me.

His perfection is not an oppressive standard but the source of my hope. United to the perfect one, what is true of the risen Christ, is true of me. This place of freedom, my friend, “is the only starting point.”

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