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Doctrine

Our Eternal and Federal Union with Christ

If there’s one doctrine I’ve been trying to understand more fully recently, it’s the doctrine of the believer’s union with Jesus Christ. It’s the source from which every spiritual blessing God has provided is produced, and is therefore, of the utmost importance.

In fact, the doctrine of our union with Christ cannot be separated from any study of Christ’s redemptive work for His people.

What do I mean?

For clarification, Christ’s redemptive work is His necessary work in order to accomplish redemption. Christ’s redemptive work applied is that which brings about our justification, sanctification, etc.

Each of these occurs at a certain point and time, and there is a sense in which our union with Christ begins at a certain time, that is at our regeneration. It is because of our union with Christ from regeneration on, that the believer experiences the application of the benefits of Christ’s work for him.

In other words, the believer’s union with Christ stretches further than the actual experience of being saved. It is the root source of every blessing which is passed to the believer.

In another sense though—which is what I want to point out in this article—the believer’s union with Christ has no beginning and no end.

1. Union with Christ is in view from all eternity

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love” (Ephesians 1:3-4).

Here we have a powerful statement. Paul declares that God has blessed His people with all spiritual blessings, in accordance with the union that was in place before the foundation of the world!

He says God has “chosen us in him” i.e. God’s decree of election was not severed from Christ. Those who were chosen were chosen with Christ in view, and without Christ, obviously there would be no election.

When did this happen? Never!

God’s eternal purposes are just that, eternal. They never sprung to mind. This, of course, is impossible for us to grasp, because our minds are bound to time, but it’s there nonetheless. Since God is eternal, so is everything about Him.

2. Union with Christ is in view to all eternity

“According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love” (Ephesians 1:4).

Reading commentaries, it is clear that people are divided whether the latter part of this verse is referring to sanctification or glorification. However, I don’t see the point in debating the matter. God’s purpose for His people to be holy, does not commence when we get to Heaven, but as soon as we become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), and the purpose remains through the rest of time and all eternity.

So, in one short verse, Paul takes us from eternity past, to eternity to come. Why? Because the believer’s union with Christ is from eternity past to eternity to come – from election to glorification!

3. Union with Christ is possible because He becomes the Federal Head of the Elect

God’s dealing with men has always been on a federal (representative) basis, and there have been only two representatives for man – Adam and Christ.

Adam was the representative for humanity in the Covenant of Works, and Christ is the representative for the Covenant of Grace.

“The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam [Christ] was made a quickening spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:45).

Why is Christ called the “last Adam”? Because, like Adam, He is in a representative role.

“For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:21-22).

Note that v21 has the same idea as the previously noted statement in v45. But notice the wording of v22, Paul again speaks of union with Christ, that by that union (in Christ) we shall all be made alive, but he uses the same phrasing when referring to Adam, “in Adam.”

Is Paul suggesting that man is in union with Adam? Yes.

[Incidently, I find it interesting that for those who have a problem with the word ‘all’ not always meaning absolutely everybody, unless you believe in Universalism (everyone will be in Heaven), then the latter all in v22 cannot mean absolutely everyone].

“Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Romans 5:12).

When Adam sinned, we sinned in him. That is why we are all worthy of death (spiritual, physical, and eternal). He was the federal head of mankind.

It’s not by mistake that Paul uses the terms ‘in Adam’ and ‘in Christ’ together. The terms are the same to show that they are both federal representatives. So, as Adams sin is imputed to us, so is Christ’s merit imputed to His people.

To wrap things up, consider that as Adam stood as our head in the Covenant of Works and failed, so Christ stood as the Head of His people in the Covenant of Grace and succeeded. The effect of Christ’s substitutionary death was to reverse the consequences of Adam’s disobedience, dealing with the power and fruit of sin.

What a glorious thought, believer. Rejoice in Him who is our Head, because all the blessings of God are ours in Him, and are guaranteed because of our union with Him.