Saturday, September 9, 2017

Weekend Reflection: "Our Union with Christ" by John Gerstner

I hope you appreciate this reflection on our union with Christ from Dr. John Gerstner...

"It is truly an incredible proposition that we have union with Jesus Christ. According to Ephesians 1:4, “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world.” This means that union with Christ began before you began. It began before you were ever in your mother’s womb; before you ever drew breath; before you ever had a thought or committed a sin. You are as eternal as God is. You have been in Christ as long as Christ has been, which is forever.

How can we, as the revolting, wicked persons we actually are, be in Christ Jesus—even in the mind of God—before we are converted and changed and sanctified? The answer is that as truly as we are in Christ Jesus eternally, just so truly Christ Himself is the Lamb of God who was slain before the foundation of the world. His atonement is, in the eyes of God, as eternal as your election in Him and your union ultimately in Him is to be. We have been in union with the Lamb before the Lamb was ever slain.

We are also told in Romans that we are buried with Him, we were raised with Him, we ascended into heaven with Him, we are in the heavenlies with Him. In other words, in all of His redemptive activity, we were with Him. We sing a moving hymn, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” Yes, you were. And not just by way of sympathetic, sentimental identity with Christ’s incredible love for you. But in a more fundamental way than that. In a more profound sense, you were there in Him when they crucified your Lord. You were nailed to the cross with Him at Calvary. You were buried in the tomb with Him. You were raised with Him. And you are with Him in the heavenlies even now.

It reminds me of the great theologian A. A. Hodge’s reported remark as he was dying, when someone was reading to him the passage from Paul, “I am persuaded that nothing shall separate me from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.” Hodge didn’t like the translation because it put the preposition in where it didn’t belong, and he didn’t even want a preposition between him and His Lord. The truth of the matter is that Christ’s righteousness is becoming our righteousness at the same time it is becoming His righteousness because we are even then, one with Him.

Galatians 2:20 is the passage that states it in the most dynamic way: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Here Christ gives Himself for us and we are identified with Him as He actually carves out our redemption by the shedding of His own blood. He becomes the very principal and spring of our whole activity. Now we can say with the apostle in Philippians, “For me to live is Christ.”

Our union with Christ is described in the Bible in many other ways: the vine and the branches, the foundation and the building, the body and its parts. However, I doubt if there is any metaphor quite so precious, quite so intimate, quite so close to verisimilitude to the real experience as is the metaphor of the union between husband and wife (Ephesians 5:28–30). There it says that “husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body.” Then in verse 32, Paul says that “this is a profound mystery.” But here the apostle is not referring to the mystery of marriage—of loving someone so much that in doing so you love yourself. Rather, Paul is speaking in reference to Christ and the church. What he is saying here is that the institution of human marriage was introduced primarily for the purpose of showing us what the heavenly marriage, the union of Christ with his people—the church—actually is.

God could have produced our progeny without marriage. But God has made us in such a way that we have our most intimate relationships, as well as reproduce our kind, through the rite of marriage where two persons become one person, one flesh. God made the institution of marriage to be the classic metaphor of what union with Christ actually means.

Jonathan Edwards wrote about the glorious benefit of being united to Christ in this way:
By virtue of the believer’s union with Christ, he doth really possess all things. I’ll tell you what I mean by possessing all things. I mean that God, three in one, all that He is and all that He has and all that He does, all that He has made or done—the whole universe, bodies and spirits, light heaven, angels, men and devils, sun, moon, stars, land, sea, fish and fowl, all the silver and gold, kings and potentates as well as mere men, are as much the Christian’s as the money in his pocket, the clothes he wears or the house he dwells in, as the vittles he eats, yea, more properly his, more advantageously more his, than if he commands all those things mentioned to be just in all respects as he pleased at any time by virtue of a union with Christ. Because Christ who certainly doth thus possess all things is entirely his so that he possesses it all, only he has not the trouble of managing it. But Christ, to whom it is no trouble, manages it for him, a thousand times as much to his advantage as he could himself if he had the managing of it all. And who would desire to possess all things more than to have all things managed just according to his will?
Long before I ever read this statement, I used to think about how much I love libraries. If I were a billionaire, I couldn’t have the libraries I now have. For as Edwards says, “By virtue of the believer’s union with Christ, he doth really possess all things”—and “all things” certainly includes libraries. I often hide out at the magnificent libraries at Yale and Harvard and the best one of all, at the British Museum. The books there, in a sense, all belong to John Gerstner—they’re mine. Every time I go in there I thank God for them. And like Edwards, I’m thankful that I don’t have to bother with the management of these books. Somebody else takes care of the books—I don’t even have to go get them when I’m there. Somebody else brings them to me. The point is that if you aren’t a Christian, you don’t have a solitary right to anything; if you are a Christian, you have a right to everything because it’s all yours in Christ.

It is an inestimable privilege of not just being loved by Christ, not just being redeemed by Christ, but actually being brought into a union so intimate with Him that each of us actually becomes one person with Him.