Union with Christ Means New Life

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Romans 6:1–5, ESV)

Union with Christ – What was True of Jesus is True of Us

What is union with Christ? Here is David Needham’s definition, “What was true for Jesus is true of us.” [1] The first union is Jesus with us. The incarnation was Jesus unifying with humanity by becoming human. So, Jesus united with us in the incarnation. In salvation, we unite with him.

This is salvation glue in which God joins us spiritually to the works of Jesus. When he died to sin, so did we. When he was buried in complete death, we were completely dead with him. When he was resurrected, in the eyes of God, we were resurrected too. Everything that was true of Jesus is true of us.

You likely have celebrated this union, but never thought about it. We sing, “Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe.”[2] How did Jesus die for sins not yet committed by sinners who didn’t yet exist? When Christ died, God united our sin with his sacrifice. God doing something to save us before we even existed might be a path to accepting the doctrine of election for you. But that’s chapter 9; we are in chapter 6. Where is union with Christ here?

  • “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:3)
  • “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his…” (Romans 6:5)

Baptized into Christ, united with Christ. Both speak of the same thing. Christians are in union with Christ. Paul responds to the charge that grace is permission from God to sin by saying, you died to sin. Really? When? You died to sin when Jesus died for sin. The sovereign God united your sinfulness to Jesus such that when Jesus died to sin, so did you. He doesn’t stop there. Paul connects the three key aspects of Jesus’ work on our behalf to our ongoing relationship to sin. Death. Burial. Resurrection.

  • “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3-4, emphasis added)

When Jesus died to sin, we died to sin. When Jesus was buried, we were buried with him. When Jesus rose again, we rose again with him in the sense that his resurrected life is the same life God gives to us at salvation. This explains two famous verses:

  • Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
  • “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

I was crucified with Jesus? Spiritually? Yes. The spiritual life within me is Christ living in me by the Holy Spirit such that I’m essentially a new creation. A new person. The old enslaved-to-sin-me is gone. The new has come. New life!

These verses are a key pivot point in all of Romans as Paul explains how justification by faith and union with Christ produces in the Christian not a better life or self-improved life, but a resurrected life. Newness of life. This new life is dead to sin. Sin is no longer our master. I’m not looking at grace as an excuse to sin. I’m looking at Jesus as a great reason not to sin. What flows in chapters 6-8 is Paul’s glorious explanation of what newness of life looks like. It’s our transformation from the old life to the new life of God’s grace, love, power, and life.

Newness of life and eternal life are the same life. It’s eternal in that it’s unending. But don’t think for a moment it’s merely our future life. There is present in every Christian now the very resurrected life of Christ. How can this transform us? To say saving grace is permission to sin is to completely ignore and seek to exploit my union with Jesus. Such a preposterous abuse of grace means you really don’t understand saving grace in the first place.

David Needham points out that this newness of life is so fully our new identity that the only thing about union with Jesus still missing is glorification. Paul addresses this in 6:5,

“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:5) Future tense. Someday our bodies will be resurrected and glorified like Jesus. Union with Christ is a forever reality. Romans 8 says we are co-heirs with Christ. What Jesus inherits from the Father we inherit too! Death. Burial. Resurrection. Rule and reign. Life forever. Co-heirs with the Son of God? How is this possible for sinners? Union with Christ. This is the best doctrine you’ve never heard of, am I right?

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

© 2018 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

[1] David Needham, Alive for the First Time, p. 205

[2] Elvina M. Hall, “Jesus Paid it All,” 1865.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

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