The Mystery of the Union
I remember when I was young learning the books of the Old and New Testaments. My Bible teacher in school taught us using a catchy tune and song to help us. Yet, I always seemed to get confused around the New Testament books of Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians. My teacher then taught me a little trick. Think General Electric Power Company to remember the order of those letters from the Apostle Paul. Remembering GEPC made it easy for me to remember Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians. I was so pleased to be able to get the books of the Bible right and in order. I did not understand then just how much I would enjoy the books of the General Electric Power Company. In these books, Paul reveals to his reader, recorded for us in the Holy Bible, the glory of our lives as Christians being hidden in the life of Christ. Each of these letters contains the sum of the great treasures of Paul’s revelation of Christ in us and as us.
Paul writes his letter to the believers in Galatia in order to combat the false teaching of legalism. His frustration is seen most evident in Galatians 3:1 when he asks, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” Paul had taught these believers the freedom in Christ found by believing in his death and resurrection for our sins. Yet since his departure from them, the Galatian believers have fallen prey to those who would preach the false doctrine of legalism. Paul, though, gives reason and hope for the work of faith in the believer. Paul states that he was called by God’s grace, “to reveal His Son in me” (Galatians 1:15-16). He also speaks of his angst for his beloved Galatians “while Christ be formed in you” (Galatians 4:19).
Paul’s chooses his words here to describe Christ as someone who is not separated from mankind by space and time. Clearly Paul understands Christ to be both formed and revealed IN us. Christ is not found at some far-away place, choosing to be near to us at certain times yet not at others. Nor can we, on our own, work in such a way or believe hard enough so that Christ will then come to us and be near to us. Paul says that He is in us; how much closer can Christ be to us than to be in us? So, if He is in us, then we must be created to contain in Him. For one thing, to be able to be in something else, the thing must have the capacity to contain.
So now since Christ is in us, what does that look like? Paul gives us the boldest of statements in Galatians 2:20 when he says, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” Paul’s radical statement reveals to us the freedom we have in Christ. We share the cross with Christ by putting to death the notion that “I” can live by myself and unto myself. This is the lie of the independent “I” that Paul states must be put to death. Gloriously, though, that death of the “I”manifests the life that we have in and by Christ Jesus. Though “I” am dead, I nevertheless live. But Paul quickly catches himself and replaces the “I” for even a great emphasis by saying no, it’s not the “I” that lives but it is Christ that lives. Jesus Christ has replaced the independent “I” that I have believed about myself. So not only does Christ live in me, but Christ also lives out through me. My life and His life mix and mingle where it is impossible to say where one stops and the other starts. The boldness of the message of union with Christ is found here in Galatians 2:20.
Paul tells us again in his epistle to the Colossians that our life is mixed with Christ’s life. He also explains that our union with Christ is hard for us to see with our human eyes. In fact, he calls it a mystery. Paul says, “Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to His saints.” To them, God would “make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:26-27). The union reality is both wonderful and mysterious at the same time. Even Pau’ls own teaching on union is done not with detailed exhortations on the subject. Even though the riches and glory of the ways and will of God were revealed to Paul unlike most any other man or woman, the union reality is still not easily taught and imparted. There is no single letter of his that can contain the depth and breadth of Christ-union. However, he weaves a tapestry of faith and doctrine and revelation throughout his letters to the believers in the early church and for us today as recorded in the Scriptures.
Again, he chooses his words carefully to show that Christ is found IN us. We can see this over and over again in his letters, and he reinforces this point. Christ is not found out there somewhere, separate from us. He does not visit us or become near to us at moments in time. He is found IN us. Now, Paul proclaims this magnitude of union. Riches and glory are words used to describe our position of Christ-in-us. Union must not be passed over or taken lightly. Riches and glory are wonderful, magnificent, and something to be sought and treasured. We know that Christ came so that “we might have life, and have it more abundantly.” Now we can see how we are to be fulfilled with abundant life. Our abundance is Jesus himself, living in us.
Paul once again reinforces his point in Colossians 3:3-4 when he says, “For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory.” Paul says that you (or “we”) are dead, and we see the message of Galatians 2:20 here again in this verse. We have been put to death, sharing in the cross with Christ. Again, the “I” has been nailed to the cross, and the futility of a life independent of Christ has been buried. Our new life is the shared resurrection for we now have new life. This new life exists in union with Christ. Paul even says that this life is “hid with Christ.” Since our life is hid with Christ, then the part of ourselves that does remain cannot be detected nor determined. Though we retain our humanity by our flesh (body) and mind and emotion (soul), our core (spirit) is joined with Christ and becomes hidden there.
In his letter to the church in Philippi, Paul again gives us these bold pieces of truth. Christ does not exist in a faraway place where He is separate from us. Paul bluntly says in Philippians 1:21, “For me to live is Christ.” His words are clear and concise. Paul’s mere existence is the life of Jesus Christ. Paul does not make exception to the rule or caveats to the statement. Paul doesn’t say that most of the time he tries to be Christ-like. He does not say that when his faith has been elevated to a point of perfection that Christ will be with him, strengthen him, and comfort him. No, Paul simply and succinctly states that simply living, simply being, all aspects of life are Christ. This can only be true if Paul and Christ are joined in union, and that Paul’s life is the glorious manifestation of Christ’s life lived by Paul’s human form.
Paul digs deeper and explains that the Spirit of God in us lives out the will of God through us. As we are in union with Christ, God uses us to do his business, to be His agent in this world. Philippians 2:13 says, “For it is God who worketh in you, both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” We can easily understand how we are used to “do of His good pleasure.” God has always used humanity to be the force of action in the destiny of the world. We serve as the mouthpieces, the foot soldiers, the teachers, etc. of God the Father. Yet within the verse, we easily pass by the boldness of the statement that God works in us to both do and to WILL. We do not simply take orders like an army private or follow instructions like a computer robot. We do the work of God AFTER we have willed that it be done. Yes, we can boldly say that our desires are the desires of Jesus Christ who lives in us and is our life. His will is expressed out through us by our Godly desires.
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul explains that our lives are a reflection of the spirit that we contain. He says, “In times past, ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the ‘children of disobedience’ (Ephesians 2:2) and, we were the ‘children of wrath.’ (Ephesians 2:3). Yet, “even when we were dead in sins, (God) hath quickened us together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:5). Now, “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:10).
These first verses in chapter two of Ephesians take the reality of spirit union and show that this union is found in believers and non-believers alike. Paul says that we all have been operated by Satan, who he refers to as “the prince of the power of the air.” We are born into union with Satan’s spirit, and he then does his work of evil through us to accomplish his evil will. But when we are “saved by grace through faith in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:8), we are transformed to “do good works.” By Christ’s death on the cross, we put our faith in Him. Through this faith, the spirit within us is switched, and we become what we were created to be. For “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:10). Now we will “bear fruits unto good works” because the Spirit of Christ in us produces the good fruits. Yes, God has created us not to live life separated from Him, but to CONTAIN His spirit and produce His good works.
Paul similarly states, “In Christ also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will” (Ephesians 1:11). He goes on to say that Christ “filleth all in all” (Ephesians 1:23). Christ works all things by working through us. He fills everything. Since He is “all in all,” then we are assured that He is in us, and He fulfills His desire by working through us. Paul uses the word “all” multiple times here so that no doubt can be raised. “All” does not leave any room for alternatives. Independent-I has no mention or place in our lives as Christ is “all in all.”
God has proved His love to us by sending His only son to die on the cross for us. We know that Christ’s blood washes away our sins and serves as the singular and eternal atonement. Our penalty has been paid with the perfect blood of Christ. Yet we have been given so much more than just simple atonement. We have been given a new life, and that life is in Christ. Now, in union, we are joined to Christ as the lie of independence has been crucified with Christ. What an awesome treasure to know and acknowledge and live by faith the “riches of the glory of the mystery” of the union life with Jesus Christ.