Ask Steve: Union with Christ


Currently Reading:

The Jesus Quest: The Danger from Within

Editors: Norman L. Geisler & F. David Farnell

Category: Biblical Studies / Apologetics

2014, Xulon Press





Question: Steve, I heard that sanctification is said to be past, present, and future. Can you tell me the idea of “union with Christ.”

Answer: Sanctification has implications for a Christian’s past, present, and future life since it is an indispensable part of a Christian’s life and is connected to the doctrine of union with Christ. Sanctification is defined as a progressive work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin and like Christ in our actual lives. This definition relates to the Christian’s post-conversion / pre-glorification experience. Since sanctification means to “set apart” or to “consecrate as holy” onto God, it rightly has three stages in a saint’s life. This can also be dubbed the three meanings of sanctification.

In regards to the past, positional sanctification is the removing of the sinner from the penalty of sin and setting him apart onto holiness because of Christ’s righteousness reckoned to his account (1 Cor 6:11; Rom 6:11, 14). In other words, positional sanctification happens when we are saved. Progressive sanctification is the lifelong process of putting off the old sinful nature and putting on the new holy nature of God, day by day (2 Cor 3:18;Col3:10). It is the life long process of growing in the Christian faith. And then there is final sanctification, in which believers are finally and fully set apart from the presence of sin when they receive their glorified bodies and dwell with God forever (Phil 3:21; 1 Cor 15: 35-49).

When we are saved and regenerated in the Holy Spirit, God works in us to conform us more to Christ’s likeness, which is made complete when we die and are completely shed of our sinful nature. Until then, we still have our sinful nature and struggle with it (1 John 3:9), but the Holy Spirit empowers and guides us to be set apart from sin and be more like Jesus.

The sanctification process is a lifelong process. It begins at regeneration, when the sinner is justified in God’s sight by faith and given new life through the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5, 1 Corinthians 6:11). At this stage, he is fully and forever united with Christ. Sanctification increases throughout life, in which the sinner is being sanctified from the power of sin and will continue to be sanctified until death (Philippians 3:13-14, Hebrew 12:14). Finally, sanctification is completed at death (for our souls) or for our living bodies when the Lord returns. At this stage, we are completed set apart from the presence of sin and are made perfectly holy, fully conformed to the image of Christ (Philippians 3:21, 1 Corinthians 15:23). Perfection is something we will never attain while in the unglorified flesh (1 John 1:8), however we are commanded to strive in the direction of holiness, guided always by God the Spirit in the process (2 Thessalonians 2:13, 1 Peter 1:2).

We can only be properly and biblically sanctified if we are in Christ, or united with Christ. As I stated earlier, union with Christ is by faith alone, which justifies a sinner. The four crucial points of “union with Christ” as: 1) We are in Christ, 2) Christ is in us, 3) We are like Christ, 4) We are with Christ. In Christ, Christians receive every benefit of salvation. This includes regeneration, sanctification, and glorification. There is no such thing as being in Christ and rejecting sanctification in one’s life. If we are united with Christ, we experience all the benefits and trials of sanctification, because Christ is the source from which all our righteous obedience derives from (1 Corinthians 1:30, Philippians 3:9). This sanctification culminates in our glorification and eternal walk with God (Colossians 2:12), which is the end goal of our union with Christ.