Union with Christ and the Resurrection

By Brian Key    |    May 1, 2023

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In a previous article, I argued that the call of the season of Eastertide is, in many ways, a call to the exhortation at the beginning of Psalm 103: “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (Psalm 103:1–2). It is an invitation to meditate on and celebrate the benefits of the resurrection as we seek to live lives shaped by the truth and hope of the resurrection.

I argued that because he lives, we have a gospel to preach about a reigning King who offers forgiveness of sin, brings us into union with himself, walks with us in temptation and suffering, and offers us a secure future filled with resurrection hope. Having already discussed three of the benefits of the resurrection from the first half of that statement, I want to consider the final three benefits: union with Christ, his presence and help in suffering, and our secure resurrection hope.

Our Union with Christ

Being united with Christ through faith is the great gift of our salvation. To say that we are united with him is to confess that we have no spiritual good apart from him. Indeed, Paul states this in the positive when he says that in Christ we have been blessed “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph. 1:3). Throughout the New Testament, this mysterious union is described in phrases such as “in Christ,” “in him,” “in the Lord,” and “in Christ Jesus.” Because he was raised—completing his redemptive work through his sinless life, atoning death, and resurrection—Christ has given us access through faith to all of the benefits of redemption.

This union with Christ is eternally decreed (Eph. 1:4–5), historically accomplished (Eph. 1:6–7), eternally sealed (Eph. 1:13–14), and existentially experienced (John 17; Gal. 2:20). One of my favorite passages of Scripture related to this mysterious reality is Colossians 3:1–4. Paul writes:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

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Because we have been raised with Christ, our life is right now “hidden with Christ in God.” God no longer views us as anything other than being in Christ. The benefits of redemption and the hope of the resurrection are now ours through faith. And the good news is that this unbreakable bond will carry us all the way into glory. It is in that union that we are now dead to our “old self with its practices.” In this union we are enabled to live holy lives as our “new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Col. 3:9–10). Union with Christ breaks the chains of our old way of life and liberates us to live a new life in him.

This union with Christ is the grounds for our experience of communion with the triune God and with other believers. In John 17:21, Jesus prays “that they may be one, just as you, Father are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” In other words, this experience of a loving relationship with the triune God fuels our mission. And it is our shared experience of that love together that bears witness to the world that Christ has come and has caught us up together in his resurrection life. That witness is birthed not out of our missional strategies but out of our shared participation in union with Christ.

The Presence of Christ in Suffering

In the last installment, we considered the comfort of the power and sovereign rule of the risen and reigning Christ. However, it is even more comforting to know that he isn’t some distant king, but he is also with us as his people as we seek to live for his glory in the midst of a fallen world. This is especially good news as we consider our ongoing fight with sin and our suffering brought on by our obedience to the mission he has called us into.

At the personal level, because he lives, he can give us what we need to endure temptation. The writer of Hebrews tells us that,

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb. 4:14–16)

One of the most miserable parts of temptation is that it makes us feel utterly alone. But the good news is that because of the presence of the risen Christ, we don’t have to endure temptation alone as we seek to live for him. We don’t have to fight temptation as though we are the only one who has ever felt what we are feeling. We can draw near to God with confidence because our union with him ensures we will never be turned away. And as we draw near, he gives us what we need to stand and fight in a strength that is not our own.

His presence is also good news for us corporately as his people. When Jesus commissions his disciples in Matthew 28, there is great confidence in knowing that he has been given “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18). There is great clarity in knowing the scope of the mission–to make disciples of all nations. But Jesus had informed the disciples throughout the gospels that the work of bearing witness was going to bring persecution and suffering. That would be a disquieting thought if he didn’t finish his commission with these words of promise: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).

Only a living Christ can make that kind of promise—to be present with his people always as they participate in God’s mission of reconciling the world to himself through Christ. Moreover, he doesn’t just promise to be present with his disciples as they bear witness. In Luke’s gospel, he promises to give them words when their witness is challenged (Luke 21:13–15). This means that the risen Christ is present with us and stands ready to equip us for the task of mission.

Christ has given us access through faith to all of the benefits of redemption.”

—Brian Key

His presence among us should produce comfort and endurance. As John opens Revelation, he relates what he hears, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches” (Rev. 1:11). Many churches jump straight to the letters to the seven churches. But it is John’s first vision, the vision of the Son of Man, that grounds and orients the rest of the book. He was writing to a group of persecuted churches and calling them to endure in the middle of a chaotic world where individuals and cultures stood opposed (often violently so) to the name of Jesus. Does that sound familiar?

When John sees the Son of Man, he realizes and invites us to see that the risen Christ is in the midst of his church purifying, comforting, and protecting her with his presence and power. And as the letter unfolds, we realize that it is this risen Christ who is in control of all of history and sovereignly ruling over every kingdom and culture. What greater comfort could there be for the church in every age?

That kind of comfort is only possible if, in fact, he is risen. The good news is that this comfort extends forward through death and into eternity.

A Secure Resurrection Hope

The writer of Hebrews says that because of our fear of death, “we were subject to lifelong slavery” (Heb. 2:15). Isaiah describes death as “the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations,” but promises that God will do something to “swallow up death forever” (Isa. 25:7–8). Paul writes in his magnum opus on the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 that the promise is fulfilled because Christ rose from the dead.

He says, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20). The term firstfruits is an Old Testament metaphor. It is the first portion of a harvest that was offered to God with thanksgiving. The first fruit was the assurance of a full harvest. In that same way, the risen Christ stands as God’s pledge and promise that all who belong to him will be raised as well (1 Cor. 15:23). Paul lets us know that in the resurrection of Jesus God has released us from the slavery of death and has begun to swallow up death forever!

The great hope of the people of God is that just as it was impossible for death to hold down Jesus, it will be impossible for death to hold down any of those who belong to him. A day is coming when what is sown perishable will be raised imperishable. What is sown in dishonor will be raised in glory. What is sown in weakness will be raised in power. What is sown as a natural body will be raised as a spiritual body (1 Cor. 15:42–44). On that day, we will join the victory shout, saying, “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:54–55).

Sin, death, and every remnant of their illegitimate dominion will be done away with in that day. John tells us in Revelation 21:3–5,

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

It seems almost unimaginable because of the overwhelming presence of sin and death in our world. But what feels unimaginable and even impossible is a solid and secure hope because he is not only trustworthy and true but because he is alive.

Conclusion

“Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again” is the greatest proclamation in the world. But that middle phrase—Christ is risen—serves as the hinge that makes the other two phrases good news for humanity. Because he lives, we have a gospel to preach about a reigning King who offers forgiveness of sin, brings us into union with himself, walks with us in suffering and temptation, and offers us a secure future filled with resurrection hope.

Walk through this Eastertide blessing the Lord with your whole being as you reflect on all the benefits that the risen Christ extends to us because he lives.

Brian Key

Brian Key is professor of urban ministry at Grimké Seminary.

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