Union with Christ, cont.

What point is Jesus making? Look at the key word “remain.” It means to “dwell in, continue in, reside in, settle in, to make yourself at home in.” Take your home for example. You dwell and reside in it. We base our lives out of our homes. Imagine Jesus Christ comes to your home and asks if he can “live” there! What would that be like? Imagine how your home would be different if Jesus moved in as a tenant who pays for room and board and lives with you. However, the analogy is much deeper than that. Imagine Jesus is your landlord who comes to live with you. He owns your home because He purchased and redeemed it. Is there biblical support for this idea? Most certainly! Have a close and careful look at 1 Corinthians 6:20, 7:23, and 1 Peter 1:18-19. Jesus owns our homes (our lives). He purchased them with his precious blood on the cross.

His new address is the home of our life. He lives there now. He is not just an occupant. This is his new residence! This really is a staggering theological picture. The vine image communicates the same picture in agricultural terms. We remain or live in Jesus and he remains and lives in us through our “union with Christ.” We are intimately connected to Jesus who is the vine inasmuch as we are the branches. The lifeblood of the vine feeds and bears fruit through the branches because of an essential organic union. I understand this image because I live in a luscious valley in British Columbia, which is home to a number of picturesque vineyards that produce some of the best world class wines. The vine, branches, and grapes are in perfect union. The key to this vital union is obedience to Christ and surrender to the very real notion that without Christ we can do absolutely nothing. That is a very sobering thought.

By now you may be asking, “Ok Roger, you are still talking theory and theology. How do I apply it?” Here it is. Think about how to be before you think about how to do. Theologically reflect on your identity “in Christ” before you think about your actions “for Christ.” Carefully consider how being flows into doing. This might be academic, but try to grasp this next quote by James Fowler, “The union of being that recognizes the distinction of Christ’s indwelling the Christian and the union of the Christian’s identity with Christ must, of necessity, find expression in the ‘union of doing’ whereby the living Lord Jesus dynamically lives out His life in Christian behavior.” In effect, you and I cannot live the Christian life. Only Christ can live the Christian life through us because he is in us and we are in union with Him. Because we have a union of being, we can live in a union of doing insofar as it is Christ doing or living through us.

If we choose to walk with God, we must position ourselves in a posture of response rather than in a posture of action. Sure, we take the initiative and not sit idly by waiting for God to do something. We don’t become quietists who simply abandon ourselves to the point of becoming passive vessels who wait to receive God’s grace like an empty mug waiting to be filled with water by a faucet looking for a place to flow. Rather, we assume an active role whereby we take response-ability for our actions and our attitudes. In other words, we are responsible to obey Christ and thereby remain in Him. When we do, we open the floodgates, which become, in the words of Fowler, “the supplied life” based on a “union of doing.” After all, Jesus flatly declared, “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

We must respond to Christ living in us. He gives us the ability to respond by the Spirit because “it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Phil. 2:13). Our responsibility is to, by faith, remain, dwell, and live in Christ. The result will be that we will “bear much fruit” (John 15:5). Jesus does not say that we will “produce” much fruit. As Paul puts it, we must “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, pleasing Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work” (Col. 1:10). As you well know, we can also reject Christ living in us. After all, he constantly wants to live an obedient, submitted, and selfless life. He will take the initiative in us but we can choose to respond or reject his will and ways.

The treadmill of Christian performance quickly stops when confronted with a lively theology of the union of being and union of doing in Christ. How do we respond to Jesus who lives in us? It involves “paying absolute unmixed attention” to the voice, leadings, promptings, and guidance of Jesus through the Scripture and the Spirit in our everyday lives. I think he is very practical in our daily affairs when we pay close attention. Like tuning into the wavelength of a radio station, I must tune into the wavelength of God’s voice through Jesus who resides inside me. If I detect his leading, I must want to hear, obey, and respond. That is what response-ability means. To remain in Jesus requires that I respond to Jesus.

Do you remember the disciples on the Emmaus road? They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32) There is something about walking and talking with Jesus that ignites a heart that burns within us. At that time in biblical history, Jesus was still external to the disciples. Yet he caused an internal revival of their hearts. However, Jesus delivered an astonishing and revolutionizing promise recorded in John 14:16-17. He announced, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” Now that Jesus is internal to us by the indwelling Spirit, is it possible that our response and our personal fire should be greater? Is it possible that our responsibility is to live by the Spirit, be led by the Spirit and be controlled by the Spirit who is the flame of love who energizes our union with Christ? Is it possible that Christ would live His Christian life in and through us?

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• © 2005 Roger Helland.• Last Updated on November 12, 2005