Union and Identification with Christ.
AT this point it becomes necessary to consider the nature
of union with Christ, and to distinguish it from what has been confounded with
it, though very different, - identification with Him. Scripture, indeed, which
speaks of being joined or united to Christ, does not use the latter term; but
the equivalent is abundantly given in the New Testament in the expression with
which our last chapter closed - "in Christ." This is taken by most Christians
as the very term for union. We must look, therefore, the more carefully into
Identification may also, and will, be in certain respects the result of union. Husband and wife become thus "one flesh" "he that is joined to the Lord is one spirit" (1 Cor. vi. 17). Here is, no doubt the origin of the confusion; but it is none the less such. We may speak of identification where there could not be union. We are identified with Christ in His death, not united to Him in it; identified in nature with Him, not united to His nature; identified with Him as our Representative before God, not united with Him as such.
These things are not in fact for us the result of union. "If any man be in Christ, [it is] new creation," says the apostle (2 Cor. v. 17). That is what "in Christ" means - a new creation. At new birth there is dropped into the soul the seed of divine, eternal life. It is not, as so many think, merely a moral change which is effected; but just as that which is born of the flesh is flesh, so that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Those so born are truly partakers of His nature, and thus not simply adopted but real children of God. Christ is their life, the new "Adam" of a new creation; but in which He is Creator as well as Head, as we have seen.*
*It is important to see clearly the exact force of this term "creation," as Scripture uses it. In Genesis i., in the divine work, we have the creation of heaven and earth, of the living soul (the animal), and of man. All else is said to be made, and not created. The creation of heaven and earth speaks, of course, of their first origination; but in the case of the beast the soul, in that of the man the spirit, are the successive additions, which justify the term "creation" as applied to them. The beast has a soul (Gen. i. 30), but not a spirit. Man has not only a soul, but a spirit also (1 Thess. v. 23), by virtue of which alone he has the knowledge of a man (1 Cor. ii. 11), and is the offspring of God (Acts xvii. 28; Heb. xii. 9). Yet the beast and the man are said to be "created," and not the soul and spirit only. So the child of God, by this new spiritual life communicated at new birth, becomes "a new creation."
But union is never said to be by or in new creation, but accomplished in a very different way. "He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit;" and the context shows that it is of marriage the apostle is speaking: "For two, saith He, shall be one flesh; but he that is united to the Lord is one spirit." Such a figure is not and could not be applied to new creation. The Creator is not united to the creature, nor the parent to the child; but the head is united to the body, the husband to the wife, and the apostle in Eph. 5: 25-33 applies both these as illustrative of the Churchs relationship to Christ. A mans wife is his own flesh, his body: and "no man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as Christ the Church; for we are members of His body."
To be of the last Adams race and to be members of Christ are in Scripture perfectly distinct things, though in the minds of many there is sad confusion again as to this. Many belong and will yet belong to the new creation who never belong to the body of Christ at all. We are baptized by the Spirit into the body of Christ (1 Cor. xii. is); and that baptism began only at Pentecost (Acts i. 5; Matt. iii. 11); while the Church will be complete at the coming of Christ, before the thousand years begin of the earths blessing. But to pursue this would lead us too far from our present subject. It is enough to say that those baptized at Pentecost into the body of Christ were already before this born again and a new creation. And if these things were thus distinct in them, they must be as much so in all others.
"In Christ" is not, then, union; it is identification by virtue of that new life which is received when we are born again, and which connects us with the last Adam our Representative Head. This identification is twofold: first, in the new, divine nature received, so that it can be said, "For both He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one; for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren" (Heb. ii.11) while secondly, we are identified with Him in the work He has accomplished for us as our Representative. The identification with Him in nature is what is needed to constitute true representation: - "Behold I and the children which God hath given Me; forasmuch, then, as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part in the same; that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, and deliver those who all their lifetime, through fear of death, were subject to bondage; for verily He taketh not hold of angels, but of the seed of Abraham He taketh hold" (Heb. ii. 13-16).
We have seen how this death of Christ for His people - because all are truly welcome to become His people - becomes a propitiation for the whole world. A true basis for representation is found in this true brotherhood between the Lord and His own, without narrowing the limits of an atonement for all.
But also the various views of ritualists and others based upon the Lords supposed union with all men in His assumption of the common humanity are completely set aside. Without contending further as to the Scripture thought of "union," it is not a common humanity which establishes relationship between the Lord and the whole race of men. It is by what is in men the new nature, not the old, that they become His "brethren". And the new life that they thus receive is, as His own words testify, a life which is the fruit of His death alone: "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit". This He says of His own death and its results. But for His death, His perfect, spotless manhood could have availed nothing for us. Our link is with Him the other side of death, a death by which the first man and the old creation are set aside forever. Identification and union are both for us with Him risen from the dead.
It is for want of understanding this that the force of the apostles words in Romans 5:10 is so little seen: "If when we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved through His life." "Who was delivered for our offences" says in the fourth chapter, "and raised again for our justification." Thus it is His risen Life that is salvation for us; not simply because "He ever liveth to make intercession for us," but because that life is the new beginning of every thing for us. The death and resurrection of Christ are thus the pillars of the gospel: His death the knife to cut the fatal link of connection with the old fallen head; His resurrection the power that lifts us into the new place of acceptance and the eternal joy. Dead with Christ, we are dead to sin (Rom. vi. 11), to the law (chap. vii. 4), and to the elements of the world, and are no longer alive in it (Col. ii. 20). We are not of the world, even as Christ is not (Jn. xvii. 16).
From this it results that "in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision," - neither the Jewish nor the Gentile footing, - " but new creation." And here is the practical rule of Christianity; "and as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy" (Gal. vi. 15, 16).
How important, then, in every way is this resurrection side of the gospel! Alike for full deliverance and for a true Christian walk it must be known. Except as dead with Christ, I have no title to reckon myself dead to sin: for this is not feeling or finding, not experience at all, but faith; and faith which not only sees that Christ has borne my sins, but that He has stood for me, in my stead, so that His death has removed me and all the evil of my evil nature forever out of the sight of God, to give me my true self now in Christ in His presence. I am delivered from legal self-occupation, the enemy of all true holiness, and enabled for occupation with Christ, the true secret of holiness and of power. "We all with open face beholding the glory of the Lord are changed into His image, from glory to glory, even as by the Lord the Spirit." The imprint of this glory it is by which we become the letter of commendation of Christ read and known of all men; a letter written, not with ink, but by the Spirit of the living God; not on tables of stone, but on fleshy tables of the heart (2 Cor. iii. 18, 3).
Upon all this I must not here dwell; and it has been dwelt upon at length by many. But it shows how in every detail of it the doctrine of atonement connects with all Christian experience and practice together. May its rich and blessed fruits he found in us as in him who said, "The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me."
Go To Chapter Twenty-Seven
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