The Riches of Our Union with Christ

© Marcelo A. Tolopilo

“Are you kidding me?! This can’t be! Wait a minute.”

I reread the winning numbers to myself, “It is true!” I clamored and took off running to the platform yelling “I got it! I got it! I got it!” wildly waiving my ticket in the air.

I was nine years old, and I had won the raffle at the Lakewood Elementary School Fair. My prize: a medium sized Snoopy stuffed animal. It might as well have been a wheelbarrow full of gold bullion. I could not believe the windfall that had fallen to me. In the world of cuddly creatures (the currency of fourth graders), I was a rich man and the envy of all my buddies. “Yeah, me and my Snoopy are tight. He’s mine. Check out the cool red bow around his neck. All mine!” I basked in the glow of my good fortune through the weekend and clear into Monday. Too bad the thrill faded by Tuesday.

The incomparable gift of union with Christ

Have you ever been given or inherited something of great value? If you love the Lord Jesus Christ, let me tell you, you have been given something of infinite value that can bring deep soul-reviving joy to you every time you contemplate it. Believers in Jesus, you and I, have been given the gift of union with Christ. We are united to the Lord Jesus and that brings with it a spiritual treasure trove that is not only mind boggling, but more soul satisfying than anything this life can offer—even a wheelbarrow full of riches or an unspectacular stuffed animal when you’re nine.

I want us to explore—more accurately, I want to gain a better glimpse of—the nature of our union with Christ and how we benefit from it. I think you’ll agree it is a staggering gift of cosmic proportions and a joy ad infinitum.

An Expiatory Union

Our union with Christ is first of all an expiatory union. To expiate means to atone for, to make amends, to pay for by sacrifice. Through our union with Christ, Jesus became our expiatory substitute. In other words, He took our sin, suffered God’s punishment for those sins, cancelled our eternal sin debt, and in return God gave us Christ’s everlasting righteousness. This is stated so beautifully by Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:21, He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. Let’s unpack that verse a bit so that we may gain a better glimpse into the beauty and privilege of our expiatory union with the Lord Jesus.

“He made Him”God the Father made Jesus, “who knew no sin”—this phrase speaks of the sinlessness of Christ, and in reference to Christ, this is what theologians term “non pase pecare”—not able to sin. That is, Jesus was impeccable. The Lord Jesus was incapable of sinning and that’s what makes the next phrase so jaw dropping. Paul tells us that “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin.

Allow your mind to wrap itself around those three little words, “to be sin.” These words remind us that God the Father treated Jesus (on the cross) as the embodiment of all that was evil. At Calvary the Lord Jesus became everything that God could not endure, and God the Father poured out His burning wrath on the sin which Jesus bore. Whose sin? Yours and mine. Jesus suffered, the text says, “on our behalf.”

The Lord became our substitute and the curse for our sin that should have been bourne on our shoulders fell upon Him. He took our guilt and became accursed for us. Doesn’t your heart well up with amazement and gratitude at the thought of this? Galatians 3:13 reminds us, Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE.”

2 Corinthian 5:21 would be pretty amazing if it stopped right there, yet it preaches on and so we have the purpose clause introduced with the words so that.” What was God’s grand purpose behind Christ bearing our sin and suffering God’s wrath for it? It was “so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” God’s purpose was to credit to our account the righteousness of Christ. This is done by virtue of the believer’s union with Christ “in Him.”

To sinners in union with Christ, God imputes the righteousness of His Son! Think about what this means. Just as Jesus on the cross became the embodiment of evil before God, so now before the eyes of God we have become the embodiment of righteousness!! And the basis of this exchange, this new position of righteous before God, is our union with the Lord Jesus. You and I can’t earn this position; we can’t lose it; it is our standing before God because we are in Christ Jesus. Feeling spiritually rich yet? You should! You are!!

Christ’s perfect life is ours by imputation! Please understand that our standing before God now is not simply based on the removal of our guilt (which is true in and of itself), but we have also been given (imputation) the righteousness of Christ. God took away our sin and put the righteousness of Jesus in us. A while ago I heard a pastor summarize this exchange in this way, “On the cross, God treated Jesus as if He lived my life, so that He might treat me as if I lived His.” Wow! And I say again, WOW!

We have an expiatory union with Christ. Jesus was our substitute at Calvary and as a result of our union with Him we have a standing before God predicated on the complete removal of our guilt and the full imputation of Christ’s righteousness. No wheelbarrow full of riches can imitate the lasting joy of that treasure!!! In our next Lighthouse article we will explore our legal, mystical, and organic union with Christ.

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