Every day, men and women get bombarded with ideas, subtle and obvious, on who they should be. The messages are mixed and they come from all corners. Whether it's the culture of the world or the culture of the Church (and the countless veins within each), the propaganda and advice can be dizzying and confusing.
I am convinced that the breakdown in our understanding of Christian human identity today is a lack of understanding and living out of our union with Christ. Setting aside the gender issues, there is one answer which Scripture gives us to the question of identity for men and women: to be conformed to the image of his Son (Rom. 8:29).
We may have many earthly identities: single, married, husband, wife, mother, father, daughter, son, friend, butcher, baker, candlestick-maker, etc. However, there is a wider and deeper reality than all of this: a Christian man or woman is in union with Christ. A Christian man or woman is in Christ. That is our reality. It is Christ who defines personhood.
New Life in Christ
As a first principle, this is where we need to start as Christian humans. All thought, and the subsequent actions from that thought, should come from our union with Christ: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come" (2 Cor. 5:17).
Let me give an example (and there are countless others) of how our understanding of our union with Christ affects our everyday life. As a wife, I submit to my husband according to Ephesians 5 because of the fact that I am united to Christ. I submit because Christ submitted to the Father and I am in Christ. All the secondary and tertiary reasons for why I am called to submit are of no value unless I fully internalize what it means to be in Christ. Moreover, there is no greater motivation or power to live in line with this section of Scripture except the knowledge of my union with Christ. Saying that it is in the Bible does not make this Scripture effective. Claiming to be a complementarian does not make these verses effective. What makes all the realities of new life effective is our union with Christ and living out the wisdom contained in his Word.
Here are some ways we can think about how our union in Christ define us, with a little help from Anthony Hoekema’s Saved By Grace.
A Defining Union
1. If we are Christians, we were chosen by the Father before the creation of the universe and before anything existed; even before we existed. Our union with Christ has its roots in divine election.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him." (Eph. 1:3–4)
2. Our union with Christ is based on his redemptive work. Christ came to earth to save his people.
"You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." (Matt. 1:21)
3. Our actual union with Christ began at new birth. At regeneration (new birth – when our spirits are made alive), the Holy Spirit brings us into a living union with Christ.
"He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit." (Titus 3:5)
4. Throughout our lives, we live out our union with Christ through faith. That is, we exercise/seize/live out our new life in Christ, through faith.
"I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Gal. 2:20)
5. Our justification (where God declares us "not guilty," forgiving all our sins) is inseparable from our union with Christ. As we are spiritually moved by the Holy Spirit out from under the kingdom of darkness and the reign of sin, and brought into Christ several things happen: Our nature (ontologically) is changed from being under Adam to being under Christ. At which time we start sharing in Christ's obedience and righteousness. God sees us now through our new nature. Christ defines us. We are freed from the dominion of sin and driven by grace to live a new life.
“And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption." (1 Cor. 1:30)
"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (Rom. 8:1)
"In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace." (Eph. 1:7)
"…and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith." (Phil. 3:9)
6. We are sanctified through our union with Christ. The progressive work of the Holy Spirit over our lifetime conforms us to the image of Christ, leading us to bear spiritual fruit. As Sinclair Ferguson has said, “We must consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God. … let it dawn on you... you must reckon this to be true.”
"Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:4–5)
7. We persevere in our faith because of our union with Christ. Through power of the Holy Spirit we endure, persist, and remain steadfast in our devotion. We remain because if we are in him, we cannot come out of him.
"For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Rom. 8:38-39)
8. We die in Christ. Being united with Christ means that we die to ourselves that we may live through his life.
"For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s." (Rom. 14:8)
9. We are raised with Christ already and not yet. In one sense, our new self has already begun at regeneration. At the same time, we will be resurrected as our glorified selves at Christ's return.
"Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is." (1 John 3:2)
10. We will live in eternity with Christ as glorified men and women. The ultimate result of our union with Christ is that we will spend eternity worshiping him for who he is and what he has done.
"For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord." (1 Thess. 4:16–17)
Tell This Story
It's beautiful to see our union with Christ spelled out theologically. But how are these truths played out in us Christians?
The most important thing to remember and to stay conscious of is that the power of the Holy Spirit which raised Jesus up from death is the same power doing all this work.
By the power of the Holy Spirit, God regenerated my heart. The Holy Spirit then mysteriously and spiritually united my spirit to Christ's. Now I live and move and have my being in Christ; therefore what I think, say, and do flows from this union. When Paul says in Galatians 2:20 that he has been crucified with Christ and that his life in the flesh is lived by faith in Christ who is living inside him—what can he possibly mean? How does this affect the life of flesh we live on this planet?
The Holy Spirit of the living God living inside of us changes everything. Sinclair Ferguson has said that “sanctification is nothing if it doesn't affect the bodily life.” You have a new being, and the progression of sanctification works backwards and forwards at the same time. The Holy Spirit is putting to death the old you as he continues to slowly build up the new you. That new you will look more and more like Jesus—slowly, incrementally, the power of the Holy Spirit is creating and will create the new you until you are glorified.
This means the new me will make different choices about my body, my mind, my friendships, my entertainment, my reading habits, my hobbies, etc. This is why Paul talks about fornication as uniting Christ with a prostitute.
Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!... But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. (1 Cor. 6:15-17)
It says we are one spirit with him, and that our bodies are members of Christ. This means everything we do with our fleshly body has to align with something that Christ would do.
Would Christ get drunk and sleep around? No! Would Christ beat his wife? No! Would Christ lie to someone? No! Would Christ cheat on his taxes? Gossip about a neighbor? Cut someone off in traffic? Allow someone to go hungry? Do you see where I'm going with this?
Invariably someone will say, “Well that's just too hard. I'm not perfect. I'm not Jesus.” Good news: you are never called to be like Jesus by yourself. Scripture never says these are rules to obey in our own strength. Scripture says that the spirit of the God of this universe lives in us. He gives strength, power, self-discipline, and everything we need to live in line with the spirit of Christ in us.
We are a new people with a new nature on a new mission. We tell this story to a watching world as we worship, obey, and reflect our Savior. It takes fervor to say “no” to our old selves, the ones who like to indulge in our favorite sins. It takes humility when we fail to confess our sins and receive Christ's forgiveness, which he never begrudges but rather lavishes on us. It takes patience to love people who are not easy to love. It takes courage to talk about Jesus in the presence of those skeptical of his existence. Through our union with Christ, this new life empowered by the Spirit, we are given all we need to live as grace-driven members of Christ's body.
Luma Simms (@lumasimms) is a wife and mother of five delightful children. She studied physics and law before Christ led her to become a writer, blogger, and Bible study teacher. She blogs regularly at Gospel Grace.
 Anthony Hoekema, Saved By Grace (Eerdman’s, 1994), 55-64/