Summary: This article was written and published Dec. ’15. The possibility of fallen man being redeemed by God was entirely dependent on the Son of God coming into this physical world by taking on human flesh and becoming a man. A Man had to accomplish the work of redemption before God. The results of this redemption are not well understood by many Christians. This article provides explanations for many of the bible terminologies used around the subject of Christian redemption and its spiritual outcomes.
Jesus Christ was true God and true man. He is the same presently. He will be this eternally. That He is true God and true man united in one Person should never be in doubt for the Christian. The Scriptures teach this. It is an essential truth concerning Christianity.
Concerning the side of being true God in His nature we have the testimony of God’s word that He is the image of the invisible God, the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His being (Col. 1:15, Heb. 1:3). “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” (John 1:1-2) That the Word became flesh and dwelt among us in no way changed the fact that He was God in the beginning, and remained truly God after His incarnation. This was a truth emphasized by the angel in his message to Mary, “…also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35) That the church world debated the validity of the doctrine of the deity of Christ during the fourth century (the council of Nicaea- 325 AD) did not make this necessarily true. Truth is of God and His word. Nevertheless, the council did come to the correct conclusion, and as I said previously, it is part of the essential claims indigenous to Christianity.
Philippians 2:5-7 (NKJV)
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.”
The mind of Christ is His humility and willingness to obey the will of God as a servant. This is what the believer is encouraged by the passage to emulate. But my point in choosing this passage is to show that Jesus was God, in the very form of God, even after taking on another state – that of the likeness of man. He did not think His rights as God and being equal with God were something that necessarily always needed to be displayed. Therefore, His divine glory was hidden and muted by His taking on human form. So now we may say with Scripture, “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” (Col. 2:9) It is God in human form – true God and true man. I will speak of the proper emphasis of these last two passages later.
If Jesus was true God in human flesh, and He was as already shown, then we find in Scripture that in certain things revealed, He represented God to men or before men. This, in itself, is a most blessed and sanctifying truth. In His life down here, he that had seen Him had seen the Father. The gospel of John has this as one of its major themes:
John 1:18 (NKJV)
“No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.”
John 14:8-11 (NKJV)
“Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.”
“Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves.”
His whole life is the verification and illustration of this truth. In His Person, Jesus is the image of the invisible God. As to this the Scriptures are clear. But it is important to make this distinction – the special revelation of the Father is specifically a Christian revelation. It is not how Israel knew God, nor how the forefathers knew Him (Ex. 6:2-4). It is specific for the believer because it is the relationship he has with God as born of God and His new creation – God is our Father, and in Christ we are His sons (Gal. 3:26). (This distinctive revelation characterizes Christianity as God’s sanctioned religion replacing Judaism, and the Christian dispensation replacing the Jewish one.)
But it remains that only God can reveal God, and so the Son was sent by the Father into the world to reveal the Father. Of course this revelation only comes to Christians, the true sons of the Father and having this relationship through faith in the Son. So the Scriptures emphasize this as the work of the Son – of God the Son.
Matthew 11:25-27 (NKJV)
“At that time Jesus answered and said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight. All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.”
Again, it is God alone who can reveal God, and so, the Son of God reveals the Father to whomever He wills – the sovereignty of God, not man, being emphasized in the election of the believer. It is the work of the Son, not that of the Son of Man, although Jesus has the glory associated with both these titles. And this is important to see and distinguish in Scripture, for the Holy Spirit makes this distinction. In certain things, in certain works, and in certain passages of Scripture there will be found a distinction made in the emphasis between two viewpoints – Jesus representing God or Jesus representing man. Representing God will have the biblical emphasis on His divinity. Representing man will carry the biblical emphasis of His perfect humanity. Being true God and true man, He had responsibility for both of these distinct representations. In the above passage from Matthew we have Jesus in the viewpoint as God the Son revealing the Father, and the sovereignty of God determining the choice of those who would receive the revelation.
John 17:1-3 (NKJV)
“Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”
The giving of life to anyone is the work and privilege of God alone. Again this speaks of God’s sovereignty. But further, the passage emphasizes Jesus having the right to give eternal life because He is the Son. He and the Father together are sovereign in this specific work. This is the same as was spoken earlier in John’s gospel:
John 5:19-26 (NKJV)
“Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will…Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself.”
The first part of the passage is about the works Jesus did – all the miracles, healings, and deliverances. But the implication is that He does these things because He is God (the Son). The Son watches the Father and only does those works which He sees the Father doing. And so we have a divine unity in the works that were manifested. This certainly gives a different perspective from how most teachers would explain the life of Christ, at least His ministry. But I digress. What is the same as John seventeen (17) is that both the Father and the Son together are the Authors and Givers of eternal life. Even more, it is these two alone who have life in themselves (John 5:26). Further still, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.” (John 5:17) They have been working together for some time, quickening whoever they will – from the time man ruined his rest (sabbath) in paradise and was chased out of the garden. Again, the biblical viewpoint surrounding the giving of life is Jesus as God and seen in His divinity.
But Jesus was true man as well as being true God. And as much as it is significant to see how Jesus represented God before men, it becomes even more important for us to see what Jesus did in representing man before God – was it not man that needed help, that needed redemption? It is paramount we understand what He did for us as a Man, as the perfect Man.
If we consider the experience of the first man Adam, we see him created in a state of innocence, and placed in surroundings that could only be described as very good. He had every blessing God could provide. Yet Adam failed in his responsibility, disobeyed God’s one command, and brought misery and ruin upon the human race. Jesus, the last Adam, comes into the place of man’s misery and sin and shows perfect obedience as a Man before God. Where the first man abandoned the will of God to selfishly do his own, the last Man said to God, “…nevertheless, not what I will, but your will be done.” The first Adam, while in the midst of all the goodness of God’s creation, succumbs to Satan’s lies and temptation. The last Adam, led out into the wilderness, overcomes the temptations of the devil through perfect obedience to God. He says, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.”
Surely we see Jesus as a Man representing men in these experiences. In Gethsemane His suffering was so intense that He sweat, as it were, great drops of blood (Luke 22:44). The cup He was given to drink represented God’s wrath in judgment for man’s sin. This necessitated that a man had to drink it. It had to be a man tempted in the wilderness by Satan or else the experience was meaningless. It was the last Adam who obeyed God, quoting His word in order to resist the temptation. The first Adam allowed Satan to cause him to doubt the truthfulness and integrity of God’s word. But my point is for you to see that Jesus had to be a man for these experiences to be meaningful for men, and in certain cases for the events to be redemptive for men. Who would doubt the absolute necessity that a man had to be the sacrifice before God in order to bring redemption in for other men? When Jesus hung on the cross and the skies turned dark, it was because He bore our sins away hanging on the tree. Further, this was the time in which God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us (II Cor. 5:21). He cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” All of this is a biblical emphasis on Christ’s humanity, rather than His divinity.
Jesus accepted His part of the work of grace and redemption. But in order to properly fulfil His part He had to become a man. This is the secondary emphasis of the following passage:
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
The primary emphasis is the humility demonstrated by God the Son being willing to become a man. The secondary emphasis, one which is harder to perceive from the passage, is the necessity that He become a man. It was what was required of Him in order for Jesus to do God’s will to accomplish redemption for man. This passage is the full statement of this great truth—this blessed truth (having all its value from His being truly and essentially God), that He humbled Himself, that, as a man for our sakes, and as obedient to death, He might, as man, be exalted to the place of Lord, due to Him in glory. This passage holds a special contrast with the first Adam. From Genesis we know Adam as a man who sought to exalt himself, and became disobedient unto death, or under death by disobedience. In distinct contrast to the first man we have the history of the Last Man – He made Himself of no reputation in becoming a man. Death to Him was the highest, fullest act of obedience and confidence then, as man, in His Father. Therefore God highly exalted Him. The first man, Adam, was cast down because of his disobedience, seeking to exalt himself to be as God (Elohim). In this, then, we have the great doctrine of the exaltation of Jesus as the new man, the Last Adam, the Head of a new race—the depositary of power; in whom man was, according to Psalm 8, “set over all things.”
This requirement of His humanity, so He could die and be a sacrifice before God, is clearly stated in Hebrews:
Heb. 10:5-7 (NKJV)
“Therefore, when He came into the world, He said:
“Sacrifice and offering You did not desire,
But a body You have prepared for Me.
In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin
You had no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come—
In the volume of the book it is written of Me—
To do Your will, O God.’”
This emphasizes His humanity. In order for Jesus to do God’s will in redeeming men, a body had to be prepared for Him. Then He could say, “Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God…By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Heb. 10:9-10) Throughout the redemptive work the biblical emphasis is on Jesus, the perfect obedient Man, representing men.
Hebrews 2:9-10 (NKJV)
“But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.
For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.”
Jesus made a little lower than the angels refers to His becoming a man. The purpose of this requirement is told us – for the suffering of death. If you think about it, God cannot die. He is eternal and He has life in and of Himself. But as a true Man, Jesus could lay down His life and suffer death, as these passages declare. He could, in humility and obedience, go under the power of Satan.
Hebrews 2:14 (NKJV)
“Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.”
The power of death is both the power of the enemy and the judgment of God. “Insomuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood…” shows the necessity of Jesus doing the same. This is not a viewpoint of His deity, although through all His deity is maintained. Rather it is Scripture emphasizing His humanity in the defeat of Satan. In the garden man originally came under the devil’s power; it required the work of a Man to set us free from Satan’s bondage.
John 12:23-24 (NKJV)
“But Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.”
If the Son of Man didn’t die, He would have remained alone – there would have been no one to share in His glory. As the Messiah of Israel, having come to that nation according to the flesh, if He would have taken the throne of David, there would have been no redemption and no church. He would have been King of the Jews, but totally alone in it. The general question of the first Adam and man’s misery and sin would have remained. Man would still have fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). Please read Romans 5:12-21 and see how Jesus is presented as the one Man in contrast to the first man. Again, it is the biblical view of the necessity of His humanity in accomplishing the work of redemption. Because it was done by this Man, other men may be saved. God does not give aid to angels (Heb. 2:16).
Hebrews 9:11-14 (NKJV)
“But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”
Israel had the lesser and imperfect tabernacle. They had the blood of animals. Their priests were weak and sinful men. Their sanctification was only outwardly of the flesh. The sacrifices went on continuously – death and blood day after day. Their special day of atonement had to be repeated every year. In every respect Judaism is earthly, worldly, and inferior; a religion limited and suited to the flesh. But Christianity is entirely different. It deals with the greater and more perfect tabernacle. It involves the blood of a perfect Man offered up to God, obtaining an eternal redemption – with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place. But again, this emphasizes Jesus taking His place as a Man, and after resurrection, as the glorified Man. He always remained as God, and other passages show this. But these passages specially emphasize His work as a Man. It is important for our understanding of doctrine that we see this impression being made in Scripture. Believers could not have been redeemed unless a man did the work of redemption, and glorified God by it. (Later I will speak of this Man as the believer’s High Priest)
The biblical emphasis of Jesus viewed in His humanity doesn’t end with His death. If the Son of Man died, then it was the Son of Man who was raised from the dead. It is the Son of Man who is glorified. These thoughts are certainly encompassed by the following passage:
John 13:31-32 (NKJV)
“So, when he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in Him. If God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and glorify Him immediately.”
This specifically references how Jesus, the Son of Man, glorified God as a Man by His obedience to the cross. His perfect humanity was for the purpose of dying, bearing the sins of many and becoming an offering for sin. He glorified God by the cross. How? God condemned Jesus to death, and this glorified the holiness and righteousness of God in respect to man’s sins. God was honored by His death on the cross. Through the work of this Man God’s righteousness was maintained, established, and even glorified in the matter of man’s sin and fallen state. Therefore God glorified this Man.
It is as a glorified Man that Jesus sits now at the right hand of God – “But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins, forever sat down at the right hand of God…” (Heb. 10:12, Ps. 80:17, Luke 22:69).
That He is there as a Man representing other men – believers – is quite clear from Scripture. “For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.” (Heb. 9:24)
His present ministry as High Priest for the believer is emphasized by Scripture as that of a glorified Man. This ministry continues beyond His death and shed blood, although the foundation for it is found there. What I mean is that the sacrifice and shed blood was eternal, and one time, never to be repeated. It was Jesus as a sacrifice which brings eternal redemption to the believer. His blood can only wash one time for any individual. His death and shed blood represents a finished work. By the shed blood and faith in Him the believer has an established relationship with God which is eternal and secured.
But this is not His priesthood or present ministry for us. Rather, His priesthood is constantly ongoing in maintaining, not relationship, but communion and fellowship with God our Father. His priesthood does not wash the believer with blood, but with water (John 13), cleansing us from the defilements we incur while walking around in this world. It is ongoing cleansing, for He ever lives, having defeated death and risen out of it, to make intercession for us. This is what maintains the communion and fellowship of the believer’s relationship, not the relationship itself.
Hebrews 7:23-28 (NKJV)
Also there were many priests, because they were prevented by death from continuing. But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.
For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the law appoints as high priests men who have weakness, but the word of the oath, which came after the law, appoints the Son who has been perfected forever.”
This passage portrays Jesus as the perfect Man – holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners. By the disobedience of Adam the entire human race were made sinners (Rom. 5:19). But Jesus, our High Priest, is not of Adam. He was never born of Adam, and so, He never had any union with man in Adam. There was no sin in Him. Neither did He ever commit any sins. He was the spotless Lamb, the perfect Man, offered up for us. This perfection as a Man continues in His present ministry – He is separate from sinners.
Hebrews 2:17-18 (NKJV)
“Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.”
Hebrews 4:15-16 (NKJV)
For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Here we see that as a Man Jesus suffered and was tempted. These are not experiences we can associate with divinity. Also Hebrews speaks of Jesus learning obedience by the things which He suffered; it speaks of Him having been perfected by such sufferings (Heb. 5:8-9). This particular passage seems to contrast His divinity with His humanity by saying, “…though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience…” We cannot imagine deity having to learn anything. It is His humanity alone that is in focus.
In many more passages of Scripture we see the biblical emphasis placed on His humanity. The following is a listing of some of these passages. It is my hope that in them you will be able to see this impression, and fully realize the importance of it:
1 Timothy 2:5 (NKJV)
“For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.”
Hebrews 2:9-10 (NKJV)
“But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.
For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.”
Hebrews 6:19-20 (NKJV)
“This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, 20 where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”
1 Corinthians 15:20-21 (NKJV)
“But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead.”
1 Corinthians 15:45-49 (NKJV)
“And so it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.”
However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man.”
Before ending this article I want to make three broad points of doctrine which are dependent on seeing and understanding the biblical emphasis on Christ’s humanity. Although Jesus will forever be true God and true Man in His Person, and this always will be a great mystery, yet we have seen many passages of Scripture which emphasize His humanity almost to the exclusion of His divinity. If I may be permitted to say it like this, in these situations, it is as if His divinity was along for the ride. I know this isn’t well said, but you may understand what I mean by it. Why? Because these situations required fulfillment by a man, and that, even a perfect Man. Only Jesus qualified before God to do the work. The following three points have this same emphasis.
1 Corinthians 15:24-25 (NKJV)
“Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet.”
The first broad point concerns the millennial kingdom – the time in which Jesus must reign on the earth and put all enemies under His feet. This reign precedes the point when He delivers up the kingdom to God, the millennium is over, and the eternal state begins. This reign and this kingdom represents the last reign and kingdom of man on the earth. It just so happens to be the reign of the perfect and glorified Man. Jesus will be the King of kings, Lord of lords. He will be the Melchizedek priest on His throne, a royal priest representing the Most High God (Gen. 14:18-20). This is a mediatorial kingdom. And there is only one Mediator between God and men on the earth, the Man Christ Jesus (I Tim. 2:5).
Ephesians 1:19-23 (NKJV)
“…and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”
The second point involves the church. The existence of the church and all consequent church doctrine is entirely dependent on the proper biblical view of Jesus Christ as He is now and where He is now, and as we have been discussing – the glorified Man sitting to the right hand of the Majesty on high. The church is the body of this Man. It is a body gathered and formed by the Holy Spirit sent down to the earth. This sending of the Comforter was dependent and consequent to the exalting of Jesus Christ to the right hand of God. When we put it all together for our understanding, the church doesn’t exist until after the Son of Man was glorified to the right hand of God, and the Holy Spirit was sent down (Eph. 1:19-23, John 7:39, I Cor. 12:12-13). The body of Christ exists in relation and in union with its glorified Head in heaven. This mystical union of the body to the Head is by the work of the Spirit. The church is His body, the fullness of Him. All this certainly emphasizes His glorified humanity.
As I said, all proper church doctrine is dependent on the correct view of Christ presently – this exalted and glorified Man. As the Son of God Jesus had glory with the Father before time began. This was glory associated with His deity.
John 17:4-5 (NKJV)
“I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.”
But now the glory He re-enters is associated with His humanity. The work He finished by which He glorified God was to become a sacrifice in obedience to the will of God (Heb. 10:1-14). The paramount fact and truth to be grasped is that a Man has now entered the glory of God. All our associations as believers, or as members of His body, have their source in the comprehension of this truth. Why is our calling heavenly? Why is our citizenship in heaven? Why will we sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus? Why are all our blessings spiritual instead of physical, and only associated with heavenly places? It is because a man, this Man, has become higher than the heavens (Heb. 7:26). Jesus Christ, as a glorified Man, has entered the glory of God. He is the forerunner through which other men will enter there (Heb. 6:19-20). But this Man has been given a body, and He has been made its Head. It is Jesus as raised from the dead, having entered into a new life as the beginning of the new creation of God, to which this body, the church, is formed.
The third point concerns the proper understanding of union with Christ. But before we tackle this doctrine, allow me to deal with a common fallacy taught in many theological systems concerning union with God. Simply stated, there is no such thing taught in Scripture in relation to believers, or in general with man in Adam. Man in union with God only exists in the Person of Christ. He is true God and true man, as we have shown earlier in this article. This is union of deity with humanity. But such union only exists in Him, in His essential Person, and it is an incomprehensible mystery (I Tim. 3:16).
One may also argue that the Son is in union with the Father, or slightly different from this, that Jesus is in union with the Father. Here my objections would be less forceful, although I believe to say such still involves misunderstandings. The Son and the Father are both God. They are both of the same divine nature and substance. So is the Holy Spirit. But they are different Persons, different individuals, if I may be permitted to say (understanding the limitations of our finite minds and human speech attempting to describe and define what is infinite, transcendent, and incomprehensible). The Scriptures teach, and it is particularly a Christian revelation, the Trinity of the Godhead. But when the Scriptures speak of the Three being One, or when Jesus says, “I and My Father are one,” is this really speaking of union as we should properly define the word? Could not this phrase actually be referring to unity instead of union? Could this not be referring to unity of purpose, will, character, and action instead of union of substance? But I do not insist on excluding union in the Godhead.
Mankind’s union with God is a different question altogether. Although there have been in the past, and may be even today, many Christians and theologians believing in such a union between God and fallen man, mostly through the incarnation of Christ, this line of thinking is fraught with absurdities and speculations. It is a wholly false and unscriptural idea. It is unintentional blasphemy.
Now some will ask about union of God and the believer, based upon the Christian’s redemption? These are the speculations of the human mind based upon the frequently used phrase found in Scripture of the believer, through redemption, being found “in Christ.” The reasoning is that Jesus is God and the believer is now “in Christ,” so we must have union with God. But unfortunately there are many erroneous thoughts here, and also a playing loose with Scripture. First, being “in Christ” does not define union any more than being in a room would mean being in union with the room.
Even if I agreed that the phrase “in Christ” meant union by definition, it still cannot mean union with God. That is an impossibility, except as we find mysteriously in Christ alone. Union with Christ can only be understood in the biblical emphasis of His humanity – it is always with Christ become a Man, and risen from the dead. It is never union with Christ as God. And what is in union with Christ, the glorified Man? The body is in union with the Head in glory and at the right hand of God. Union with Christ is only of the church, His body, and only after this Man had entered the glory of God. Individual believers are in union with Christ only as seen as members of the one body. This is what I believe union with Christ actually is as taught by Scripture.
There is no denying that the phraseology of “in Christ” and “in Him” is frequently used in Scripture concerning many truths surrounding the believer’s redemption. The spiritual believer should be able to gain greater insight into the meaning of the phrase, if we can find something suitable that may be used in contrast. “In Christ” as a believer is in contrast with being “in Adam” as an unbeliever and sinner. These two terms actually refer to two different and contrasting “states” that any individual may be found in – the believer is “in Christ” as existing in that particular state, whereas, the unbeliever is “in Adam.” There exists a certain symmetry between these two phrases when they are contrasted with each other, and this should help our understanding and use of them. Allow me to give you a few examples:
- Those “in Adam” are described as being in the flesh. Those “in Christ” are described as being in the Spirit (Rom. 8:8-9).
- Those “in Adam” are described as in a state of carnal mindedness. Those “in Christ” are in a state of spiritual mindedness (Rom. 8:5-7).
- All those “in Adam” are in the flesh by natural birth. All those “in Christ” are born of God and born by the direct agency of the Spirit, through the Word (John 1:12-13; 3:3-8; I Pet. 1:23).
- All those “in Adam” are of the world, and exist in a state of rejection and condemnation from God (John 12:31, Rom. 5:16, 18). All those “in Christ” exist in a state of acceptance by God (Eph. 1:6). This has led to God “enabling or qualifying” the believer in Christ to receive an inheritance, one he shares with Christ as a co-heir of God (Col. 1:12, Eph. 1:11, Rom. 8:17).
- All those “in Adam” are there by nature, described as sons of disobedience, children of wrath (Eph. 2:1-3), and associated with the first creation, over which Adam was given dominion as its federal head. They are the children of Adam, and automatically follow into his fallen state. Those “in Christ” are the workmanship of God created in Christ Jesus, sons of God, children of the glory, not falling short of God’s glory, but having the promise of Jesus sharing His glory with us. “In Christ” the believer is the new creation of God, where all things are new, and all things are of God. “In Christ” the believer has become the righteousness of God, because Jesus is our righteousness. Jesus is the first born from the dead and therefore is the first and head of the new creation of God (II Cor. 5:17-21, Gal. 3:26, Eph. 2:10, John 17:14-16).
I could go on and on, multiplying scriptures on this topic. All these “in Christ,” “in whom,” “in Him” passages speak of wonderful blessings and truths, all of which are the application of the redemption that God has freely provided for the believer through the death and shed blood of Christ (Rom. 3:23-26). And I believe you can easily see the symmetry expressed by the list, even though there is only a contrasting of different states taking place. The point I am driving at is this – I never speak of “union” with Adam when I use the phrase descriptive of a man in Adam. There is association, identification, common characteristics and experience, even natural decent, but none of these thoughts actually define or imply union.
I did not have union with Adam when I was born into this world. I was a descendant of Adam, and in that sense a child of Adam. I fully accept the fact that as an unbeliever I was a man “in Adam” as in that particular state, with all association and identification there possibly exists with the first man – lost, a sinner, proven by God to be utterly depraved, judged and condemned along with the rest of the world. But this is not union, and particularly is not God’s thoughts on what union is from His word. If I cannot force the idea of union into my previous relationship with Adam, it is unreasonable, as well as unscriptural, to attempt to force the idea of union with Christ into the meaning of the phrase “in Christ.” This just isn’t correct. It is not sound spiritual reasoning. And yet it goes a step farther into error and absurdity when one reasons from Jesus being God that the believer now has union with God.
The “in Christ” phraseology describes the believer’s state before God, having been redeemed. We actually are taken out of our previous state of existence “in Adam” and “of the world,” and placed as a new creation in a new state of existence “in Christ” and “not of the world.” (John 15:19) We were previously in the first Adam, but now we are in the last Adam (I Cor. 15:45-49). But the change of state of the individual never referred to union with Christ. I repeat; when the Scriptures refer to union with Christ it speaks of the body of Christ in union with Christ its Head. Union with Christ is of the body, the church, which is a corporate entity. Certainly the true church is only one body, and there are many members of the one body, but it is the corporate entity that is in union with Christ. And this union is with Christ as the glorified Man, for the church is the body of this Man. Being “in Christ” describes the state of individual believers, not the corporate church. Therefore, union belongs to the body, not to individual believers, accept as they are seen as members of the one body, the body of Christ.
The Scriptures speak of oneness, and this is often mistaken for union. There are times where the term does mean union, such as in marriage where the two shall become one flesh (Eph. 5:31). It is significant that in the passage noted in Ephesians, the union between Adam and Eve is used as a type symbolizing the union between Christ and the church. Again, this is where union is found, between Christ and His body. So it is said of the church in the passage, and this as partially quoted from Genesis, “For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones.” Of course this is said mystically and symbolically, nevertheless, it is biblical union. Please note: The type of Adam and Eve is as they were before the fall.
But there are other passages where the term means a unity of two or more, or that of a group. “Oneness” is often used as the unity of purpose and action, a like-mindedness. The use of the term this way doesn’t really fit the idea of union. An example of this is found in the seventeenth chapter of John’s gospel:
“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.”
Where Jesus says, “…that they all may be one…” He is speaking of the unity of a family – a family where the Father has many sons. This family was to show an oneness or unity of purpose, character, and action. But this being “one” does not refer to union with Christ.
It is interesting that the display of this unity was the direct request of our Lord in His prayer to His Father, and therefore became the practical responsibility of behavior for this family. Only at the very beginning and in the earliest days was this responsibility fulfilled by the family (Acts 2:1). It wasn’t long before this unity, which was to make the world believe, was permanently lost in Christendom. Paul would say to the Corinthians, “For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?” To the Philippians he said, “For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus.” This failure of the family on earth to keep this unity is a big part of the ruin of the professing church. But there is this one reprieve: the two verses which follow in John seventeen (17) show us how God will eventually make things good.
And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.”
Our unity or oneness as His family – many sons with the Father – will be made perfect when we are brought into the glory with Christ. This is when the world will see His family made perfect by Him, and they are said, not to just believe, but to know (by seeing with their eyes) these two things: that the Father loves His family as He does His Son, and that He had sent Jesus into the world.
There is another passage in John which is mistakenly used to teach union with Christ. Jesus did say, “At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.” This describes a mutual indwelling (John 14:20). And allow me to make these two negative points clear:
- It does not mean or define union with Christ. We should not confound mutual indwelling with union.
- It does not even refer to the phraseology of “in Christ” or “in Him.” We should not confound mutual indwelling with what “in Christ” means.
The mutual indwelling of Christ in the believer and the believer in Christ, seems to be associated with the particular purpose of representation. We are in Christ in His representation of all believers before the throne of God. “For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.” (Heb. 9:24) This is the Man, Christ Jesus representing us. We are in Him in this representation. Everything He is as the glorified Man before God is what we are before God. As He is so are we in this world (I John 4:17). Whatever God sees in Him as this perfect Man, God sees as applicable to us – we are in Him as He is in the presence of God. If He is the righteousness of God sitting there, then we are the righteousness of God in God’s sight. If He is holy and blameless, then we are holy and blameless in God’s eyes (Eph. 1:4). If the Father loves Him, then the Father loves us with the same love (John 17:23). If He has gone into the presence of God without our sins, then God sees us without any trace of them as well – all our sins are gone forever because He has appeared in the presence of God without them. All believers are in Him as He is at the right hand of God
If we are in Christ as He has gone to the Father, then He is in us while we are in this world. Christ is in every believer as we represent Him before the world. He is our life (Col. 3:1-4). He is the one who lives in us, and the life we now live in the flesh we live by faith in the Son of God (Gal. 2:20). The practical experience of the believer now is this – always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. (II Cor. 4:10-11). His dwelling in us while we are before the world is emphasized in the passage from John we were discussing above (John 17:20-23) – I in them. Our representation of Him during this age is fraught with human failure. But when the family is made perfect in glory, when we are glorified with Him (Rom 8:17-18), all our failures in responsibility will come to an end. But neither of these is union with Christ.
There is also a mutual indwelling of every believer with God:
1 John 3:23-24 (NKJV)
“And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment. Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.”
God dwells in the believer because the Holy Spirit is God, and we have been sealed by the Holy Spirit as sons of God; the true believer has received the Spirit of adoption by whom he cries out, “Abba, Father”; the Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Rom. 8:15-16). Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. Therefore God abides in us or dwells in us by the presence of the Holy Spirit. But the Spirit dwelling in the believer is not union with the Holy Spirit, nor is it union with God. Yet the indwelling Holy Spirit is the knowledge that God is abiding or dwelling in us.
John particularly teaches that we also dwell or abide in God, and there is tremendous blessing gained if we can come to a clear understand of what this means. God abiding in us and we in Him has numerous results, effects, and consequences for the Christian – too many to bring much detail in teaching in this article. But if I compare what John teaches concerning this mutual indwelling to what Paul teaches concerning “in Christ,” I find they are not speaking of similar things. We have to understand how the Holy Spirit used the different apostles differently as bible writers. For example, John never teaches concerning the church, the body of Christ. He never uses the word body in description of the corporate church; he never teaches doctrine relating to the church; he never mentions or describes the body of Christ in all his writings; neither does Peter, except for an obscure allusion to a building being built with living stones and no human builders. Paul was given the stewardship of the mystery of God, the church. He was used by the Spirit of God to teach all its doctrine.
When Paul teaches his “in Christ” truths, he is teaching positional truths of the believer as a result of redemption through the blood of Christ. John speaks of life in the Son, and having the Son we have life – a divine nature communicated to us as born of God, by which we may enjoy the presence and nature of God in our souls. In John’s writings the Holy Spirit brings the revelation of the presence and power of God in the soul—a revelation known through and in a new nature which is of God. Consequently, that which is in the nature and character of God is developed where God dwells – in the soul of the saint. Yet it is not just a development produced in the new man, the creation of God, but one that also fills the soul, because God is there, and there is communion and fellowship with Him. Certainly John’s teachings are of a more abstract character.
1 John 4:8-16 (NKJV)
“He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.”
Here John gets into something slightly different from the previous verse we quoted (I John 3:24). God is love. That is one of His two intrinsic natures. The other is God is light, but that is not John’s consideration here. God is love and that is His nature. If the believer is born of God and is the new creation of God, which is created of God and after God, and God is love, then we have all the above teaching. Particularly here John says, God has given us of His Spirit as the proof that we abide in God. Believers partake of God’s nature – God is love. This presence of God in love not only fills our finite souls, but places us in Him who is infinite in love. United to Christ by the Holy Spirit, one in life with Him, and the Spirit acting in us, “we dwell in God, and God in us.” Therefore it is said that “God has given us of his Spirit” – which is to say, God, by His presence and power, makes us morally partakers of His nature and character, by the Holy Spirit in us, while giving us the enjoyment of communion with God, and at the same time introducing us into His fullness.
But we see that John’s teachings on mutual indwelling, whether of Christ as the glorified Man with the believer (John 14:20) or God through the Holy Spirit with the believer (I John 3, 4), are not the same as Paul’s “in Christ” passages and doctrine. John refers to representation in the first, to partaking of the divine nature in fellowship and communion with God in the second, while Paul refers to a change of our state of existence consequent to redemption. Most wonderful blessings and spiritual benefits realized for the believer, certainly, yet union with Christ is different from all of these. Union is only with the corporate body, the body of Christ. And union is with the Man, Jesus Christ, and He is glorified and sitting at the right hand of God. But it is union with this Man, because it is His mystical body, the church. There is no union of man with God, except as it is now seen in the Person of Christ. For all eternity it will only be seen in Him – divinity and humanity in union together. But the purpose of this article, and I pray that every believer may see and comprehend this, is the Scriptural emphasis placed on the Man, Christ Jesus, and the important understandings and insights taught by the Spirit from it.