by John W. Ritenbaugh
Romans 8:9-11, 15 provides an appropriate foundation for concluding this series of articles:
But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit which dwells in you. . . . For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by which we cry out, "Abba, Father."
The receipt of God's Spirit, providing union with the Father and the Son, is what essentially constitutes a Christian. Our union with God is not constantly changing, ephemeral, or merely visionary. It is reality. Because the Spirit of God regenerates us, we are part of His Family. But how much? Do we truly believe we have a relationship with God? Is God a part of our every day—when we get up in the morning, at work or play, in our cars, with our families, and when we go to bed at night?
The psalmist writes in Psalm 10:4, "The wicked in his proud countenance does not seek God; God is in none of his thoughts." Is God a reality to us all the day long, or are there long periods when He is not in our thoughts? Do we go through long stretches of time when we think only of carnal or secular things? Is everything we do filtered through the spiritual knowledge God reveals to us for creating Himself in us? Does everything we do pass the bar of His standards? Are we really part of His Family, the Body of Jesus Christ? Do we know? Does everything we do reflect the way the Family of God would do things?
Honestly answering these questions in the affirmative is a daunting order. Indeed, none of us can answer them all with a "Yes." However, the apostle Paul charges us with this very obligation in II Corinthians 10:3-5:
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.
Could we do this? Why would God set it as a standard if it were not possible?
Far Reaching Consequences
In I John 4, John makes a rather startling statement regarding our union with Christ. It is puzzling in that its practical application is vague to us because we are unfamiliar with the possibilities. Readers usually take a glimpse of it then move on, wondering about its meaning. The words themselves are simple enough, but their very simplicity adds to its confounding nature because, if it truly means what it appears to say, it is too good to be true! Lacking biblical evidence and a logical explanation for reaching such a wonderful conclusion, we pass on.
I John 4:15 says, "Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God." The context is obviously our union with God, as the words "abide" and "in" confirm. Verse 16 continues the thought: "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." Abide means "to live," "to continue with," or "to go on with." By substituting these synonyms, the last phrase reads, "He who continues or lives in love, continues or lives in God, and God in him."
The verse emphasizes an ongoing, unbroken, intimate relationship. Nothing can be closer than for one to be in another! Since John defines love in I John 5:3 as keeping the commandments, the word "love" in this verse indicates that it is being reciprocated between God and us, and it is what facilitates the continuance of the union and relationship. These verses in fact confirm what Jesus said on the eve of His crucifixion:
If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever. The Spirit of truth, which the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. (John 14:15-17)
In verse 23, Jesus drops the term "Helper," showing more specifically who would be living in us: "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him." "Keep" indicates that the love of which Jesus speaks is not merely an affection, as keep means "to maintain, continue or carry on." It is therefore active and dynamic.
Has that wondrous promise actually taken place? Are we so united with God, so at one with Him, that Jesus Christ, our Creator, Savior, Redeemer, and High Priest has made us the place of His abode? If so, do our lives reflect that He is there? Are we giving evidence of His presence?
I John 4:17 contains the astounding statement: "Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world."
Peter announces in I Peter 4:17, "For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begin with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?" For those of us "in the church," our judgment began with God's calling and our conversion, and it continues to this very moment. Judgment will come to those living following Christ's return during the Millennium and to those in the second resurrection during the Great White Throne period.
Are we experiencing boldness or confidence (the Greek word can be translated either way; see Hebrews 3:6), or are we ashamed of Jesus Christ? Do we hide what we are? John suggests that we should be living boldly because we have a foundation of confidence that we are under the blood of Jesus Christ and have begun to keep His commandments. Are we ashamed about talking about our baptism into the church of God, His Family? Are we fearful about talking about specific doctrines, not to convert others, but simply to state our beliefs?
It is interesting that the Greek word translated "boldness" literally means "freedom of speech." It implies that nothing hinders a person. Love is being perfected in us so that we may be unhindered in our submission to God while under judgment. I John 4:17 then goes on to say, "As He is, so are we in this world." "He" is capitalized. The publishers have done this to draw attention to the fact that this pronoun refers to Christ Himself.
Commonality in Union
The subject here is not another human being but the Deity, and John is saying we can be bold because we share a commonality with Him. What did He accomplish? Where does He stand in relation to God and to us? How did He live His life? Jesus Christ lived His life confidently and boldly. The apostle is essentially saying that, when God looks at us, He sees us as though we were Jesus Christ! Has anybody ever lived life closer to God than Jesus?
The phrase, "As He is so are we in this world," merits a second look. Ephesians 1:3 provides a similar illustration, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ." Both statements say that Christ stands in place of us, another astounding aspect of God's grace. This is especially astonishing in that, if we consider ourselves soberly, we see weak, sinful human beings who have experienced many failures. By contrast, Christ was perfect in every aspect of life.
God is realistic in His perception of us. He does not fantasize when observing Mr. Smith or Mr. Jones, deluding Himself into thinking that He is looking at Christ. No, He literally sees Mr. Smith or Mr. Jones, but the converted are only accepted before Him because of Jesus Christ, because they bear His righteousness and because He lives in them. No man is accepted before Him on the basis of his own works of righteousness. Paul writes of the righteousness that enables us to be accepted before God in Philippians 3:8-9:
But indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.
Paul comments on this righteousness again in Romans 3:21-22: "But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God which is through faith in Jesus Christ to all and on all who believe." This faith is imputed, accounted to us because of our faith in Jesus Christ when we possess no righteousness to gain us entrance or acceptance before God.
We can thus enter God's throne room and talk to Him because of Jesus Christ, and He accepts us before Him as if we were Jesus. If we extend this principle out into other aspects of Christian life, we can see that we always have the life and sacrifice of Christ preceding us as we walk the path to the Kingdom of God. This is why we can be bold: God accepts us on the basis of Christ's life and sacrifice.
We are all very concerned about sin. The concern to avoid it is good, but to be in great anxiety over it is not good. Some would be astonished to learn that God is less concerned about individual sins than He is about the overall trajectory of our lives. Showing consistent growth has a higher priority with Him than any individual sin committed out of weakness.
Galatians 5:6 says, "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love." Consistent growth will be shown in the lives of those who live by love motivated by faith. The unstated but nonetheless overriding purpose of the offerings of Leviticus is to teach us the qualities needed to love God and fellow man. It is total devotion and sacrifice in keeping the commandments of God.
Identification With Christ
We cannot do this unless the closeness of our identification and union with Christ is a day-to-day reality and thoroughly understood by us. Our union with Him is incredibly close, as God perceives it. If anything can give us confidence in living life before God and the world, it ought to be our ability to perceive how we stand before Him. Paul writes in Romans 6:4, "Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life."
The word "with" will be the focus of our attention as we seek to understand more thoroughly our identification with Christ. The scripture says we were buried "with" Christ. Jesus was literally buried in the heart of the earth in a tomb because He was dead. The apostle Paul states in Romans 7:9, "For I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died." Like Paul, we are buried "with" Him by means of baptism.
We tend to take the word "with" for granted because we use it so commonly; it is a little preposition we stick in front of another word and hardly notice. But what does it mean? It means "in the company of." Every time we see the word "with" preceding Christ in a context that includes us, we are "in the company of" Him. It has a few other alternate usages such as, "a member or associate of," "characterized by," "possessed of," and many more. In fact, the American Heritage College Dictionary shows twenty-seven closely related but specifically different usages.
Romans 6:6 adds to being baptized with Christ, "Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin." We are not only baptized with Him, we are also crucified with Him. Christ became sin to pay for our sins, suffered crucifixion, and died. We die when God reveals to us the knowledge of sin and we repent, accept the blood of Christ, and commit ourselves to be His disciples.
Our relationship with Christ is so close that we are perceived as sharing with Him His experiences. His experiences were literal and physical, and ours are every bit as literal and individually meaningful to our fulfilling God's will but are spiritual. Each "with Him" statement shows we are on the same path in His company.
The relationship is of such closeness that Paul describes it in Galatians 2:20 as, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me."
Paul expands further on this in Colossians 2:12-13:
[You were] buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses.
Thus, resurrection with Him is added to the experiences we share as members of Christ.
However, all of this places us under certain obligations. Paul continues with this theme in Colossians 3:1, "If you then were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God." Becoming new men in and through Christ, we are charged with making the Kingdom of God our top priority in life. Even in this, though, we seek the Kingdom in His company.
Jesus addresses our identification with Him in His prayer on the eve of His crucifixion:
I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. (John 17:14-16)
The world Jesus speaks of is Satan's anti-God system working in and through men. Within it are the cultures of all nations on earth. Jesus is clearly not of that anti-God system, and He declares that those accompanying Him, the apostles, were not of the world either. They were of the same system as He—the Kingdom of God. The same is true of those in Christ today.
Paul mentions this in a number of places. The most detailed is in I Corinthians 12:12-13, 27, in which he compares the church to Jesus Christ's very body:
For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. . . . Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.
Ephesians 1:22-23 considerably strengthens our identification with Christ, "And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head of all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all." Paul's illustration clearly pictures Christ as the head of a human body with the church filling out and completing the remaining body parts. We are perceived as being one with Him as part of that body. Is it even possible to identify with Him any closer?
God is clearly attempting to impress this point upon us through many repetitions. Notice Ephesians 5:23, 29-30, 32:
For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. . . . For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. . . .This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
Paul expands the union and oneness out to what a husband and wife's should be.
These references that reveal our exceedingly close identification with Christ all lend weight as to why we can say that God looks at us and sees Christ. It is an amazing and humbling aspect of His grace because we have certainly not earned such recognition on any or even the sum total of our works.
Thus John could write, "As He is, so are we in the world." Our union with Christ is so close because we are in Him and He is in us. Two cannot be any closer! As mentioned earlier, this brings us under obligation. Is this reflected in our lives? Do we willingly, knowingly take Christ into all our activities, fully aware that we are taking with us the great God, the Creator and Savior of all mankind? Do we think of our oneness with Him to this degree? Do we speak the words He speaks? Do we allow His thoughts and our thoughts to be the same? We are getting to a vital aspect of daily life in understanding this responsibility.
Our Standing Before God
In the sacrifices of Leviticus, Christ is pictured as meeting all of God's holy requirements. He perfectly met God's claim on man. God is governor of His creation and its lawgiver. When we break His law, He has a claim on us, which is, according to Romans 6:23, "The wages of sin is death." That claim is our life.
However, because He was the perfect burnt, meal, peace, sin, and trespass offerings, through Christ that claim is completely met for everyone who truly believes in His standing before God as the sacrifice that pays God's claim against sinners. Thus, those who believe are reconciled to God, and their standing before God changes to be the same as Christ's. His place before God becomes our place because of Christ's righteousness.
This standing before God has nothing to do with rank or position but strictly with being free to be in the Father's presence, to fellowship with Him, and to be a son as Christ is. Romans 5:1-2 says, "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God." Thus, our standing with God is that we are there as Christ is. This amazing act of grace on God's part has purpose beyond merely being the way to His presence.
Standing, Walking, and Conforming
The well-known Romans 8:28-29 is a broad statement that needs to be refined to reveal this purpose:
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.
The purpose for our admittance into God's presence is that "we be conformed to the image of His Son." When first justified by Christ's blood and admitted into God's presence, we stand before Him, but we are not yet in His Son's image. At this point, the work has only begun; Christ's righteousness is only legally imputed to us. That righteousness is indeed real, but it is not yet inscribed or engraved into our character to become part of our very being. We stand free, clear, and accepted, but we do not have the same nature, mind, or character as the Son.
Romans 6:4 restates the reason for our being admitted into God's presence: "Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." Our altered standing before God enables us to walk in newness of life so we can be conformed to the image of His Son.
Walking requires effort, the expending of energy, to arrive at a desired destination. Are any works involved in the salvation process? "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10). These works most assuredly do not earn salvation, but at the same time, God requires them. In fact, this verse says we are being created for the very purpose of doing them! Such works are covered within the general term "walk."
Besides requiring effort, walking implies a destination, a goal. When a person walks, he is moving purposefully to accomplish something regardless of whether it is to flip a light switch, shop at a store, get some exercise, or go to work or school. God requires that we "walk in newness of life." It is our God-appointed goal in life and the reason He invites us into His presence. Our lives cannot consist of aimless drifting; we are headed somewhere, even as Israel's goal was the Promised Land.
I Peter 1:13-19 highlights what we must do:
Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, "Be holy, for I am holy." And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one's work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your sojourning here in fear; knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.
Christianity is a way involving far more walking than talking. It requires effort, and most scriptures imply that the walking is voluntary. It must be this way because, most of the time when we walk, it is because we have made a voluntary decision to move from one point to another. In God's purpose, it is the only way to make the mind, nature, and character of Christ truly ours.
The last, brief phrase of Romans 6:4 contains a great deal about life's overriding purpose! In a broad sense, it is what life after conversion is all about. It is awakening to the reality of our spiritual slavery and responsibilities through God's calling, followed by a change of mind toward Him, and a spiritual death, burial, and resurrection so we might walk in conformity to Christ into God's Kingdom.
God allows the sacrifice of Christ to take the place of the claim He has on us to restore us to fellowship with Him, which is absolutely essential in providing us the strength, motivation, and gifts—whatever it takes—to complete the walk successfully. Mankind has never enjoyed this; it has not had contact with God since He cut humanity off by putting Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden.
This walking in newness of life is how going on to perfection is accomplished (Hebrews 6:1). God alters our standing with Him legally, graciously, and with generosity and kindness so we can fellowship with Him through prayer, Bible study, fasting, meditation, and obedience. God's spiritual creation requires our participation. It cannot be impressed upon us; we must consciously make decisions to take that walk.
Difficult but Worth It
The walk is sometimes quite difficult, but Paul provides encouragement and hope in Romans 6:5-6:
For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.
As difficult as our march from slavery might be at times, the glory of the resurrection and the complete putting off of the flesh lies before us.
The word "united" in verse 5 draws our attention because it is elsewhere translated "grafted" or "engrafted." In John 15, Christ describes Himself as a vine, and we are its branches. In Romans 9, Paul compares converted Israelites to natural branches and Gentiles as unnatural branches grafted into the same vine. Union is achieved with all sharing a part. All are receiving of the same source, and all are striving to produce the same fruit.
But how do we know we are attached to that Vine?
Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, "I know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. (I John 2:3-5)
There must be something that proves we are united with the Father and the Son, engrafted as part of Them and in union with Them. That something is the manner in which we conduct our life.
Language identifies people and so does the clothing they wear. A person's name is probably the most common of all identifiers. But the sons of God, those in union with the Father and the Son, are identified by commandment-keeping. It verifies that we are united with Christ. Commandment-keeping is love. Biblical love is an action, not merely a feeling. It may contain a positive feeling, even outright affection and passion for the one or ones who are the recipients of the act of love, but its foundation lies in the act rather than the emotion.
Acts of love without emotion can be entirely sterile. This extreme is not biblical love. At the other extreme are those who emotionally say they love Christ. What they say is probably true—as far as their understanding of love goes. Their declaration of love for Him may be motivated by feeling awe and gratitude springing from a recognition that He is indeed Creator, Savior, and High Priest, and that this awesome Being actually humbly sacrificed His life for them personally. Often, such people will then proceed to break His commandments, proving they do not know what love is.
In that kind of relationship, feelings eventually run dry, and the relationship and therefore the union ends. The love of the Bible is always first moral. This morality verifies we are yielding to Him. John commands us in I John 2:6 to walk as Jesus walked, and Jesus walked morally. The only way we can be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ is to walk as He walked.
This is the reason for our standing with God. We stand before Him as Jesus Christ for the very purpose of living life as He did as closely as possible. We cannot say we do this perfectly because our actions and reactions, our tempers and feelings, our sins of omission and commission betray us, revealing our continual need for the application of Christ's blood to restore our standing to the pristine standard of our Savior, even if for only a short time. Our gratitude to God for His thoughtful foresight and merciful patience is thus renewed in the acknowledgement of our sin.