Guest post by Rankin Wilbourne.
Until you grasp and live out of your union with Christ, the Bible’s call to holiness will be oppressive, unbearable, and impossible.
Imagine a “great Christian” day. You start the day early in prayer. You help a stranger at the supermarket, and you even find a clever and smooth way to introduce the gospel into a conversation with your neighbor. Check. Check. Check. You’re flying high. God must be so pleased!
But imagine the next day, you wake up late. You are short with a coworker, and you blast the horn at someone on the road, who turns out to be the neighbor you just yesterday talked to about Jesus. You come crashing down and wonder, What’s wrong with me? What kind of Christian am I? Up. Down. But this is how so many of us are living, and it often results in our feeling defeated (I’ll never get there.) or cynical (No one gets there.) or resigned (Why even try?).
The Bible says that if you are a Christian, your life is united to Christ’s. This is a stunning claim! You are hidden in Christ; he covers you and shields you, so that when God looks at you He sees you wrapped in the righteousness of Christ. Christ is also in you, dwelling within you by His Spirit and giving you new life and the power to change.
Until you grasp and live out of your union with Christ, the Bible’s call to holiness will be oppressive, unbearable, and impossible. No matter how earnest or committed you may be, you’ll keep falling in the same ditches over and over. You’ll remain defeated by the same demons, be they alcohol or envy or greed or unkindness.
Or you’ll be plagued by what I call “the gap”—that space between what you believe and how you live your life, between what you hear about on Sunday and the world you face on Monday. I think this gap, if we are honest with ourselves, is one of the most painful parts of human experience. We know the gap is real. The question is what is to be done about it.
One of the most difficult things about abiding in Christ is that there is no magic button or special pill. There is no substitute for long obedience in the same direction. The God-given means of grace (prayer, reading the Bible, fellowship in community with other believers) are what God has given us, so be wary of anyone who tries to sell you a shortcut. What’s extraordinary is actually how ordinary, routine, and habitual the Bible’s recommendations are. Even union with Christ is not a silver bullet, but it is a lens that can reframe both our motive and impetus behind the means of abiding.
Think with me for a moment about how the reality of your union with Christ can be both an anchor and an engine for your faith.
Just as an anchor protects a boat from the wind and the waves, the reality that you are in Christ gives you assurance. When you lose your temper with your kids, when the new gal at work does everything right and you make a series of mistakes, when you are waiting for the doctor’s office to call back with those test results—your life is hidden in Christ, and God loves you even as He loves His own son. When you feel defeated and ensnared, when your enemy accuses you, and when your heart tells you to retreat in shame, you can rehearse and remember, “I am in Christ. I am one for whom he died.” Rather than turning away from God, you can turn toward Christ precisely when you might be tempted to hide from Him. You can boldly approach His throne with confidence because you remember you are completely covered by Christ’s righteousness.
And just as an engine helps a boat to move in the right direction (as opposed to being swept along by the current), the reality that Christ is in you gives you power. When your co-worker seems impossible to get along with—much less to love—you have the compassionate, loving Christ dwelling in you and empowering you. When you can see that doing the right thing is going to cost you dearly, you have the obedient Christ, who obeyed at the greatest cost, living within you. When temptation seems irresistible, the same Christ who overcame every temptation is in you and can help you to hold on for one more minute. In calling us to be holy, God isn’t asking us to make up something lacking in us. We don’t obey from a deficit. We obey out of fullness.
You are in Christ and Christ is in you—this is assurance and power, and together they help you move through your life in confidence.
Rankin Wilbourne grew up in Louisiana and was educated at the University of Mississippi and Princeton Theological Seminary. He is now the senior pastor of Pacific Crossroads Church in Los Angeles and the author of Union with Christ: The Way to Know and Enjoy God. As a former commercial banker, Rankin understands the “gap” between the gospel preached on Sunday and the world people face on Monday. Leading a thriving church in a city driven by stories, he’s concerned with drawing connections between what we believe and how we live. Rankin and his wife, Morgen, reside in Los Angeles with their three children. Find out more about Rankin at http://www.rankinw.com.
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“Everyone seems to agree that Union with Christ is a Biblical teaching crucial to understanding and communicating the gospel, but preachers today do not give it the same emphasis that the New Testament does. One reason is that, unlike the new birth, justification, and adoption, it requires multiple metaphors to draw out its rich meaning. Rankin does so clearly and compellingly. This is simply the best book for laypeople on this subject. It is grounded in exegesis and theology and yet is lucid and supremely practical. While not unaware of the recent controversies about union and justification, which are briefly sketched in the endnotes, Rankin’s whole concern is to make the Biblical teaching accessible and applicable to the reader. He does this with excellence.” —Tim Keller
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