Completed by the Spirit Part 16: Exhorted in our Union With Christ

Ed Trefzger

Ed Trefzger

This is the 16th part of a series of posts adapted from a paper I pre­sented at a New Covenant The­ol­ogy think tank in upstate New York in July 2010.

The Holy Spirit is “Christ in you, the hope of glory,” Paul wrote in Colos­sians 1:27. It is, accord­ing to Abraham Kuyper, a “mys­ti­cal union with Immanuel.”[1]

Our sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion is achieved by God through our union with Christ. “He who calls you is faith­ful; he will surely do it” (1 Thess 5:23–24).

The great existence-altering event that hap­pens in our sal­va­tion is our union with Christ through His Spirit.

Paul writes in Gala­tians 2:20: “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.”

To the Romans, he writes:

[3] Do you not know that all of us who have been bap­tized into Christ Jesus were bap­tized into his death? [4] We were buried there­fore with him by bap­tism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in new­ness of life. [5] For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall cer­tainly be united with him in a res­ur­rec­tion like his (Rom 6:3–5).

Union with Christ through His Spirit is the only way to com­bat sin in the flesh – to com­pletely defeat it in the eter­nal and to bat­tle it in the tem­po­ral. Sin­clair Fer­gu­son writes:

[T]hose who have been bap­tized into Christ are united to him in such a way that they share in his death, bur­ial, res­ur­rec­tion, ascen­sion and ulti­mate glo­ri­fi­ca­tion. This new iden­tity in union with Christ is the ground­work that the Spirit lays for ade­quately deal­ing with the con­tin­u­ing pres­ence of sin. On the basis of it, believ­ers are to put off the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the old man and but on the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the new, since they have already put on the new man who is being renewed in knowl­edge in the image of the Creator.”[2]

That union will result in our glo­ri­fi­ca­tion on the last day.

How­ever, we’re still stuck in the ten­sion of the now and not yet.

We have been given the Holy Spirit and we are now posi­tion­ally sanc­ti­fied and set apart by God as His cho­sen redeemed. Yet the holi­ness we are promised often can be elu­sive in the Chris­t­ian walk.

What is Paul’s answer to this? Paul encour­ages us in two things: first, to remem­ber the gospel of Jesus Christ and sec­ond, to rely on the Holy Spirit – to “walk in a man­ner wor­thy of the call­ing to which you have been called” (Eph 4:1). Paul roots his exhor­ta­tions to believ­ers in the indica­tive, our posi­tion in Christ. Paul’s imper­a­tive, which can flow only from that indica­tive, is to walk as those called by Christ.

That indica­tive and imper­a­tive are treated as insep­a­ra­ble by Paul: because of Christ,this is who you now are and this is how you walk as one called. Paul uses exhor­ta­tion, encour­age­ment, and pare­n­e­sis – Paul implores us to be who we now are because of the Spirit of Christ who dwells in us.

Next: Com­pleted by the Spirit Part 17: The Gospel Brings About All Aspects of Our Salvation

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[1] Abra­ham Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit (Lon­don: Funk and Wagnall’s, 1900), 333.

[2] Sin­clair B. Fer­gu­son, The Holy Spirit (Down­ers Grove, IL: 1996), 152.