If you engage in theological conversations long enough, especially those that deal primarily with salvation and redemption, it is likely you will come across the well-used phrase, association with Christ.
To speak of a believer’s association with Christ is not a reference to some social club or support group for Christians. Instead, association with Christ is another way of speaking about a believer’s union with Christ.
There, I’m glad I could clear that up for those inquiring minds out there! But what do either of these phrases or distinctions mean, and why should we care? If I am successful in defining the first question, answering the second question may prove to be a simpler task.
What Does it Mean to Be Associated with Christ?
Association with Christ, or union in Christ as I will refer to it in this article, simply refers to the state of being so intimately connected by faith to Jesus by virtue of his death and resurrection — that the blessings, benefits, and consequences, which are his because of his faithfulness and obedience to his Father, also flow to those of us who are in union with Christ.
Though neither of these phrases can be found in the Bible, each phrase does reflect what the Bible clearly describes. Consider the Apostle Paul’s statement to the Roman believers when he said,
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 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 (Romans 6:3-4).
Again, Paul says when writing to the Galatians, “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” (Galatians 2:20).
These passages communicate a profound reality that can potentially deepen a person’s faith and love for Christ if understood properly.
Rather than attempting to dissect all the many theological nuances of this subject, let me seek to illustrate the point for those of us who are visual learners.
In the Old Testament, a story is told of the future king of Israel and his date with destiny that will help us see in a small way what union with Christ looks like.
David was little more than a teenager when his father summoned him from the field to run an errand on Jesse’s behalf. David’s older brothers were encamped with Israel’s army, led by King Saul, preparing to march into battle against the Philistines (1 Samuel 17).
Jesse, like any father, was eager to receive some update from his sons and was anxious to provide some provision for their comfort and need.
Little David is chosen by his father to deliver a much-needed bag lunch to the frontlines and then to return home with news from the battlefront. Upon his arrival, however, David gets more than he bargained for.
The scene, as it is communicated in the Bible, carries a slight hint of humor, at least from my perspective. Two armies have drawn up in full battle array, presumably to engage in combat and inflict a deadly blow to the opponent.
What David finds instead is a group of men dressed for war, screaming at one another! On the Philistines’ part, their taunts are understandable when you consider that their “champion” was a man named Goliath, who stood “six cubits and a span” (1 Samuel 17:4), which would have been equivalent to 10 feet! In any time or place, that is an impressive man.
On a battlefield, a soldier like Goliath would doubtless have struck fear into anyone who would oppose him. The Philistines might be reminiscent of the scrawny little brother who refuses to leave his older brother’s side because of the safety his big brother provides.
As David approaches his brothers on the battlefront, the boisterous taunts of the blasphemous giant hang in the air like the dark clouds of a gathering storm. The potential for a bloody massacre seems increasingly unavoidable, but then a concession is made.
Goliath offers to fight a single opponent instead of the two armies fighting hand-to-hand. The victory would go to the army whose champion would prevail in the fight.
Do you see the image emerging of a man who would take up arms to fight, whose identity is so closely associated with the other Israelite warriors that if he defeats his enemy, then his conquest will mean victory for them as well? But conversely, if the Champion of Israel is defeated, then the entire army will be enslaved.
Another Example in Scripture
There is one other close union or association from the pages of Scripture that I can point to by way of example.
When Adam and Eve were charged with their creational duties in the Garden, it doesn’t take very long to realize that the mandate was not intended only for them but for all their descendants as well throughout all of time.
When Adam was “driven from the garden” (Genesis 3:24) and, in essence, from God’s very presence, the whole human race was expelled as well.
Theologically, this was the very idea that Paul addresses when he said, “So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men. . .” (Romans 5:18).
Paul was speaking of how Adam’s choice to rebel and his subsequent expulsion resulted in the same outcome for every man who would follow because Adam was humanity’s representative.
If Adam would have faithfully ruled and expanded the garden sanctuary to cover the entire earth as the Creator had intended, Adam’s ceaseless blessings would have flowed to his race as well.
But because the curse was his due result (Romans 8:21), in Adam, we are all banished from our Creator’s presence and blessings as well.
This is man’s greatest problem, as Paul describes, “…just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).
I am not a sinner because I sin. I sin because I am a sinner, and the reason I sin is because of my union or my association with Adam, my representative. This is the essential backdrop against which we can understand more fully what is meant by our “association with Christ.”
Just as Adam stood as the representative for every man and like David fought and won the victory for the entire Israelite army, so Jesus, the “second Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:48), also has come to be the Champion for all those whom the Father has given to him (John 17:24).
Every man is only capable of being a covenant breaker and living continually in offense to God, and remaining eternally isolated from God’s Garden and presence. Our only hope is that someone would represent us and lead us back to the God who made us.
It is to the Ephesians that Paul triumphantly announces, “But now in Christ Jesus you who formally were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13, emphasis mine).
To speak of our association with Christ is to acknowledge that, by faith, we are so closely related to him, that we become the recipients of all the benefits and blessings, which he has secured through his sinless life, death, and resurrection (Romans 8:17).
Our union with Christ is succinctly described when we read, “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:3-4).
Why Does This Matter?
Understanding that believers are accepted by God on the merit of Christ’s sacrifice, and we are being kept by virtue of the sealing of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:14) changes everything!
Though I am as physically alive as I have ever been, on the authority of God’s Word, I am told that I have been “raised up with Christ” and “seated with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…” (Ephesians 2:5-6).
In God’s eyes, because of my union with Christ, it is as though I am already there because Christ himself is there, and I am in him.
For further reading:
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Dr. Rick Kirby, along with his wife and children, lives in Anderson, South Carolina. Rick serves as a corporate chaplain in the upstate of South Carolina, in addition to shepherding micro-church movements, which he does in partnership with the Evangelical Free Church in America and the Creo Collective. Rick has written as a freelance writer for organizations such as The INJOY Group, InTouch Ministries, and Walk Through the Bible. Rick holds a Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degree from Erskine Theological Seminary. Through the years, Rick’s family has been deeply engaged in discipling efforts globally in India, Romania, Brazil, Ecuador and most recently in Puerto Rico. Among the many things Rick enjoys are woodworking in his woodshop and roasting (and drinking) coffee. You can find other works by Kirby at www.rickkirby.org.
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