Relationship and Union with God
Download Audio (10.4MB)
The focus of the Gospel is relationship with God. Our God is a relational God who created us out of the overflow of loving relationship within the Trinity, and who intended us for perfect relationship with Him throughout eternity. The culmination of the Christian narrative is a wedding feast, a marriage. Christ the bridegroom and us His bride, the Church.
When we look to heaven, as John 14 makes so beautifully clear, we are not looking for a where—a place, somewhere far away where we will be well. We are looking to a who—the person of God, and the wonder and joy and fulfilment of relationship with Him.
The Bible is full of the expression of God’s relational heart toward us—as a Father, a husband, a friend—and it carries through from Genesis to Revelation.
When in the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve turn their backs on God and rebel against Him, we see immediately the tone is set for the rest of the ages, as God’s response is not ‘What have you done?’ but ‘Where are you?’1 And the whole of the rest of the story is God winning us back, paying the price Himself, making a way for us to be with Him.
It is a great love story, an epic adventure of a lover pursuing His bride. God Himself wooing and pursuing mankind. It is a breathtaking reality that we are inundated, in the Word of God, by His call for us to live in relationship with Him… 1 John 3:1 rings out with joy: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”
The biblical emphasis is on a God who has revealed Himself: through nature, through the Scriptures, and ultimately through the living Word—the person of Jesus Christ.
Jesus looks to His disciples and says to them that in knowing Him, they know the Father,2 and that knowing Him is to have eternal life.3 The self-revelation of God is a foundation point for Christian theology and the basis on which our security lies. It is one of the most profound truths of the Christian message, that whilst we may at times be in the dark about what God is doing, we are (praise God!) not in the dark about God.
What makes this even more wonderful is that knowing Him is not simply a matter of abstract possibility, but of God’s own heart desire, as He speaks through Jeremiah: “I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.”4—Tanya Walker
Being “in Christ”
Our union with Christ is captured in that simple prepositional phrase “in Christ,” used by Paul in one form or another 164 times. Only as we are “in Christ” are we chosen, called, regenerated, justified, sanctified, redeemed, assured of the resurrection, and given every spiritual blessing.5
This union with Christ spans space and time—so that Paul can say that the Christian has died with Christ,6 the Christian has been resurrected with Christ,7 the Christian has ascended with Christ to share now in his reign in the heavenly places,8 and the Christian is destined to share Christ’s coming glory with him.9
No wonder some call our union with Christ one of the central messages of the New Testament. Theologian John Murray called it “the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation.”
A. W. Pink said, “The subject of spiritual union is the most important, the most profound, and yet the most blessed of any that is set forth in sacred Scripture.”
Cambridge scholar B. F. Westcott wrote: “If once we realize what these words ‘we are in Christ’ mean, we shall know that beneath the surface of life lie depths which we cannot fathom, full alike of mystery and hope.”
Union with Christ is that spiritual reality whereby we as believers are joined to our Lord such that what is true of him becomes true of us. This spiritual union is the means by which space and time are transcended and we share in all the benefits of Jesus’ work in history on our behalf. It is central to our understanding of who we are as Christians.—Bill Kynes10
A passionate union
The relationship between God and His people—Christ and His Church—is likened in the Bible to that of a bridegroom to his bride. The Bible tells us, “For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is His name,”11 and that we are “married to Him who was raised from the dead [Jesus], that we should bear fruit to God.”12
The marital metaphor used in the Bible describes the intimate spiritual relationship between Jesus and His Church and is meant to represent the passionate union of heart, mind, and spirit that Jesus seeks with each of His followers.
Bible scholars and theologians throughout the ages such as John Wycliffe, Bishop Reynolds, and Matthew Henry, among others, have written that the Song of Solomon is an allegory in which the beloved or the bridegroom represents Jesus, and the woman Shulamite represents the Church, illustrating the Lord’s love relationship with His bride.
In Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, he refers to this relationship as the “great mystery concerning Christ and the Church.”13
The Bible makes numerous references to the deep, enduring personal relationship between Jesus and His bride, the Church, also referred to as “the Body of Christ,” of which every true Christian is a part. “I will betroth you to Me forever; yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy; I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, and you shall know the Lord.”14 “For we are members of his body.Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”15
In our Scripture, both Old Testament and New Testament, the relationship between God and men—between the Lord and Israel, between Christ and His Church—is presented as the relationship of bridegroom to bride. The Scripture uses other images as well—God is our father, our shepherd, our king, our healer, our savior. “But the marital metaphor is the most frequent one, the central and basic scriptural metaphor.”16
Religious author Celia Hahn states that Old Testament “images of Israel as God’s cherished though often faithless wife are echoed in many New Testament references to the church as the bride of Christ.”
The great love that Jesus, the heavenly Bridegroom, holds for His beloved was a subject of frequent discourse by the famed 19th century English evangelist Charles Spurgeon.17 In a commentary on the scripture where God tells His people, “I am married unto you,”18 Spurgeon writes:
Christ Jesus is joined unto His people in marriage-union. In love He espoused His Church as a chaste virgin. On earth He exercises towards her all the affectionate offices of Husband. Let the love of a husband be ever so pure and fervent, it is but a faint picture of the flame which burns in the heart of Jesus. Passing all human union is that mystical cleaving unto the Church, for which Christ left His Father, and became one flesh with her.
In His Word, Jesus beckons: “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest unto your soul.”19 When we come to Him in prayer, humbly confessing our need for Him and His love, and invite Him into every part of our life, we enter into true relationship with Him. “If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come into him, and will dine [fellowship] with him, and he with Me.”20
To know Jesus is to love Jesus, for “He is altogether lovely.”21 Once you “taste and see that the Lord is good,”22 you can truly “know the love of Christ, which passes knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”23—The Family International
Published on Anchor March 2020. Read by Jerry Paladino. Music by John Listen.
1 Genesis 3:9.
2 John 14:7.
3 John 17:3.
4 Jeremiah 24:7.
5 Ephesians 1:4, 7; Romans 6:5; 8:1; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 1:3.
6 Romans 6:1–11; Galatians 2:20.
7 Ephesians 2:5; Colossians 3:1.
8 Romans 5:17; Ephesians 2:6.
9 Philippians 3:20; 1 John 3:2.
11 Isaiah 54:5.
12 Romans 7:4.
13 Ephesians 5:32.
14 Hosea 2:19–20.
15 Ephesians 5:30–32.
16 Charles A. Gallagher, George A. Maloney, Mary F. Rousseau, and Paul F. Wilczak, Embodied in Love (New York: Crossroad Publishing Co., 1983), 117.
18 Jeremiah 3:14.
19 Matthew 11:28–30.
20 Revelation 3:20.
21 Song of Solomon 5:16.
22 Psalm 34:8.
23 Ephesians 3:19.