Union with Christ is one of the most neglected doctrines in Christianity today and also one of the one of the Gospel’s greatest mysteries. In his helpful book Union with Christ in Scripture, History, and Theology, Dr. Robert Letham notes that “Union with Christ is right at the center of the Christian doctrine of salvation” (1). Calvin agrees with this comment and notes that, “For we await salvation from him not because he appears to us afar off, but because he makes us, ingrafted into his body, participants not only in all his benefits but also in himself.”[i] The Westminster Larger Catechism describes our entire salvation as union and communion with Christ in grace and glory. Dr. John Murray considered that “nothing is more central of basic than union and communion with Christ,”[ii] for it “is the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation.”[iii] In the words of Dr. Lane Tipton, “There are no benefits of the gospel apart from union with Christ.”[iv]
Union with Christ in Scripture, History, and Theology covers topics such as creation, incarnation, Pentecost, union with Christ and representation, union with Christ and transformation, and union with Christ in death and resurrection. Since the entirety of the Christian’s relationship with God can be summed up in union with Christ, this review could be quite long to examine everything Dr. Letham teaches in this book, but in an effort to remain focused I am only going to touch on chapter five, which I believe is the most helpful in the book.
In chapter five, after discussing the external aspects of union with Christ, Dr. Letham turns to examine how union with Christ transforms us from within. He notes that “when Christ died and rose from the dead, we died and rose with him, and so our status and existence was dramatically changed” (85). The author doesn’t stop at the death and resurrection, but continues with the ascension explaining that “following Christ’s ascension, the Holy Spirit was sent to bring us to spiritual life and indwell and renew us, our participation in Christ’s death and resurrection is vitally dynamic and transformative”.
The believer’s union with Christ will lead to our being like Christ “for it is the intention of the Gospel to make us sooner or later like God” (Calvin). The Christian is now a “partaker of the new nature”, (2nd Peter 1:4) having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. At His Parousia we will see Him as He is, in His glorified humanity, and will be finally and climatically transformed to be like His glorious body (Philippians 3:20-21).
Union with Christ in Scripture, History, and Theology is an important book that will help Christians to think through one of the most neglected doctrines in Christianity today. Union with Christ in Scripture, History, and Theology would be a good book, not for a new believer, but for the intermediate-to-advanced student of theology. Union with Christ in Scripture, History, and Theology is a well-written, biblically faithful, and Gospel-centered book that will help Pastors and seminary students understand the importance of their union with Christ. This book will help its readers explore from Scripture, and church history what union with Christ is and what the Church has taught on this vital topic. I recommend you pick up a copy of Union with Christ in Scripture, History, and Theology and learn how union with Christ is the central truth of the whole biblical teaching about salvation.
[i] Institutes, 3.2.24
[ii] John Murray, Redemption Accomplish and Applied (London: Banner of truth, 1961), 161)
[iii] Ibid, 170.
[iv] Lane G. Tipton, “Union with Christ and Justification,” in Justified in Christ: God’s Plan for Us in Justification, ed. K. Scott Oliphint (Fearn, Ross-shire, UK: Mentor, 2007), 34.