Over the past decade or so, there has been an emerging (perhaps “awakening” is better; it has been a long, arduous 13 year awakening for me, to which I am still awakening!), awareness and focus on the Gospel in many different pockets of Christendom.
Much of the focus and discussion has been directed to the Cross and rightly so! For the cross was preeminent in the apostles teaching and writing. The message of the cross rested at the heart of the gospel they proclaimed (cf., 1 Cor. 15:1-4).
But, there is also another doctrine which lies at the heart of the Christian life that is given less attention, union with Christ.
The Necessity of the Cross
To be sure, there would be no union with Christ apart from the atoning work of Christ on the Cross. One of the aims of Christ’s death on the Cross was to deliver sinners from their sin and bondage to this present evil age so that they might belong to Him (cf., Gal. 1:4).
One could paraphrase Galatians 1:4 to read, “Who gave Himself for our sins, in order that He might deliver us out of this present evil age so that we might belong to Him.” Where we once belonged to this evil world, we now belong to Christ who by His death purchased us to be His own property (Calvin, Galatians, p. 26).
We belong to Him by virtue of the Cross! But, coming to belong to Him is only the beginning. Once we belong to Him, there is much more!
One of the phrases Paul regularly uses to speak of the believer’s union with Christ is, “in Christ,” (e.g., 1 Cor. 1:2, 30; 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 3:26; Eph. 1:1, 3; 2:6; see also “in Him,” & “in whom,” 2 Cor. 5:21; Eph. 1:4, 7, 13; 2:21; 3:12; Philip. 3:9; Col. 1:14; 2:11). This phrase speaks of the close, mysterious bond believers have between themselves and Christ.
In Ephesians 1:3, Paul states that the believer’s union with Christ is the wellspring of all his spiritual blessings. In Colossians 1:27, Paul speaks of this union as being one of the great mysteries, which is brought about by the Gospel. He writes, “To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
The Lord’s Supper and Union with Christ
To assure us of this great mystical union, God has graciously given to His church, a spiritual banquet, the Lord’s Supper. To its detriment, the doctrine of union with Christ and its relationship to the Lord’s Supper is a neglected teaching among evangelicals. Yet, it is one of the greatest “Gospel-blessings” the Lord has given to His people for their ongoing assurance of their union with Him!
As Calvin begins his discussion of the Lord’s Supper in the Institutes, he writes,
God has received us, once for all, into his family, to hold us not only as servants but as sons. Thereafter, to fulfill the duties of a most excellent Father concerned for his offspring, he undertakes also to nourish us throughout the course of our life. And not content with this alone, he has willed, by giving his pledge, to assure us of this continuing liberality. To this end, therefore, he has, through the hand of his only-begotten Son, given to his church another sacrament, that is, a spiritual banquet, wherein Christ attests himself to be the life-giving bread, upon which our souls feed unto true and blessed immortality [John 6:51], (4.17.1).
Because the reality and nature of our union with Christ is difficult to apprehend, God’s gracious liberality to us in Christ (Eph. 1:7-8) is spread before us in the spiritual banquet of the Lord’s Supper. Here, we are continually reminded and assured of our union with Christ, which has been made possible through the atoning work of Christ and the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit.
Again Calvin writes,
Since, however, this mystery of Christ’s secret union with the devout is by nature incomprehensible, he shows its figure and image in visible signs best adapted to our small capacity. Indeed, by giving guarantees and tokens he makes it as certain for us as if we had seen it with our own eyes. For this very familiar comparison penetrates into even the dullest minds: just as bread and wine sustain physical life, so are souls are fed by Christ. We now understand the purpose of this mystical blessing, namely, to confirm for us the fact that the Lord’s body was once for all so sacrificed for us that we may now feed upon it, and by feeding feel in ourselves the working of that unique sacrifice…(4.17.1).
A Spiritual Banquet of Edification, Assurance and Delight
Gospel-centered/driven believers (and church) recognize and avail themselves of the guarantees and tokens of God’s favor to them in the Lord’s Supper. They understand the central importance of this sacrament for their spiritual edification and assurance.
“The Lord’s Supper is a spiritual banquet of delight!”
Through the Gospel and faith, believers are brought into union with Christ by the Holy Spirit. And through the Lord’s Supper, God makes this union certain for us. Through the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Spirit brings believers into a deeper and fuller fellowship with Christ, who in turn makes them more holy.
Walter Marshall notes,
The purpose of the Lord’s Supper is not only to help you remember Christ’s death in the history of it, but in the mystery of it. His body was broken for you, and his blood was shed for you as the blood of the New Covenant for the forgiveness of sins. God wants you to receive and enjoy all the promises of the New Covenant that are recorded (Hebrews 8:10-12). The purpose of the Lord’s Supper is to remind you that Christ’s body and blood are bread and drink, a totally sufficient food to nourish your soul to everlasting life. Take, eat, and drink of him by faith. This will assure you that when you truly believe in him, he is as closely united to you by his Spirit as the food you eat and drink is united to your body,” (Gospel Mystery, p. 205; emphasis mine).
Don’t miss Marshall’s words, “God wants you to receive and enjoy all the promises of the New Covenant that are recorded (Hebrews 8:10-12).” God wants us not only to receive but to enjoy! The Lord’s Supper is a spiritual banquet of delight!
God’s favor is placarded before us in the humble signs of bread and wine for our delight in Him and of all of His spiritual blessings!
“God wants you to receive and enjoy all the promises of the New Covenant…”
Through this visible Gospel, God our Father, has graciously adapted to our small capacity and given to us visible and tangible signs of His favor to us “in Christ.” O, how great this gift is in light of those too frequent moments when we are acutely aware of our sins and failures.
Through the humble signs of bread and wine, our Lord represents to us and assures us of the invisible food of the Gospel, namely Christ and our union with Him! Thus Calvin, like Marshall concludes,
Godly souls can gather great assurance and delight from this Sacrament; in it they have a witness of our growth into one body with Christ such that whatever is his may be called ours. As a consequence, we may dare assure ourselves that eternal life, of which he is the heir, is ours; and that the Kingdom of Heaven, into which he has already entered, can no more be cut off from us than from Him; again, that we cannot be condemned for our sins, from whose guilt he has absolved us, since he willed to take them upon himself as if they were his own. This is the wonderful exchange which, out of his measureless benevolence, he has made with us; that, becoming Son of man with us, he has made us sons of God with him; that, by his descent to earth, he has prepared an ascent to heaven for us; that, by taking on our mortality, he has conferred his immortality upon us; that, receiving our poverty unto himself, he has transferred his wealth to us; that, taking the weight of our iniquity upon himself (which oppressed us), he has clothed us with his righteousness, (4.17.2; emphasis mine).
Taste and See!
The Lord’s Supper assures us that we are united to Him, whose body was broken for us and whose blood was shed for us for the forgiveness of our sins. Moreover, we are assured that God has indeed received us, once for all, into his family, as His adopted sons.
“Godly souls can gather great assurance and delight from this Sacrament…”
Through the visible signs of bread and wine, the Holy Spirit assures us of our invisible union with Christ. God wants us to receive and enjoy Him and all of His Gospel promises. He desires for us to be assuredly reminded that Christ’s body and blood are totally sufficient food to nourish our souls to everlasting life.
By this Gospel means, the Lord’s Supper, we come to taste and see that the Lord is Good and thus delight ourselves in Him!
Praise God! “To the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen,” (Jude 25).