Romans 6 is the classic passage to prove the doctrine of believers’ union with Christ. In this passage, Paul describes how believers are united to Christ in his death and in his resurrection. As believers, we often concentrate on this doctrine in our fight against sin, and rightly so. For without it, we can never overcome the power of sin in our lives. Notwithstanding the importance of this doctrine, I wonder whether we often miss out on concentrating on another complementary doctrine. Which doctrine do I have in mind? It is the doctrine of union with the saints — or union with other believers.
Often when we come to Romans 6, most of us have a very individualistic conception of our union with Christ. We think, “I, as an individual, am united with Christ. I was united with Christ in his death and I will be united with Christ in his resurrection.” While it is certainly true that each of us as an individual believer is united with Christ (John 14:23) , it must also be kept in mind that each of us is united with Christ along with other believers. It is partly for this reason that Paul uses the plural pronoun “we” in Romans 6 — “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.” The author of Hebrews makes this doctrine even more explicit when he says: ” For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.” So, according to the author of Hebrews, when we as believers put our personal faith in the good news of Jesus Christ, we are united not only with Christ, but also with “those who listened” — in other words, with other believers.
Again, when Paul is describing our future union with Christ — the bodily resurrection of believers — he does not have an individualistic conception of this union. For example, in 2 Corinthians 4:13-14, Paul declares, “Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, ‘I believed, and so I spoke,’ we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.” For Paul, a believer will be united with other believers when he is finally united to Christ in his resurrection.
So, to sum up, when we as believers puts our faith in Christ, we are united with Christ and also with other believers. When we will be raised bodily in the future, we will be united with Christ and also with other believers. The doctrine of union with Christ implies the doctrine of a union with other believers.
In the light of this truth, what are some practical implications?
- There can be no isolated Christian. A person cannot claim to be united with Christ when he is not united with other believers. In other words, no professing Christian can not be a member of a local church.
- Baptism, which signifies union with Christ, also signifies union with other believers. No professing Christian should be baptized privately, but only in the presence of other believers.
- A Christian, in his fight against sin, should seek not only Christ, but also Christ’s body. Christ grants victory to a believer against besetting sin primarily through the ministry of other believers. We need one another. For this reason, Peter says, the Devil is a roaring lion seeking someone (not a group of believers) to devour (1 Peter 5:8). The Devil, like a lion, is seeking an isolated Christian to devour.
So, remember the doctrine of union with the saints every time you remember the doctrine of union with Christ. The two go together. So, if you are a professing Christian, are you a member of a local church?