Lombard CRC

Union with Christ, Part #1 - Relationship Not Religion

Union With Christ, Part 1 – Relationship Not Religion

20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.


Relationships were front and center in America

this week:

Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress

about Facebook privacy issues.

Facebook matters that much

because our friendships matter that much:

so don’t do anything that messes

with our friendships.

And then Bill Hybels announced he was

stepping down early from Willow Creek Church

due to allegations of inappropriate conduct

in his relationships.

What do we say about that?

I like what fellow CRC pastor Mark Brouwer said:

This news makes me sad.

It's going to make me ever more vigilant

about how I relate to the people in my church.

It's going to make me ever more vigilant

about my own spiritual and emotional well-being, and my own relationships.

Relationship matter to us.

We can all do better at them.

We don’t want to give love a bad name.

But these stories and more scare us,

and we wonder how to bless

and be blessed in those relationships

that matter so much to us.

We start, we get solid footing, a great foundation

when we commit above all

to our relationship to Jesus Christ.


Maybe you don’t think of faith

as a relationship to Jesus.

How can I relate

to one who lived 2000 years ago,

who is at the right hand of the Father today

as Lord and Savior?

How can I relate to one who I can’t see with my eyes,

hear with my ears,

touch with my hands,

walk beside in his shadow?

How can I have a relationship with the living God?

So most times we confine faith

to our thoughts and our religious practices.

But there is a big difference

between faith in Jesus and religion.

The incarnate, crucified, risen, reigning Lord Jesus

is so much, much, much more

than an idea or notion or religious thought.

If I asked you what sets Christianity apart

from every world religion what would you answer?

The biggest difference is called: union with Christ.

That the Christian faith is not a religion;

it is a relationship.


We miss the blessing of that primary relationship

when we reduce our faith

to some outward religious practices.

Religion gives you a list:

it says do these things,

for in the doing of these things

you will satisfy the demands of religion

so you can judge yourself good enough.

And even Christians can think this about faith.

We make up our lists of outward observances

so we can say look, I’m good enough –

but along the way we miss God.

And I wind up further isolating myself from Jesus.

And here’s the thing:

I really don’t change for the better.

So we wonder maybe there isn’t much

to this Christian religion after all.

And I’ll find something else that matters more to me.


But our Heavenly Father loves you.

The Triune God gave you life,

and Jesus gave his life for you,

and promises to be with you always,

so that you could find a fullness and newness

that you cannot give yourself alone.

You were made for God,

I call you friends, says Jesus.

This is what changed the Apostle Paul.

He had the religion down:

he says in Philippians

that when it comes to religious law

he was faultless.

But mastering the list of outward observances

didn’t help him to know God.

When Jesus met him on the road to Damascus

the first thing he said was,

who are you, Lord?


Something had to change.

What changed was that he met Jesus.

And he understood that faith is personal,

it is being united to Christ.


What is this union with Christ?

It’s an attempt to describe a phrase

the Apostle Paul uses over and over again

in his epistles:

living or being ‘in Christ.’

We see it here in Galatians 2:20 –

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.

What does it mean to say Christ lives in me,

and I live in Christ?


That’s what union with Christ describes for us

and then applies to our lives.

Here’s one definition from the CS Lewis Institute:

‘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.’

By the power and love

of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection

and by the grace of the Holy Spirit

we not only draw near to Jesus,

not only does he walk with me and talk with me,

not only is he always with us,

we commune with God –

we are united to God

as children of God,

and Jesus lives through our lives.

in such a way that his life is my life

and my life is his.


Is it hard to wrap your thoughts around this?

How about we start here:

belief in God is about presence not program.


Let’s look at this Galatians text to apply this blessing.

15 “We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles 16 know that a person is not justified

by the works of the law,

but by faith in Jesus Christ.

So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus

that we may be justified by faith in Christ

and not by the works of the law,

because by the works of the law

no one will be justified.


Paul describes how he was trying to live:

to be justified by the works of the law.

I was a good Jew, not a sinful Gentile,

because I conscientiously followed

all the religious laws, rites and rituals:

I followed the program.

He describes his journey from

thinking God was found through a program

to finally knowing the true God

by the Lord’s presence:

Jesus being with him and for him,

living in him.


To understand this we need to know

those two words he uses:

‘justified,’ and ‘law.’

To be justified is to be put in a right relationship.

When Ann Lamott was a teenage girl

and saw her family breaking up before her eyes,

she thought that if they’d only do better

then their family would be better:

“I just felt shame that I had disappointed them again:

If I could just do a little better,

I would finally have the things I longed for –

a sense of OKness and connection

and meaning and peace of mind,

a sense that my family was OK

and that we were good people.

I would finally know that we were safe,

and that my daddy wasn’t going to leave us,

and that I would be loved someday.”


Justified – to be okay, to be right,

and when it comes to God

it means to be right with God,

in a right relationship,

our sinfulness overcome by God’s righteousness.


The other word in our text is ‘law.’

15 “We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles 16 know that a person is not justified

by the works of the law . . .

Law here doesn’t mean what’s right and wrong,

legal and illegal.

Paul isn’t advocating for wild living

or disobedience to the ten commandments

or to live as an outlaw.

‘Law’ here refers to the religious ceremonies

in which he was raised as a Jew:

the big three were


kosher diet

and pharisaical Sabbath-keeping.

A religious list.

Do you have one too?


Most of us follow some programs to be okay:

the doctor gives us a certain diet

or there are pills we have to take

and exercise we have to do

and we’re saving up for a house or retirement

or we’ve decided on a certain course of study

as we prepare for our calling or vocation:

a program.

And this can make us think

we’ve got to do the same thing

when it comes to God.

We think God is a program to follow:

God is going to church Sunday morning.

God is going to youth group or Sunday school.

God is holding certain political views.

But look at our verses again –

16  we know that a person is not justified

by the works of the law . . .

programs aren’t the point or measure.

Paul committed to the program and wound up

an enemy of the true and living Lord.

He found out it was about presence, not program,

relationship not religion.


That’s one thing I hope you take away from this:

Faith is about relating to Jesus –

as our text says:

20 I have been crucified with Christ

and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.

The life I now live in the body,

I live by faith in the Son of God,

who loved me and gave himself for me.


But how can Jesus live in me?

How is it I no longer live

yet I do live

by faith in the Son of God?

How can Jesus’ life be mine,

and my life be made holy in his life?

We have earthly examples

that point us to this divine reality:

While you were growing up

did anyone ever say to you something like

you’ve got your father’s eyes?

Or you’re older now,

and when you get up from the couch

you make this grunting sound,

and your wife calls form the other room,

when did you dad get hear?

And then you think:

when did I start sounding like dad!

Or, maybe you’ve heard the old proverbs:

look at the mother before you marry the daughter,

or the son reveals what is hidden in his father?

Or you coach 10 year olds in basketball

and there’s always one or two dads

that pressure you and you can tell

they’re reliving their sports successes and failures through their boys.

They say married couples begin to look and sound and think like each other over time.

They say that about dogs and their owners, too.

At a baptism we all make a promise

alongside the parents

choosing to be spiritual parents with them

in nurturing this child’s faith.


All of these and more reflect this truth

that we are not mere individuals.

Life displays some sort of union

and communion and being united.

So that when it comes to knowing ourselves rightly

and knowing God rightly

we are made for communion,

being united with the Lord and his people.

Faith is personal,

it is in the person and finished work of Jesus

who lives in us.


And here’s the treasure.

You see,

if faith is only an idea, or a take on things,

or a list you can point to in order to say

I’ve done what I’m supposed to do,

then we miss the person of Christ.

We have a virtual faith

that just sort of exists in our heads.

And life is still just about me.

We miss the love and the friendship and the belonging and the identity.

More, out of pride we make God fit our agenda:

let’s get church over so I can get on with my day,

where’s the line

when it comes to obeying that command of God,

if the deacons don’t say anything to me

about my giving then I’m giving enough,

am I good enough,

I think so,

so I guess I am.


The treasure isn’t just making the cut,

it’s Christ’s power and love given through us.

I don’t just want to be good enough,

I want to glorify God,

I want to witness for Jesus,

I want people to see Christ in me,

I want all those whose lives I touch

the better for having known and been with me.


Paul points us again to the crucifixion of Jesus

to find healing, hope and life.

He shocks us by his statement,

I have been crucified with Christ . . .

I know we usually say something like,

Jesus died for me,

or he died for my sins,

or even, he died because of me and for me.

And these are true and right as far as they go.

But the reality goes way beyond this.

I am crucified with Christ.

My life is blessed and empowered

by enduring the cross

and rising to new life.


Andrew Root talks about sitting with young people

at a retreat and talking about salvation.

They had just heard a gospel presentation.

One of the teens said it’s like not deserving an A

but being given an A anyhow

because Jesus has taken the test for us and aced it. This is a pretty good deal, they all said.

Except it doesn’t really change us

for the better does it?

If we get an A without deserving it,

without learning the material

or mastering the course,

we haven’t really become a different, better person. Our substitute test-taker left us with good marks

but still ignorant.

All this assumed that the point of life

 was to get the grade,

not to participate in something beyond ourselves.

It’s settling for the religion

and missing the relationship.


But can you hear Paul says something deeper?

Not just that Jesus died for me,

but I am crucified with Christ.

That old way of living just to make the grade

is dead and gone;

the new life of bringing all the love of Jesus

into even the hardest of situations is

who I am and what I do now!

In the original sentence the ‘with Christ’ comes first,

to emphasize the point:

with Christ I have been crucified.


Of course, he doesn’t mean physically,

he’s not saying he was also crucified physically.

But in reflecting on what Jesus Christ did for him,

he now can say this is what faith in Jesus looks like

to some spiritual degree.

Jesus takes me with him

so that there is forgiveness for my past

there is love for my present circumstances,

there is hope for my future.

The old me has to go;

the old me is gone.


Vs 20 - I have been crucified with Christ

and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.

The life I now live in the body,

I live by faith in the Son of God,

who loved me and gave himself for me.

Hear that?

I no longer live, he says.

Again, he’s not saying physically he’s dead,

no longer physically alive,

but this former way of getting through life.

All of Christ’s healing presence,

his loving presence,

his wisdom in the counsel of the Spirit,

are within me, there for me.

When I suffer he suffers with me.

So my suffering has a redemptive purpose,

and I am not alone in it.

It is not a waste

for even in this God is working good out of it.

When I am tempted he is with me

as the one who was tempted in every way

just as we are yet was without sin.

When I am called to carry a cross

I do so hopefully,

for he is with me to the very end.

When I feel pressured to live for myself

because otherwise I am missing out

on all the pleasures and desires of this world

I hear his voice remind me

that pagans run after these things

and to look at the birds of the sky

and the flowers of the field.

Since the Father cares for these,

the Lord cares for you, too.

When I suffer in my body Jesus suffers, too.

And he rose as the firstfruits to remind me

that this body of mine will be glorified someday.

So because Christ lives in me

for me to live is Christ

this life is full of grace and glory

in all things,

even hard things,

for Christ lives in fullness.


How do I dare live so faithfully?

I live by faith in the Son of God,

who loved me and gave himself for me.

Because he loved me and gave himself for me.

I find purpose, meaning and joy in life in Jesus,

not in having things go my way,

or getting more stuff,

or experiencing thrills and pleasures –

but neither in keeping myself clean,

a personal piety that says

I’m a true believer because

I don’t swear

I’m against abortion,

and I’m faithful to my spouse.

Faith isn’t about finding

that soothing, safe, sweet spot,

it’s about sharing in the ministry of Christ

who took me through the most severe of losses

so that when I also am present

with someone in their loss

Christ shows his love.


Remember we talked about this last week.

Because Jesus is God

he doesn’t distance himself from sin and brokenness

but sacrifices himself for us.

Now that same journey is our story,

and the way of faith is for us to know it’s reality

in this same disciplined pattern:

because Jesus died and rose again

not self first,

not fear first,

but bless and serve first.

I share in another’s pain, or loss

and this is the journey to new life.

This is living by faith alone in the Son of God.


When I share in the death of another –

not just physical, but any trouble,

when instead of hiding or securing myself

or judging another,

I share in your loss for Jesus’s sake,

then Christ is there to bring a newness

not of our own making.

When we decide out of gratitude to God

to take the posture of ministering, serving,

showing mercy or kindness,

because of what Jesus did for us,

in order to give thanks to him,

I am in Christ:
I no longer live but Christ lives in me.

What freedom.

What assurance.

What strength.


This is relationship not religion,

his redeeming presence.

This is union with Christ.


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