By James Stewart
The heart of Paul’s religion is union with Christ. This, more than any other conception more than justification, more than sanctification, more even than reconciliation is the key which unlocks the secrets of his soul. Within the Holy of Holies which stood revealed when the veil was rent in twain from the top to the bottom on the day of Damascus, Paul beheld Christ summoning and welcoming him in infinite love into vital unity with Himself.
If one seeks for the most characteristic sentences the apostle every wrote, they will be found, not where he is refuting the legalists, or vindicating his apostleship, or meditating on eschatological hopes, or giving practical ethical guidance to the Church, but where his intense intimacy with Christ comes to expression. Everything that religion meant for Paul is focused for us in such great words as these: “I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). “There is, therefore, now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). “He that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit” (I Cor. 6:17).
Why is it so vital to keep the conception of union with Christ in the centre? For one thing, to assign to this fact any place other than the centre is to endanger the whole doctrine of atonement. The idea of justification, for instance, can only be gravely misleading, when it is not seen in the light of a union with Christ… Similarly, the thought of sanctification, dissociated from union, loses all reality. It is left, as it were, hanging in the air. It becomes an “extra.” It is not organically related to the rest of redemption. Only when union with Christ is kept central is sanctification seen in its true nature, as the unfolding of Christ’s own character within the believer’s life; and only then can the essential relationship between religion and ethics be understood. In short, the whole meaning of the atonement is here at stake.
Paul declares his conviction that in Christianity the final stress must ever fall on one thing, and on one thing only, union with Christ, life in fellowship with Christ.
From: A Man in Christ: The Vital Elements of Paul’s Religion. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House. Pgs. 147-153.
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By James Stewart