Johnson was reading Calvin when he noticed that Calvin wrote of being united with Christ in intimate terms. Calvin emphasized that Christ's work is useless if we remain separated from Him. Evangelicals today might find such an idea rather outlandish. There tends to be an objectification of salvation in that the work gets done by Jesus but we don't get the person of Jesus.
Johnson argues that salvation is rooted in and consists of the believer's becoming one with Christ. “Our union with the living Christ is, in other words, what it means to be saved.” Jesus did not just provide the blessing – He Himself is the blessing.
Johnson says that evangelicals didn't know what to do with with this mysterious union so left it to the mystics. The current emphasis has been on the legal or forensic aspect of salvation. We might be taught that the blessings and gifts exist and are given independent from our being joined with Christ. There has been a reticence to embrace the mystery at the heart of our faith.
Johnson covers these topics in the book: the nature and character of this union the Bible refers to, the human predicament that makes the union necessary, the benefits associated with salvation (justification, sanctification, adoption, preservation, glorification), and the church as Christ's body.
I like the emphasis Johnson has made on the intimate nature of our union with Christ. It is vital, transformative and life giving, even though it is beyond our comprehension. It is pictured in the Bible as an intimate relationship between a husband and wife. Johnson writes, “...our union with Christ is both definitive (we have been decisively united with Christ) and progressive (we are continually growing in our union with him).”
Johnson identifies the basic thesis of the book: “the central reality of our salvation is that through faith, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we enter into a vital, personal, and profoundly real union with the incarnate, crucified, resurrected Savior, Jesus Christ, through whom all the blessings of salvation flow to us.”
Johnson has challenged me. Is our union with Christ a mere legal union, something I merely assent to in my mind, or is union with Christ a powerful and life changing reality?
I recommend this book to Christians who have not really considered what it means to be “in Christ.” The style of writing might be a little on the scholarly side but this is a very important topic for believers. It will encourage you to move from an objective view of salvation to one that embraces the mysterious yet essential union with Christ.
My rating: 4/5 stars.
Marcus Peter Johnson is assistant professor of theology at Moody Bible Institute. He lives in Chicago with his wife and their son.
Crossway, 256 pages.