"It's All About Jesus" or “Union with Christ” or “Identity in Jesus”: What Do They Mean?
Being “in Christ.” Unified “with Christ.”
It is one of the most important ideas in the New Testament. Paul alone uses the phrase “in Christ” (or some variation, like “in Jesus” or “in him”) over 160 times. And as we’ll see below, we can sum up Christianity with these words “in Christ.”
What I’ve noticed, however, is that we can hear this terminology often, especially in gospel-centered circles, but not clearly know what it means. We hear that our “identity is in Jesus,” that we're "united to him," that "it's all about Jesus," but what does this mean?
I hope in this post to give a helpful, succinct answer. We’ll look at one paragraph in the Bible, containing four major “in Christ” truths, to understand what this phrase means. We’ll see why our lives as Christians truly are—not in some vague sense, but in rock-solid reality—“all about Jesus.”
“Christ Is Your Life”
The paragraph is Colossians 3:1-4. Paul’s letter to the Colossians is mainly about Jesus and about how the Christian faith is focused on who he is.
This Christ-centeredness comes full force in Colossians 3:1-4. It’s a paragraph in which Paul even goes so far as to tell each Christian that “Christ is your life.” Here’s the paragraph in full:
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:1-4).
Christ “is your life.” What does this mean?
4 Ways Christ Is Your Life
We see him explain it in this one paragraph with four truths about the Christian:
- “You have died” (v. 3)
- “You have been raised with Christ” (v. 1)
- “Your life is hidden with Christ in God” (v. 3"
- “You also will appear with him in glory” (v. 4)
Now ask: Who died, rose, is in God’s presence, and will appear in glory?
Clearly, Jesus himself.
Yet notice, here it is us Christians. We have died, been raised, are in God, and will appear in glory.
But importantly, why? The reason why is because in each of these we are connected “with Christ.” “You have been raised with Christ.” “Your life is hidden with Christ in God.” “You also will appear with him in glory.” (The link is implied, as we’ll see, in the “you have died” statement.)
So, here we have Paul explaining what it means that “Christ is your life.” He’s showing the importance of having our identity in Christ, being united to Christ.
But we’re still in the land of vague explanation. Let’s break it more down, because by doing so we start to see why Christ defines us and why it's so precious.
Dead, Alive, Secure, Going to Glory
Let’s dissect what each of these four truths means for us as Christians, and we'll see how our identity truly is in Christ—in our union with Christ.
1. You Were Crucified
”You have died.” The New Testament is clear: the Christian's sins are forgiven by Jesus. But it gets more specific. The reason our sins are forgiven is that in a real sense, our old self of sin died on that cross with him. It’s not just that Jesus died for our sins. It’s that we died with him on that cross. We—our sins and old self—died there. Our sins were truly punished. In a verse beloved by many, Paul declares, “I have been crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20).
So, we’re united with Christ on the cross, and that’s why we’re forgiven. It’s not merely that he took our sins. It’s that we died there too. Our old self of sin died. And this is why, by the way, God cannot send a believer to hell. Your sins deserve eternal death—that is, hell. But on the cross, they were dealt with; they were paid for; in Christ, you’ve already died that death in this sense. Those sins of yours were truly paid for on Jesus’ cross—on your cross. You and all my sins have been crucified with Christ. “You have died.”
2. You’re Alive
”You have been raised with Christ.” The Christian life is not merely or mainly one of forgiveness. Instead, it’s about being made alive (Ephesians 2:5), a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), being raised to newness of life (Romans 6:4). “Eternal life” is not mainly about living forever (although that’s true), it’s about possessing true life, what God always intended life to be, both now and forever.
But why do we have new and eternal life? It’s not because God just gave it to us. It’s because we’re united to Jesus. He rose after dying for our sins, and he’s fully alive eternally. We’re connected to him.
So, we’re unified with Christ in his glorious life. This alone is why we have true life now, and why we’ll have it forever. “You have been raised with Christ.”
3. You’re Secure in God’s Love
“Your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Jesus died, rose, but that’s not it. Right now he is in God’s presence, fully loved by his Father, secure forevermore.
And what this somewhat confusing sentence is essentially saying is we too are secure in God’s presence and love. Our life is “hidden.” Hidden, not like a flippant game of hide-and-go-seek, but like being protected from an oncoming attack. Our life is safe, secure, hidden in God’s love.
But why are we securely loved? It isn’t just because God loves us and will keep us secure. Instead, it’s because he fully loves and keeps his Son secure, and we’re connected to him. It’s Jesus alone who right now is “hidden in God,” and we’re connected to him.
So, we’re unified with Christ in his being in the Father’s love and presence right now. This alone is why we’re loved and secure. “Your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
4. You’re Going to Glory
”You also will appear with him in glory.” We Christians will go to heaven (or more specifically, be part of the New Heavens and New Earth). We will, as Paul says here, “appear in glory.”
But why will we be in glory? Not because God just will give us entrance. Not even mainly because we’re forgiven. Those are true, but not the reason. We’ll be in glory because we’re “with him.” Jesus deserves to be in glory, and our identity is in him.
So, we’re unified with Christ in his future, in being in glory. That’s why we’ll be in glory, because we’re connected to him. “You also will appear with him in glory.”
All About Jesus
This, in a nutshell, is an explanation of our union with Christ. The Christian’s identity is about Jesus. What happened to him identifies and defines us. What’s true of him becomes true of us.
So Christians, let’s make it crystal clear:
- The reason you and I are forgiven is not just that God forgives. It’s because Jesus literally bore your actual sins and you in a sense died on the cross with him with your sins 2,000 years ago. You now cannot go to hell because your old self and sins died there. You were crucified with him (Galatians 2:20).
- The reason you and I have new life is not just that God gives new life. It’s because Jesus has this unshakable, forever, glorious new life, and we’re connected to him. Jesus’ life is never going to die, or fade away, and that’s why neither will ours. Because Jesus’ life is eternal, that’s why ours is eternal. You’ve been raised with him.
- The reason you and I are securely loved is not because God just loves us. (This is important for us to hear.) It’s because the Father deeply loves Jesus, and we’re connected to him. The Father’s love for Jesus will never fade or diminish, and that’s why God’s love for us will never do so. He forever has and forever will love Jesus, and we’re connected to him.
- The reason you and I will be in glory is not just because God will let us in, or because we’re forgiven. Instead, it’s because it’s Jesus’ heaven, and we’re connected to him. Think of it this way: There’s no chance that God will have the new heavens and new earth without Jesus. Jesus will be there. And so will we, because we’re connected to him.*
With clarity, therefore, we can declare that we’re forgiven, have eternal life, are loved and secure in God, and will be in glory all because we’re connected to Jesus. He alone died for sins, is truly alive, is forever secure and loved by the Father, and deserves to be in glory. The good news of the gospel—of Christianity as a whole—is that we can be linked with him. We're in him. What’s true of him becomes true of us because of our union with him.
“Upon Him Rests All My Hope”
So, salvation, love, purpose, peace truly are all summed up as being “in Christ.” He, not in ourselves, is our only hope. We bank our lives on him. John Newton, the writer who penned “Amazing Grace,” described this well,
My feelings are faint; my services feeble and defiled; my defects, mistakes, and omissions innumerable, my imaginations are wild as the clouds in a storm; yea, too often foul as a common sewer. What can I set against this mournful confession? Only this, — That Christ hath died and risen again…Upon his person, worth, and promise, rests all my hope; but this is a foundation able to bear the greatest weight” (Quoted in Iain Murray, Heroes, 116.)
Christian be encouraged, “Christ is your life.”
The most important reality that defines you—both now and unto eternity—is that you're connected to him, that you're found "in him." As you'll see forever, this is your greatest identity.
Or we can say it even simpler: Your present life and eternal life truly is “all about Jesus.”
*It is important to point out that the paragraph begins with “if.” “If you have been raised…” To be clear, this means this connection to Jesus is not true of everyone. It is only true of those who genuinely trust Jesus. This means:
- For those without Jesus, because they’re not connected to Jesus, they have not died to sin on the cross with Christ, which is why they will die an eternal death in their sins in hell one day.
- For those without Jesus, because they’re not connected to Jesus, they do not have true, eternal life, now nor forever.
- For those without Jesus, because they’re not connected to Jesus, this is why they are not securely in the Father’s love. The Father’s love in the Bible is mainly towards his people because they are in his Son. It is his people in Christ who are securely loved.
- For those without Jesus, because they’re not connected to Jesus, this is why they will not be in heaven nor the future renewed earth.
So again, it all comes down to Jesus and being connected to him. And there’s an “if.” For those who don’t genuinely trust him (which sadly does include many confessing believers, see Luke 8:13-14; Matthew 7:21-23), their identity is still in themselves, which is a tragic reality now and forever.
More in Look at Christ - Pastor Ryan's Blog
May 14, 20194 Pictures of God's Love
May 7, 2019"It's All About Jesus" or “Union with Christ” or “Identity in Jesus”: What Do They Mean?
May 1, 2019Jesus, Money, and a Fish: What a Small Miracle Shows Us About Our Sovereign Master