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The importance of Union with Christ in evangelism

I've been thinking about blind-spots in typical evangelistic presentations.

First I considered the dangers of overlooking Trinity in evangelism.  Then I discussed the evangelistic importance of original sin (the doctrine, not the term).

Finally, let's explore "union with Christ" (again, the doctrine, not necessarily the phrase).  Here's why it's crucial for union with Christ to be a major category of thinking as we evangelise...

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We offer a Person not a Package

The Gospel is God's offer of Christ.  Whatever blessings God might have for the world, they are all to be had "in Christ" (Ephesians 1:3ff).  Fundamentally God's gift is not a thing but a Him.  And what He desires from us is not stuff (we have no stuff worth offering anyway).  For some strange reason, God wants us. 

So the point of the gospel is not a transaction.  It's not like getting a mobile phone contract... you know the deal...  God offers a decent package, some nice extras and an easy payment plan.  We reach into our pocket and dredge up what's required.... no it's not that.

Yet so often I hear the gospel offered in terms of its fringe benefits - eternal fire-insurance, freedom from guilt feelings, a sense of Purpose in life... all for the low, low price of "repentance and faith."

In such presentations God's love is portrayed in contractual not covenant terms.  Which means God's love is not really portrayed.

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We can avoid licence and legalism

People are always saying “If you offer salvation freely it’s too dangerous, because people will just take salvation and then go off and sin all the time!”  I want to say, Wait, which salvation are you talking about?

So often people think of salvation a little bit like those old films set in the middle ages.  Imagine some Lord snootily throwing his bag of silver to a servant girl as payment for a job.  The servant grabs the money and runs off out of the palace to enjoy life with the silver – and without the Lord.

Now if that’s what salvation is, then of course its free offer will mean licence.  They'll take the heavenly blessings and run away from Jesus to enjoy themselves.

But what's the response?  Well the legalist feels they must rein in their gospel offers.  They refuse to offer a "blank cheque" willy nilly.  No, no, they only offer salvation to those who really, really are committed to turning their lives around and submitting everything to God. And probably they should mean it too.  Like, really mean it.

You can understand this approach.  It doesn't sound very much like Jesus' whole approach to gospelling, but you can understand it.  If you think that the gospel offer is stuff, then putting a price on it seems the natural thing to do.  But salvation is not a stuff!

Salvation is far more like the Lord who loves his miserable servant and marries her.  He gives her himself.  And now they are one forever.  That is a very free salvation isn’t it?  It’s a much more gracious salvation than the licentious have  dreamt of!  Immeasurably more is offered in this salvation.  And it’s offered completely freely.  The girl isn’t expected to pay a penny for the privilege.  But she’s not given some blessings which she can go and enjoy elsewhere.  She is given the Lord himself.

Does such an offer make the hearer more likely to sin?  Rubbish. It’s the only power to save someone from sin.  Give them Jesus.  And offer Him freely, because that’s the only kind of salvation He offers.

When we do, we'll avoid both legalism and licence.  Because the offer is not a package but a person.  Therefore the response is, unmistakably, the receiving of a Lord and Saviour.

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"Repentance and faith" are considered properly

As believers in "faith alone", do we have a place for "repentance"?

Is it some kind of pre-requisite for faith?  Or is it an obedience that we add to faith??  Do we call non-Christians to jump two hurdles, one called "repentance" and another called "faith"? That would be an odd position to adopt if we're "faith alone" people.

We've already said that "repentance and faith" are not our payment for gospel stuff.   Well then, what is "repentance and faith."

Well think of union with Christ.  He offers Himself to us like a Bridegroom to a bride.  He says "Be one with me."  If anyone receives Him, what have they done?  They've repented and believed.  Because they've received the LORD Jesus Christ as their Head in bonds of self-abandoning love.  There simply could not be a more all-embracing "repentance".

If the preacher makes clear that salvation is belonging to Jesus (and He to us), then many errors are avoided.  Our hearers won't be tempted to offer their repentance to Jesus as payment for salvation.  Nor should they despair that "they don't have it in them to repent."  They don't have it in them to repent.  New life does not lie in their resolve.  It's in Jesus.  And He's offered to them, even in all their helplessness.  Yet clearly, to receive Jesus is to receive a new life.

 

We do not offer repentance to God as a condition of our salvation.  We are summoned to repentance in the gospel because this is the very nature of life "in Christ".

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We have a gospel that applies to Christians as well as non-Christians

Think of the “Get out of hell free” gospel.  Imagine that you've been evangelised by this and coughed up the requisite response (walking down an aisle and resolving to believe in substitutionary atonement, or whatever).  That gospel is not particularly helpful to me day to day, is it?  At one point, it helped me to get off the judgement hook, but now, I’m basically left to myself until heaven.  Which means "the gospel" and day-to-day living have no real relationship.

I need the gospel to get saved, but I need wisdom and hard work to get by, day to day.

Maybe a little "gospel-law" preacher will come and remind me not to take the mick and to try and be godly.  But their exhortations don't really arise from the gospel, do they?

Once I've trusted such a gospel, it has served its purpose.  It's not for me any more.  It's for unbelievers.

But if "union with Christ" is in view, that's like saying "the wedding ceremony" was everything, I don't need marriage day-to-day.  Bonkers.

The real gospel is Christ graciously given to me in the nitty gritty of my life, for better and for worse.  Which means it bears on everything.  

Which is good because the world rarely asks the question “What must I do to be saved?”  But our friends and family are constantly asking “How do I raise my kids?  How do I handle my anger?  What do I do about these panic attacks?  How could I possibly forgive that person?  Why is marriage so difficult?  What’s the way forward in this family breakdown?  How do I handle this bullying boss?  How can I cope when my dreams are shattered?  Why does food enslave me?  How can I be free of these addiction?  What’s wrong with me?”

The world is asking all of these questions all of the time.  These are the problems of a world that’s condemned already (see previous post).  This is part of the hell on earth that Jesus spoke about.  But Jesus also has a salvation for here and now.  The gospel also brings light and freedom into these pastoral situations.

Which means we can gospel people through pastoral problems and we can bring pastoral healing through the gospel.  The more we grasp this, the more effective we’ll be in gospelling.  Which brings us finally to...

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Ordinary Christians might just realise that they too can evangelise.

If the gospel is a package deal, then it needs sales people.  And, to be honest, the package that most evangelistic presentations offer is so unappealing it really would take a special class of Christian communicator to make it attractive.  You’ve got to have a very good patter in order to sell a package of heavenly blessings.  (Especially if that package is basically: Bow to the Big Guy or burn forever).

But what if, what if, what if.... we offer a Person.  Jesus.

This is what’s helped me most in my own evangelism:  realising I’m not selling some gospel benefits, I’m offering a Person.  Jesus sells Himself.  I don’t need a hundred illustrations and some cracking mother-in-law gags and the gift of the gab.  I just have to talk about Jesus and let His magnetism do the job.

We’re offering a Person, not a mechanism of salvation.  We’re saying – “This is Jesus, let me paint Him in biblical colours for you, let me tell you that I love Him and why, let me tell you what He has done for me, let me tell you my favourite things about Him.  This is Jesus – do you want Him?  He’s yours, have Him.  Receive Him, He’s offered Himself to you, take Him now.’  That’s evangelism.  In a deep sense, that all of what evangelism is.  Just. Talk. About. Jesus.

And if the words don't come then guess what, it's not because "you're not a professional evangelist".  Words often fail me too.  You know why?  Cos I'm weak.  Cos nothing good lives in my flesh.  Cos I'm a sinner.  And if I haven't been receiving from Jesus, the Fountain of Living Waters, then of course the words will dry up.  Because I'm dry.

So then, return to the Source.  Get filled.  Receive again from Jesus, our Heavenly Husband, who loves us in spite of ourselves.  And then the words will come.  Feebly and falteringly.  But genuinely.  Because from the overflow of the heart the mouth will speak. (Matthew 12:34).

And as everyday people lift Him up in everyday circumstances, He will draw all people to Himself.  But it begins by realising this: the gospel's not a package, He's a Person.

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Those are some reasons why "union with Christ" is a vital component of our gospel explanations...

So there you have it.  Three blind-spots in modern evangelism: the trinity, original sin and union with Christ.  If only we had a gospel explanation that gave them proper attention... perhaps one that was easy to memorise and share with friends... And maybe there could be a snazzy video presentation.  And a website with further explanations.  Maybe some tracts.  Heck, why not a book?  A cheap and cheery paperback - a give-away for friends.  One that laid it all out simply... that'd be nice.

i f   o n l y  .   .   .     i   f      o    n    l     y    .        .          .

#StayTuned

12 thoughts on “The importance of Union with Christ in evangelism

  1. John B

    Yes, these three doctrines taken together explain the gospel. Union with Christ is the most difficult, in the sense that the various views on it have been the source of most of the divisions within the church. What does receiving Christ as a bridegroom look like? They that walk with Christ in newness of life now have spiritual sight (faith) and spiritual feeling (repentance). Repentance and faith aren't only acts that were done when one received Christ; they are spiritual capacities of one who is a new creation in Christ Jesus.

  2. Cal

    A little dialog from a film about Augustine between him and Ambrose:

    "You have to stop looking for the truth and let the truth find you"
    "What is Truth?"
    "Truth is a person, His name is Jesus Christ, the Son of God"

    Truly, truly, the Truth finds us and by it alone are we made free.

  3. Glen

    Thanks James and Steve.

    Good to hear from you Gav, yes hope it'll all be available in Australia.

    Yes John - repentance and faith is the very nature of the life we're called to in union with Christ.

    Hi Cal - there's a film about Augustine? What's it called?

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  6. Brian Midmore

    This is Calvins 'in Christo' emphasis which essentially draws together justification and sanctification in the believers life.

    The Gospel is good news for us but is bad news for the 'old man' which will have to die when we are baptised into Christ. The good news is that the Messiah has come as judge to put right the world. This 'justification' begins by faith in the individual and also results in the death of his old life. The Christian is transferred into a holy and united community the church.(touch of irony here).

  7. Brian Midmore

    I believe that a lot of the problems that surround questions like 'Does repentance need to be part of the gospel message' comes out of the mediaeval notion of merit. If we frame our soteriology in the context merit we can end up on one hand saying that we need to repent in order to merit salvation (RC circa 1520) and then react against this and say 'no the gospel is free so we dont need to merit it by repentance and ergo repentance is unnecessary'. The bible does not frame our salvation by merit: The Messiah has come as judge of the earth and so we have two options 1) we can continue in idolatry and will be condemned along with the world. 2) we can turn from dumb idols and serve the living God. The idea that to do 2) merits salvation would not have occurred to the NT writers.

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