Our relationships will change us.
If we are married, we are one with our spouses (Gen. 2:24) and through years together we increasingly become like one another — our life philosophies become unified, our desires become singular, our words and vocabularies mimic one another, and we become increasingly dependent on one another. What we were on our marriage day ceases to be, and we become more and more like the one we married.
If we are parents, as one author has noted, You Never Stop Being a Parent. How we parent may change over time, and the circumstances of our parenting will change as our children grow and mature, but because we have the role of a parent, we will be fundamentally changed.
Our friendships and relationships will change us — sometimes for good and sometimes for ill, but all our relationships will influence how we live and think. That’s why Paul admonished the Corinthians, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14) Because our fellowship with others will influence us, our binding relationships need to be with like-minded brothers and sisters in Christ, and not the ungodly unbelievers (and note that all unbelievers are fundamentally ungodly — no matter how “pleasant” they may be, they are still God-rejecters).
But no relationship will change us like our relationship with Christ. The power of the gospel is to transform and change us so that we live new kinds of lives (see Rom. 6:4; 12:1-2). And that transformation comes through our union with Christ.
Paul uses many different terms to indicate our relationship with Christ, but the fundamental idea is that we are identified and unified with Him. So Paul says we are in Christ, we are with Christ, we are (placed) into Christ, and what we are spiritually, we are through Christ. Call it union or identification or participation or incorporation — the truth is that we have been fundamentally changed through our conversion by and into Christ. We have a new relationship that serves as our new identity, power, and function.
As one writer has noted, “we can say that every blessing we receive from God is through our union with Christ. It is by being united to him in faith by the Spirit, dying, suffering, rising, and glorifying with him, having been predestined and redeemed in him, being identified with his realm, and being incorporated into his people that believers enjoy the manifold grace of God.”
Our relationship of union with Christ changes us more than anything ever can or will change us.
Identification with Christ means that we are transferred from the kingship of Adam to the Kingship of Christ. We have a new Head who not only serves as our ruler, but also provides our empowerment for living. This is particularly Paul’s emphasis in Romans 6. Because death is not master over Christ, death is not our master (vv. 3, 4, 9). Because Christ was raised through the power of the Father, so we are empowered by the Father to live a new kind of life (v. 4). Because Christ is alive, we are alive (vv. 5, 8). Because Christ has done away with sin, we are no longer slaves to sin (v. 6).
Because of our identity with Christ, we have been moved off the treadmill of self-righteous works of self-important performance to the grace- and Spirit-empowered works of Christ-righteousness. We fight against sin not to merit the love of Christ but from the overflow of His love for us and our love for Him. In fact, as new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17) we not only can fight against sin, but now we have a new desire to fight against sin.
Because of our union with Christ, everything in our lives is fundamentally changed. Sinclair Ferguson captured the essence of this idea when he wrote, “…in relationship both to sin and to God, the determining factor of my existence is no longer my past. It is Christ’s past. The basic framework of my new existence in Christ is that I have become a ‘dead man brought to life’ and must think of myself in those terms: dead to sin and alive to God in union with Jesus Christ our Lord.” [Ferguson, Some Pastors and Teachers, 533; his emphasis.]
How I live and act and think is no longer determined by the circumstances of my past, the previous inclinations of my body, or the old desires of my flesh but by the past provision of Christ on the cross, over my sin, my body, and my flesh. When we are in Christ, He changes us. It is His past that matters in His provision for the atonement and forgiveness of our sin and in the empowerment for our ongoing fight against sin and yearning for transformation into His likeness.
Because of our relationship — our union — with Christ, everything has changed. And it has changed eternally.
No relationship will change us like becoming united to Christ. It is our union with Christ that gives us the ability to say “no” to our former master, sin. And it is our union with Christ that enables us to say “yes” to our new Master, Christ. And it is our union with Christ that will enable us to grow spiritually.
“How will we fight against sin?” Winning that fight begins with renewing our minds. And mind renewal begins by thinking and meditating and acting on the truth of all that we are in Christ Jesus. Why should we not return to living in a state of sin? Because of what we are in Christ.