Our Union with Christ

The Exchanged Life
The “Great Exchange” is a phrase that describes the exchange that occurs in people’s lives when they become Christian. Before our New Birth we were sinners in the eyes of God, without holy spirit, and without hope.[1] However, in the instantaneous occurrence of the New Birth, the sinner undergoes a change, in fact, an exchange. Jesus takes the sinner’s sin, while the sinner gets Jesus’ righteousness. Also, Jesus takes on himself the penalty for the sinner’s sin, which is death (something that he already experienced), while the sinner gets the reward for a sinless life, which is everlasting life.

In the Great Exchange, the sinner also receives the gift from God, holy spirit, so that God and Christ can work in him both to desire to do, and to perform, God’s good purposes (Phil. 2:13).[2] Via the gift of holy spirit, Christians can give up their own desires and plans, and allow God’s purposes to be accomplished through them. They can also give up their fleshly weakness and allow the power of God to do mighty works through them. Thus, like the Apostle Paul, we can be “striving with His strength that works powerfully in [us]” (Col. 1:29 HCSB).[3]

Some parts of the “exchanged life” are automatic with salvation: being righteous in God’s eyes, getting the guarantee of everlasting life, and receiving holy spirit. Therefore, the difficult part of the exchanged life is letting go of our lives to fully embrace the life God wants for us. The life God desires for us to live is always a sacrificial life in which we become like Christ, living for others. Even though this is the path to fulfillment and power, often we cannot seem to grasp that fact, and then we cling to our own plans and desires. Sometimes we epitomize the poem, “Broken Toys.”

Broken Toys

As children bring their broken toys, with tears, for me to mend I brought my broken dreams to God because He was my friend.

But then, instead of leaving Him in peace to work alone I hung around and tried to help…with ways that were my own.

At last I snatched them back and cried, “How can You be so slow?” “My child,” He said, “What could I do? You never did let go.”[4]

We do need to let go of any fleshly ways that are evident in our lives, and trust God’s plan for us. Often the first step in doing that and really walking out in the power of the Exchanged Life is seeing it in the Word of God—that God really does say we are in union with Christ and have the ability and right to use his power.

Literal translations can be problematic
There are times when translating the Bible literally or “word for word,” is not helpful. For example, the Hebrew language does not have the present tense of the verb “to be” (“is”), and the Greek language omits it much of the time. However, imagine the trouble most of us would have if our Bibles were “literal” and omitted “is” or “are” in sentences just because it is not in the Hebrew or Greek. Many people would become confused, or certainly find the Bible hard to read. Many other examples of how translating literally can cause confusion could be given, but the point should be clear enough.

One of the rules we allow to guide the translation of the Revised English Version is that if something was clear to those people reading the Hebrew or Greek text, then we should translate it in a way that makes it clear to us too.[5] For example, When Pontus Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus is recorded as saying, “su legeis” (“You are saying it.” Matt. 27:11).[6] In English, this is an ambiguous phrase, often meaning, “That is what you say, but not necessarily what I say.” However, in Greek it is a strong affirmative. Jesus was not playing games with Pilate—he was giving him a chance to believe and get saved. So when Pilate asked if he were the king of the Jews, Jesus answered, “Yes” (Goodspeed Translation; the REV, which uses italics to indicate words added for clarity, has, “Yes, it is as you say”).

The Body of Christ
One of the great truths that is “hidden by literal translation” is the union we have with Jesus Christ. That union started the moment we got born again and became part of the Body of Christ.

1 Corinthians 12:27
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

Ephesians 5:30
for we are members of his body.

The Body of Christ never existed before the Day of Pentecost, but is an important truth in the Age of Grace in which we live. Jesus Christ is the head of the Body of which we are all members.

Colossians 1:18
And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.

The Body of Christ is not a physical reality, but it is a spiritual reality. When people get born again of the spirit of God, there is a spiritual connection created between them and Jesus Christ (and between each of us who are Christians and thus members of the Body of Christ). In a spiritual sense, we become individual parts of the same Body, with Jesus as the head. Christians are not just “like Christ,” or “followers of Christ,” although we are those things, but we are more than that. We are “Christ” in the sense that we are part of his Body and in union with him.

We are in union with Christ
Our identity with Christ, and our union with him, often gets expressed by the phrase, “in Christ” or “into Christ.” The problem with those phrases is that we can read them without being at all sure what they mean. Consider the following verses:

Romans 6:3
Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?

Galatians 3:27
for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

Ephesians 4:15 (NIV 1984)
Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.

What does it mean to be baptized, “into Christ,” and what does it mean to grow up, “into him?” By the time the New Testament was written, the Greek words en (in) and eis (to, towards) often meant the same thing, and expressed not a physical position, but a relationship. Thus, for example, R. C. H. Lenski writes:

It is the task of the grammars to tell the story as to how the Koine eis has expanded and invaded the territory of en [in] so that it reached even the static verbs, even those of being, letting us have the construction einai and ?n eis, this invasion being completed in modern Greek, en there being swallowed up entirely by eis. All the old grammars and all the old exegesis [based on much older Greek material, such as Homer’s works] are superseded by the immense volume of new information now at hand in the papyri, etc. We now see how wrong it was in scores of instances in the New Testament to interpret eis as “into,” and how only sheer ignorance forced the idea of motion into the preposition. Here in verse 3, 4, where it is found three times, as in Matt. 28:19, eis denotes sphere (Robertson’s Grammar p. 592) and not motion. The grammars now call it static eis.[7]

In the context of Romans 6, eis describes relation, not a position or motion. However, the English word “into” usually describes motion and position, so when most versions say that we were baptized “into Christ,” the English reader is almost always confused by what the phrase means. The phrase eis Christon (“into Christ”) expresses a connection, a relationship, and the exact relationship is determined by the context. The book of Romans makes it clear that when a person is baptized, there is a union between the believer and Christ, an identity with Christ, that is established.[8] That is why several versions, including the REV (Revised English Version), put the word “union” into the text.

Romans 6:3 (Williams)[9]
Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into union with Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?

Lenski translates it, “as many as were baptized in connection with Christ Jesus were baptized in connection with his death.” While “in connection with” is good, it is perhaps not as clear as it could be. When Christians are “in Christ,” there is more than just a connection, there is a union or spiritual identity. Each Christian has been crucified with Christ (Rom. 6:6; Gal. 2:20), died with Christ (Rom. 6:8), buried with Christ (Rom. 6:4), and raised with Christ (Eph. 2:6). Thus, although there certainly is a “connection” with Christ, the word “union” seems much more appropriate and clear. Romans 6:5 continues the close-knit relationship between us and Jesus Christ.

Romans 6:5 (NIV 1984)
If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.

The NIV above, and many other versions that use the word “united,” do so as a translation of the Greek word sumphutos (Strong’s #4854 ????????). This “united” is an amplification of the union expressed in the phrase “into union with Christ” in verse three. Sumphutos literally means “planted together,” and is another example of how translating in a strictly literal manner, without taking into account how a word was used in the culture, can be more confusing than helpful. After all, what would it mean to be “planted together” with Christ? The word sumphutos was used when two things grew together and became intertwined. Thus English versions translate it as “united with him” (ESV, NASB, NIV) “joined with him” (HCSB); “identified with him” (Darby); “incorporate with him” (NEB); and “become one with him” (Cassirer). Kenneth Wuest describes the meaning of the word sumphutos:

It speaks of a living, vital union of two individuals growing up together. The word could be used of the Siamese twins whose bodies were connected at one point, and whose blood stream flowed through the two physical bodies as it does normally through one.[10]

Wuest’s example shows how closely the Bible portrays our lives being intertwined with Jesus’ life. Also part of the Greek text of the verse is the word homoioma (Strong’s #3667 o`moi,wma ), which many versions translate as “likeness” or “like his.” Robert Thayer (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon), referencing this very verse, says, that homoioma, “amounts almost to equality of identity.” So we see that buried in the grammar and vocabulary of Romans 6:5 is our identity with Christ. No wonder so much of what we have as Christians we have “in him” (“in union with him”), not alone or “on our own.” Due to our union with him we have “every spiritual blessing” (Eph. 1:3), “glorious grace” (Eph. 1:6), “redemption” (Eph. 1:7), our being sealed with holy spirit (Eph. 1:13), our being raised to life and our promise of being seated in heaven (Eph. 2:6), God’s kindness (Eph. 2:7), and being part of the living temple of God (Eph. 2:21).

Legates for Christ
Our union with Christ includes the honor, privilege, and ability to act in his stead. So far in this article we have seen some examples where we must expand the English translation to bring the meaning of the Greek text into English. There are times that it is difficult to do so, simply because it would make the text unwieldy. 2 Corinthians 5:20 is such an example.

2 Corinthians 5:20
We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

The Greek word translated “ambassadors” is presbeu? (Strong’s #4243, presbeu,w ), and it was used in the Greek language in to refer to three different kinds of people: an “elder,” an “ambassador,” and a “legate.” Whenever we come across a Hebrew or Greek word that has more than one meaning, we must decide which of them is the correct or appropriate meaning in the verse. In this case, we can do that by “trying out” the meanings of presbeu?. Reading “elder” in this context does not make good sense, and thus “elder” is not the meaning here. Reading “ambassador” in this context makes sense, because we have the ministry and message of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18 and 19). As ambassadors whose citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20), we are in a foreign country here on earth, spreading good will and trying to win support for our king and country. But what about “legate?” We will see that makes sense also.

Communication in the Roman empire was slow. In our modern times, we often become impatient when someone does not e-mail us back the same day. In the Roman world, if a war broke out the Emperor may not even hear about it for weeks, and then not be able to decide what to do simply because no matter what information he had and how many daily messengers arrived, their “news” was always old. Worse, when the Emperor’s orders actually arrived at the trouble spot, well, the situation was likely totally different or the trouble even over.

One way the Greco-Roman rulers dealt with the problem was through the office of the legate, a person with the authority to represent the ruler; a person delegated and empowered to act as the king himself in any given situation. About presbeut?s Barnett writes: “Such delegates—Jewish or Greco-Roman—came with the authority of the sender, in his place, to secure his interests,” and they were referred to as legates.[11] Kittel’s Theological Dictionary adds, “In the Roman period presbeut?s is the Greek equivalent of [the Latin] legatus…It is commonly used for the imperial legates.”[12] Spicq adds, “…a legate is a noteworthy personage, at the top of the military hierarchy, and presbeuon and presbeutes are technical terms for imperial legates in the Greek Orient.”[13]

“Legate” is an important point being made in 2 Corinthians 5:20. While it is true that we are ambassadors for Christ, we are also his legates—his personal presence on earth. As we walk by the spirit, in a very real sense we are Christ in the situation. We see this played out over and over again in the New Testament, especially in the book of Acts. One notable example in Acts occurred when Peter was traveling around Israel teaching, and a woman named Tabitha who lived in Joppa, the old seaport city of Israel, died. The disciples found out that Peter was in a nearby city and called for him. Notice how Peter acts in the place of Christ when raising the dead. He assessed the situation, and then acted.

Acts 9:40
Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up.

First, Peter prayed about what to do. But once he received revelation guidance from God or Jesus about what to do concerning Tabitha, it is important to note what he did not do: he did not pray for God to raise Tabitha. He did not say anything such as: “Dear God, here lies Tabitha. Please raise her from the dead. Please put life back into her.” No, Peter did not pray like that. Rather, he acted like Jesus acted. When Jesus was in the presence of a dead girl, he did not ask God to raise the girl, he said, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” (Mark 5:41). In fact, if we study Jesus Christ’s healings and miracles, there is not one single time Jesus asked God to do the healing. It was God’s power that did the work, certainly, but Jesus knew he was God’s representative on earth, so he healed a leper, saying, “Be clean” (Matt. 8:3). He healed a cripple, saying, “Stretch out your hand” (Matt. 12:13). He did look up into heaven before he fed the five thousand, but it was to give thanks (Luke 9:16), not to ask God to do the miracle, he broke the loaves and did the miracle as God’s representative. He cast demons out of people by commanding them to leave, as we see in Luke: “Come out of him” (Luke 4:35). Peter knew that he was the legate of Christ, the personal presence of Christ, and he healed as Jesus did.

Paul healed the same way that Jesus and Peter did. First, it is imperative that we receive revelation about what to do. The power for the miracle or healing always comes from God, but we must bring God’s power to bear in the situation by commanding it in faith.[14] Paul healed a cripple by saying, “Stand up on your feet!” (Acts 14:10). He cast out a demon, saying, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” (Acts 16:18). Actually, there is a lot in that verse. Although Paul did not always use the name of Christ out loud when he did healings and miracles, using it shows he understood that the power and authority were coming from Christ, but he was the one who must command the miracle. There is no record in Acts of anyone being healed where the one doing the healing prayed for God to do it. In every specific case, the individual did the healing or miracle, but was clearly doing so by the power of God, which is why God always gets the glory.

A very real part of the exchanged life is that Christians are legates of Christ—the personal presence of Christ on earth. However, we have a decision to make. Just as a Roman legate could go to the hippodrome and sit and eat olives and watch the horse races all day long instead of going out and representing the Emperor, so Christians can act in ways that hang on to the flesh and not walk in the power of Christ. Walking in the fullness of the Exchanged Life does not just happen, it is a purposeful decision. We must realize the power we have, and then go into the world and walk it out in faith.

So should 2 Corinthians 5:20 read “legates” instead of “ambassadors?” “Ambassadors” fits the context so well that it seems best to leave it as the reading in the text and have the reading “legate” in the margin as an additional meaning.

“Christ in you, the hope of glory”
We have seen that the union we have with Christ and the fact that we exchanged our fleshly weakness for his spiritual power is expressed in different ways in the Word of God. Another one of those ways is in Colossians. Colossians 1:26 speaks of “the Sacred Secret, which has been hidden…but now has been revealed” (REV). To more clearly understand what God is speaking of, we must understand that “the Sacred Secret” is an Administration (or “Dispensation”) of God that takes place between the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) and the Rapture of the Church (1 Thess. 4:17). God poured out special grace in the Administration of the Sacred Secret, and has given Christians power and glory that people before the Church Age simply did not have.[15] But how does God communicate that fact to us? Well, He could write a couple large paragraphs in which He described everything that we have in Christ. But God did it another way; He simply said “Christ” was in us. Of course the man Jesus Christ is not in us, but God is using the figure of speech hypocatastasis to import the meaning of all that Christ is, all his characteristics, are now in us.[16]

Colossians 1:27 (REV)
God wanted to make known to them what is the riches of the glory of this sacred secret among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

The phrase “Christ in us” expresses the union we have with him, and also the power that we have as Christians. Christ is in us, so now all we have to do is let the Christ in us live in what we do. Before we leave the phrase, “Christ in you, the hope of glory,” it is important to give proper credit to the “glory.” God could have rightly said, “Christ in you, the power of God,” or “Christ in you, the intimate relationship with God,” but He did not. The reality is that no matter how hard we try to be like Christ and live like Christ did, the world will still be worldly. Like Christ, we can do a lot of good, but also like Christ, we will suffer and die.[17] Therefore, one thing we must always keep our eyes on in order to keep our energy up is the hope of glory, and our union with Christ guarantees us that glory. One day we will have a body like his and live in his glorious kingdom.

Christians have power and glory in a way that was not available before the Church started on the Day of Pentecost. Christians are not just “followers of Christ.” We are in union with Christ, we have an identity with him. We exchanged our sinfulness and weakness for his strength and power. Now, as individual members of his Body, as people with Christ in us, as his legates, let us renew our efforts to bring Christ into the world through us. The world desperately needs Christ, and he can come to it as we let his love and power move in us.


[1] The Bible says the sinner is “without hope” because the future of the unsaved sinner is annihilation. For more on the everlasting destruction of the sinner, see the REV commentary on Revelation 20:10, available at Truthortradtion.com
[2] When a person gets “born again,” at that moment he receives, and is sealed with, God’s gift of holy spirit (Eph.1:13). This spirit is the primary way that God and Christ then communicate with, and work through, the Christian. Philippians 2:13 (REV) says, “for it is God who is working in you both to want to do, and to do, his good pleasure.”
[3] The HCSB is the Holman Christian Standard Bible, a new version that is gaining a lot of popularity today because of its easy reading style but fidelity to the text, and its occasional use of “Yahweh” as the proper name of God. Many versions use “struggle” instead of “strive” (or an equivalent word), which is fine if struggle is understood correctly, that we struggle against sin and evil, and not against God who is trying to work through us.
[4] The author is uncertain. A search of the Internet revealed at least three sources that were given credit for the poem, Ben Hildner, Robert Burdette, and Author Unknown.
[5] The Revised English Version (REV) is the version of the Bible that Spirit & Truth Fellowship is developing. We are in our eleventh year of the translation project, which is posted on the Internet at Truthortradition.com and is updated every 90 days.
[6] One of the interesting questions of the Bible is, “In what language did Jesus and Pilate converse?” Jesus would have almost certainly been raised speaking Aramaic, but would have learned Hebrew to read Scripture and converse with religious leaders (there is even evidence that Hebrew was spoken quite commonly in New Testament times—John 19:20 says the sign over Jesus’ head was in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. Although some scholars say the sign was in Aramaic, the text reads “Hebrew,” and there is a word that means Aramaic, but it is not used of the sign). Also, Jesus was raised only a few miles from Sepphoris, the capital city of the Galilee, where Greek and Latin were spoken and where Joseph and his sons would have gotten lots of work. Also, to speak with the large numbers of Greek speaking Jews or people of the Decapolis or near Tyre and Sidon, Jesus would have almost certainly had to speak Greek. Thus, Jesus was almost certainly tri-lingual, and likely quatra-lingual, picking up Latin in his childhood. For his part, Pilate would have spoken Latin and Greek, and as the governor of Judea, likely picked up some Aramaic and even some Hebrew as well.
[7] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (Augsburg Publishing House, Minneapolis, MN, reprinted 1961), p. 391. “Koine” was the Greek commonly spoken at the time of Christ. Robertson’s Grammar that Lenski refers to is, A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in Light of Historical Research (Hodder and Stoughton, New York, 1923). It is very common to read a Greek grammar, or even some study Bibles such as the Companion Bible by E. W. Bullinger and see a chart of Greek prepositions, where en means “in,” eis means “to,” pros means “toward,” apo means “away from,” etc. While perhaps giving beginners a place to start, these charts can cause serious problems if used in translation, simply because there are so many exceptions, and prepositions have so many different meanings. Imagine such a chart in English were “up” meant “up” (an arrow pointing up). That works great if you are sending a rocket into space, but what about, “Don’t tear it up,” “Move up a grade,” “Cheer up,” “Your time is up,” “Divide up the money,” “Drive up to the next window,” “Speak up,” “Go up river,” “Bring up the subject tomorrow” and “the people are up in arms.” To translate correctly, we must consider the full range of the meaning of a word, something native speakers do instinctively.
[8] In the context we are dealing with in Romans, “baptism” refers to baptism in holy spirit, which occurs simultaneously with being saved; born again. Most Christians readily admit that there are church-goers who have been water baptized but have never given their hearts to Christ and gotten saved. Therefore it should be clear that being baptized in water does not give us union with Christ, but baptism in holy spirit and thus being filled and sealed with it always means we have a union with Jesus Christ.
[9] E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, reprinted 1968).
[10]Kenneth Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, 1973), Vol.1, p. 99.
[11] Paul Barnett, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, 1997), p. 310.
[12] Bromiley, Geoffery, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapid, MI, 1968), Vol. 6, p. 681. This ten-volume theological dictionary is often referred to as “Kittel’s Theological Dictionary.” Where the ellipsis appears in the quotation above, there are a number of references to ancient works to substantiate the point.
[13] Ceslas Spicq, Theological Lexicon of the New Testament (Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA, 1994), Vol. 3, p. 174, 175.
[14] 1 Corinthians 12:6 (REV) shows that the power, or energy to do the work, comes from God: “And there are different kinds of energizings, yet it is the same God who energizes all of them in all people.”
[15] For a more detailed explanation of the Administration of the Sacred Secret, see Graeser, Lynn, Schoenheit, The Gift of Holy Spirit: The Power to be Like Christ (Christian Educational Services), Appendix A, “The Administration of the Sacred Secret.”
[16] There are three main figures of speech of comparison: simile (which uses “like” or “as”), metaphor (which uses “is” or “are”), and hypocatastasis (a comparison by implication). Simile usually carries the least emotion and impact, with hypocatastasis having the most. For example, if someone tricks us and we are mildly annoyed, we might say, “You are like a snake.” If we are hurt and exasperated, we might say, “You are a snake!” However, if we are really angry we might just say, “Snake!”, which is a hypocatastasis, the comparison is implied, not stated. Genesis 3 simply says, “Now the serpent,” which is a hypocatastasis. The evil being in the Garden was Satan, who as well as being called a “serpent,” is called a “dragon” (Rev. 20:2). The gift of holy spirit, which brings the power, glory, and characteristics of Christ into us, is simply called “Christ” in us by the figure hypocatastasis. Further explanations of the three figures of comparison, with examples, can be found on Truthortraditon.com, under the topic Figures of Speech and the article on Hypocatastasis.
[17] The Christians that experience the Rapture of the Church will not die, but be changed (1 Thess. 4:17; 1 Cor. 15:51).

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