Written by Stephen Cox
As we have been working our way through the book of Leviticus it has been a great joy to find that our relationship with God is secure in Jesus and not in an abundance of sacrifices offered day in and day out! We are God’s children because we are IN CHRIST. It’s easy to skip over the little things – words like “in” and “him”. These little words, however, punctuate the New Testament, especially Paul’s letters (e.g. Ephesians 1; Colossians 2). Christians often talk of being “in Christ” but often this is not an area of the Christian life that gets a lot of focus. It is much easier to focus on the imperatives in Scripture and to gloss over the truths about who we really are. The truth is that the Christian life is much more about who we are than what we do.
I was reminded of a great little book that my Growth Group was encouraged to read last summer. In ‘One Forever’, Rory Shiner seeks to help the reader understand what union with Christ actually means. Despite it’s brevity (88 pages) it digs deep into the Bible (and theology) whilst applying these reflections to real life.
The book covers a vast scope in its seven short chapters — from creation to new creation. In the opening chapters (creation and incarnation), we are drawn into the big picture of God’s work in the world. In particular we are shown the pattern of “unity in diversity” that is seen in creation, marriage, and Christ.
The central chapters (salvation and justification) delve into the topics where union with Christ is most commonly thought about. Chapter three (salvation) uses many helpful illustrations to describe what it means to be “in Christ”, some are biblical (a vine and branches, a body), and other much more modern (being in an aeroplane will be a spiritual experience after reading this book).
In chapter four (justification) we see how some of the suspicions that we have when we think about justification by faith (the Bible’s teaching that God is both just and the justifier of the ungodly, Romans 3:26, 4:5) can be addressed through a proper understanding of being “in Christ”. As just one example – justification by faith has been accused of being a legal fiction (how can someone be justly punished in the place of another), but when we understand that we are united to Christ by faith, we realise that believers don’t just appear to be justified, we really are.
In the remaining chapter, Rory zeroes in on sanctification (we died to sin with Christ, and live a new life in him), church (believers are all one in Christ Jesus and are members of his body) and resurrection (if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his, so we may labour in the Lord with hope).
In ‘One Forever’, Rory shows that the heart of the matter of being in Christ is not how much faith you have, but where your faith is – “One of the crucial truths that union with Christ captures is that all of me is connected to all of Christ.” In drawing from John Owen’s ‘The Mortification of Sin’, Shiner shows the reader how without knowing the love of God and the privileges that we have in Christ we cannot keep from falling into temptation and sin. The greatest combatant against daily sin is to dwell on the truths of the privileges that I have from being in Christ!
What it says will help you to notice the little things in the Bible that you may have previously skipped over, and also spark your thinking about how to live because you are “in Christ”.
The subtitle of this book is ‘The transforming power of being in Christ’, and Rory goes to great lengths to bring the import and application of the language and imagery home to the life of the Christian reader. There are elegant observations and some great illustrations scattered through out the book. Because of this quality and the book’s length, it would be tempting just to read it quickly and leave it there, but I’d encourage you to read it slowly, with a Bible beside you, make notes and notice the way the book is put together. This slim book provides a great tour of God’s salvation in Christ, and plenty to stimulate further thought and reading.