Understanding the World's Greatest Trade-Off
I went to the wedding of two friends of mine yesterday. The ceremony was held outdoors, and it was gorgeous; from the sunny weather to the flowers, every detail was perfect. I love weddings for many reasons, but my favorite part of the ceremony is unquestionably the exchange of vows—and yesterday was no exception. In a very real sense, my friend Danielle's whole identity changed yesterday along with her name. She and Derek are no longer two separate individuals: they're one. The thought absolutely boggled my mind all day.
Let me tell you "a great mystery"...
Christ marries us. And when He marries us, we become one with Him.
That isn't a sweet little biblical word picture to help us feel content or spiritual, to give us a dreamy far-off look on our faces, or to romanticize earthly marriages. Understanding our union with Jesus motivates holiness and dispels guilt. It's also the only answer to the last post's questions about how the gospel saves us.
I became so excited about this concept when I read Martin Luther's explanation a couple years ago. To paraphrase briefly, in marriage, the bride takes on everything of her husband's. (His name is now her name, his house is now her house, his family is now her family, etc.) The husband, likewise, takes to himself all that is his bride's. They are "one flesh," and they share everything in common.
Revelation 21:9–10 calls the church the Bride of Christ. But going into this marriage, we didn't have a dowry or a good name or anything to beautify us in His sight. All we had was sin and death. All that He has is righteousness and life. But with what Luther calls the "wedding ring of faith" between us, He identifies Himself completely with us. He gave us His own body on the cross, and He claims us as His chosen one. We become "one flesh" with Him in spirit.
In Luther's words:
So he takes to himself a glorious bride, "without spot or wrinkle, cleansing her by the washing of water with the word" [cf. Eph. 5:26–27] of life, that is, by faith in the Word of life...
Her sins cannot now destroy her, since they are laid upon Christ and swallowed up by him. And she has that righteousness in Christ, her husband, of which she may boast as of her own and which she can confidently display alongside her sins in the face of death and hell and say, "If I have sinned, yet my Christ, in whom I believe, has not sinned, and all his is mine and all mine is his," as the bride in the Song of Solomon [2:16] says, "My beloved is mine and I am his."
So the gospel is really the story of the biggest trade-off the world has ever seen. When I trusted Christ for the first time, all His righteousness became mine as well. And on the hill of Golgotha, God was judging my filthy record—past, present, and future sins. It all hinges on this concept of unity with Christ: we're made righteous because Jesus becomes one with us.
I said in the beginning of this post that understanding our oneness with Jesus is intensely practical in our daily struggles with sin and discouragement. This is what I meant:
When we forget that we're identified with Jesus completely, we live like we're separated from Him. We feel compelled to prove ourselves to Him—to earn His pleasure—to fashion a righteousness of our own. We become discouraged with our failures, and we feel distant from God until we feel that we've repented enough to crawl back to Him.
But we're one with Him now.
Doesn't that numb your mind and thrill your soul with freedom?
As a Christian, you're as blameless before God today as if you lived a perfect life, because Jesus' holiness was made yours permanently when you repented. As you sit in this chair and read this post, you're as justified before God as you will be in heaven when you meet Him face-to-face, because you are in Christ and He is in you. Can you think of anything more glorious?
In light of our union with Him, there's really only one God-honoring thing left to do when we sin. We can only refuse to wallow in guilt, exuberantly trusting God for what He's accomplished through Jesus by giving Himself wholly to us as our very own.
Before He went to the cross, Jesus prayed for us to experience this unity with God. I wonder, how would we live if we really believed that His prayer has already been answered? What would it look like to act on the truth that we've been united with God inseparably through Jesus' death and resurrection?
"I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me." —John 17:20–23