Union with Christ is not only one of the central doctrines of the Christian faith, but is the central hinge of the gospel message. It is through the perfect work of Jesus Christ on behalf of sinners that they can be reconciled to God, have peace with Him, and receive all of the benefits that come with that. This takes place when the Holy Spirit unites a believer to Christ, by faith, and God confers on them all the saving benefits Christ merited by His life, death, and resurrection—applying redemption, in full, to the individual.
The New Testament authors regularly use the terms “in Christ,” “in Him,” “in the Lord,” and “in Christ Jesus” when talking about the different aspects of this subject. Combined, these phrases are found throughout the New Testament over 200 times.
When a person is born again and regenerated (John 3:3, Titus 3:5), the Holy Spirit unites the individual to Christ by faith, taking them from spiritual death to spiritual life (Ephesians 2:1-6), where they are then made recipients of all the spiritual blessings that are found in Christ as Mediator and Redeemer. It is this uniting to Christ that is the source of a believer’s communion with God as well as other believers. All believers are united to one another by virtue of their union with Christ as one body (Romans 12:5, Galatians 3:28) and this union lasts throughout all of eternity. Without being united to Christ, one cannot be a recipient of all of Christ’s benefits as they are all bound up exclusively in Him (Ephesians 1:3).
Fundamentally, union with Christ is a phrase of identity. It is how the believer is to see themselves. They are “hidden in Christ Jesus” (Colossians 3:3).
This union consists of three aspects—the eternal, redemptive, and existential. The eternal union believers have with Christ is recognized by Paul in Ephesians 1:4 where he says that God “chose us in Him before the foundation of the world.” We see the redemptive aspect in Romans 6:5-11 where Paul explains that everything Jesus did in His earthly ministry, He did as the representative of those that were chosen in Him before the foundation of the world. This is how the old nature of the believer could be crucified with Christ (Galatians 5:24, Romans 6:6). Finally, the existential aspect is seen in God bringing a person from spiritual death to spiritual life (Romans 5:6, 6:4). Before this takes place, a person is dead in their sins and trespasses (Ephesians 2:1-4).
It is also this union with Christ that allows for the Great Exchange of sin for righteousness—where our sin was imputed to Christ and He, in exchange, imputes His perfect righteousness to believers (2 Corinthians 5:21, Philippians 3:9). Since they are united with Christ in the eternal aspect, their sin could be imputed to Him in the redemptive aspect. This means that Christ atoned for the sins of His people, the church (Ephesians 5:25), as their sins were placed upon Him (1 Peter 2:24).
The Bible lists all of these as the benefits one receives by being united to Christ:
Dead to sin (Romans 6:11; 8:2), justified, forgiven and redeemed (Romans 3:24; Ephesians 1:7; Galatians 2:16; 1 Corinthians 1:30), freedom from condemnation (Romans 8:1; Galatians 2:4), made part of the body of Christ (Romans 12:5, Galatians 3:28, Ephesians 3:6), holy and blameless (1 Corinthians 1:2; Ephesians 1:3-4; 2 Timothy 1:9), chosen (Ephesians 1:4, 11), adopted (Acts 17:28, Ephesians 1:5, Galatians 3:26, 4:7), sealed with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13), recipients of grace (1 Corinthians 1:4), made spiritually alive (Colossians 2:10, 1 Corinthians 15:22), consecrated and anointed (2 Corinthians 1:21), new creatures (Galatians 6:15; Ephesians 2:10, 2 Corinthians 5:17), reconciled (Romans 5:11, 2 Corinthians 5:18-19), seated with Christ in heaven (Ephesians 2:6), in God’s favor (Ephesians 2:7), brought near to God (Ephesians 2:13), at peace (Romans 5:1, Philippians 4:7), complete (Colossians 1:28), promised resurrection (1 Thessalonians 4:16), saved (2 Timothy 2:10, 3:15), called (1 Peter 5:10), have eternal life (John 3:15, Romans 6:23), righteous (Philippians 3:9), established in the faith (Colossians 2:7), spiritually circumcised (Colossians 2:11), in the Light (1 John 2:8), pure (1 John 3:3), and dead to the Law (Romans 7:4).
This is only a sampling of the depth at which this teaching permeates all of scripture. Upon being united to Jesus Christ, the believer receives all of these benefits.
Sadly, the Seventh-Day Adventist Church does not understand this key doctrine—ultimately because of their foundational teaching of the investigative judgment. It is at the behest of this teaching that they have to fit the rest of their theological system. In the investigative judgment, believers are supposedly on a probationary period (or parole) for their final justification before God still to be determined. If someone falls into sin, the bond (or union) with God is broken. They do not understand the threefold aspect of being united to Christ (one of which being eternal).
Union with Christ is an intimate relationship between God and His people. There is nothing for God to investigate because the believer is already “hidden in Christ Jesus,” blameless, holy, forgiven, accepted, adopted, and complete. They are already His child and He knows them intimately (John 10:27-8; Galatians 3:26-8). They are not disowned by God when they fall short and cut off from Christ. Rather, God—like a good parent—disciplines those who are His when they sin (Hebrews 12:6). They remain united to Him—and because they are united—they feel conviction of sin, something those outside of Christ do not.
In the investigative judgment, however, there are still things that can condemn a person (ie: the 10 Commandments) in contradiction to Romans 8:1 saying that those who are united to Christ cannot be condemned by anything. This is because the Law cannot condemn Christ and that is who believers are hidden in. They are dead to the law (Romans 7:4). The Law could only condemn believers if it could condemn Christ.
In this investigation, Christ is supposedly going over the record books of heaven to see who truly is and isn’t His out of those who have professed faith. This investigation is to see which ones are shown to be entitled to the atoning benefits of His sacrifice. A single unconfessed sin will cut one off from Christ and separate their soul from God. Again, this would mean that something could condemn a person who is “in Christ” which would lead to them not being united to Him anymore—contrary to scripture.
Christ already knows those who are His, they are united to Him, and He will lose none of those people because it’s the Father’s will that He not (John 6:37-40)—they were given to Jesus by the Father and chosen from before the foundation of the world. If the believer is already holy, blameless, and seated with Christ in heaven by virtue of being united to Christ and nothing can condemn them, there is nothing for Jesus to be investigating. Believers already possess the benefits of Christ’s atonement by being “in Him.” This strikes a straight blow to the investigative judgment.
Sadly, the SDA Church’s lack of understanding around this foundational biblical teaching is part of the evidence that they have a false Gospel that cannot save (Galatians 1:6-9, 2 Corinthians 11:3-4) and that they do not understand the actual Good News of Jesus Christ.