Comm-union with Christ
by Paul Goebel
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in Him, who is the Head of all rule and authority.
Dietrich Bonfoeffer wrote that, “Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ.”1 The Church of Jesus Christ is a community of believers united together as they are united to Christ. Christian community is only intelligible in so much as it is founded in the blood of Christ, “that a Christian needs others because of Jesus Christ.”2 What this means is that I am called to be in community with other believers in Christ Jesus because we are mutually united to the same Christ Jesus. The same Christ that dwells in me also dwells in my Christian brothers and sisters. In this sense, my personal redemption is not personal at all, but rather shared in our mutual comm-union with Christ.
The concept of our mutual comm-union with Christ is central to Paul’s understanding of the Gospel and the Christian life. Paul uses the phrase “in Christ” over 100 times in the New Testament to describe the community of Christ and our union with Him. And in many ways, this is the central theme of Paul’s letter to the Colossians. In Colossians 2:9-10, Paul says, “For in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in Him, who is the Head of all rule and authority.” In these verses alone, there is so much encouragement for the community of Christ. First, we notice that in Christ dwells “the fullness of deity.” Simply put, God is found completely and wholly in the bodily person of Christ. All the attributes and abilities of God then are complete and full in Christ’s character and ability. For the Church of Christ, this mirrored image means that Jesus is to be esteemed above all others; He alone is Savior and God. He is to be worshipped and honored, and the whole of our lives should be completely oriented around Him. Ultimately, we cannot fully know God apart from our knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Next, Paul goes on to say that we ourselves have been filled in Christ. This directly speaks to our union with Christ as He dwells fully in us. All that He has in His provision and resources as the manifestation of God is now ours also. Therefore, the Church of Jesus Christ is never wanting for anything as our only true satisfaction is found solely in the fullness of Christ that fills each and every one of us who is united with Him.
Lastly, Paul tells us that Christ is the “Head of all rule and authority” over the Church. The concept of Christ’s headship is essential to our understanding of community in Christ for, “it may be said that no aspect of Christ’s relationship to the church looms larger in Holy Writ than the fact that He is its Head.”3 There are two primary aspects to Christ’s headship over the Church: His authority over the Church and His provision for the Church as His own Body.
With regards to authority, Christ is to be exalted as King of Kings and Lord of Lords over the Church. That is to say, Christ is our King, and we are His subjects. We pledge our allegiance to Him and to no other. He governs His Church through the authority of His Word and Spirit. This concept was the battle cry of the reformers who sought to appropriately align the authority of the Church under the authority of Christ by His governance through the Word. Paul clarifies in Ephesians 2:20 that the Church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone.” The true Church of Jesus Christ is found where His word is faithfully preached as authoritative and sufficient for instructing the whole of Christian life.
With regards to provision, Christ is the organic builder of the Church. Christ is the Head, and the Church is the body. This aspect is later described in Colossians 2:19, that the Church should hold fast to Christ, the Head, “from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.” There is an intimate connection between Christ and His Church; this is our union with Christ. There is no life for the Church outside of Jesus Christ. In fact, it can be said without reservation that the Church cannot truly exist apart from Jesus Christ.4 He is its architect, its builder, and its sustainer. He is the architect in the sense that the Church is His vision and His design. He is the builder in the sense that the Church is founded and formed by the work of Christ. It is not made with brick and mortar but with the body and the blood of Jesus. And He is the sustainer in the sense that the Church finds all provision and continued existence in the perpetual mediation of Christ as our Savior and High Priest.
As Jesus says in the Gospel of John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”
1 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Trans. By John W. Doberstein (San Francisco: Haper Collins, 1954) 21.
2 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, 21.
3 R. B. Kuiper, The Glorious Body of Christ (Carlise: Banner of Truth Trust, 1967) 91.
4 R. B. Kuiper, The Glorious Body of Christ. 94.