1 Corinthians 1:30 (NIV): It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.

Union with Christ is an important Biblical theme: it concerns the Biblical idea that we are in some way united to Jesus Christ, and is expressed in the New Testament through the phrases "in Christ" and "into Christ". These phrases occur over 200 times just in Paul's letters, and is a major theme of John's Gospel, let alone the rest of the NT.

Union with Christ is fundamental to the Reformed doctrine of salvation, our union with Christ being what applies Christ's redeeming work to us as individuals. But I suspect that in other denominations and theological traditions Union with Christ plays a different role.

What is an overview of the understanding and role of Union with Christ across Christianity? Some denominations/theological schools may not use the term "Union with Christ", but due to the high occurrence of "in Christ" they will surely have some explanation of what these phrases mean.

Note that this is an overview question: answers must summarise the positions of all major Christian branches, and if possible some of the smaller ones as well.

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    @NigelJ ideally I'd like Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Lutheran, Reformed, Arminian, Mormon, JW.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jan 19, 2020 at 9:30
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    This is a great question that I personally invested in, but unfortunately I'm too busy to research and construct a good answer for this project-level question (unless one has done the research or has the expertise to dispense what's cached in one's brain). This book immediately comes to mind, reviewed by a professor in a series of blog articles here. Also this book reviewed here Commented Jan 20, 2020 at 4:41
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    That answer will take lots of time to compile, I hope you realise. As one of Jehovah's Witnesses, I'd say that the Bible explains this Union as being one in mind (thinking) and purpose, as referred to in John 17:23; 1 Corinthians 1:10, 2:16 ("we do have the mind of Christ"), Philippians 2:2, and 1 Timothy 2:8. In the verse you mentioned, this oneness refers to following Jesus' example (1 Peter 2:21) on attitude towards honour: Jesus did not seek his own glory, but gave God all the glory for all that he did. This should be an answer, but question does not permit it to be ;)
    – Mr. Donutz
    Commented Jan 20, 2020 at 15:25
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    this answer has comparison between Eastern Orthodox's theosis and Reformed's union with Christ. Commented Mar 27, 2020 at 23:59
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    @curiousdannii My comments on this question is for sharing some research notes. I would hope when a good answer comes out there is enough intelligibility to prevent an answer that is simply 3 ivory towers for 3 major branches. So I attempt to select resources that presents at least 2 sides with common theological/philosophical language. Commented Mar 29, 2020 at 0:40

1 Answer 1


How is Union with Christ understood [in Catholicism]?

The third stage/way/state of the spiritual life is the unitive.

It is called the state of "perfect charity", because souls who have reached that state are ever prompt in the exercise of charity by loving God habitually and by frequent and efficacious acts of that Divine virtue. It is called the "unitive" way because it is by love that the soul is united to God, and the more perfect the charity, the closer and more intimate is the union. Union with God is the principal study and endeavor of this state. It is of this union St. Paul speaks when he says: "He who is joined to the Lord, is one spirit." (1 Corinthians 6:17). Souls thus united to God are penetrated by the highest motives of the theological and moral virtues. In every circumstance of their lives the supernatural motive which ought to guide their actions is ever present to their mind, and the actions are performed under its inspiration with a force of will which makes their accomplishment easy and even delightful. These perfect souls are above all familiar with the doctrine and use of consolations and desolations. They are enlightened in the mysteries of the supernatural life, and they have experience of that truth proclaimed by St. Paul when he said: "We know that to them that love God, all things work together unto good, to such as, according to His purpose, are called to be saints." (Romans 8:28). 1

Aside from this habitual state of imitation of Christ, we could also say that one experiences union with Christ in other senses at different times, but someone more learned than me would have to enumerate them all.

We could certainly say we are united with Christ when we are members of His Mystical body (i.e. the Church):

The analogy borne by any society of men to an organism is sufficiently manifest. In every society the constituent individuals are united, as are also the members of a body, to effect a common end; while the parts they severally play correspond to the functions of the bodily organs. They form a moral unity. This, of course, is true of the Church, but the Church has also a unity of a higher order; it is not merely a moral but a mystical body. This truth, that the Church is the mystical body of Christ, all its members being guided and directed by Christ the head, is set forth by St. Paul in various passages, more especially in Ephesians 4:4-13 (cf. John 15:5-8). The doctrine may be summarized as follows:

  • The members of the Church are bound together by a supernatural life communicated to them by Christ through the sacraments (John 15:5). Christ is the centre and source of life to Whom all are united, and Who endows each one with gifts fitting him for his position in the body (John 15:7-12). These graces, through which each is equipped for his work, form it into an organized whole, whose parts are knit together as though by a system of ligaments and joints (John 15:16; Colossians 2:19).
  • Through them, too, the Church has its growth and increase, growing in extension as it spreads through the world, and intensively as the individual Christian develops in himself the likeness of Christ (John 15:13-15).
  • In virtue of this union the Church is the fulness or complement (pleroma) of Christ (Ephesians 1:23). It forms one whole with Him; and the Apostle even speaks of the Church as "Christ" (1 Corinthians 12:12).
  • This union between head and members is conserved and nourished by the Holy Eucharist. Through this sacrament our incorporation into the Body of Christ is alike outwardly symbolized and inwardly actualized; "We being many are one bread, one body; for we all partake of the one bread" (1 Corinthians 10:17). 2

Or when we are simply in a state of grace:

Union with God belongs substantially to all souls in a state of grace, but it is in a special manner the distinguishing characteristic of those in the unitive way or in the state of the perfect. 1

The friendship of God is consequently, one of the most excellent of the effects of grace... According to the Scriptural concept (Wisdom 7:14; John 15:15) this friendship resembles a mystical matrimonial union between the soul and its Divine spouse (Matthew 9:15; Revelation 19:7). 3

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    We ideally like overview questions to cover all the positions, but this is a great start. Thanks!
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Mar 9, 2022 at 23:20
  • My mistake. I thought the expectation was that people from their own denomination or who have an extensive knowledge of whatever such denominations would only address those denominations in their own answer. Would any one person actually be able to give sufficient coverage "across Christianity"? Would changing my answer to community wiki be better?
    – user54757
    Commented Mar 9, 2022 at 23:51
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    That's a question we've been considering as a community for some time... most overview questions indeed are very hard to answer. We should perhaps change how we run these questions.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Mar 9, 2022 at 23:52

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