What is union with Christ? It is union with Him as the new creation – as the new-creation Man; union with Him in the Life which is the Life of the new creation by the Spirit of Life.
What is the meaning of that union? It is that only by such union can God's works be done. What governed Him in relation to the Father governs us. Nothing can be done except on the ground of this union. It is not a matter of action or of undertaking for God, however well intentioned. What we see as seeming necessary to be done for the Lord's glory is not the criterion of service. Many things are embarked upon by the mere simple, though honest and sincere, judgment of the heart when confronted by what is judged as something to be done for God – something needing to be done. A tragic situation, for example, calls for action; we have the means to meet that situation, and so we embark upon it for the Lord. A vast variety of undertakings have been embarked upon in that way – from that basis – and the Lord Jesus says, No! Not so!
He is not governed by the apparent demand of a situation. He is not governed by the impact of things upon Himself, as calling for an undertaking. With Him it is a question of what God is doing… and doing just at the particular time. With one object, God does different things at different times… and has a different emphasis from time to time; and those who are really in union with Christ have to be governed by that which Christ at that particular time is Himself undertaking – is giving Himself to: "…what things soever he [God] doeth, these the Son also doeth in like manner."
The whole question of spiritual perception in relation to the work of God is bound up with this union. We may embark upon many undertakings for the Lord; we have done it, and many are doing it. Sovereignly the Lord blesses and uses, but there is something which comes nearer to the heart of God than that… and which gets more directly and immediately to God's end. In a less roundabout way it gets right to the heart of things. It is that we should be found in that which is God's immediate object at a given time. Union with Christ brings us under that law. It is a matter of what God is doing… and of life-union with Him in Christ for the accomplishment of that.
So then, we have to put back all our schemes and all our plans and all our arrangements and all our programs for the Lord, and in the secret place with the Lord get into the value of true, living, spiritual union with Him… so that the purpose may not commence with us – in our thought, in our desire, in our will – but may begin with God and find a registration in us from God. He would have us see with spiritual perception what He is doing… and do it… and "in like manner"; for God is as particular about His method as He is about His purpose. The question is not one of doing a thing for God, but of God. In the new creation all things are out from God.
There is a Man in the work of God. There is a Man to whom all the works of God are entrusted. There is one Man – only one. All the works of God are bound up with that Man in the glory. The important thing for us is to see what Christ is – not only who Christ is but what Christ is – that Christ is an inclusive new-creation Man, that He is a Divine humanity now, and that He expresses fully and utterly, conclusively and finally, the thought of God. There is no expression of God apart from Jesus Christ, so far as the new creation is concerned. God's thoughts, God's will, God's desires, God's works are finished in Him. He is the First and the Last, and you cannot get outside of that.
Christ is representative and inclusive of the new creation. You and I, in order to come into the new creation and to work according to the new creation – that is, according to God's thoughts and will and desire, and God's works, have to come into that union with the Lord Jesus Christ… which means that we live by what He is. Our old humanity has to be set aside, and the new humanity of Christ has to take its place.
The deep mystery of Christ and of union with Christ is this, that by and in the Holy Spirit – in the one Life which we thus share with Christ – we are living upon His glorified, perfected humanity. That is to say, what Christ is as Man in the glory is our Life.
When we take food and drink, we take it into our very tissue; and that food becomes us physically. You know how that works in various ways. You become the kind of person you are physically very largely because of the kind of food you eat. You can tell very often what people feed upon by looking at them. It could be illustrated in many ways.
That is the governing law here in things spiritual. God has a standard Man in His presence. God has a conception of humanity realized in His presence. God says, For Me that standard – that conception – governs everything, and you have to live according to that… and that has to become you. What Christ is has to become you – to become the very Life of your life, the innermost reality of your being.
Your food becomes your power of thought. You do not know how it is done, but you can prove it; if you but abstain from food long enough, you will have no more thoughts. How your daily food is translated into the letters you write, the poems you may compose, you do not know; but it is a fact. Stop your daily food, and there will be no more letters and no more poems. You cannot trace the relationship, but it is a fact. Your food becomes your activity. That is your food in action. Stop your food and you do nothing more. You see the illustration.
Christ is God's standard, God's mind, God's thought; and in the Spirit, by union with Him, you have to live on Him, be governed by Him, open your being to Him… and think your thoughts, speak your words, do your deeds after Him – let Him become your mind, your utterance, your activity. That is the clear teaching of the New Testament. "Not in the wisdom of words, but in words which the Holy Ghost teacheth," says Paul. What is that then? It is simply Christ finding expression; not things springing from us but coming out from Him. That is the meaning of union with Christ.
To all this, is your reaction much as follows: Oh, well, how few know it, and how few live like that? With ninety percent it is just the opposite of that – it is a case of works for the Lord according to the judgment of the one or more concerned. Even so the Lord has done His work through the generations! Are we going to reason like that?
First of all, we must ask ourselves, Is this what is set forth in the Word of God? After all, that must govern us. There are a few other considerations besides, of course, which influence the matter. Are we quite sure, for example, that in comparison with all the mass of undertakings for God, the spiritual result is commensurate? Surely that is a question we need to ask ourselves? If we are influenced by the Word of God, we shall be brought to the position where we have to say: Well, the Word of God makes it perfectly clear that everything begins with God. The words, "In the beginning God…" express a ruling principle; and as in the old creation, so in the new. Everything is out from God, and the Holy Spirit is the executive member of the Godhead. He alone knows what God would do, and He alone can accomplish it.
Now, am I to abandon myself to what that implies; or am I, in all sincerity and earnestness according to the best light I have and the best desires I possess, to launch out in a lot of undertakings for God? They are two quite different things. We shall, if we are honest, sooner or later be brought to the position where, however things may appear and however small may be that which lives according to this standard, we cannot help ourselves – we must capitulate to this law; namely, that it must be the Lord initiating, the Lord projecting, the Lord energizing, the Lord directing – it must all come from the Lord. It is not for me to sit down and plan things for God; it must come to me by the quickening movement of the Holy Spirit. That is the meaning of union with Christ.
Oh, for a revelation of Jesus Christ. Paul said, "It pleased God… to reveal his Son in me…." That is the explanation of everything that followed in the life of the Apostle. If you read his life from a purely human standpoint, as so many have done, and run through his life as though it were the life of any other man lived for God, then you may argue for human initiative, human enterprise; but to get back of that and to see God – to see Christ – that alone can truly account for the effect of that life.
We have taken Paul as an example; we could well take the greater example of the Lord Jesus Himself. Write the life of Jesus on a human level and you cannot explain it in that way. The influence, the power through all these centuries, the spontaneous growth, cannot be accounted for on the ground of His being just a man. In a lesser way, that was so with the Apostle. Today Paul lives more than he did when he was here in the flesh. He has been growing all the time. What is the secret of that vitality? The explanation is union with Christ and in Christ.
There are those who want to build up a work which will forever be a monument of their name. They are building tombs, like Absalom, to their own memory. But that is a poor thing… and is bound to fade sooner or later. That which shall abide forever is that which comes out from God Himself… and is not done by us but through us, so that all things are of God.
A true knowledge of the Lord Jesus will reverse a good many of our ideas and a good many of our procedures. A true knowledge of Christ and union with Christ, with all that that means, will make us go to work in entirely the opposite way from that in which we have been accustomed to go. We shall come to be governed by this one consideration, that it is not what we would do for the Lord but what the Lord would do through us, that is alone to rule.
It is a very testing way. You can hardly believe, unless you have been the same way, how often and intensely and bitterly the enemy fights and tempts you to come down on to a lower position and to take up things again for God – launch big schemes, enter upon big undertakings, set up something on the earth that can be seen – because all those who are governed by that standard of things seen have said: You see, you are doing nothing! Show us what you are doing! You cannot show us anything for it all!
Satan does work on that line. To the flesh, that is not easy. To go on with God and have nothing to show for it – never to be able to have the work written up in the papers, to publish no reports nor statistics, and yet to know in your heart of hearts that, although it is hidden, something is going on… and that you cannot do otherwise than you are doing… is far from being a path of ease to the flesh.
It is a testing way, but – blessed be God – if we do endure the testing and go on patiently with Him, in His time… when that flesh has been finally laid low, when the voice of natural ambition is no longer sounding and having influence and we are now utterly at the place where, if things are not going to be of the Lord, then there is not going to be anything at all… the Lord has a free way and He is able to indicate that all the time something has been going on. He shows how He has been at work and how that in time there will be manifested a work of God – a work that shall have such a large percentage of spiritual value and meaning in it that you are very glad, after all, that you walked with God and not with men in the work of God.