The Missing Heart of Our Gospel: Union with Christ

Pastor and author Rankin Wilbourne explains why this biblical doctrine is so important for every Christian.

Rankin Wilbourne was a commercial banker; now he’s a pastor (Pacific Crossroads Church in Los Angeles). In both roles he has tried to connect what we believe with how we live. His first book, Union with Christ(David C. Cook, 2016), argues that “nothing is more central or basic than union with Christ”; yet “if it’s talked about at all, [it’s] reduced to some vague or optional aspect of Christian living.” Christianity Today’s executive director, Kevin Miller, interviewed Wilbourne to find out more.

In his foreword to your book, John Ortberg points out that in the New Testament, “the word Christian is found only three times. However, the New Testament letters associated with the apostle Paul use the phrase in Christ around 165 times.” Why so few books about being in Christ, then?

There are not a lot of books on the subject because union with Christ is hard to talk about. The writers of Scripture, even Jesus himself, resort to word pictures, similes, and metaphors to capture the mystery of union with Christ. The fact that the language of poetry must be used tells us there is no way to get at this truth directly. “You’re in Christ, and Christ is in you”: Your imagination must be engaged for you to lay hold of that.

Don’t take this the wrong way, but I didn’t expect someone trained in Reformed theology to call us to use our imagination.

We have to rehabilitate this word imagination. It’s not imagination versus reality. Imagination is simply the God-given capacity to image what is real but is not visible. You use your imagination all of the time. For example, when Ephesians 2 says “you are seated with Christ in the heavenly realms”—to ...

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