Biblical Studies Biblical Theology Book Reviews New Testament Paul

Book Review: Living in Union with Christ (Grant Macaskill)

What does it mean that Christians are “in Christ”? What does Paul actually mean when he says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me”? (Gal 2:20). What does Christ living in us tell us about how we should live and think about discipleship? 

In his introduction, Grant Macaskill, emphasizes the reality of sin in our lives and how many Christians often think about morality. He writes, “The way we think about Christian morality… is often functionally Christless” (viii). That is, “we can talk about being ‘Christlike’ or about ‘relying on the power of the Spirit’ but still think about this as something we do” (viii).

What is the problem with this thinking? 

Paul rejects the notion that as Christians our natural selves can be “improved or repaired in their own right.” Rather, Christians

are so compromised by sin that they will only ever turn the gifts of God to the purposes of idolatry and will be blind to the fact that they are doing so… People will act, think, teach, and lead in ways that serve this constitutional idolatry and will do so without any self-awareness. Their only prospect for salvation lies in their being inhabited by another self, a better self who can act in them to bring about real goodness. (viii-ix)

Sin bends and corrupts us completely. But there is another, an “alien” righteousness, whom we need. We have no potential within us to meet any righteous standard.

In chapter 1, Macaskill compares different views over Paul’s gospel, justification, and our moral life (sanctification) by looking at the New Perspective on Paul, virtue theology, the Apocalyptic Paul, and imitation of Christ. Macaskill compares these with the Reformed tradition and stand with Luther’s (and the Reformer’s) understanding of the gospel. Here Macaskill emphasizes the same thing Luther saw, we cannot save ourselves. I am unable to do good, and I need another to help me.

Chapter 2 looks at Paul’s moral crises. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” Legalism isn’t merely trying to work for one’s salvation. Another aspect of it is “pursuing status in the eyes of believers” (9). Looking at what Paul says in Philippians 3, he wanted God and people to look at him and think that he had worth. Clout. But now that he is in Christ, God looks at him and sees Christ, and when people look at him he wants them only to see Jesus.

Chapters 3 and 4 look at how baptism and the Lord’s Supper connect us to Christ. We “put on” Christ, the second person of the trinity, in baptism, and we become one with him and with each other, the body of Christ. Through the Lord’s Supper we make Christ’s memories our own, his story ours. The Lord’s Supper is the fulfillment to the Passover meal. Jesus is our Passover lamb, and in the shedding of his blood we are saved. We receive God’s Spirit. His law is written on his hearts and all Christians know the Lord and his forgiveness (Jer 31:31-34).

Macaskill writes, “Paul consistently points to what the church is in Christ as the grounds for how it should live, rather than pointing to what it might be if it will only get its moral act together” (86).

In chapter 5 Macaskill looks at Galatians 4 and Romans 8. He understands Romans 7 to (more-likely) speak of the Christian’s perspective. We want to follow God’s law, but we equally want to follow and give in to our old habits. Yet those in Christ are God’s sons. “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!'” (Gal 4:6). We have no confidence in the flesh. Our confidence lies in Christ who breaks sin’s power. His Spirit in us makes real Christ’s presence and power.

Chapter 6 emphasizes prayer. Hope and gratitude in the midst of the sufferings we share with Christ (2 Cor 1:5) characterize our prayers. We endure sufferings (Rom 8:25) through an unbreakable bond we share with Christ (8:31-36) who is in us. Macaskill writes, “In prayer our covenant friendship with God is expressed as we come into his presence to speak with him” (124).

Chapter 7 ends by synthesizing the previous information and probing what Galatians 2:20 really means, how Macaskill’s thesis works with virtue, discipline, and psychology, legalism, Christian unity, and the trinity.

Recommended?

Macaskill has written an important book that will point you to think first about whom you are connected to in salvation. You are connected to Christ. You are in him and he is in you. That is why you shouldn’t sin. He is why you should put on new habits and put away your old habits and old way of life. He is your basis for all you do, and all you do is because of him. Christ is our only cure for idolatry, and we look to him every day for our salvation because we can never save ourselves. This book is for pastors and teachers. I hope Macaskill comes out with a related volume (perhaps through Baker Books) for the layperson. This book, though small, is still quite academic. It’s fantastic though, and I hope Macaskill writes more on this needed topic. 

Lagniappe

  • Author: Grant Macaskill
  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Baker Academic (October 15, 2019)
  • Sample: Read Chapter 2, Who Am I Really?

Buy it from Amazon or Baker Academic!

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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