We said yesterday that salvation by grace was not a new idea that came with Paul. In fact, it wasn’t even his primary way of thinking about salvation, according to EP Sanders in Paul and Palestinian Judaism. Rather, Paul’s primary understanding for salvation was union with Christ.
Take a flip through Paul’s epistles and you’ll see this everywhere. Believers are “in Christ,” or “with Christ” at every turn. What is it that saves the Christian? It is her participation with Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.
How is it that we are unified with Christ? Is it some kind of mystical experience in which our minds are suddenly and mysteriously awakened to some new reality? Perhaps. But not completely.
Is our unity with Christ found in our active mirroring of the life of Jesus? Are we united with Christ when we do as he did, speak his words, suffer as he did, and die after his model? Perhaps. But not completely.
Paul is not clear on just how this works, but he is certain that this essential unity is reality. Moreover, it is Paul’s most common way of speaking of the means of our salvation. However we are saved, it is because Christ has first died to sin and been raised in vindication. The resurrection event has cleared the path for our own renewed life in the Kingdom now and forever.