Every pastor, student, and Christian should read Grant Macaskill’s Living in Union with Christ. Macaskill lucidly argues for the importance of being in Christ for the Christian life. Any account, he avers, that does not begin with “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives within me” (Gal 2:20) amounts to a species of legalism because it assumes that “I” (the agent) have accomplished something apart from Christ.
Macaskill identifies a real problem within evangelism in this regard and seeks to remedy it. He notes how we separate Christ from the Spirit, salvation from sanctification, and transaction from transformation. Yet these realities have their force only in Christ. It is a package deal since our identities become constituted in Christ by the Holy Spirit.
For Macaskill, the Spirit makes Christ personally present in us. In consequence, the Christian life centres on making Jesus’ identity personally present in us. That is why the Eucharist, according to Macaskill, enacts another person’s memory (Jesus’) so that it becomes ours. That is why baptism clothes us with another person’s history and future (Jesus’) so that it becomes ours.
That is to say, the centre of the Christian life is divesting ourselves of our “I” and reinvesting ourselves with the identity of Jesus through the Holy Spirit who makes Christ personally present among the church. In other words, this account of moral formation is a trinitarian account that takes seriously the role of the Holy Spirit (see e.g., p. 43).
While thoroughly in the reformed tradition, Macaskill provides fresh insight into old or assumed truths. In many cases, these truths have not only been forgotten but even replaced by less adequate accounts. For example, Macaskill rightly affirms that the reason why we have the righteousness of Christ is because he has become ours by participation, by union—not through some unreal, undefined force of imputation.
Probably most practically, however, Macaskill dismantles common contemporary assumptions among evangelicals about the Christian life. He does not do so with any sort of superiority or judgmentalism; rather, he aims to help us realize our identity in Christ by the Spirit.
We generally think of salvation in this way. We believe. Christ forgives us. Then later the Holy Spirit sanctifies us. While abstractly, we can affirm all of these things as true and somewhat separately. The practical reality is that this comes to us in toto.
Being in Christ means that the Spirit makes Christ personally present in us. “The final defining reality of our lives and our church,” writes Macaskill, “is the potent goodness of Jesus Christ” (45). It means: “The community embodies the life and goodness of Jesus himself as it is constituted by the presence of his Spirit. It inhabits the goodness of Jesus, even as his goodness inhabits it” (145).
I wish that every evangelical would read this book. While Macaskill occasionally provides technical discussions, he mostly writes to directly connect with readers. It will take some concentration for those not used to reading theology works. But it is worth it. I recommend it highly!
The publisher provided me with a review copy.