Basic Truths of Union Life in Christ Series
(My friend, Roel Velema, of Holland, asked me recently if I could put together a series that would give the basic Biblical and practical understanding of our lives in union with Christ. Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting these from time to time on my blog. Roel will also translate them into Dutch for his website: http://roel.velemaweb.nl/union/union.aspx [English], and, http://roel.velemaweb.nl/nl/eenheid/eenheid.aspx ([Dutch.])
By Fred Pruitt
This is meant to be a short, beginning look at the Biblical and experiential truths of life in union with Christ, or for short we will just call it “union life.” I am writing it at the request of my recently found new friend, Roel Velema of Holland, who asked me to write about the basic issues of union life, which he is using for his Dutch language website on union with Christ.
The best place to start I think is just a brief history of how “union life” became “my life.”
I began my adult born-again “church” experience (I come from an Episcopal/Anglican background), in a traditional Pentecostal denominational church in California. My first few months in Christ had been spent more or less “alone” with the Lord, in that we were not involved in a big way in any church yet. Through various circumstances, the Lord took us out of our hometown in Georgia, and hooked us together with the church in California, causing my family (at the time me, my wife, Janis, and our two month old son, John), to pack up everything and move 2,500 miles away, in June 1973.
My initial experience in Christ before the church involvement, had been mostly glory and the ecstatic joy of new discovery. For months I had walked around saying, “I didn’t know I was dead, until I was alive!” Scales fell from my eyes daily as the Spirit was opening the kingdom in me! It was GLORY! Of course I was a new-born babe and had no idea at the time what was really going on. I was just enjoying it and wanted as much of it as I could get.
After we arrived at the church in California, we began our “become pleasing to God” quest in earnest. Like I say, prior to that, I didn’t know I wasn’t pleasing to God. My new-convert “euphoria” seemed to be telling me the exact opposite! But, who was I, a new believer, and these people the Lord had put in my life were seasoned experts in the way of the Lord, as far as I knew, (God is SO clever!) so I thought I should take their advice and begin working harder to become pleasing to the Lord.
And like they say of James Brown, he was “the hardest working man in show business,” I became James Brown in our church, or at least one of quite a few who were vying for the title! Our theme, according to our “prayer minister,” Brother Kevin, was to continually “storm heaven,” because, “… the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.”(Matt 11:12).
Whatever I might think that means now, in those days to us it meant barrage after barrage after barrage of earnest seeking, desiring, expressions of love and devotion, whatever repentances were necessary, etc. etc., to get down to brass tacks and take it! I remember one day he stood up and loudly proclaimed, “Ask me of things to come concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands, command ye me.” (Isaiah 45:11)
Brother Kevin I think saw something of sonship there, (though many get something entirely different out of that passage), but I still think he saw something and tried to communicate it to us. That was a jewel the Lord kept for a later time, after that little glimpse in those beginning days. It quickly became lost in the miasma of “church life,” (going to church, working at church, being with church people, having church socials, having visitation nights, having home church nights when we didn’t meet in the building, church clean-up or construction projects, bible studies, prayer meetings, going out “witnessing,” and every other church or “Christian” thing one can do, as well as being totally baptized into a vocabulary that only other church people could understand).
That was early on, and Brother Kevin’s exhortations, along with others, really went on over time to produce more frustration and self-condemnation than they did anything else.
I’ve told the story many times, how after about seven arduous years at trying to become more pleasing to God, my entire spiritual life could have been summed up then in one word: condemnation. You name it, I was in condemnation about it – whatever it was, I wasn’t doing it well enough, thinking about it the right way, without the right holy motives – in every avenue of life, both personal and spiritual. My condemnation was almost the only thing that was real to me.
Since Janis was also experiencing the same things, thankfully, that I was, we decided in the spring of 1980 to leave there and begin a new adventure in Christ back in Georgia. We had added two more members to the family while in California, Andrew and Jessica, so we liquidated everything we had, which wasn’t much, all our belongings distilled down to 15 or so large cardboard boxes, and we five boarded the Amtrak Passenger Train in Salinas, CA, on May 18th, 1980, arriving home after three long days on the train in regular seats (no compartment) with three children, 3, 5, and 7. Fun!!! I’ll always remember the day we left, because it was the same day Mount St. Helens blew its top in Washington, and I say God used that to propel us off the West Coast!
The last days in California were what set the tone for really, the rest of my life. It really was the squeezing of the winepress down to the last trickle, there in our final month in California, that became for me the foundation of the “union life” I was discover a few months later.
Without going into too much detail, another aspect of our church life I might describe as an extremely excessive required sense of “loyalty” to both the church and the individual “ministers above” us, so that those who departed without permission, were often shunned, or, let’s say, criticized. (Being of English heritage I love “understatement!)
Being as much in condemnation as I was, I was not immune to that subtle “programming” that I had absorbed and believed for those years. It was an impossible mindset to break, and yet I knew within me, as much as I knew anything, that the Lord had told us our time there was up, and I had “inner” peace about our decision, though others did not.
I did not know that a battle was about to get underway. I really thought I had fought the battle, in the several month period of disturbance prior to making our decision to leave. But that was minor.
What followed after finally making the decision to leave and officially resigning from the church and ministry, was a spiritual assault on my inner person that took me to hell and separation from God, in my mind. It was like being run rampant in gale force winds and 50-foot swells on a rudder-less sailing vessel, trying to round Cape Horn in the worst storms nature can muster. You just know you’re gonna crack up on the rocks and die!
The issue was “me.” What I heard continuously in my mind was the most forceful reinforcement of all my self-condemning thoughts I had ever experienced. Condemnation for the most part had been a general feeling of unease and unworthiness that was always subterranean to everything else. You manage somehow to carry on when it’s like that. But this was different. This had force and conviction and EVIDENCE! It was a contrary voice, saying continually, “You don’t love God!” “You’re disobedient, deceived!” “You wouldn’t obey God no matter what He told you to do.” Etc.
Let me tell you, it wasn’t just like reading these things in a book, and considering them by thought or reason. This took HOLD of me! My life almost instantaneously became an inner unholy terror, because I feared being cast into outer darkness, and the voice made me afraid that I was already there and NOT coming back.
In the midst of it, one day inwardly the clouds miraculously parted for a moment and the sun shone, and a verse in Psalm 73 jumped out at me, and became my one life preserver in a darkness in which I saw no exit nor escape. The verse was, “Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.” (73:24).
“THOU SHALT” is what jumped out of the page and bored into my heart. THOU SHALT! I SAW it! Only briefly then, but I SAW it! It was the first time in 7 years that I saw GRACE, after those initial euphoric days. It was an unconscious (mostly unknown to me) grace that was operating in the beginning, when it was just sort of a love affair between me and Jesus. But this time, I really saw for the first time – HE HAS TAKEN THE RESPONSIBILITY FOR MY LIFE ONTO HIMSELF. HE PROMISES to guide me and get me to the goal. It was not “up to me.”
O what water of Life that was! As much as my initial birth experience in Christ had been glory, this one was so much more! Why? Because I had found out to the uttermost that I did not have in my humanity what it took. This was just a glimpse at the time, and I little understood the much greater ramifications of it that I would discover later. But, somehow, in the midst of that great darkness, the Lord firmly fixed me inwardly in the fact that has been my spiritual foundation ever since, that HE is the Life, the Guide, the Faithful One, and He will bring me Home into Himself!
But back at that day, once I had gotten that wonderful great Eternal glimpse, the clouds came back, the sun shone no more and the voice returned with all its accusations and continual barrage, accompanying me all the way back to Georgia and remaining unresolved within me for the first few months back home. I knew He “had me,” but I still was continuously tempted with no letup to believe I was a “bad” me.
And that is when some books began appearing in my periphery, books by Norman Grubb, who had visited our town several times in the late 60s and early to mid-70s, making friends with many in town, including my mother and others I had known. When I began to read his description of union life, my heart leapt! There was something there for me!
Still, I could not quite grasp it in its entirety, because what he said about our union with Christ seemed almost too good to be true. And, I was still this “bad” me. I still felt I needed help and some good “counseling” from a minister. (I had been trained up to think that way!)
I started writing letters to Mr. Grubb, and incredulous to me, he answered them! And his answers from the first moment I began to get them, I knew were grace upon grace and they made me jump and shout, but I still was a bad “me” and could not let that go.
In mid-September Norman (everyone called him that so I did, too) wrote me informing me that he would be in a nearby town in a couple of weeks, and would we (Janis and I) like to come have a chat with him. Would I??? He didn’t have to ask twice!
On the appointed day Janis and I drove the 45 miles or so to the town of Kennesaw. He greeted us at the door, alone in the house where he was staying. I had read and absorbed his books, and thought I understood what he was saying. Of course, when I opened my mouth, telling Norman about all our “stuff” and am I in the will of God, etc., finally telling Norman that I knew I had to have a “minister above me” to watch over me, guide me, etc.
That was the moment it happened, that all the world changed for me. Norman, who was 85 at the time, had been slumped over during my talking, looking rather disinterested in what I was telling him. But, he suddenly rose up straight in his chair! He raised his arm, which had been pretty inert all that time down by his side, and pointed at me, saying, “You don’t need any man to teach you, you have the Teacher inside you!”
We went on talking for some time after that, but I do not remember any of it. Time stopped for me right at that declaration. Everything changed. Life shifted in my consciousness from outer to inner in a heartbeat. Oh, my “knowledge” did not really increase at that point – I was a complete newbie – but the shift was real, and as we drove home that day, all I could think about was that everything I had been seeking in God, “out there,” had been, “in me,” all along!
Why? Because HE was in me, and HE was, is, everything. I wanted righteousness and thought He would give me some. It was the same for Love, Wisdom, Knowledge, Understanding, Power – all of it. I had been seeking to “get” those things from the Lord, I guess so I could have my “own” righteousness. But in this heartbeat was contained all truth for all time. Those “things” (aspects, attributes, etc.) that I had sought to be “added to me” to make “me” something, were not available to me in those circumstances and never would be. Those things were found only in Him! But the good news is, HE IS THOSE VERY ATTIBUTES IN US! And we do not have to seek and fast and grovel or crawl on ground glass or any other ascetic practice to make or prove ourselves worthy, because everything of HIS is given as a FREE GIFT to us, in the form of HE in us being all those attributes and qualities which have so eluded us for so long.
Though we will cover the scriptural bases later as we go along, in this introduction I am just going to say it – I discovered “union,” or “oneness” with Christ. Galatians 2:20 became my living truth, as I began to take and grasp it by faith, knowing it was not anything ever again I had to “attain” or “earn.” I began to know it as my everyday present reality. Not I, but Christ. Not I, but Christ. I even began to grasp the further truth, encapsulated by Paul in 1 Cor 6:17, “He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit,” i.e., one person, as also witnessed in glorious ways throughout the Gospel of John especially. “I and my Father are one.” (John 10:30).
We shall cover these things much more in the next writings, but suffice it to say at the end of this introduction, that this discovery (which was less a “discovery,” than a “revealed Gift”) put an end, finally, to the unrelenting torment of several months of that year. When we know it is only Christ within us, that His PLEASURE is to “give us” the kingdom, that “grace” is His modus operandi, and the final pinnacle, that He has made Himself “ONE” with us, so that it is with us as the apostle John said in his letter, “As He is so are we in this world,” (1 John 4:17b), then we can also correspondingly say, with the One Who lives within us, “The prince of this world cometh, but he hath nothing in me.” (John 14:30b)