UNITED WITH CHRIST
“The Christian life is like a three-legged race, in which we are to be united with Jesus and yoked to Him. We will find out that it is in fact His race that we are called to run. All other races are an illusion and bring endless weariness and emptiness.”
IN THE OLD DAYS, school sports and even church activities used to include an event called the three-legged race.
People were paired and had to run the race with a leg each tied together with string or rope. When the whistle blew, the contestants would try to run together – often leading to lots of laughter as many would struggle to make awkward progress. Some would lose rhythm and balance, and fall. Others would impressively run quite smoothly. Much coordination was needed between two runners.
In his epistle to the Romans, Paul discusses our baptism as an experience that unites us with Jesus. He describes baptism as a spiritual unification with Jesus in His death and resurrection. “If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection” (Rom. 6:5). Baptism joins our stories with the Story of Jesus and gives us a new destiny and future. It also brings holiness into our lives as we become united with Jesus. J. I. Packer rightly points out that the “taproot of holiness is love for God and His law, which the Holy Spirit imparts by uniting us to Christ in His death and resurrection”.
Our calling as Christians is, therefore, to be with Jesus. In all the ups and downs of life, in all the certainties and uncertainties, in all the joys and sorrows, in all the sunny days and the dark days, in triumph and defeat, we are to be with Jesus. This is our calling.
The question is whether we are really united with Jesus in our daily lives.
To be united with Jesus means that we are, as Dallas Willard has said, apprenticed to Jesus. To be apprenticed to Jesus means that we are to spend our days with Him. When the first two disciples of Jesus tried to follow Him and asked Him where He stayed, Jesus invited them to “Come and you will see” (Jn. 1:39). Scripture records that they “spent that day with him”.
To be apprenticed to Jesus is to be with Him so that we can learn from Him by observation and emulation. The Lord Himself issues the clear invitation to would-be apprentices. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Mt. 11:28-30).
Jesus uses the metaphor of a yoke that was commonly used to bring two oxen together so that they can work together in the fields or when a younger ox is yoked with an older, stronger and more experienced partner. Jesus promises that, contrary to popular belief, being yoked to Him brings relief and rest. It is those who are not yoked to Him who will be restless and weary from running around meaninglessly in circles. The soul that is not united with Jesus, St Augustine pointed out centuries ago, is condemned to be restless.
To be yoked with Jesus is to be united with Him, to be tied to Him in a three-legged race. The wisdom of the world says that this would not work, that it would be cumbersome and aﬀect one’s freedom and mobility. It would be too restrictive. The paradox is that only when we are tied to Jesus will we find true freedom and restfulness. Why? Because He is the only one who knows how to run. He is a Master at the race and knows all about the rhythms, directions, and ways of running well. The ones who are united with Him will eventually win the race.
WHAT WOULD THIS ENTAIL in actual daily living? It means that when we wake up we become aware of the presence of Jesus. We consciously acknowledge His presence and bring ourselves into submission to Him, promising to go where He would be going and do what He would be doing (Jn. 12:26). Often the “normal” pattern is that Jesus may be remembered and acknowledged in the morning (at least in the lives of some believers), but He is soon forgotten as the day’s activities and demands completely take over one’s consciousness.
Life is then lived in one’s own strength and wisdom. Jesus may be remembered once in a while, or before one goes to sleep, if one is not preoccupied with the day’s successes and failures, and the following day’s demands and expectations. Such a lifestyle would bring weariness and a heavy burden to the soul – the very condition from which Jesus invites us to come to Him for rest.
To be apprenticed to Jesus, to be with Him, means that we will have a conscious sense of His presence, and our desire and ambition will be to follow and observe Him and to learn from Him. We will discover how He relates to the Father, how He thinks and speaks, how He relates to people, how He handles criticism and opposition, how He responds to human need, how He suﬀers, what brings Him joy, what grieves Him, how He pursues righteousness, how He handles temptation, how He loves and shares, how He is truly human, and how He is the Son of God. This we are able to do by reading the Gospels carefully and prayerfully, and through the ministry of the Holy Spirit within us.
By observing Him from close quarters, learning from Him, and submitting to Him, we would find ourselves becoming more and more like Him. Our steps would be in step with His, our pace would keep time with His. Initially we may stumble and struggle as the “ropes” cut in, but over time, if we keep at it, we will be running gracefully.
The Christian life is like a three-legged race, in which we are to be united with Jesus and yoked to Him. We will find out that it is in fact His race that we are called to run. All other races are an illusion and bring endless weariness and emptiness. We all need to hear the gentle invitation of the Master and Teacher.