Have you ever read the closing of a letter from a Christian with the simple phrase, In Christ, and wondered what it meant? The term in Christ is used far more extensively in the New Testament than the word Christian to describe our relationship of faith. The term Christian was first attributed to the disciples in the Book of Acts at Antioch. Sadly, in America today the term Christian has been emptied of its biblical meaning. It is often simply used to convey one’s values, i.e. honesty, respect, tolerance, living by the golden rule, etc…Being in Christ means that we are united with the same Jesus who lived among us in Palestine 2000 years ago. He was crucified for our sin, raised from the dead and is now seated at the right hand of the Father. His resurrection life is now made manifest in the world through all those who are hidden in Christ.
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10 ESV
Ephesians 2:10 tells us, we are God’s “poiema”, his workmanship, his masterpiece in Christ. What an awesome artist Christ is to carve out of our lives something unique, beautiful and breathtaking. Even Michelangelo looks like a toddler scribbling with crayons next to Jesus the author and sustainer of the universe. And to think that he is the artist shaping our life in Him. In my first years after giving my life to Christ I will never forget the nights going to 3am or later reading God’s word and rejoicing that I was a son of God. I was experiencing his Spirit speaking deeply to my spirit concerning his delight in me as his newly adopted son (Romans 8:15-17).
My wife Cindy used to come out to my study during some of my late nights around 4am years ago alarmed that I was not in bed. I will never forget her question on one of those occasions. She asked, “Do you need to know everything about God tonight?” I laughed and kissed her goodnight. Thinking about it later I realized that it was really only a very few things about God that I knew but that was enough. And they still are enough today thirty years later. They are the deep possession of my soul and spirit. I am in Christ by the power of the gospel through faith. Now being found in Him I am a son of God through adoption. I am a member of his family forever and an heir with his Son Jesus Christ. We must confess these realities, praising God for them, meditating upon them daily. They are our present possession in Christ and they must become a part of our daily devotional life. Make it a daily habit in the New Year to meditate and rejoice in some aspect of your new life in Christ!
Let me offer an analogy. Are you married? Immediately in answering that question you had clarity; yes or no. Definite clarity! Now, let me ask another question: are you in Christ? Is there perfect clarity? God is not the author of confusion. Only the evil one desires confusion. If yes you are one with Him, married to Christ. Continue to make him your spirit and soul’s delight. If your response to that question was confusion followed by “I am a Presbyterian”, or “I am a Catholic” or perhaps, “I have Christian values”; you may be walking in darkness. Come into the light of Christ and the freedom of the gospel!
The Heart of the New Covenant
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” Romans 8:1-2 ESV
“And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification…” 1 Corinthians 1:30 ESV
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV
In the New Testament, the apostle Paul’s teaching on being in Christ is pervasive. The seeds of this teaching are found in the gospels however. Consider Jesus’ teaching in John’s gospel on our unity in Christ and the Father (Jn. 10:27-30, 17:11, 20-21) Here is some reflection on the truths flowing from these verses above. Being in Christ He is our righteousness and we are forever clothed in his holy robe. This robe represents his moral perfection and fulfillment of the law. Just as our sin was put onto Christ in the cross so his righteousness is imputed to us through faith (2 Cor. 5:21). It cannot be replaced no matter how sinful we may become. He is our sanctification by the Spirit of Christ dwelling within us. This is a lifelong process of becoming like Christ. He will perfect the work of grace he has begun in us (Phil. 1:6). He is our redemption whereby we have been set free from the law of sin and death (Rom. 3:19-20). In Christ, sin’s penalty and power over us has been broken (Rom. 8:1-2). The law of the Spirit of life has set us free in Christ. Just as the law of aerodynamics can trump the law of gravity when the proper propulsion and lift is created with a jet engine and the wings on a plane’s fuselage so too the law of the Spirit of life in Christ sets us free from the law’s sentence of death upon us.
We are a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), the “old man” has been put to death, and we have become partakers of the divine nature to live in the newness of his life. We have become sons of God in Christ through faith (Gal. 4:6-7). C.S. Lewis said, “God sent his only Son to become a man to enable men to become sons of God.” Our adoption means that we become his son forever and our place in his family is unalterable. Our adoption has joined us to our heavenly Father; his fatherhood transcends all shortcomings and wounds we may have received from our earthly fathers. This security as a son becomes our true self, allowing us to understand and confront the false self we have been living from in sin. This confrontation with our false self involves entering into our wounds.
Adoption also means that our life is now hidden with Christ in the Father. “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Col. 3:3) No power in heaven or hell can separate us from the love of God. Every spiritual possession that God intended for us in Christ is our possession. We don’t have it all in hand now but it has been fully secured. He views our salvation as completed and we are in the heavenly places exalted with Him. (God) raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…” (Eph. 2:6).
Paul’s teaching, along with the other apostles focuses on the completeness of grace from election, calling, justification and glorification. The crescendo of God’s symphony of salvation is in the victory of the Cross (Rom. 3:23-25) and resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20-22) which is his gift to us by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-9). Our position in Christ is secured unalterably in time and for eternity by his victory and his intercession for us, now exalted at the right hand of the Father (Heb. 7:25).
Being in Christ means that wherever Christ is we are with him there.
Our union with Christ is enabled through our baptism into Christ by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 6:4, Gal. 3:27). In his death we were with him (Rom. 6:3, Gal. 2:20a). Our sin nature was put to death with him (Rom. 6:6). In his resurrection we were raised with him (Rom. 6:5, Col. 3:1). When he ascended to the right hand of the Father we ascended with him there. “(God) raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…” Eph. 2:6
This is why Paul could say that we have been glorified with Him using the past tense in the Greek (aorist) referring to the completed work of salvation, “…and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Rom. 8:30b). This is the heart of the mystery of the gospel…Christ in you, the hope of glory (Col. 1:27).
Reflections on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (1:1-14)
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 1:3 ESV
In the opening 14 verses of Ephesians Paul uses the term “in Him” or “in Christ” a total of 10 times. Every use of that term carries with it great significance to those who are his possession. We have been chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world (1:4) and predestined for adoption as sons (1:5). It all begins with being the chosen ones of God. Do you ever meditate on what it means that we have been chosen in Him? I do. Remember high school gym class where captains picked sides for basketball, flag football, floor hockey and the greatest of all games…dodge ball? Or the honor of being chosen as a captain of a varsity sport in high school? I remember being named captain along with two other seniors at Penn State in football for the 1981 season. Being chosen by my teammates and the coaches to lead was a great honor.
These validations and any other earthly achievements like “Summa Cum Laude”, a CEO title, a doctoral degree, or salesmen of the year mean nothing in comparison to being chosen in Christ. His choosing of us is the greatest of all triumphs. It means that we are the beloved of God, our names inscribed in the Lamb’s book of life (Rev. 21:27). He rejoices over us and He will complete his great work of salvation in us. Moses’ final words to young Joshua and to the twelve tribes in his blessing to them are fulfilled in Christ to us as the Israel of God. “Happy are you O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord, the shield of your help, and the sword of your triumph.” Deuteronomy 33:29
In Christ we have redemption through his blood (1:7) according to the riches of his grace. All of the benefits and efficacy of Christ’s victory over sin, death, and the Devil are secured for us through the blood of Jesus. As Ephesians 1:3 points out, the Father is the source and architect of our glorious possession which is secured and in a completed sense awaits us but is now given to the church in Christ. Every spiritual blessing: justification (Rom. 3:21-25), adoption (Rom. 8:14-17), the indwelling Spirit, our unity in the Body of Christ (Eph. 4:3-6), our glorification (Rom. 8:30), and our eternal inheritance (Rev. 21) is our possession in Christ. This possession has been secured; it is both our present possession and future destiny. The words from “In Christ Alone” a song that is becoming a great Christian anthem are fitting here, “From life’s first cry to final breath Jesus commands my destiny.” So we see the Father’s eternal plan, Christ’s saving work, and the Holy Spirit’s application in us. We are In Christ by the gospel’s power through one Almighty God in three divine persons; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
“In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” Eph. 1:13-14 ESV
Let’s look at these two verses by first interpreting the closing spiritual thought put forth by Paul. The goal and destiny for God’s people is Christ’s completed work of redemption. Redemption means that one is purchased back from slavery and is set free from its penalty and power. We have possession of it at present through the Holy Spirit who is our guarantee but not in our experience entirely. We have become God’s possession in Christ. This is the heart of redemption’s power to us.
We have an awesome possession in Christ because we are the Father’s possession through Christ!
The Spirit is God’s pledge and down payment guaranteeing his work of redemption will be completed. As the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:25-27, 32) the Spirit is our “gold wedding band” given by God representing his covenant pledge to us. The Holy Spirit was given to us in our shared baptism (Rom. 6:4, Gal. 3:27-28) when we were made one with Christ, having been united with him in his death and resurrection (Rom. 6:5). In our baptism we became one united family in Christ as well where all barriers of race, class, and gender have been destroyed. There are no longer any Jews and Gentiles; no slaves and free men, and no male and female. Paul used these three groups representing tremendous separation and division in the first century church to radically pronounce them as completely equal and united as one new people through their common baptism into Christ.
Wherever Christ is we discover through the scripture that we are hidden with Him there as well. In his crucifixion we are there, in his resurrection we are raised too, and his ascension we are with Him there. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” Paul summarizes for the church in this term our immense spiritual possession and our destiny. Everything Christ accomplished in his victory over sin, death, and the evil one is our possession. Our union with Christ, our adoption into his family, our heavenly dwelling place, our resurrection body. Are you resting in Christ or running on the treadmill of spiritual performance?
Author: Leo Wisniewski is the Director of Locking Arms Men, a Pittsburgh based men’s ministry, building authentic men who love God, love one another, and love their neighbor. Your feedback is welcome.