By Mark Kreitzer, PhD
College of Theology
October 03, 2017
What does “in Christ” mean? I’ve seen it a lot in the Bible, particularly in Ephesians.
To answer your question, we must first consider what it means to seek reconciliation with the Lord for our sins. The initial step of reconciliation with God is turning from self-sufficiency and putting our trust in Christ’s death and resurrection. Saving faith involves believing that God the Father physically raised Jesus from the dead on the third day in the power of the Holy Spirit and hence confessing that He alone is Lord of heaven and earth (Romans 10:9-10). Christ’s resurrection proves that He was righteous and actually bore the sins of His people and not His own sins (Romans 4:25; Acts 2:24).
Interestingly, there is another aspect of Christ’s death and resurrection which many believers have never even heard about. This springs from what Paul calls being “in Christ.” For example, in the book of Ephesians alone Paul uses the words “in Christ,” or its equivalent, approximately 27 times. What does he mean by this phrase, and why is it important for us to understand?
When Paul writes “in Christ,” he means that when we are born from above (or born again) by the Holy Spirit, when he is poured out upon us and radically joins us to Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension. Paul speaks about this outpouring and joining to Christ in several key passages, especially in Romans, Ephesians and Colossians. Now to be joined to Christ’s death means the inner, old person actually dies in a literal sense and is instantly raised up again from the dead, because of the power of Christ’s spirit of resurrection-life working in us (Romans 6:11, 8:2). As a consequence, our death and resurrection with Christ means that sin’s chains have been broken, and we are no longer slaves of sin (Romans 6:6-7, 11-14). We now will be living with the “newness of life” – Christ’s resurrection life in us (Romans 6:4).
Another aspect of this new identity “in Christ” is our ascension with him. When we die with Him, we are also raised up and seated with him spiritually on his throne, at the right hand of the Father (Eph 1:19-2:6). In this honored position, we share his authority over all demonic powers, which he disarmed and triumphed over in his resurrection and ascension. No longer do we need to fear demonic oppression and deception.
In summary, the reality of our union with Christ gives us a completely new identity (Rom 6:11; Col 3:10). The New Testament writers compare this new identity to that of a baby – perfectly formed, completely human and new, but immature, untested and easily deceived. However, the antidote to being a perpetual baby Christian is three-fold. First, the Holy Spirit constrains us to memorize and mediate on whole passages of God’s truth of our new identity “in Christ” to dispel the lies of the enemy (1 Jn 2:14). Second, the Father allows us to experience certain difficulties and trials to test our newfound faith and grow us in perseverance through the power of the new life “in Christ” (Jas 1:2-4, 1 Pet 1:6-7). When we pass the tests by listening to, trusting and following God’s promises, we develop mature character (Romans 5:1-5).
Last, since we are a completely new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), we realize that the person we once was has ceased to exist with respect to our new inner identity. Certainly, we still live in a fleshly, human body that has all the desires of the sinful nature, but that has been banished out of the inner person, which we are now “in Christ.” The chains binding our inner person to the flesh are now broken forever. We are washed, set apart for God and declared righteous – “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).