Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Spirit of Grace Ministries
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"In Christ"

Cross of Jesus

by Dennis Pollock

Because we are convinced that the Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit, we would do well to pay close attention to the language of the Bible – the phrases, the way words are put together, the peculiar terms and expressions that are used. In that respect we are going to study a simple two or three word phrase that is used again and again in the epistles of the New Testament – "in Christ," or "in Christ Jesus."

One particularly popular verse which includes this phrase is from Paul's second epistle to the Corinthians: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17). One clear inference from this verse is that not everyone is in Christ. Many people must be outside of Christ. But if anyone is in Christ, he or she lives in an entirely new dimension. Old things pass away; everything becomes new.

Many benefits are promised to those who are in Christ. In Galatians Paul tells us that Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law so that "the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith" (Galatians 3:13,14). A covenant blessing that goes all the way back to Abraham is given to non-Jews "in Christ Jesus." Even though the Gentiles are not physical descendants of Abraham, still this covenant blessing promised to Abraham's descendants is ours through Christ (who was and is a descendant of Abraham). And the Holy Spirit comes and indwells us as both seal and provider of this blessing.

In Ephesians we are told that God "has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ" (Ephesians 1:3). All the blessings and goodness the Father longs to lavish upon His creation is for those who are in Christ. Forgiveness, justification, adoption, eternal life, and access to God in prayer are all granted those who are in Christ. Imagine trudging through the forest at night during a snowstorm. The temperature is well below zero, the snow stings your cheeks and the cold chills your bones. Your strength is nearly gone, and your body is shivering uncontrollably. You know you will soon die if you cannot find shelter. Suddenly in the midst of the forest you discover a huge house, well lit with smoke coming from the chimney. As you peer through the window you find all kinds of people inside, comprising nearly every race and culture from every nation. They are warm and in their shirtsleeves. There is a feast laid out on massive tables, and all sorts of warm drinks available throughout the large hall. Beautiful music is being played and some are dancing, while others talk and laugh. As you shiver violently from the cold that has penetrated you to the bone, you can think of only one thing – how can I get in there?

This illustration doesn't even do justice to the goodness and riches of grace that God has made available to the human race through Jesus Christ. And it is Christ who is both the house and the door to the house. We enter into Christ through faith in Christ. And once we have made it inside, all is well. We are blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

Conduct in Christ

There are standards of behavior for those who would live in Christ. Paul speaks of "my ways in Christ." He tells Timothy that all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution." And Peter uses the phrase "your good conduct in Christ." In this special family, our conduct and behavior are radically different from those outside our family. In American culture it is almost a given that all young people will have sex before marriage, for example. You can hardly watch a "romantic comedy" without seeing the couple end up in bed together (or start out in bed). A young man or woman who remains a virgin through his or her twenties today is considered some kind of a freak, or else a hopeless loser. You have to try on shoes before you buy them, right? So of course you have to have lots of sex with lots of partners until you find a shoe that really fits. Of course our divorce rate is so pathetic, it doesn't speak well for this approach. Indians with arranged marriages have a far higher marital success rate than Americans who wade through scores of partners as they look for Mr. or Miss Right.

Yet for those deeply committed to Christ, purity until marriage is the norm. The reason is simple. We read, believe, and take seriously the morality of the Bible. And the strange thing about the Bible is that its values and convictions never change. When I read the book of Romans today, I am reading the exact same book with the exact same values that my dad read fifty years ago. And when he read Romans fifty years ago, he was reading the exact same book, with the same language and values, that his ancestors read two hundred years previously. Thus Christians today will be bound by the same moral code and are called to exercise the same "good conduct in Christ" that Christians have been called to since the days of the apostles.

Some have tried to divorce conduct from Christianity, but it is not Scripturally possible. They want to call themselves Christians, and imagine they will go to heaven when they die, but have no intention of actually living a morally upright life. Having heard that salvation is by grace they erroneously assume this means behavior is not important. "God cannot see my sins," they like to say. "When He sees me, He sees Jesus Christ." Yet when Jesus addresses the seven churches in the book of Revelation, He is acutely aware of their behavior and their practices, and sometimes He is more than a little upset. To the church at Laodicea, He states, "So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, 'I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing' --- and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked --- I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire…" (Revelation 3:16-18).

Equal in Christ

The Scriptures make it plain that for those who are in Christ, there is complete equality. In Galatians we read: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). Snobbery, racism, and genocide have been a blight on the human race almost from the beginning. In America there have been movements for civil rights for blacks and equal rights for women which have attempted to remedy injustice and legal inequalities. God has his own "equal rights" program, and it is found in Christ.

In Christ there are all sorts and types of people. Some believers are brilliant, with razor-sharp minds, while others are slow and simple. There are Christians who love to laugh and those who almost never laugh, believers who drive luxury cars and those who drive junkers, those who live in 10-bedroom mansions and those who live in roach-infested trailers. There are Christians with tattoos and Christians who would rather die than get a tattoo, Christians ladies who think it a sin to wear lipstick and those who think it a sin when your lipstick doesn't match your fingernail polish, ladies who think pierced ears are an abomination and those whose huge earrings threaten to permanently extend the length of their ears. God has quite a large family and it is very diverse!

And amazingly God tells us that we are all one in Christ! And the reason we are equal is that we are all justified. Paul writes, "being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (Romans 3:24). You cannot rise any higher than justification. To be justified is to be blameless in the sight of our holy Creator. And there are no levels of justification. You can never be fifty percent justified, or eighty percent justified. To be justified is like being pregnant – you either are or you aren't! The cross of Jesus Christ is the great leveler of mankind. Here the strong are no more valuable than the weak, the stunning beauty no more significant than the hideous, the articulate no more important than those who stumble to put a single sentence together. There are no cool kids or nerds in the family of God, no superstars or little people. In Christ we are all valuable, we are all loved, and we are all accepted.

Success

The ultimate success is to end your life in Christ! As Paul discusses the Day of Jesus Christ, he speaks of the resurrection of the dead believers: "For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first" (1 Thessalonians 4:16). To die is considered the greatest tragedy any of us will face, but this totally depends upon whether you die in Christ or outside of Christ. In truth, when an old man of 110 dies, having lived in prosperity all his days, and having lived to see his great, great grandchildren – if he dies outside of Christ, his is a tragic death. But those who die in Christ, whether young or old, whether by accident or sickness – if they die in Christ their death is not nearly the tragedy that it seems. Paul tells us that to depart and be with Christ is far better than any life we may have in this world.

Just as there are two categories of living people (those in Christ and those outside of Christ), so there are two categories of dead people, those who die in Christ and those who die apart from Christ. In Revelation we read, "'Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.  'Yes,' says the Spirit, 'that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them'" (Revelation 14:13). To die in Christ is to be eternally safe; danger no longer exists for you. During World War II there was an expression for a wound that was not life-threatening but was serious enough to send a soldier home: "a million dollar wound." A man who received such a wound was often the envy of his comrades. He could go home with honor. The war was over for him. He would face no more bullets, dig no more foxholes, and endure no more freezing nights sleeping on the ground in the snow. He was safe – he would live to see his children and grandchildren. Such is the case of those who die in Christ. We are eternally and everlastingly safe. We shall live forever in the presence of God. No temptation can touch us; no man or demon can threaten us.

Covenant with God through Christ

The Holy Spirit inspired the New Testament writers to use this phrase "in Christ" again and again to emphasize that real relationship with God is not simply between God and men – it is between God and men through Jesus Christ. The relationship offered and the benefits promised are exclusively provided through Christ, and the constant use of the term "in Christ" reminds us that what is being offered and urged has everything to do with Jesus Christ. Far too often Christian sermons, books, and seminars are merely a principle-oriented plan for successful living. They speak much about principles, a little about God, and almost nothing of Christ.

But Christianity is all about Jesus Christ! It is not our morality that is so different. Most of the world religions condemn murder, stealing, and adultery, as the Bible does, and commend kindness, sharing, and honesty, as the Bible does. The difference between Christianity and every other religion is Jesus Christ. The insertion of the words "in Christ" sets Christianity apart from all other religions and hammers home the theme that all the tremendous benefits offered in the New Testament are for those who will trust in Jesus Christ and put all their confidence in Him alone.

John writes: "And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life" (1 John 5:20).


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