By Eddie Cloer
"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" (Ephesians 1:3).
In many cultures of the world the wearing of a wedding ring symbolizes the commitment of a man and a woman to each other in marriage. The visible sign of this commitment is small (and most often expensive), but the meaning of it signifies a lifelong promise. This tiny symbol of marriage reminds us that small items often convey extremely important ideas.
The New Testament phrase "in Christ," a two-word phrase which is at times almost inconspicuous, is always very meaningful. It never appears without carrying a weighty spiritual concept. It may be worded "in Christ" (Romans 12:5), "in Christ Jesus" (Romans 3:24), "in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:39), "in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21), "in the Lord Jesus" (Romans 14:14), "in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 4:17), "in His Son" (1 John 5:11), "in Jesus" (Ephesians 4:21), "into Him" (Ephesians 4:15), "in whom" (Ephesians 2:21), "in the Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Thessalonians 3:12), "in Jesus" (1 Thessalonians 4:14), or "in His Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 5:20); but its theological connotations cannot be overlooked. It suggests a union with Christ, an abiding in the spiritual body of Christ. We cannot, therefore, understand the meaning and place of the church in God's plan if we ignore the implications of this phrase.
The two phrases "in Christ" and "in the church" have essentially the same meaning in the writings of the New Testament. As Paul wrote of the exaltation of Jesus, affirming that all things have been placed under His feet and that He has become head over all things "to the church," he said that the church is According to Paul, the"His body, the fulness of Him who fills all in all" (Ephesians 1:22, 23). church is the body of Christ; thus, to be "in Christ" is to be in Christ's church.
When we trace this phrase "in Christ" or its equivalents through the New Testament (especially in the writings of Paul), we see the breathtaking theological meaning of the church and our relation to it.' Careful consideration of it impresses us with the grandeur of the spiritual blessings which are ours in His body. Without an understanding of this phrase, we cannot hope to have the scriptural view of what it means to be a member of Christ's church.
'Appendix 3 includes all appearances of the phrase "in Christ" and its equivalents in the New Testament. This list will allow you the opportunity to study carefully the use of this phrase and to consider its tremendous implications for the meaning of the church.
A PLACE OF PRIVILEGE
First, the phrase "in Christ" suggests the privilege that belongs to those who are members of the Lord's church. "In Christ" we are the chosen of God.
In the extended doxology of Ephesians 1:3-14, Paul praised God for making those "in Christ" His chosen ones:
"Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved" (Ephesians 1:4-6).
Paul was not writing of a predestination of individuals, a choosing of one to be saved and another to be lost. He was pointing to God's wonderful predetermined choice to save all who come into Christ and faithfully abide in Him. Before the foundation of the world, God chose that the body of Christ would be the place of privilege, choosing to adopt as His children those who come into the body of Christ.
This divine choice does not conflict with man's freedom of choice. Rather, it gives man the freedom to choose to be among the chosen. God has already chosen to save the body of Christ; but man must choose to come into that body, and he must choose to remain in it.
God chose a place for Noah to be saved (Genesis 7:1), but Noah and his family had to enter it and stay in it (Genesis 7:7). The ark was the place of privilege for Noah and his family. Of all the peoples of the earth, Noah and his wife, sons, and daughters-in-law who were in the ark were God's chosen people--they were protected and provided for by God's grace and care.
Someone has said that when we get to heaven we will see a large, billboard-like sign next to the entrance to heaven. On the front side of the billboard will be the words "Come Unto Me." As we enter heaven, we will read those words and think of the Lord's invitation to come to Him for salvation and the choice God gave each man to answer that invitation. After entering heaven, we will turn to read the back side of the billboard. It will read: "Chosen of God." Then we will think of the choice God made before the creation of the world to save the body of Christ and of the incomparable privilege which God bestowed upon all who entered and remained in that body.
Anyone who enters the body of Christ, the church, enters into the place of privilege, the place of divine choice. Whether or not we are God's children is not a matter of chance, but a matter of choice. God has chosen the place of salvation, but we must choose to enter into that place and to stay in it. When we choose to enter into the body of Christ, God chooses us to be His children and heirs according to His promises.
A PLACE OF PROVISION
In addition to his being in a place of privilege, the person "in Christ" has access to all of the abundant spiritual provisions of God. Paul wrote that the body of Christ is "the fulness of Him who fills all in all" (Ephesians 1:23). He further said, "For it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fulness to dwell in Him" "In Him you have been made complete" (Colossians 2:10).(Colossians 1:19). Hence, he could say,
Every spiritual blessing which God provides for us is found "in Christ." As Paul began his doxology in Ephesians 1, he summarized what God has done for us in Christ with one sweeping sentence: "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" (Ephesians 1:3). Paul's "every" is exhaustive. No person, however, can receive God's bounteous, lavish spiritual provisions except by coming into Christ and abiding in Him.
Think of the blessings that are
accessible to us "in Christ."
First, we have blessings
regarding salvation "in Christ." "In
Him" we have forgiveness:
Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our
trespasses, according to the riches of His grace" (Ephesians
Christ" we are a new creation:
"Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature;
the old things passed away; behold, new things have come"
(2 Corinthians 5:17). "In Jesus Christ" we have eternal life: "For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory" (2 Timothy 2: 10).
Second, we have blessings regarding sonship "in Christ." "In Christ Jesus" we have full access to the Father: "But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ"; "For through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father" (Ephesians 2:13,18). "In Him" we have an eternal inheritance:" ....in Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will" (Ephesians 1: 10, 11).
Third, we have blessings concerning security "in Christ." "In Him" we are sealed with the Holy Spirit: "In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation-having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise" (Ephesians 1:13). "In Christ" we are free from condemnation: "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1).
Our Father in heaven has chosen the body of Christ to be the place of all spiritual blessings. Only those who enter that body and abide in it have access to His generous bounties.
Consider this Old Testament example. Israel is preparing to leave Egypt and journey to the promised land of Canaan. The first Passover is taking place. God has instructed the Israelites to place blood from the Passover lamb on the top and the sides of the doors of their houses and during the evening of the Passover to remain in their houses (Exodus 12:22). Those who do not carry out this instruction will lose their first-born by death when God passes over. How solemn that approaching historic evening will be! Every Israelite family will be staying up all night in a solemn vigil. Shortly before the evening begins, we can imagine an eldest son asking his father, "Father, are you sure the blood has been placed on the doorposts and lintel?" The father responds, "Yes, my son. I did it myself. It has been done." A little later, the son asks again, "Father, don't you think we should check to make sure you did it right? The evening is about to begin, and we will have to remain inside our house and will not be able to check it anymore." The father says, "All right. I will check and make sure everything has been done properly." The father checks and affirms that he has put the blood on the droopiest and lintel as God instructed. The father returns to comfort his son with this assurance: "All is well, my son. We have followed God's instructions. You are safe in God's will."
That father could assure his son because they were living within the circle of God's instructions. Likewise, "in Christ" we are within the sphere of God's will. Our Father will meet all of our spiritual needs as long as we faithfully abide in His Son.
A PLACE OF PROMISE
Third, our only hope for the future is "in Christ." Human wisdom fails as a true, unerring guide for this life, but in Christ are "hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Colossians 2:3). This world is destined for destruction (2 Peter 3:10). Any hope, therefore, based upon this world will eventually perish, but "in Christ" we have an eternal, unfading inheritance (Ephesians 1: 11).
Concerning our hope in Christ, John wrote, "And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son" (1 John 5:1 1). This eternal life comes to us in two ways: as abundant life in this world f and as eternal life in the world to come. In Christ we have hope in this life and hope for the life to come--abundant life now and eternal life in heaven. Jesus said, "I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly" (John 10:10). John further said, "He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life" (1 John 5:12). Still further John wrote, "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life" (1I John 5:13). Under Old Testament law, a man who had accidentally killed someone could flee to a city of refuge for protection from the man known as "the avenger of blood," who would be seeking to avenge the death of his relative (Joshua 20). As long as he stayed within the city of refuge, he was protected. In that city he could have a normal life and a normal future. If he left the city, he would be constantly pursued by the avenger of blood and most likely would be killed by him. He had a life and a future only in the city of refuge.
Likewise, our only hope is "in Christ." Outside of Him we do not have the provisions we need for an abundant life in this world or the secure hope for eternity. Paul says that the Gentiles who were separated from Christ were without hope in the world (Ephesians 2:12). Likewise, anyone who is outside of Christ is without hope in this world.
In light of the significance of the phrase "in Christ," we would be foolish not to ask, "How can we come into Christ?" Two passages answer our question. First, Paul said in Romans 6:3 that we are brought into Christ through New Testament baptism: "Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?" Second, Paul gave us the same truth in Galatians 3:27: "For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ."
When we believe in Christ, repent of the life of sin and turn to God, confess that Jesus is the Christ, and are baptized for the remission of sins, we are brought into Christ by the gracious action of God. Our position is immediately changed, for we have been brought into a place of privilege, provision, and promise. Our condition will continually change as we grow day by day through feeding on the Word of God, fellowship with Christ and the family of God, and walking in the light.
I have read of a denominational church which discovered oil on its property. It was a gusher, and the church had suddenly become rich. They immediately closed their membership and decided to divide up the monthly profits equally among the members. This church suddenly became a business and brought great material riches to those in it.
The church of the New Testament is so different from this denomination and all other denominations! It is the spiritual body of Christ, filled with the riches of heaven. The membership is never closed. Anyone who will obey the gospel can enter it and partake of God's bounties. Each member has free access by the Spirit through Jesus to all spiritual blessings at all times. No one will ever find heaven's bank closed or unable to provide an inexhaustible supply of spiritual treasures.
Since the person in Christ has the privilege of being God's child, has all spiritual blessings, and has the hope of eternal life, surely no greater question could be asked of us than the question "Are you in Christ?"
1. List different ways that the phrase "in Christ" appears in the New Testament. 2. Compare the phrases "in Christ" and "in the church." 3. Describe the predestination of which Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:4-6. 4. Relate the concept of predestination to Noah and his family and the flood. 5. List some of the key blessings we have "in Christ," and describe each one briefly. 6. Relate "abundant life" to "eternal life." 7. Describe the cities of refuge and their function in the Old Testament era. 8. Describe Ephesians 2:12 in connection with being "in Christ." 9. What does Romans 6:3 say about entrance into Christ? 10. What does Galatians 3:27 say about entrance into Christ? 11. Compare our position in Christ with our condition in Christ. 12. How can we be assured that we are "in Christ"?
For Preaching and Teaching Purposes: Sermon or Teaching Type: Basic pattern; deductive; topical. Subject: The church. Theme: The church, being in Christ. Title: Living in Christ. Preaching or Teaching Portion: None. Proposition: (Evaluative) In Christ is the best place to be. Interrogative Question or Probing Question: Why? Key Word: Reasons. Major Points: I. A Place of Privilege; II. A Place of Provisions; III. A Place of Promise. Sermonic or Teaching Objective: (Evangelistic) To motivate non-Christians to come into Christ.