Being ‘in Christ’ is a significant concept for Paul, especially in Ephesians. It is also found less commonly in the epistles of Peter and John. This article will take a look at what this expression means and how it is used in the Scripture.
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Table of contents
The Corporate Nature of the Christian Life
While today many believers focus on the individual nature of salvation and life as a believer, that was not true for the New Testament writers. For them, the corporate nature of the body was more significant. And that is reflected in the expression “in Christ”.
Looking at the expressions used to describe believers adds to this corporate nature. The bride (Rev. 21:9); the body (1 Cor. 12:27); a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation (1 Pet. 2:9); and a holy temple (Eph. 2:19-21).
There are many passages that deal with the individual life as a believer. But there are just as many that focus on the corporate life of Jesus’ body. And many of those that speak to individuals do so concerning being in relationship as a part of the body.
Being in Christ
Being in Christ refers to our position. We might say that we are in a house, or in a car. And when we do we are specifying an enclosing object. If I am in a car, then wherever that car is, I am as well. And whatever happens to the car, in a sense, also happens to me.
So it is with being in Christ. I am enclosed by him. And so where he is, I am as well. And his experience also, in a sense, becomes my experience. I will look at both of these later on. But what is significant here is that, as a follower of Jesus, I am not an independent agent. I am included in something much greater than just myself.
Romans 8:1 is an example of the usage of this expression. Paul says that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Because of our position as believers, we do not face the condemnation that was due to us, and that will come to the world. It is not because of anything I do or am. It is simply because I am in Jesus.
Coming into Christ
How does one come to be ‘in Christ’? It is the work of God. 1 Corinthians 1:30 says that “it is because of him [God the Father] that you are in Christ Jesus.” I am not in Christ because of anything I have done. It is by a supernatural act of God that I come into him.
Another related term to being in Christ is being a part of his body. When I come into Christ, I am made a part of his body. In 1 Corinthians 12:13, as Paul is discussing the body, he says that “we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body.” It is the work of the Holy Spirit who baptizes, or immerses, me into the body of Christ.
Finally, in Ephesians 1:13 Paul tells the believers, “you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.” Paul expresses this in a two-part action. Hearing the message, and believing it. When we do we are marked with the Holy Spirit.
So I am included in Christ when I believe. And that inclusion is a supernatural act. An act of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit that puts me into Christ in response to my faith in him.
Abiding in Christ
In John 15:1-17 Jesus refers to himself as a vine and his followers as branches on that vine. And multiple times during the discussion he expresses the importance that we remain, or abide, in him. If we remain in him we will be fruitful. If we do not remain in him, we will be cut off and burned in the fire.
I cannot live the life God has called me to on my own. It is only when I am in Christ that I can be productive as a believer. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to put me into Christ. But this passage seems to express that I participate in remaining in him. Five times in John 15:4-7 Jesus tells us to remain in him. And he tells me that fruitfulness is a sign that I am remaining.
But how do I remain in Christ? What am I being called to do when he tells me to remain in him? I think the example of the vine and branches can help with this. The branch depends on the vine for nourishment and for life. As a believer, I draw life and nourishment from time spent with Jesus, the vine. By spending time in prayer and in the word. By walking with Jesus through my daily life, seeking his guidance, and following it. And just enjoying his fellowship. I remain in him when he is the focus of my life.
Our Standing in Christ
It is common to think of my relationship with God on an individual basis. To think that he views me, and treats me, as an individual. But the Scripture is clear that my relationship with God is actually based on my position in Christ. Am I in Christ? Or am I outside of him?
In Romans 8:1 Paul says that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” 1 Corinthians 1:2 refers “to those sanctified in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 1:3 expresses that we have been blessed “in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” In Ephesians 3:12 Paul says that in Christ “we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” And in Philippians 3:9 he expresses that in Christ we can have a righteousness that comes through faith in Jesus.
As we stand before God, in Christ, there is no condemnation, we are blessed, we can approach God, and we can have his righteousness. But none of that is true for the one who is not in Christ. Our standing before God is based solely on our position in Christ.
We Are Where Christ Is
In Ephesians 2:6 and Colossians 3:1-3, Paul tells us that we have been raised up with Jesus and are seated with him in the heavenly realms, at the right hand of the Father. While physically I am still walking this earth; in Jesus, I am at God’s right hand. There is no better place that I could possibly be.
And in Colossians 3:4 Paul goes on to express that when Christ appears at his return, I will appear with him in glory. What I am now, at least in the flesh, is nothing compared to what will come. In Christ, I will share in his glory. Not because of who I am. But because I have been included in him.
In Romans 6:3-4 Paul expresses that those who were baptized into Christ were also buried with him and raised with him. When we are in Christ, his experience on the cross is really our experience as well. His death becomes my death. His burial is my burial. And his resurrection is my resurrection.
What We Experience Together in Christ
Our position in Christ is not just as individuals. As 1 Corinthians 12 points out, we are members of the body of Christ, a part of something beyond ourselves. And that is seen in several of the ‘in Christ’ passages in the New Testament.
In Galatians 3:28 Paul says that “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” There are many physical distinctions among people. But in Christ, none of these distinctions matter. We are all one in Christ.
And in Ephesians 2:21-22 Paul compares us as a building that serves as a holy temple and dwelling for God. It is in Christ that we form this building. The corporate nature of this building is very similar to the corporate nature of the body. If we are in Christ, we are united together as one.
There are roughly 120 times in the New Testament where the expression ‘in Christ’, ‘in him’, or ‘in me’ are used connecting believers to Christ. This is an important doctrine that is too often overlooked. Everything that we have and are is because we are in Christ. We do not stand individually before God. We stand before God united together in Christ. In him, we are saved, sanctified, and equipped.
The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.
If you have found value in this post, please consider subscribing to A Clay Jar so that you don’t miss any other posts.