My discipleship group has been talking about what it means to be in Christ. John Stott explains it this way: “The commonest description in the Scriptures of a follower of Jesus is that he or she is a person who is ‘in Christ.’ The expressions ‘in Christ,’ ‘in the Lord,’ and ‘in him’ occur 164 times in the letters of Paul alone, and are indispensable to an understanding of the New Testament. To be ‘in Christ’ does not mean to be inside Christ, as tools are in a box or our clothes are in a closet, but to be organically united to Christ, as a limb is in the body or a branch is in the tree. It is this personal relationship with Christ that is the distinctive mark of his authentic followers.”
Stott then goes on to explain three implications of being in Christ. First, the person in Christ experiences deep personal fulfillment. Secondly, those in Christ experience brotherly unity and community with other believers. And thirdly, anyone who is in Christ experiences radical transformation. Paul says in 2 Corinthians that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (5:17). Our physical bodies are obviously still the same, but we are made new inwardly.
What does this new inward identity in Christ mean for us as believers, for the body of Christ corporately, and for the world around us? When we are in Christ, he begins to change us — sometimes little by little and sometimes a lot all at once — so that our outward behavior begins to match our inward identity. He changes our affections so that we love the things he loves. We begin to desire spiritual things instead of worldly things. Therefore, for example, we do not just act kindly for the reward we will receive, but we love kindness, as we’re told in Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Can you imagine the impact we’d have on the world if, as a global church community, our hearts and actions were truly aligned with the heart of our Father? We can get so caught up in doing religion that we lose sight of the beautiful face of our savior. Stott says, “The word ‘Christian’ occurs only three times in the Bible. Because of its common misuse we could profitably dispense with it. … What is often mistakenly called ‘Christianity’ is, in essence, neither a religion nor a system but a person, Jesus of Nazareth.”
James tells us, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (1:27). Now we could talk a lot about what it means to keep oneself unstained from the world, but let’s camp on the first half of the verse for now. Scripture is very clear that God doesn’t care about our achievements and our religiosity; on the contrary, ‘the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Gal. 5:6 NIV, emphasis mine). Ask yourself honestly: are you faithfully loving others well? In what ways is the gospel increasing and bearing fruit in your life? Who is flourishing because of your influence?
We know the story of God calling Abraham, but I only recently stopped to think about the fact that Abraham was called both to leave and to go. He was called to leave his home but he was also called to go to the land that God would show him. Courtney Doctor says: “As Christians we are called to walk away from our former ways of life. Scripture tells us that we have been transferred from our former home, the domain of darkness, and have been transferred into a new place, the kingdom of Christ (Col. 1:13). We are people who have been called out to follow God and into the things of God.”
We are already completely new creations, brothers and sisters, and yet we are continually being made new. We were dead and he has made us alive. God has removed our hearts of stone and given us hearts that beat in time with his own, and each beat makes us more alive and more like him.
Sandra Richter says, “The Presence from which Adam and Eve were driven, that rested on Mt. Sinai with thunder and storm, that sat enthroned above the cherubim, now resides in you. It is nearly too much to apprehend. And just as the old covenant Temple housed the Presence in order to make God available to saint and sinner alike and stood as a testimony to the nations that Yahweh dwelt among his people, so too the church. You and I, and we as the church, are designed to be that place which believer and unbeliever can come to find God. Moreover, our restored lives are God’s testimony to the nations that he lives and dwells among us. And whereas the Temple was one building that could only be in one place, the church is an ever-expanding community that is slowly, steadily bringing the Presence to the farthest reaches of the world.”
Read that last paragraph one more time and let it sink in. We are the living, breathing corporate dwelling place of God on earth. What an honor and a responsibility! Without the work of Christ upholding us, we would be crushed underneath it.
Let’s end with some closing thoughts from John Stott:
“Our concern as followers of Jesus is neither with a religion called ‘Christianity,’ nor with a culture called ‘Western Civilization,’ but with a person, Jesus of Nazareth, the one and only God-man who lived a perfect life of love, died on the cross for our sins, bearing in his own person the condemnation that we deserve, was raised in triumph from the grave and is now alive, accessible and available to us through the Holy Spirit. He is also coming again one day in sheer magnificence, that every knee should bow to him. That is the Person with whom we are concerned.
“To be ‘in Christ’ is to find personal fulfillment, to enjoy brotherly unity, and to experience a radical transformation. Only then can we become the world’s salt and light, sharing the good news with others, making an impact on society, and above everything else seeking to bring honor and glory to his wonderful Name.”
Written By: Jess Glass