The expression “In Christ” occurs well over eighty times in the New Testament. Thus, it is a central New Testament doctrine. As we examine this important doctrine it becomes apparent that it is one thing to have Christ in us and it is quite another thing for us to be “in Christ.” The latter is obviously the goal to which God is working.
We might imagine ourselves as a small lump of clay. Of course, clay is of little value in itself and is actually quite messy and dirty. Then let us imagine that we take that dirty little lump of clay and place it inside a beautiful silver vessel, closing the lid on that vessel. Obviously the piece of clay is no longer visible. All that can be seen now is the beautiful silver vessel.
This is an example of what happens to us when we are truly “in Christ.” We who are formed of clay (Gen. 2:7; 2 Cor. 4:7) and are dirty and unsightly, are now hidden in him. God no longer looks upon our sin, but he only looks upon Jesus, in whom he is well pleased (Matt. 3:17).
Let us continue with this important picture of being “in Christ” and make some applications for our own lives.
WHEN CHRIST DIED WE DIED WITH HIM
When Jesus hung on that cross so long ago there was a very real sense in which we were there with him. He was the Lamb of God who came to take away the sin of the world (Jn. 1:29). He also came to take away our sin, so we were represented.
The Bible has a lot to say about sin. Perhaps the most prominent feature of the Tabernacle and Temple was the massive brazen altar. This altar literally blocked the way into the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. This massive altar was always ablaze and smoking with the flesh of slain sacrificial animals. This picture tells us that there always had to be a sacrifice for sin and that it is impossible for us to approach God without a sacrifice. Sacrifice means the shedding of blood. We see the significance of this in Hebrews 9:22 where it is said: “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”
All the sacrifices in Israel’s history were but pictures and types of the real sacrifice that God always had planned. The scripture tells us why: “because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (Heb. 10:4). God always had something more glorious in mind, of which the sacrificial system was but a dim picture. In the fullness of time God would send his only Son to become the eternal sacrifice for the sin of mankind. The scripture speaks of him in Isaiah 53:8 “…For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.”
Yes, God knew all the time that the real Lamb would have to be his Son. Only the Son of God who is perfect could please a perfect God. The scripture says, in 1 Peter 1:20: “He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.”
So when Jesus went to that cross he took our sins with him. Indeed, he also took us with him. There is a beautiful old Christian hymn that states this so well. It asks. “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” Yes, we were there. In Romans 6:6 it is stated: “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.” Again, Paul states in Colossians 3:3: “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”
In order to illustrate the completeness of this death with Christ we also had our funeral. This funeral is illustrated in Christian baptism. Paul says in Romans 6:4: “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death….” He expounds upon this mystery further in Romans 6:11: “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
There are several obvious things we can say about a dead person. That person no longer has pride, self-will, evil desires, anger, lust, etc. He is dead to all these things. In Christ all of us who believe have died and we were buried with him. We are now free to live in him. As Paul says in Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
WHEN CHRIST WAS RAISED, WE WERE RAISED WITH HIM
Death has been Satan’s age-old weapon against mankind. Indeed the scripture refers to death as the “last enemy” (1 Cor. 15:26). In the Old Testament there was not much hope of a resurrection and victory over death. Old Testament people universally speak of a place called Sheol, or the abode of the dead. We see in the scripture that even Father Abraham was held captive in this shadowy place (Lk. 16:22-26).
Occasionally in the Old Testament there is some expression of hope beyond the grave. Job cried out: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25-27). The great David in this flash of inspiration said: “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD Forever”
We see in the New Testament that after Jesus died on the cross he immediately went down to this realm of Sheol. What a sight that must have been! In 1 Peter 3:19, we are told that Jesus even preached to these spirits in prison. We can imagine that Sheol held its breath. Could the realm of death hold Jesus? Absolutely not! Jesus arose from the grave. We are told in Ephesians 4:8: “…When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.” Like Samson of old Jesus destroyed the gates and disarmed Sheol or death (Col. 2:15). The scripture tells us that many of the saints of old were released, and they appeared to others in Jerusalem at this time. Thus we see that it was Christ and Christ alone who brought life and immortality to light (2 Tim. 1:10).
Yes, we were crucified with Christ and buried with him. However, we were also raised with him in his glorious resurrection. We Christians can never again look at life as others do. We are risen with Christ. Hallelujah!
WHEN CHRIST WAS SEATED IN HEAVENLY PLACES WE WERE SEATED WITH HIM
Usually when someone sits down it signifies that their work is finished. We read of Jesus in Psalm 110:1: “The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’” Jesus sat down at the right hand of God on high because his work was finished. Someone has remarked that Jesus only stood again at the death of Stephen (Acts 7:56) his first martyr.
We see in Ephesians 2:6, that just as Christ is seated in heavenly places so are we: “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus….” We Christians really do not understand the blessedness of this new life in Christ. If we can believe it we already have a heavenly position with Jesus. We are already joint-heirs with the Lord (Rom. 8:17). He has already given us all things that pertain to life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3). We already have the kingdom of God within us (Lk. 17:21). So we see that there is a real sense in which we already have some of the delights of heaven as we live each day “in him.” We eagerly await the resurrection, yet Jesus said to Martha in John 11:25-26: “…I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die….”
Heaven has nothing better than Jesus. To be “in Christ” or “in him” is to enjoy the blessedness of heaven every day that we live. There is the story, and I do not know if it is true, of a very poor man who wished to cross the ocean and journey to the new world. The poor man finally saved just enough money for the voyage. He made careful preparation for the trip by packing enough cheese and crackers for each meal while at sea. As he finally began the trip he carefully rationed himself with each day’s portion of food and he sat nibbling on his meager fare. As the ship neared the end of its journey the captain spied the man munching his cheese and crackers and asked him why he was not eating in the dining hall with the other passengers. The man replied that he was poor and could not afford to eat with the others. At that the captain informed the poor man that all his meals were included in the fare.
So often we act like the poor man on that ship. God has provided for us lavishly and we are not aware of it. May the Captain open our eyes today to the riches of the glorious inheritance that now belongs to those who are “in Christ.”
– Jim Gerrish
This article is a condensed and updated version of a sermon preached at Narkiss Street Congregation, Jerusalem, 1992.