We are all aware, at least theoretically, that at our baptism we became " in Christ" . Through that act we obeyed all the Lord's invitations to believe " in Him" , or as the Greek means, to believe into Him. We believed into Him after we heard the Gospel, by baptism (Eph. 1:13). We are now connected with the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ; we are treated by God as if we are His Son. His supreme righteousness is counted to us; we have a part in His redemption and salvation, because we are in Him (Rom. 3:24). In God's eyes, we became newly created people, because we were in Christ by baptism (2 Cor. 5:17; Col. 1:16,17). He made in Himself a new man (Eph. 2:15). But do we appreciate what it means to be " in Christ" as well as we might? The richness of His character, the wisdom and knowledge of the Father that is in Him, is there for our eternal discovery (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:27; 2:3). We were baptized into His death; He had a cup to drink of (His death) and a baptism to be baptized with (His burial) which we now become united with (Rom. 6:3,4; Col. 2:10-12). As such great attention was focused upon that suffering Son in His death, as such lavish, almost senseless extravagance of care for His burial: all of this becomes lavished on us as we become in Him. All that is true of Him becomes in some way true of us; as He is the seed of Abraham, so we become; and so the list could go on. Every stage of His being is applicable to we who are in Him:
- At the beginning of the world, when He was yet in the Father’s plan, we were in Him (Eph. 1:4)
- Even the language of His virgin birth is applied to us (Jn. 1:13)
- Only the firstborn was saved at the Passover. We are the church of firstborns (Heb. 12:23 Gk.), a paradox as it stands written. For there can be only one firstborn. A whole community can’t be “firstborns”. But we are, through being in Christ.
- God sent forth Christ to save the world, and likewise we are sent forth in witness (Gal. 4:4 cp. Mt. 9:38; 22:3; Acts 13:4). The Saviour Himself said that as He was sent into the world, so He sent us (Jn. 17:18).
- As He witnessed in His ministry, so must we (Rom. 2:19 cp. Mt. 4:16)
- As He witnessed before Pilate, so must we witness (1 Tim. 6:12,13)
- As He prayed for those who despitefully used Him, and blessed and cursed not as the thieves did, so must we (Mt. 5:44; 1 Pet. 3:3)
- Baptism commits us to a life of sharing His death and resurrection. When John fell at the Lord’s feet “as dead”, the Lord responded by saying: ‘I too was dead , but no more; I’m alive for evermore, and as I died with you and for you, so I live with you and for you, and you do the same for me’ (Rev. 1:17,18).
- The description of the believer as a “living sacrifice” (Rom. 12:1) alludes to the scapegoat, the only living sacrifice, which was a type of the risen Lord (Lev. 16:10 LXX = Acts 1:3). As the Lord ran free in His resurrection, bearing away the sins of men, so we who are in Him and preach that salvation can do the same. As Christ bore away our iniquities (Is. 53:11), so “we then that are strong ought to bear the iniquities of the weak” (Rom. 15:1).
- We died, rose and in a spiritual sense even ascended with Him to heavenly places in Him, and even sit with Him there (Eph. 2:6).
- We build our spiritual house upon the rock, and He does just the same; we work together with Him in this, because we are in Him (Mt. 7:24; 16:18).
Those seminal promises to Abraham hinged around what would be realized in, not " by" , his seed. I emphasize again: all that is true of the Lord Jesus is now true of us, in that we are in Him. Often the promises about the seed in the singular (the Lord Jesus) are applied to us in the plural (e.g. 2 Sam. 7:14 cp. Ps. 89:30-35). Baptism is not an initiation into a church. It isn't something which just seems the right thing to do. And even if because of our environment and conscience, it was easier to get baptized than not- now this mustn't be the case. We really are in Christ, we are born again; now we exist, spiritually! And moreover, we have risen with Him, His resurrection life, His life and living that will eternally be, is now manifest in us, and will be articulated physically at the resurrection. All the outward forms will slowly fade and pass away ... but the essence will remain. And the essence is that we are in Christ, we are His, not this world’s, and the life we have in Him will eternally continue.
We are covered with His righteousness, and therefore have a share in His victory; and yet it also means that we must act as He did and does. Paul felt so truly and absolutely forgiven that he could say that he was “pure from the blood of all men” (Acts 20:26). Yet as he said that, he must surely have had the blood of Stephen on his mind, trickling out along the Palestinian dust, as the clothes of the men who murdered Stephen lay at Paul’s feet as a testimony that he was responsible for it. But he knew his forgiveness. He could confidently state that he was pure from that blood. Righteousness had been imputed, the sin covered- because he was in Christ. Yet we must " walk in Him" in the same way as we first entered into Him at baptism (Col. 2:6). We were created " in Christ unto good works" (Eph. 2:10). If we keep His commandments, we remain " in Him" (1 Jn. 3:24). We cannot be passive to being " in Christ" . The Greek of 2 Cor. 5:17 is tellingly ambiguous; the sense is both: " If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature" , or, " If any man be in Christ, let him be a new creature" . The fact of becoming in Christ through baptism means that we are new creations potentially, and therefore must work towards being new creations. We must go on further than just being baptized into Christ. John wrote unto them that had believed into the name of the Son of God (a reference to baptism into His Name), " that ye may believe into the name of the Son of God" (1 Jn. 5:13). He wanted them to go further; to live out in practice what they had done in status and theory by baptism into Christ. Because in theory we have ‘put on the new man’, “put on, therefore...mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind”, i.e. bring forth in yourself the characteristics of Jesus, seeing you have ‘put Him on’ in baptism (Col. 3:10,12). Clothe your personality with Him, submerge yourself within Him, seeing you ‘put on’ Christ in baptism. Consider some examples of how our being in Christ means we must actually do something:
Firstly. Paul uses the fact that we are all " in Christ" as the basis of His appeal for true unity amongst the believers- with all the patience, forbearing etc. which this involves. By baptism into Christ, we are baptized into the same body of Christ as many others (Rom. 12:5). Therefore we " sit together...in Christ" (Eph. 2:6; 1:10). He has made in Himself one new man, so making peace between all those in Him (Eph. 2:15). This is why division between those in Christ is ultimately an impossibility. Christ is not divided (1 Cor. 1:10).
Secondly: “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit [as being] in the Lord” (Col. 3:18). Leaving on one side the question of what exact behaviour Paul has in mind here, the motivator for it is that our married life must reflect the fact that we are those “in Christ”. The golden rule is to act as He would do. Because both Paul and Philemon were “in Christ”, Paul felt bold enough to appeal to him to act towards Onesimus as Christ would have acted (Philemon 8). The attitude of children to parents is governed by the fact that they are “in the Lord [Jesus]”; indeed, we are baptized into Christ in order that we may live the new life (Rom. 6:4). The whole purpose of being in Him is in order to live as He did and as He would. No wonder that “in Christ” is Paul’s great spiritual battlecry.
The whole idea of conversion and changing, even transforming, ones basic personality was deeply unpopular in the culture against which the Gospel was first preached in the first century. Ben Witherington comments: "Ancients did not much believe in the idea of personality change or development. Or at least they did see such change- a conversion, for example- as a good thing; it was rather the mark of a deviant, unreliable person... Greco-Roman culture valued stability and constancy of character... the virtuous Stoic philosopher was one who "surmises nothing, repents of nothing, is never wrong, and never changes his opinion"" (1). Of course, this mindset was attractive because human beings never like changing- we're incredibly conservative. And whilst we may live amidst an apparent mindset that 'change is cool', we all know how stubborn we are to changing our basic personality, or even seeing that we need to be transformed. And yet, despise the cultural background, the Gospel of conversion and radical personal change spread powerfully in the first century. The radical change in Saul / Paul's life was proclaimed by him as programmatic for all who truly are converted (1 Tim. 1:16)- and for him, this involved a radical re-socialization, seeing the world in a quite opposite manner, losing old friends and considering former enemies his beloved family. Quick, radical, 180 degree change was especially unpopular in the first century- Proselytes, e.g., had to go through a lengthy process to become such. Yet Paul presents the change in him as being dramatic and instant on the Damascus road. Perhaps he alludes to how skeptically this was received by others when he answers the charge that he is an ektroma, a miscarriage, one born too quickly (1 Cor. 15:8,9). And he says that indeed, this had been the case with him.
(1) Ben Witherington, The Paul Quest (Leicester: I.V.P., 1998) p. 75.
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