Most religions which imagine God as a person propose a relationship with Him which reflects the kind of relationships that humans have with each other. The relationship may be that of master and slave, or parent and child, but in every case, the worshiper remains separate and distinct from God Himself. However, the true believer in Jesus Christ is not someone who worships God “from a distance” (for those of you old enough to remember Bette Midler’s song with its wonky lyrics), but rather, he or she is wonderfully, mysteriously and eternally joined to God through His Son. The only human relationship that comes close to illustrating this is marriage, in which a man and a woman are made one by God (Matthew 19:6). Indeed, God designed marriage to be a picture of that union of Christ and His people (Ephesians 5:21-33). Therefore, over one hundred and thirty times in the New Testament God’s children are said to be “in Christ”. It is only when we begin to understand the wonder of this relationship that we have any grasp of what Christianity really is. So what does it mean to be “in Christ”?
First, union with Christ does not mean that the believer shares in Christ’s divinity and becomes a little god in some sense, for we are still creatures, and he is still our Creator. What it does mean however, is that the believer is now complete in Him (Colossians 2:9-10). It is a return to God’s original plan in which every man’s soul would be entwined with God so that each of us would be a true image and likeness of Him in what we love and what we hate. We were created for the glory of our Maker in which our thoughts and our ways were to be a reflection of the thoughts and ways of God.
However, in Adam, we died (Genesis 2:17, I Corinthians 15:21-22a), so that now it is said of us, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.” (Isaiah 55:8). Men continued to multiply on the face of the earth, but they were now a race of spiritually dead people, being cut off from God who is the only source of spiritual life and moral goodness. No longer were they the image of God; they were only the empty shells of what they had originally been, and who now lived the God-dishonouring lives described in Romans 1:28-32. Therefore, we are told that God is angry with these sinners, and promises to bring each one to judgement (Psalm 7:11, the book of Nahum, John 3:19, etc.)
But then we read, “God so loved the world . . . .” (John 3:16) What are we to make of this? It means that God had not abandoned His original purpose for these creatures. Though He hated what they had become, yet He still loved what they had the capacity to be in Christ, and so for this reason, He sent His son, that those (literally) “believing into” Christ should not perish in the judgement, but have everlasting life.
Therefore, when a person comes to faith in Christ, it is not merely a decision to have some kind of external relationship with Him, but rather, it is a transformation in which the Spirit of Christ comes to indwell him or her, and the believer is in turn hidden in Him (Colossians 3:3). Thus, that person trusts Him, not merely to fulfil a condition for obtaining eternal life, but because they are new creatures in Christ (II Corinthians 5:17). By the grace of God they have been given new life in Him, where He works in them to desire and to do what pleases Him (Philippians 2:13).
Being aware that we are in Christ will greatly affect our understanding of some important things. Consider salvation. Critics say that to punish one person for the sins of another is not just, and in principle, they are right. However, it is not unjust to punish the hand for a sin of the tongue, for they are both part of the same body, and in the same way, God sees us in His Son at Calvary (Romans 6:3, Galatians 2:20), and our penalty as justly paid in Him. We are acceptable to our Holy God, not on our own merits, but because we are in Christ (Ephesians 1:6). Similarly, we rejoice in His love for us, but it is only being in Christ that makes us loveable to Him instead of being “the children of wrath, even as others” (Ephesians 2:3).
Then, think of our security in Him. There are several lines of evidence for the security of the believer, but none more reassuring than this: I am in Christ, God’s perfect, eternal Son who is unchanging (Hebrews 13:8, Malachi 3:6), and who has promised never to cast me out for any reason (John 6:37). The sinner’s natural impulse is to look to his own good works for his security with God, but we look to Christ, and rejoice that we are hidden in Him! “And a man shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.” (Isaiah 32:2). It is a marvellous thing indeed to be in Christ. I trust that you have the witness of His Spirit that it is so with you. (Romans 8:16-17).