The phrase “in Christ” gets tossed around like a basketball in the Christian world. So often we dribble and pass it around carelessly. We don’t realize the potential we hold in these two words. We know it’s something nice, but how often do we grasp what it means for our daily lives? Even if we “get it” cognitively, we rarely suck the full emotional potential out of this juicy phrase. I’m telling you, when you learn to handle this truth like a pro, you’ll be scoring three-pointers in your daily life like it’s nothing.
The simple gospel of Jesus invites us to cease our anxious, exhausting attempts to win the marathon of perfection. We get to simply rest in our Savior’s arms, the one who already ran that perfect race on our behalf. We get to throw in the towel and take a long, refreshing swig from that water bottle before collapsing on the ground in relief.
But there’s more! So much more. God also unites us with Christ like sugar dissolving in water, where the two of us become inseparable. Tucked into the New Testament is a picture of Christians radically transformed by unification with the Son of God. Now don’t get confused – we don’t become God or anything. No way. We are not talking about achieving divine consciousness or anything like that. Nope, I will never be God, ever. But I live in Jesus, and He lives in me. (Try to wrap your head around that. It’s kind of like a divine/human cinnamon roll.)
Think about the Jesus narrative, the events of His life. Jesus died on that cross on a hill in Israel called Calvary. Therefore, guess what? So did I. That’s right, friends, I am united with Christ in His death. Just as He breathed His last on that Roman cross, so did I.
Jesus was buried. And…you guessed it, so was I! They laid him in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. And somehow, in a spiritual truth more real than what I had for breakfast today, I was there too. Breathless, lifeless, the decay process starting.
God the Father raised Jesus from the dead. Out He walked, alive. And you guys, so did I. I pulled those burial wrappings from off my face and marched out of the tomb.
The Christian sacrament of baptism illustrates this truth (Rom. 6:1-11; 2 Tim. 2:11, 2 Cor. 5:14). Did you know that? When the pastor lowers us into the water (and we pray to God he doesn’t drop us) and then lifts us out again (thank God), it is a visual of Christ being lowered into the earth in burial, then rising again. I’m not even joking. How powerful is that image?
Sons and Daughters
Now think about Jesus’ standing before God. Remember that time the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in the form of a sweet white dove, and God pronounced, “You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22)? You know what sons need to hear from their fathers more than anything? Those exact words.
Jesus is God’s son. Well, in Christ, we latch onto His son-ness. We become God’s sons and daughters. The way God looks at His only begotten with love and pride in His eyes is the same way He looks at you and me.
Some of you had good dads and moms. Some didn’t have great ones. Regardless of whether your earthly family meets your sonship or daughtership needs or not, know that God looks at you with a twinkle in His eye. He adores you. You know why? Because Jesus. But really. Because Jesus.
Throughout history, beloved sons have known that one day their father would pass along to them all he has achieved in this life. Be it his mutual funds, his business empire, or a house in his name, dads for millennia have handed their riches down to their kids. About a million times in the New Testament, Paul and Peter mention a glorious inheritance that is waiting for Jesus, and thus, for us (Rom. 8:17; Eph. 1:11-14; Eph. 2:5-6; 1 Pet. 1:3-4). We are co-heirs. In Him, we await the day God lavishes His goodness on us in a way that makes any earthly mansion or business portfolio pale in comparison.
You guys, this life is for suffering. It’s terrible down here. If we don’t find out our kid has cancer or get mugged in our own neighborhood, we’ll probably get in a car accident on the 405 freeway. Things just don’t go as planned here on earth. Add to that the persecution that is part of being a Christian and standing for counter-cultural values like humility and forgiveness. People don’t get us, this world is not bliss, and we should not expect it to be. But as sons and daughters of God, we have a treasure trove of glorious inheritance waiting for us. We don’t need to fret. We just need to be patient and hold onto hope in the darkest hours.
Heaven, not earth, is my home. Heaven is where I throw down my plush rugs and decorate the shelves with pretty treasures and plant tree seedlings in the backyard.
As we speak, Jesus is sitting on a heavenly throne. I like to think it’s more like a cushy oversized wingback chair in navy blue, and Jesus is sipping on some coffee and shooting the breeze with the saints who have gone before. In Christ, I’m up there with Him, gabbing about all the stories of His awesomeness (Eph. 2:6).
Christ became frail flesh and blood just like you and me. In doing so, He condemned sin “in the flesh”. His incarnation, his embodiment of human skin and bones and teeth and hair, human temptations and needs and vulnerabilities, broke sin in a very human way. Why? So that we could live out His righteousness. He became like us so we could become like Him (see Rom. 8:1-4). We even become part of Christ’s body (Eph. 1:22-23). The intent of our Christian lives, in fact, is to grow up into Christ so His life flows through us such that our character matches His (2 Pet. 1:4).
See, God really loves us humans. More so than corgis or red pandas or tigers or foxes (or any other of the incidentally orange animals that I find cute), God has a special place in His heart for human beings. We are the one breed that reflects His own image. He designed us to be little representations of Himself in the world. That’s why Jesus came to earth as a human baby and not a corgi pup or tiger cub. God really thinks we humans are great, and through Jesus, He aims to restore us to all we were meant to be.
Upon putting our trust in Christ, we find that we are transformed from the inside out. We are caught up into His very nature. His nature of righteousness becomes our nature (2 Cor. 5:16-21). Thus, in latching onto Jesus’ version of humanity, you and I are liberated to live as whole humans. His honesty becomes our honesty. His diligence becomes our diligence. His generosity and focus and creativity and wisdom and compassion become ours.
What was broken in us becomes whole and lovely. Rankin Wilbourne explains, “We don’t become something more than human. We become fully human.” Like the way you feel when you eat organic food, go on a hike in the mountains, or suck a bit of clean, brisk air into your lungs. We become more fully the images-bearers we were created to be, healthy and natural and whole.
Now, some people get pretty bent out of shape about this teaching. They say, “I’m a Christian, yet I still sin! That proves the sin nature still reigns in me more than the nature of Christ!” I get that. It’s a little counterintuitive to swallow what the Bible teaches about who we are when we see ourselves so differently. We know we mess up and fail.
So please don’t get the idea that I’m saying we never sin. Of course we sin. It’s just not our true nature to sin. Although our core self has been transformed into the righteousness of Christ, we now have the task ahead of us of renewing our minds to the truth (Rom. 12:2), thus learning to live in accordance with who we actually are. I believe that as long as we live as fragile humans on this fractured version of planet earth, we are going to struggle with believing sneaky lies and deceptions, and we are going to keep on sinning.
But I also believe God’s Word teaches that Christians have real hope of ever-increasing victory over sin.
At this point masses of concerned Christians will be knocking down my door to quote Romans 7:14-25. So many are utterly convinced these words teach Christian failure in the face of sin. They think this passage shows Christians still wrestle with cycles of sin and defeat because of their fleshly nature. “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” If I had a dime for every time I heard this passage taken out of context, I could actually buy a home in Los Angeles.
I think it’s clear if you read Romans 6-8 attentively, that the language of 7:14-25 is talking about an unregenerate person – the language absolutely clashes with that used to describe Christians. The 7:14-25 person is putting himself under the mosaic law to be delivered from his bondage to sin. The law can’t do that. It couldn’t back in Moses’ day, it couldn’t in Paul’s day, and it can’t in our day. Devout Jews of Paul’s day would have had this misconception. The whole point is that we are no longer under this law or its condemnation! Jesus has set us free! For more on this passage, I recommend referring to Douglas Moo’s commentary on Romans.
So embrace it. Let its glory seep into your pores like a luxurious, satiny lotion that smells like heaven. Let it refresh you like a cold gulp of water or rain in the desert. We are Christ’s, and our nature is that of His own Spirit. He has prepared good works for each of us to carry out (Eph. 2:10), serving as His very ambassadors to a confused and hurting world (2 Cor. 5:20). We live lives of tremendous purpose. That’s right sister, He will use you to change the world we live in, if you let Him. Being on mission is a life-consuming task. My purpose here on earth is to extend Christ’s reign. Child of light, not of darkness. That’s who I am.
“Tear down this wall!”
What’s more, being “in Christ” reconciles us to our fellow man in the family of God, now no longer at war but living in sweet harmony with one another (Eph. 2:11-19). I’m united with all the family of Christ, no more dividing wall.
As little image-bearers of the glory of Christ, we are part of a family. I admit that, growing up in a family that pursued truth above all else, differences of opinion in my Christians sisters and brothers can feel scary for me. Diversity of opinion can make me squirm in my seat, awkwardly wanting to brush past difference and over-emphasize similarities. Differences can be scary for me, but family bonds in the spiritual realm are so much stronger. And I’m so stoked to connect with my sisters in Christ in deeper ways than ever. Although they may differ from me, these are other women who are strong and beautiful and courageous, pursuing how God has called and gifted them, partnering in the mission.
“In Christ” has everything to do with our identity. Identity is what makes people tick. How we see ourselves is literally so fundamental to everything about us that it’s like whether we have a Dodge or Lamborghini engine whirring under our hood. Our identity determines the power and influence our lives wield. Our identity is like the number we believe to be in our soul’s bank account. Whether we can speak out our identity in clear words, or whether it’s buried deep in our unconscious and we couldn’t possibly put it into words, it inevitably guides us, like an invisible compass.
The reality of being “in Christ” objectively changes our nature. However, it also transforms our self perceptions as we actively renew our minds to its truth. That’s why it’s so crucial to consume these truths for the rich nutrition they are, and let them digest and absorb into every cell of our being. We have to meditate on who we are day and night, because trust me, there are voices out there that want to convince us otherwise.
“In Christ” means I’m loved as I am. My shame no longer has the final say. My identity is enough.