By Mark R. Kreitzer, DMiss, PhD
Faculty, College of Theology
What does “in Christ” mean? I’ve seen it a lot in the Bible, particularly in Ephesians.
To answer your question, we must first consider what it means to seek reconciliation with the Lord for our sins. The initial step of reconciliation with God is turning from self-sufficiency and putting our trust in Christ’s death and resurrection. Saving faith involves believing that God the Father physically raised Jesus from the dead on the third day in the power of the Holy Spirit and confessing that he alone is Lord of heaven and earth (Romans 10:9-10). Christ’s resurrection proves that He was righteous and actually bore the sins of His people and not His own sins (Romans 4:25; Acts 2:24).
Interestingly, there is another aspect of Christ’s death and resurrection which many believers have never even heard about. This springs from what Paul calls being “in Christ.” For example, in the book of Ephesians alone Paul uses the words “in Christ,” or its equivalent, approximately 27 times. What does he mean by this phrase, and why is it important for us to understand?
When Paul writes “in Christ,” he means that when we are born from above or born again, the Holy Spirit is poured out upon us and radically joins us to Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension. He talks about this in several passages, especially in Romans, Ephesians and Colossians. Now to be joined to Christ’s death means the inner, old person actually dies in a literal sense and is raised up again from the dead because of the power of Christ’s resurrection-life working in us (Romans 6:11, 8:2). As a consequence, our death and resurrection with Christ mean that sin’s chains have been broken, and we are no longer slaves of sin (Romans 6:6-7, 11-14). We now will be living with the “newness of life” – Christ’s resurrection life in us (Romans 6:4).
Another aspect of our identity “in Christ” is our ascension with Him. When we die with Him, we are also raised up and seated with Him spiritually on His throne, at the right hand of the Father (Ephesians 1:19-2:6). In this honored position, we share His authority over all demonic powers, which He disarmed and triumphed over in his resurrection and ascension. No longer do we need to fear demonic oppression and deception.
In summary, the reality of our union with Christ gives us a completely new identity (Romans 6:11; Colossians 3:10). The New Testament writers compare this new identity to that of a baby – perfectly formed, perfectly human and new, but immature, untested and easily deceived. However, the antidote to being a perpetual baby Christian is three-fold. First, the Holy Spirit constrains us to memorize and mediate on whole passages of God’s truth concerning our new identity in Christ to dispel the lies of the enemy (1 John 2:14). Second, the Father allows us to experience certain difficulties and trials to test our newfound faith and grow us in perseverance through the power of the new life “in Christ” (James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 1:6-7). When we pass the tests by listening to, trusting and following God’s promises, we develop mature character (Romans 5:1-5). Last, since we are a completely new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), we realize that the person we once was has ceased to exist with respect to our new inner identity.
Certainly, we still live in a fleshly, human body that has all the desires of the sinful nature, but that has been banished out of the inner person, which we are now “in Christ.” The chains binding our inner person to the flesh are now broken forever. We are washed, set apart for God and declared righteous – “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).
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More about Mark:
Mark Kreitzer, DMiss, PhD, was born in Denver, CO but grew up in Southern California, where he attended Biola University (BA) and Talbot Theological Seminary (MDiv). He received a Doctor of Missiology and a PhD in theology of mission/intercultural studies at Reformed Theological Seminary (1997, 2002). He is ordained in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and is a member in good standing in the Western Carolina Presbytery. He is married to Nancy, and they have three children, Mark Aaron Robert (31), Caroline Elise (20) and Sarah Anne (18). Dr. Kreitzer loves running, hiking, exploring new places and collecting books.