What is the meaning of this expression, oft-repeated in the Scriptures? What is its exact significance? We are too much in the habit of using expressions loosely without bestowing adequate thought or due examination of the sacred text.
Of course, in all such enquiry our attitude of mind would be rather that of the intensely interested individual, who is carefully studying the terms of a will, which disclose the deep affection of a parent in the provision made for his child, rather than the cold dispassionate examination of a technical expert. Or, to put it into still truer light, to examine such things with prayerful dependence and adoring worship as we little by little are carried by the Holy Spirit of God into the deep things which the wisdom, prudence and LOVE of our God has designed for His children—this should be our attitude of mind in approaching such a theme.
There are two distinct lines in which the phrase expresses itself, viz., firstly, in relation to qualities and blessings, and secondly in relation to persons.
IN RELATION TO QUALITIES AND BLESSINGS
It will readily be granted that all divine qualities are to be seen in all their beauty and fullness in our Lord Jesus Christ, and, too, that all blessing is in Christ Himself. He expresses in His own adorable person every quality that fully expressed to God what He desired in man. And, further, He is the Mediator whereby man can receive divine blessings and be enabled to exhibit these same qualities.
This can be well illustrated by reference to 2 Timothy, where the phrase ‘in Christ Jesus’ occurs seven times, and, indeed, is its characteristic expression.
1. “The promise of life which is IN CHRIST JESUS” (chap. 1:1). Life is the fulfilment of the promise, to possess that promise of life is to possess the life itself. The Lord Jesus is the inherent Possessor and Dispenser of life. So John tells us He is the eternal life, and that He communicates this life to the believer. Paul puts eternal life as the end of the course, life in its fullness of possession and complete environment. John presents it as the present possession of the believer in its moral qualities, apart from dispensation—“He that hath the Son hath life”.
2. God’s “own purpose and grace which was given as IN CHRIST JESUS before the world began” (chap. 1:9). All God’s purposes of glory are carried into effect through Christ. And if man is to share in the blessings of those purposes, and be part of that wondrous world of bliss, grace must be shown to him for he is utterly unworthy in himself to receive any blessing from God. God’s grace lies in the carrying out of His purpose toward poor, fallen, sinful man.
3. “Faith and love which is IN CHRIST JESUS” (chap. 1:13). Here are two qualities seen in all their fullness in the Lord, and He is the Mediator of them, communicating them to His people according to the operations of the Holy Spirit.
4. “Be strong in the grace that is IN CHRIST JESUS” (chap. 2:1). This is not God’s grace that is shown in blessing man, but the precious quality that shone out in Christ with such lustre in His dealings with men; and now communicated to His people, in order to shine out in them.
5. “Salvation which is IN CHRIST JESUS with eternal glory” (chap. 2:10). Salvation is only to be had in Christ, and it is the blessing that forms the link between the Saviour and the sinner. We begin with salvation.
6. “Godly in Christ Jesus” (chap. 3:12). The consideration of this expression falls within the range of the second part of our article.
7. “Faith which is IN CHRIST JESUS” (Chap. 3:15). Faith is necessary for this reception of salvation and this is the gift of God, and the channel through which it flows is Christ.
“IN CHRIST” IN RELATION TO PERSONS
Here we come to an entirely new aspect of the phrase. At one time it was said that the phrase stood for ‘standing’ as opposed to ‘state’.
The believer was said to be viewed as ‘in Christ’, just as one would look at a landscape through a piece of coloured glass—the colour in the glass giving an appearance to the landscape, which it certainly did not possess in itself.
But to divorce standing from state is a piece of loose thinking and leads to unreality. By appointment standing comes before and carries with it state; a man must be created a duke, have the standing of a duke, before he has the state of a duke. By birth, state and standing are simultaneous. The Christian’s blessings illustrate both these methods.
By God’s appointment, the believer is justified. This gives him a standing in God’s sight. Justification comes through the death of Christ. The believer is justified in Another. The method of our justification involves the setting aside of all that we are in the flesh. But the standing carries state. We get the two thoughts thus.
Standing, “Being justified by faith” (Rom. 5:1).
State, “The free gift came upon [literally toward] all men unto justification of life.”
That is to say God communicates a life to which no sin has or ever can attach, and thus gives the state without which justification could not be practically maintained.
But when we come to birth, state and standing come together. A child born into the world at once has both the state and standing of relationship.
Having so far cleared the ground let us adduce one or two Scriptures in support of what we say.
“IN CHRIST JESUS” is new creation.
“If any man be” in Christ, he is a new creature [literally, there is a new creation]; “old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). It would clear the ground enormously, if this were clearly grasped. One of the fundamental errors of Christendom is that they seek to graft Christ, as it were, upon fallen nature. This is evident in the way they seek to bring Christianity into schemes of pure worldly uplifting and into politics, on the one hand; and on the other, in seeking to humanize heaven, so that relatives hope to meet relatives as such in heaven. I knew one Christian lady, who actually said she would not care to go to heaven, if she did not know her mother as her mother in heaven. A little thought will clearly show what confusion would be wrought in heaven if human relationships were carried into that sphere.
New Creation sets aside the old creation altogether. The new in Scripture always sets aside, absolutely and for ever, the old. “He taketh away the first that He may establish the second” (Heb. 10:9).
God is not building on the old creation in any shape or form. Man’s world will be burned up one day; man’s day, in which he has done, as he thinks, the best for himself, will destroy itself. And after the storms and wrecks of time; after the judgments and visitations of God there shall arise a new heaven and a new earth, and He, who sits upon the throne, will say, “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev. 21:5). The recovery of man lies in this new creation. Man of the old order goes for ever from before God, and man after the order of Christ alone has a place before Him.
We learn, thus, that this new creation links itself up with its Head and Progenitor; until our Lord Jesus died and rose again it could not be said to be inaugurated. He Himself said, “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die it bringeth forth much fruit” (John 12:24).
Again, “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15. 22). Here we get the two Headships. There are but the two. Either we are in Adam or in Christ. Either we derive from the one or from the Other. Though the believer is linked by his body with the first creation he is no longer looked at as “in Adam”.
We may ask, How are we “in Adam”. “In Adam” is true of those who are of Adam. But remember Adam begat children in his own likeness after he fell, and communicated a fallen nature to his descendants. And it is just this that gives the status of “in Adam”. “In Adam” is descriptive of both standing and state—a fallen, sinful standing, and a fallen sinful state.
In the same way we may ask the question, How are we “in Christ”? We are “in Christ” if we are “of Christ”. Here, again, standing and state go together.
A word of explanation as to the word state. It is not in this connection a question of good state or bad state, a married person is in the married state, whether happy or unhappy. We use the word state simply in its absolute meaning.
Further, not till the Spirit indwells the believer can he be said to be “in Christ”. “But ye [believers] are not in the flesh [that is ‘in Adam’], but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, be is none of His [he is not of Him—N.T.]” (Rom. 8:9). That is to say the indwelling Holy Spirit gives the full Christian state; to be destitute of the Holy Ghost is to prove that we are not of His order, not “in Christ Jesus”.
What a rich unfolding of the heart of God, what a tribute to His wisdom and glory! What a place it puts Christ in! As the result of His death and resurrection He has taken a new and surpassingly glorious place as the Progenitor or Head of a new creation, unassailable, unsullied and eternal. And we believers, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, are “in Christ”—part and parcel of that wondrous new creation, soon to have new creation bodies, and be in a new creation world. “He that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new” (Rev. 21:5), never, never to grow old; new, new for ever and ever.
And as we take up our place and portion in practical reality we shall learn the meaning of the verse, “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12). As we refuse the world in every shape and form, as we refuse to graft Christ on to the old man that crucified Him, we shall have arrayed against us all the force of a worldly rationalistic and ritualistic religion. Everything that recognizes the world and man, intellectual or otherwise, will refuse this wondrous blessing. But on the other hand we shall be free to enter into and enjoy those delights to the full, which far more than compensate for the tribulations, nay, put such a character upon them that we can say, “we glory in tribulations also” (Rom. 5:3).