October 26, 2014
Pastor Joe Wittwer
#1—What does it mean to be “in Christ”?
Today we start a new series, “In Christ.” In his letters in the New Testament, the apostle Paul uses the words “in Christ” or “in Him (whom)” over 100 times. It is one of his favorite phrases and is both theologically rich and practically important. As an example, let’s read the first 14 verses of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, and look for how Paul uses “in Christ” or some version of it.
Ephesians 1:1–14 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
To God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus:
2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.
11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.
How many times? Ten times! Here’s the list:
- 1—We are called “the faithful in Christ.”
- 3—God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ.
- 4—God chose us in Christ.
- 6—God has freely given us grace in Christ.
- 7—We have redemption, the forgiveness of sins in Christ.
- 9—God made known the mystery of His will in Christ.
- 11—We were chosen in Christ.
- 12—We put our hope in Christ.
- 13—We were included in Christ.
- 13—We were marked in Christ with the seal of the Holy Spirit.
It seems like being in Christ is pretty important! But what does it mean? Here’s the Big Idea for this whole series. (Read it together.)
The Big Idea: When you are in Christ, all that is true of Him changes what is true of you.
All ten of those things we listed from Ephesians 1 are true of you when you are in Christ. You are blessed, chosen, redeemed, graced, included and much more. And those are just from one passage; Paul uses this phrase over 100 times! We’ve posted a list of all these verses, the In Christ Verses, on our website. I read through the whole list on Monday before I started this message, and it was very inspiring. Try it! In the weeks to come, we’re going unpack some of these verses to see what’s true of you when you are in Christ.
But first, what does it mean to be in Christ? That’s what we’re going to think about today. I’m going to come at it from two angles.
1. It is a status.
By status, I mean state of being.
ILL: This is a ball. This is a bucket. If I put the ball in the bucket, what is the ball’s status? It is in the bucket.
The word “in” is used to describe the state or position of one thing in relation to another. The ball is in the bucket. The check is in the mail. The Seahawks are in the toilet.
So when Paul says that we are in Christ, he is describing our status, our state of being. Like the ball is in the bucket, you are in Christ. This is an imperfect illustration, but bear with me. If I swing the bucket, what happens to the ball? It swings too—because it is in the bucket. What’s true of the bucket is true of the ball. If the bucket is lost, what happens to the ball? It’s lost too—because it’s in the bucket. In the same way, but in a much deeper way, what is true of Christ becomes true of you, because you are in Christ.
For example, in Ephesians 2, Paul says that apart from Christ, we are dead in our sins.
Ephesians 2:4–6 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,
Apart from Jesus, we were dead in our sins. But God made us alive with Christ, raised us with Christ, and seated us with Christ in the heavenly realms—all of this happens in Christ. When Christ was raised from the dead, you were too. Now Christ is seated at the right hand of God, and you are too. When you are in Christ, what is true of Him becomes true of you.
So how do you get “in Christ”?
John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Literally, the Greek reads, “whoever believes into Him.” We believe into Jesus. When we repent—turn from our sin and turn to God—and believe in Jesus, we believe into Christ. We are in Christ. Paul adds:
Romans 6:3–4 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
We believed into Jesus, and we were baptized into Jesus. This is what happens in baptism: you are baptized into Christ. You are baptized into His death, and into His resurrection. Just like Christ died to sin, you died to sin in Him. And just like Christ was raised to live to God, you are raised to live to God in Christ.
You believe into Jesus, you are baptized into Jesus, and you are in Christ—that is your status, your state of being. What is true of Him becomes true of you.
Let me illustrate it with an every day example that is better than the bucket and ball.
When you fill out an application, you are often asked about your marital status: married, single, divorced, and so on. If you check the “married” box, you are indicating that your status is married, and therefore certain things are true of you. Your life is not your own. You share resources and liabilities. You know how to say, “Yes dear.” You have in-laws. You are taken. You are in a marriage. This is your marital status.
ILL: Two weeks ago I took a couple days to ride motorcycles in Arizona with my brother in law, Jared. He showed me his new wedding ring—his fourth wedding ring. He recently lost his third wedding ring, and his wife, my sister Ann, didn’t want him riding a motorcycle in Arizona without a wedding ring. We bikers are incredible chick magnets! He visited a friend who was a jeweler. He showed Jared a beautiful gold band; Jared asked if had anything in silver, then platinum, then stainless steel. Finally the jeweler said, “Hang on.” He came back with some sizing rings, found one Jared’s size and gave it to him—free. Nothing says love like free! Here’s the good news: it worked! Women saw our rings and avoided us like the plague! Clearly, we were taken!
A wedding ring indicates your status: you are in a marriage. And that means certain things are true of you. I’m a one-woman-man!
By the way, if you are in Christ, you are in a marriage. We are the bride of Christ, and He is our groom. We are taken; we are His.
To be in Christ describes your status. All that is true of Jesus changes all that is true of you. Over the next several weeks, we are going to unpack some amazing things that are true of you in Christ. But there is more…
2. It is a relationship.
To be in Christ means that you are in relationship with Him. It is not just a static status; it is a living relationship. This is where the bucket and ball fail us. They are inanimate objects. You and Jesus are living persons. To be in Christ is to live in relationship with Him. Marriage is the better illustration.
I said that to be in Christ is a status; it describes your position in relation to Christ. You are in Him. Some people call this positional theology. What is true of Jesus is true of you because of your position: you are in Him. Christ is righteous, therefore you are righteous in Christ. Christ is risen, therefore you are risen in Christ. These things are true, even though they are not yet fully realized. I’m not risen yet, and I’m not always righteous. So how does this work?
As we live in Christ (in relationship with Him), we grow into all that is true of us in Christ.
All of those positional truths become practical realities as we live in Christ, in relationship with Jesus. Living in relationship with Jesus changes you. You will grow into all that He says is true of you. Being in Christ is more than just a status; it’s a relationship.
ILL: Back to our marriage illustration. You can be in a marriage, and not have much relationship with your spouse. You can be married and checked out. You can be married and distant, detached, alienated, gone. Your status is married, but the relationship isn’t happening.
Is that acceptable? No! No one wants that.
It’s not enough to say, “I believe in Jesus. I am saved. That’s my status.” You need to be living in Christ, and growing into all that He says is true of you. You need to be in relationship.
David Platt, in his book, Follow Me, says that we are called to believe in Jesus and to follow Jesus. It’s not one or the other, but both: believe and follow. Many people only want to believe, not follow. They want a ticket to heaven without following Jesus on earth. That’s like a marriage without love, without a relationship.
It’s possible to be married in name only, to have the status without the relationship. And that is possible for Christians too. You can be a Christian in name only, have the status without the relationship. Jesus warned about this.
Matthew 7:21–23 Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
“Many will say to me…”. Evidently there will be many people who think they are Christians but are not, who had the status but not the relationship. Jesus says, “I never knew you.” There was no relationship. If you’re going to talk the talk, you have to walk the walk. We are called to believe and follow. We are called to be in Christ, in relationship with Jesus, and to grow into all that is true of us.
ILL: Let’s say you join a gym; you buy a membership. You are in the Y, or Oz, or Gold’s, therefore certain things are true of you. You can use the facilities whenever you want. You get newsletters and special offers! You are a member in good standing. This is your gym status.
All well and good. But your status only benefits you if you use it. You must have a “relationship” with the gym—the more often, the better. When you work out regularly, then all the potential in your membership status can be realized. You’ll be this guy. If you don’t use it, then you’re a gym member in name only and it won’t benefit you. You’re just wasting your money, and you’ll be this guy.
ILL: Or let’s say you join a church; you become a member—this is your status.
But do you know how many inactive church members there are? They are members in name only, and that status won’t do them a bit of good. You need to have a relationship; you need to participate. Status alone isn’t enough. You can have a gym membership and be in terrible shape. You can have a church membership and be far from God and end up in hell.
That’s why we don’t have formal membership here; we have functional membership, participatory membership. We aren’t interested in just getting your name on the roll; we are interested in getting you engaged and participating so you can grow into all that God says is true of you. When people ask us how to become members, we say, “Participate!” And we have five ways we want you to do that.
- Meet: meet together in worship and Life Groups.
- Seek: seek God in daily prayer, Bible and journaling.
- Serve: serve in our church and community.
- Give: give to God and the poor.
- Share: share your faith by doing find, tell, bring.
This is what members do here. Why? Because that’s how you grow spiritually, and that’s the whole point. We want to help you have a relationship with Jesus so that you grow into all that He says is true of you.
Colossians 2:6–7 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
You received Christ as Lord—now you are in Christ. But don’t stop there. “Continue to live your lives in Him.” Live you life in Christ. Live in daily relationship with Jesus. “Rooted and built up in Him.” Put your roots down deep into Jesus, and be built up in Him. The more you are rooted in Christ, the more you will be built up. A tree gets taller only if it goes deeper. So how do you get rooted in Christ? How do you go deep in Jesus? Discuss this in small groups and get answers.
- Soak in Scripture: Get God’s word in you and get to know Jesus better.
- Prayer: Relationships are built one conversation at a time.
- Follow: Jesus is Lord. Live your life under the leadership of Jesus.
- Learn: Disciples are learners. Learn every chance you can, every way you can.
- Fellowship: Learn from other believers. Christianity is a team sport. We do it best together. Get in a Life Group!
This is why we expect you to do meet, seek, serve, give, share. These are ways we grow in Christ, ways we go deeper in Christ, ways we live in Christ.
Colossians 1:28 He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.
Paul’s goal in his teaching was to “present everyone fully mature in Christ.” That’s our goal too. Why did I just teach four Sundays on money? Because that is a big part of life and I want you to live your life in Christ and become fully mature in Christ. The apostle Paul told the Ephesian pastors (in Friday’s Bible reading):
Acts 20:20 You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you…
If it’s helpful, I’ll preach it. And what do I want to help you do? Live your life in Christ. I want to help you put your roots deep into Jesus and grow up in Christ until you become “fully mature in Christ.” I want to help you to live your life in Christ.
This is what it means to be a Christian: we live our lives in Christ. We live every moment with Jesus. We are in Christ—in relationship with Jesus. And this changes everything!
2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
As we live in Christ, we change, we grow, we become new people. Everything changes: our relationship with God, our character, our relationships with people, who we are and what we do in the world, our eternal destiny. It’s all new! This doesn’t happen because your name is on a church roll, any more than you get in shape because you pay for a gym membership. It happens because you live in Christ. A relationship with Jesus changes everything!
As we live in Christ (in relationship with Him), we grow into all that is true of us in Christ.
That’s what we’re going to unpack for the next several weeks.
Repent and believe for first timers.
Move from “name on the roll” to “get in the game”.
Help us all to live in Christ. I want to face You and hear “Well done,” not “I never knew you.”