Wednesday, October 3, 2012

"In Christ" - Paul's Favorite Words

(God) “made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…” Ephesians 2:5b-6, ESV

In the first verses of Ephesians two Paul has emphasized what Christians have been saved from (spiritual death, slavery to the world, the devil and our flesh, and the wrath of God - click here for my post on those verses). Now Paul shares who we have been saved in; he describes this saving act of God in terms of our union with Christ. At my count, Paul mentions this truth of our inclusion ‘in Christ’ 14 times in chapter1 and the first 10 verses of chapter 2 (“in Christ,” “with Christ,” “through Christ,” etc). This seems to be the central issue for Paul. Everything God does for us is through our inclusion into Jesus Christ.

In Adam or In Christ.
We saw in verse 3 that our sin/depravity/condemnation came to us ‘by nature.’ This is because the infection of sin and death passed to us from Adam, who was our representative in the garden (Genesis 3; 4:8; 5:3; Rom 5:12, 18; 1 Cor 15:21a, 22a). Jesus said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit” (John 3:6). We are born physically in Adam, and take on his experience of sin, death and condemnation. But when we are born of the Spirit, we are united with Christ, and share his experience of righteousness, life and peace with God!
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:13, ESV
After the story of creation and man’s fall, the Bible declares, “This is the book of the generations of Adam” (Gen 5:1). But the first verse of the New Testament declares, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ” (Matt 1:1). We are born ‘in Adam,’ but we are born again ‘in Christ!’

Results of Union With Christ.
Just as we shared in the experience of Adam, so God’s grace causes his people to share in the experience of Christ. Here Paul lists 3 examples of Christ’s experience in which we share:

1. Christ’s Resurrection. “made us alive together with Christ.” Because he lives, we live (John 14:19)! We experience spiritual life toward God now, and we look forward to the resurrection of our body just as Christ rose with glorified body (“who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” Philippians 3:21).

2. Christ’s Ascension. “and raised us up with him.” We not only share Christ’s experience of spiritual life, but now we learn that we share in his ascension to the Father! Through Christ our Mediator we have access to the very presence of God now, and look forward to being in his presence forever in glory.
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. [2] Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. [3] For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. [4] When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Colossians 3:1-4, ESV
3. Christ’s Session. “and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Paul gives a third, and very humbling and glorious example of our shared experience with the Lord Jesus: we share, not only in his life and ascension to the Father, but in his session – his rule and reign!! We must be very careful here, because this is NOT teaching that we are or ever will be equal to Christ. He will forever be the unique Son of God and King of kings and Lord of lords. Yet there is a very true sense in which we, because of our union with Christ, share in his glory. We share in his victory over his enemies. We even share in his rule:

  • The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. Revelation 3:21
  • And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’ Luke 19:17
  • Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? …Do you not know that we are to judge angels? 1 Corinthians 6:2a, 3a
  • ...if we endure, we will also reign with him… 2 Timothy 2:12a
Back in chapter 1 Paul described the power of God at work toward us as the same kind of might God worked in Christ “when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority…” (Eph 1:20-21). Now Paul teaches that we share in this great experience of Christ!

Christ’s Experience Lived Out.
Because our physical experience is not yet in God’s presence, this truth can be difficult to understand and put into practice. Yet we must realize that our union with Christ and the resulting life we have in him is NOT simply a metaphor, or a spiritual picture. John Stott explains: Our being ‘seated with Christ is not just meaningless Christian mysticism. It is a living experience’ resulting in “new life, new love, and new victory.”

Paul teaches in Romans:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? [2] By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? [3] Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? [4] We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. [5] For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. [6] We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. …For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. Romans 6:1-6, 14, ESV
If you are a believer in Christ, receive this awesome teaching from God's word; that you are united with Christ! Ask God for illumination concerning this great truth. Receive it with joy, that as a believer you are no longer ‘in Adam’ or ‘in sin,’ but ‘in Christ,’ sharing his life and victory and love! Act on this truth, coming before God’s presence in prayer, and presenting yourself to God for service.

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