Summary: Introduction to the letter to the Ephesians. What does it mean if I say that if you’re a Christian you’re “in Christ”?
I wonder how good your theology is. How well thought out are you? Have you worked out the answers to those difficult questions about God that arise from time to time? Or are you like me and are still thinking some things through? Of course those who are well educated theologically have probably answered more questions than others but even then there’ll be ideas and concepts that they still wonder about. I remember reading something that Leon Morris once said. He was principal of Ridley College Melbourne in the 60s and 70s and a world renowned expert on John’s Gospel. He once commented that the more he read of John’s gospel the more he discovered. It was like a gold mine where the deeper you dug, the more treasure you unearthed.
I mention all of this because we’re about to embark on a study of Ephesians over the next 3 months and the theme of the series is Complete in Christ. And it’s that phrase “in Christ” that caught my attention. So I thought we’d spend some time today thinking about that.
What does it mean to you if I say that if you’re a Christian you’re “in Christ”? It might mean that Christ has so filled you that it’s as though you and Christ were one. It might mean that the old you is no longer relevant because all there is now is Christ. You might think of it as though Christ has surrounded you with his arms so all that can be seen is him. On the other hand someone has suggested that a suitable analogy is that of being in an aeroplane. I can’t normally fly but if I’m in an aeroplane I, amazingly, seem to be able to soar above the clouds. So being in Christ has something to do with me being transported with him. Well, there may be a bit of that in the idea, but even that isn’t a sufficient explanation of what the phrase means.
In John 17 Jesus says something that includes this phrase, doesn’t he? “21As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” That, I think gives us a hint as to what this phrase refers to, as well as an explanation of why we may never fully plumb the depths of what it means for us.
Jesus is saying that just as the father is in him and he is in the father, so too we will be in them. In other words there’s a Trinitarian element to this phrase. So if you understand the trinity, you’ll be able to understand this. That’s the tricky part isn’t it? We tend to come at the idea of the trinity from many sides because it’s too large an idea to grasp all at once. God is one yet God is three, all at the same time. God is in Jesus and Jesus is in God.
And now we discover that we’re drawn into that community of ‘three-in-one’ as well. So Jesus says “22The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one.” Being drawn into the trinity allows us to share in God’s glory. That’s pretty good isn’t it? But being drawn into the trinity also implies being brought to a place of unity. It looks like there’s still a bit of work to be done there, on our part! And as we read through Ephesians we’ll find that unity is central to our new identity as God’s people.
In fact Jesus says that our unity will be a sign to the world that God has sent Jesus and that God has loved us just as he loved Jesus (v23). I guess if we’re in Christ then God will love us just as he loves Christ. But the sign of that love is the unity, the love, that we share with one another.
Now, are you starting to get a feel for the depth of meaning that’s carried by this simple phrase? Being in Christ has all sorts of implications. It has an implication for our salvation. The analogy of the aeroplane conveys that well. Because we’re in Christ we’re carried along with him as he brings salvation to the world. So when Christ dies, those who are in Christ die with him. When Christ rises again those who are in Christ rise again. So Paul says to the Galatians: “20 and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God.” (Gal 2:19-20).
You could also think of it like this. On the day of judgement we’ll stand before God and God will say, “Chris Appleby, step forward.” And I’ll say, “I’m right here.” And God will say “Where?” And I’ll say “Here, in Christ.” And what God will see will be Christ with me within him.