Friday, July 5, 2013

"In Christ" Rightly Divided

Paul refers to God's people as being “in Christ” in a number of ways.  Consider a few examples:

In Christ by ELECTION – “According as he hath chosen us in him (Christ) before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:” (Ephesians 1:4) 
In Christ by REDEMPTION / SUBSTITUTION – “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:24)
In Christ by REGENERATION – “Therefore if any man be in Christ he is a new creation.” (II Cor 5:17) 
In Christ by CONVERSION – “Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellowprisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.” (Rom 16:7)  I would guess that this is the most common usage though I have not looked at it sufficiently to say for certain. 
This observation has a number of ramifications but on that is particularly beneficial to any student of the scriptures is this:  If we ever and only think of "in Christ" as having reference to one's conversion, we truncate the testimony of scripture with respect to the phrase "in Christ" and in so doing cut ourselves off from a more nuanced and clear understanding of the other aspects of our union with Christ that are discussed in the scriptures.  The result is a limited aperture on scripture and a distorted view of the truth.

"In Christ" and the Facets of Our Salvation

Just as the phrase "in Christ" has numerous biblical meanings, the term “saved” has a number of different possible meanings in scripture. These range from the blessings of temporal obedience (Exodus 14:13, Acts 2:40, James 5:19-20) to the possession of eternal life (Titus 3:5).  As a result, I would submit that anyone who is “in Christ” must, in some sense, be “saved.” That sense will vary based upon where in time you assess that “salvation." Stated more explicitly, anyone Paul refers to as “in Christ” must, at a bare minimum, be “saved” in the sense of being one of the elect family of God whose eternal salvation is certain. Likewise, since redemption is an explicitly substitutionary and past completed action, all of God’s elect family in Paul’s day could be said to be “in Christ” by the atonement. But neither in Paul’s day nor in ours could all of God’s elect family be said to be “in Christ” by regeneration. We could not say that the elect-unregenerate are “in Christ” in the II Corinthians 5:17 sense or that the elect-regenerate-unconverted are "in Christ" in the Romans 16:7 sense. It follows that there are many phases or facets to being either “saved” or “in Christ” that are made manifest at different times in scripture.

Based on the variety of ways that Paul applies the term, on can say that Paul was “in Christ” covenantally by election before he was even born. He was saved only in the sense that his salvation was an absolutely certainty. Paul was not “in Christ” commercially by redemption until the cross when his sin debt was paid by his substitute. At neither point, however, could Paul be definitively said to be “in Christ” experimentally by conversion, because his conversion was not made manifest until the Damascus road.*

* I have updated this essay to reference CONVERSION rather than REGENERATION in the matrix and summary. While the events on the Damascus road make manifest that Paul was a regenerate man at that time, I do not believe they depict the moment of his regeneration, but a moment of conversion to the truth. (TETH)

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