STUDY THREE: THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE ‘IN CHRIST’ CONCEPT –
PART 3: IMPLICATIONS FOR OUR RELATIONSHIPS WITH OTHERS
Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2005, 2011
The ‘in Christ’ concept has implications for the way we relate to each other, and it is here that we come to the heart of our topic: Developing Christian Community. If we cannot understand the ‘in Christ’ concept and apply it in the context of our local church community then our local church will be little different from a secular club or organization. We may have different goals and purposes to a secular club, but the way we relate to each other will not express what Jesus desired when he said: ‘By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another’ [John 13:35]. This love that Jesus spoke of is no ordinary love, for people who do not even know him love each other. That is normal. But Christ requires of us an abnormal love – a love that accepts the other on the same basis that God accepts us – the basis of the cross-work of Christ that is credited to all who by faith are ‘in Christ’.
A. IMPLICATIONS OF THE IN CHRIST CONCEPT FOR OUR ATTITUDES TO OTHER CHRISTIANS
It is here in our relationships and attitudes with other Christians that we face our most difficult challenge. When we relate to God always, ever and only in Christ, and when we learn to see ourselves always ever and only in Christ, we ourselves obviously benefit from that changed perspective: we begin to understand and enjoy the peace, joy and freedom from guilt and condemnation which Christ died to gain for us. But when it comes to relating to the other person always, ever and only in Christ it seems far more difficult. It seems that we have to give something up so that they will gain. And so we do. But if they are also relating to us always, ever and only in Christ, then we also are gaining. But, more importantly, Christ is gaining glory as the world sees his amazing grace in action in the rough and tumble of life.
The gospel of Christ challenges us to this mutual acceptance, to this mutual freeing of the other from our petty and our not so petty rules and regulations and from the condemnations and accusations that accompany them, even as God has set us free from the guilt and condemnation that accompanies our failure to keep his fundamental laws. The gospel of Christ calls us to stop relating to each other on the basis of personal performance and to begin and continue to relate to each other on the basis of the performance of Jesus Christ whose life and death are equally credited to us and to them.
A.1 2Corinthians 5:14-17 - to think a new way
In 2Corinthians 5:14 Paul stated:
‘… we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.’
In these words he expresses the believer’s identification with Christ: as we have seen, the believer is considered dead, because Christ, our substitute, died for us. As Romans 6 stated, the believer has been crucified, dead and buried. The law’s penalty can never again be exacted from believers, for they have already paid the full penalty in the death of Christ.
Paul then goes on to the logical consequence of this death as it affects our relationships with each other:
‘So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view’ [5:16a].
The words translated ‘from a worldly point of view’ are simply kata sarka which means ‘according to flesh’, that is, according to what people are in themselves. He goes on further:
‘Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer’ [5:16b].
Before his conversion on the Damascus Paul [Acts 9], then called Saul, looked at Jesus as he was ‘kata sarka’, and set about destroying the people who called him the Messiah, or the Lord. Paul saw only a man who made outrageous claims, who made himself equal with God, and therefore was guilty of the worst blasphemy. But now, he says, he no longer looks at Christ kata sarka. What happened? On the Damascus road Jesus revealed himself to Paul as the Lord of glory, and Paul now sees what he could not see before, he sees kata pneuma – according to the Spirit. Yes. Jesus was a man. But there was another dimension that was also true: that Jesus was also God.
Having had his eyes opened, Paul says, he no longer regards anyone kata sarka. He no longer looks at anyone and relates to them as they are in themselves. He explains: because one died for all, and all have died in that death the death penalty for their sin, therefore:
‘If anyone is in Christ – it’s a new creation!’ – a whole new set up, a whole new ball-game, a whole new world order – ‘the old has gone, the new has come’ [5:17].
God has ceased to relate to us kata sarka – as we are in ourselves, and by this action he commands us to cease to relate to each other kata sarka. He has rescued us out from the dominion of darkness where law and sin and death and condemnation held us enslaved, and made us to stand in the kingdom of his Son, where life and grace reign. There is no place in his kingdom for accusations and condemnations. There is no place in his kingdom for the generation of fear and guilt. They belong to that other kingdom from which he rescued us. There is no room in his kingdom for divisions generated by performance: we are members of his kingdom by grace, not works. In fact, the Bible tells us we are ‘all one in Christ Jesus’.
A.2 All one in Christ Jesus
Task: Answer these questions: What do these verses teach us about the equality that every believer has in Christ? And, what are the implications of this for our attitudes to each other?
The ‘in Christ’ reality means that:
• All believers are equally justified – equally acquitted of guilt by God, the just judge. There is no legal difference between any believer and another. All are equally guilty in themselves; all equally acquitted in Christ.
• Because this justification [legal acquittal] is not on the basis of our own work or merit, all boasting is outlawed. No one can say they have been acquitted by God because of their own lack of personal guilt. All have only one claim – faith in Jesus Christ.
• Because we know that in the presence of God we are justified solely by faith in Christ, we should not impose on another believer the keeping of law for acceptance either by God or by us.
• Every believer is ‘clothed’ with Christ. This common ‘clothing’ eliminates all claims to racial, social, or sexual supremacy or priority. The same faith makes us all equally the children of God – we are ‘all one in Christ Jesus’. No one gets ‘first place’ or ‘last place’ because of factors of birth.
A.3 The removal of interpersonal barriers
The Jew-Gentile division exemplified separation between people. As we have seen in point A.2 the Gospel removes this division. Paul speaks further of this removal in Ephesians 2.
Task: Read Ephesians 2:11-22. What does he teach about the unity and peace that the Gospel of Christ brought between Jews and Gentiles who believe?
What does Paul say that Jew and Gentile believers now share in common?
God, in Christ has removed the barriers that separate people from each other, and given us a common heritage in Christ. Yet we, in our pettiness, try to keep and even erect barriers, by looking at people as they are in themselves, and at ourselves, as we are in ourselves. We jeopardize and short-circuit the peace and unity that the ‘in Christ’ concept establishes. And in doing so we are acting at odds with the gospel.
Christ, in his prayer to his Father in John 17, longed for this unity to be expressed and evident among those who follow him. It is not the unity of sameness, but the unity of grace and acceptance, grounded not in anything we are or do, but in who Christ is and what he did.
A.4 The body concept
The apostle Paul used the concept of the human body to illustrate the unity, diversity and interdependence of believers.
Task: Discuss the implications of these texts for
 the essential unity of all who are ‘in Christ’
 the essential significance of all who are ‘in Christ’
 the essential equality of all who are ‘in Christ’
1 Corinthians 10:14-17
1 Corinthians 12:12-27
Colossians 1:18,24; 2:19;
B. APPLYING THE IN CHRIST CONCEPT TO OUR INTER-PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS WITHIN OUR CHURCH COMMUNITY AND WITHIN OUR FAMILIES AND FRIENDSHIPS
We have seen above:
1. We are to relate to people as they are ‘in Christ’ not as they are ‘in themselves’
2. We are ‘all one’ in Christ Jesus
3. Christ ‘is our peace’ – removing interpersonal barriers
4. We are all members of his ‘body’.
Task: In the light of these four facts, discuss the following questions:
To what extent are these four facts observable in the life of your church or church sub-group?
In your experience, what criteria are used within the church community for acceptance or rejection? And are these criteria valid or invalid in the light of the ‘in Christ’ concept?
How have you personally experienced the non-application of these ‘in Christ’ facts in the church community?
What needs to be done to apply these facts in your local church community?
How can you personally improve your application of the ‘in Christ’ concept in your inter-personal relationships?