STUDY THREE: WHAT YOU NOW ARE ‘IN CHRIST’
© Rosemary Bardsley, 2004, 2014
The grace and mercy of God in sending Jesus to die as our substitute has far reaching implications for the way we view ourselves and relate to ourselves. God now relates to us ‘in Christ’ – he relates to us on the basis of what Jesus has done for us. He no longer rejects us as guilty sinners, he accepts us ‘in Christ’ as his beloved children, as if we were as perfect as Jesus.
We all have an automatic in-built predisposition to look at ourselves and relate to ourselves as we are in ourselves, in isolation from Christ. It goes right across this natural bent to see ourselves always, ever and only in Christ. We are so self-centred that even when it is to our own detriment we refuse to give up our right to ourselves and to our own significance. We do not want to lose our life and take our significance from Christ alone. We cling to our own importance even if it is a damning importance. Our pride conquers us and dominates us even when that pride is our own self-focused despair.
When we as Christians see ourselves in isolation from Christ one of two things happen, and both of these two outcomes are as bad as the other.
A self-destructive, guilt-ridden, joyless despair, or
An obnoxious pride that keeps real guilt at bay, and in which any joy and confidence present is grounded in self, not in Christ.
Both make us fragile and vulnerable, regardless of the outward image we portray.
The ‘in Christ’ concept outlaws both of these extremes, prohibiting both inner despair and self-focused pride. Although we might not feel or express them as clearly as outlined above, these two attitudes lurk in every one of us.
A. HOW DOES GOD VIEW THE CHRISTIAN?
As we have seen in Study Two, God relates to the Christian on the basis of the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ. The New Testament repeatedly refers to the Christian believer as ‘in Christ’. This is how God relates to us, and this is also the way we should relate to ourselves. The same freedom and forgiveness that characterize our relationship with God should also characterize our relationship with ourselves in the very depths of our being.
A.1 Holy and blameless in Christ
God knows that in ourselves we are guilty sinners, whose ‘righteousness’ is so putrid that he compares it with filthy rags and dung. He knows that in ourselves we constantly fall short of the glorious perfection of life he created us for and that we constantly deserve condemnation and punishment. For this very reason he chose, by his divine and eternal will and purpose, to save us; he chose to relate to us only ‘in Christ’. There, in Christ, he sees us and regards us quite differently to what we are in ourselves – in a way that is so amazing that we can hardly believe it.
Complete Section #1 in the Study Three Worksheet now.
God chose us ‘in Christ’ to be holy and blameless ‘in his sight’. He presents us to himself ‘holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation’. He has made us ‘holy’ and ‘perfect’. He has done all of this through the blood of Jesus Christ. It has nothing to do with us and our performance and achievements: it has to do only with the will and choice of God, and the action of God in Christ. This is not something that changes with our changing levels of guilt and our variable spirituality. Rather it is grounded in God himself. Even when we know that in ourselves we are not holy and blameless, God has made us holy and blameless in Christ, by his will, by his choice.
A.2 Complete in Christ
In ourselves there is always a sense of incompleteness, of never being good enough, of always having to strive, to do more, to be better. This incompleteness characterized both of the Christians in the role plays above. The first was acutely and consciously aware of her short fall. The second, by his obvious need to promote himself, unconsciously admitted that he had to perform to the max to be sure of acceptance. One responded with defeat. The other responded with self-defence and self-promotion. Both portrayed a failure to trust in Christ. When we see ourselves always, ever and only ‘in Christ’ we are liberated on the one hand from guilt and on the other hand from the need to promote, preserve and defend ourselves as not guilty. In Christ we are set free from the heavy necessity of having to trust in ourselves. Here in Christ we can freely admit that we are sinners who sin: we no longer have to pull the wool over our own eyes. Yes. In ourselves we are incomplete, guilty sinners. But we are no longer only in ourselves: God has put us in Christ. In him we are complete. In him all that God requires of us is already ours, credited to us by Christ our Saviour.
Complete Section #2 in the Study Three Worksheet now.
A.3 Hidden in Christ
Here is another huge truth:
Colossians 3:3: ‘you died, your life is now hidden with Christ in God’.
Because the believer is identified with the death of Christ our substitute, God considers that the believer has already died in that death of Christ. In Christ believers have already paid in full the penalty for all their sins. There is no more penalty that will be exacted from them ever again. In terms of God’s justice we have ceased to exist. Where are we then? Hidden away with Christ in God. The security of this concept is incredible. No accusation can touch us. No condemnation or judgement can reach us. Our death in Christ our substitute has taken us beyond their legal reach, and God has hidden us away in his Son.
Complete Section #3 in the Study Three Worksheet now.
A.4 Legally acquitted in Christ [justified, righteous]
In our innermost being we struggle with guilt, accusations and condemnation. We devise ways of punishing ourselves, and we assume that God is punishing us. We are divided against ourselves, on the one hand despising ourselves and on the other hand promoting ourselves. We assess ourselves in terms of our performance of law – either God’s law, organizational law, peer group law or our own personal moral code. We either acquit or condemn ourselves on the basis of our performance.
But the Gospel teaches that in Christ we are justified – declared acquitted, or righteous – on the basis of the cross-work of Jesus Christ, and irrespective of our own personal performance of the law. Because of the Gospel God views us as ‘righteous’, that is, as ‘not guilty’.
Complete Section #4 in the Study Three Worksheet now.
A.5 Permanently reconciled to him in Christ
The Christian is a person who has been reconciled to God by the blood of Christ. Yet so often our ‘self-talk’ assumes that God is still our enemy waiting to inflict punishment upon us at the least slip we make. Like forgiveness and redemption, ‘reconciliation’ is one of the things that the Christian has in Christ. Reconciliation with God is our present permanent possession. There is no longer any enmity. There is no longer any ‘wrath of God’ hanging over our heads. God’s wrath fell on Jesus, our Substitute; it will not fall, it can not fall, on those who are in Christ.
Complete Section #5 in the Study Three Worksheet now.
As Paul implies in 2Corinthians 6:1, when we fail to live in the reality of this reconciliation we are receiving the grace of God in vain. If in the inner depths of our being we are still living as those who believe God is the enemy, waiting to accuse, condemn and punish, then we have received the Gospel of Christ in a meaningless way that is not impacting us. We have no more effective peace with God than before we were converted.
A.6 Permanently forgiven in Christ
Similarly, we have forgiveness in Christ [Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14]. As we have already seen in Study One, forgiveness is our permanent present possession. God expects us to enjoy it – to regard our sins as forgiven, to live in the freedom of knowing that God no longer holds them against us, and never will, for he held them all against his Son.
[Note: this forgiveness never means that it is okay to sin. Sin is never okay. It is forgiven, but it is not okay. One only has to look at the Christ on the cross, to know that sin is always horribly and totally wrong, and that the judgement upon sin, that would surely fall on us but for our union with Christ, is horrendous. This cross of Christ tells us how much God hates sin, and how terrible the punishment that we have escaped by his grace. If we think that it is okay to go on sinning we have not even begun to understand who Jesus really is and what he really did.]
A.7 Permanently removed from death to life
Those who are in Christ already possess eternal life. This is the opposite of the ‘death’ – the separation from God – that is the wages of sin. Those who are in Christ live in him – he is the source of their life, in fact he is their life. Apart from him there is only spiritual death. This fact of eternal life should undergird our thinking, and our self-concept. In ourselves we are indeed ‘dead in trespasses and sins’, but in Christ we have eternal life – a life that has its source and its significance in Christ himself. This life does not depend on us, but solely on him. The ups and downs of our faith and spirituality do not change it for our faith and our spirituality are neither its source not its continuance.
Go here to study the two contrasting ways of seeing yourself.