THE 'IN CHRIST' PRINCIPLE - 1

The New Testament teaches that Christians are 'in Christ'. This ‘in Christ’ reality has serious implications for the way we relate to each other. 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’. 

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.

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: the believer is considered 'dead', because Christ, our substitute, died for us. As Romans 6 states, 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’.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2016