In Christ

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One of the most common phrases in the writings of St. Paul is “in Christ.” He uses this phrase so frequently that it is easy to overlook it and move on to something more interesting. My computer Bible program lists 73 verses in which he uses the phrase. As commonplace as it may be, it holds a world of understanding. It is interesting as well for what it does not say.

St. Paul uses the phrase as an equivalent for the name “Christian” in which he will greet those who are “in Christ.” He will also use it for some of his most profound theological assertions: “In Christ there is neither male nor female,” etc. The 73 verses that I’ve counted do not include the number in which he simply says, “in Him.”

What the Apostle does not say are many things we would perhaps substitute today in a devolution of Christian thought. We might simply substitute “Christian” reducing what it means to be “in Christ” to a notion of mere nominal membership or even simply an ethnic title.

“In Christ” presents us with assumptions about the nature of our relationship with Christ. We are not related to Him as one thing to another; we are not related to Him as subject to object; we are not related to Him even as creature to Creator (in a minimalist sense). Our relationship is something that is best described by being “in Him.” Elsewhere, the New Testament will describe this realtionship as koinonia (communion). To be in Him, is to not be outside of Him. It is to dwell within the fullness of Christ Himself. It is to be in Him such that nothing of who we are is outside of Him.

Christ is thus not a reference point apart from us but a dwelling place (which has no limit). To be in Christ is to be in Him Who is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. Thus to be in Christ is, to some extent, to exist beyond space and time. The meaning and reference for our life is not to be in this world, but in the world to come. Thus our inheritance is not a name derived from history, nor even an ethnicity derived from genetics, but something which is laid up for us in the Kingdom, in Christ.

“If any man is in Christ, there is a new Creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). Thus whatever we are in Christ, we are not what we were, but increasingly what we shall be.

In His nativity we celebrate that Christ has come among us. But greater still (if I may be so bold) is that His coming also means that we can come to live “in Him.” The incarnation is our re-creation.

12 Responses to “In Christ”

  1. Karen C Says:

    Dear Father, bless! This strikes me as the deeper spiritual reason behind the human need to belong, to be on the “inside,” to be deeply understood and lovingly enfolded within a family or the embrace of a parent, spouse or friend. As Blessed Augustine so aptly said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.” We were created to be in Christ. Christ is born!

  2. Moses Says:

    Definitely a verse overlooked!

  3. Stephen W Says:

    The transfiguration also points to “what we shall be”. Can we say that the incarnation is the starting point in history which makes our own transfiguration possible? Christ redeems every point of human life and creation from birth to death and we participate “in Him”. It is also interesting that the nativity icon reveals the manger and birth of christ as also the tomb and death of Christ, in which I might add, we also participate “in Him”.

  4. fatherstephen Says:

    Stephen W

    Yes I think we could point to that as a starting point in history – though I sometimes mark creation itself as the starting point – in that God has always intended for this transfiguration to occur. Thus prior to Christmas, we celebrate the Holy Forefathers, etc. The incarnation marks a point in history – but itself gathers all history into itself.

    The icons all reflect Pascha as you note – which in some ways signals the Church’s understanding that Pascha is the beginning and end (fulfillment) of all things. The Lamb was slain from the foundations of the earth, which places the claim of Pascha, perhaps, above all else. It’s the queen of feasts.

  5. Stephen W Says:

    It boggles the mind to think that there are so many different beginnings or starting points, so to speak, which all point to the same thing and then Pascha being the ultimate fulfillment of all these points and a point in history itself. I am so thankful for Icons, which are a starting point for us to be able to gaze into these mysteries.

  6. luciasclay Says:

    I am quite overwhelmed by the idea of unity with Christ, which I take being In Christ to be. The concept appears to be tied up in everything involving the Church. That they may be one as we are one .. I in them and they in me … the body of Christ both in the sense of the sacrament being literally his body and the Church combining to be one, as in the marriage which itself is stated that two become one flesh.

    I don’t attempt to clarify what I’m saying above because its so overwhelming I don’t feel I understand it. Its far deeper and powerful than I ever imagined. Orthodoxy really ties so much together in a way that makes it self evident that its the true expression of the Faith. As a protestant it never all resolved so fully and completely at all.

    I hope I make sense since I’m not sure I make sense even to myself. Its amazing to attempt to comprehend.

  7. fatherstephen Says:

    luciasclay,

    It makes sense, indeed. What I think, from my experience, is that suddenly, everything you read is Scripture is there fulfilled before your eyes. Passages now take on a meaning they never had before. We see a fullness that is lacking everywhere else. Glory to God!

  8. William Says:

    “What I think, from my experience, is that suddenly, everything you read is Scripture is there fulfilled before your eyes.”

    Yes, this is really how it was for me, and still is.

  9. C L Says:

    When I was still in college, and still very much a protestant, I picked up a book at the Urbana Missions conference. It was written by a pauline scholar. The emphasis on the book was debunking the idea that the major thread that ran theough all of Paul’s letters was not “Salvation through faith” but rather”being in Christ”. It was truly a transformational book for my multplicitous theological views ( I was baptized RC, removed to go to a “full gospel church”(charismatic) and spent most of college under the influence of Reformational teachings). In a lot of ways it was my first step on my long journey toward Orthodoxy.
    I love the first couple chapters of Ephesians, it is all about being in CHrist.
    In CHrist, CHristopher

  10. fatherstephen Says:

    My favorites, too.

  11. Eric John (PNW) Says:

    Dear Fr. Stephen:

    Father Bless!

    Your comment:

    Christ is thus not a reference point apart from us but a dwelling place (which has no limit). To be in Christ is to be in Him Who is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. Thus to be in Christ is, to some extent, to exist beyond space and time. The meaning and reference for our life is not to be in this world, but in the world to come. Thus our inheritance is not a name derived from history, nor even an ethnicity derived from genetics, but something which is laid up for us in the Kingdom, in Christ.

    “If any man is in Christ, there is a new Creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). Thus whatever we are in Christ, we are not what we were, but increasingly what we shall be.

    makes me think of words attributed to Elder Paisios that “Where ever Christ is, there is paradise,” which could itself have been an exegesis of 2 Cor 5:17.

    May you and yours have a blessed Nativity Feast!

  12. tallandrew Says:

    Thanks for this Father Stephen! Bishop NT (Tom) Wright has written some good stuff on ‘in Christ’ (anglican bishop of Durham, UK – see his book The Climax of the Covenant). In addition to your take on ;in Christ’ above, he asserts that part of being in Christ is being in the community in which Christ is present, that is the people of God in the church. It is in and by Christ that they are a member of this community.

    So identity ‘in Christ’ is not only an individual’s relationship with God through Christ, but with all others within the people of God.

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