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.