"There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. . . ." Romans 8:1-9.
"For in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in Him, which is the Head of all principality and power." Colossians 2:9, 10.
By a Christian I mean a person who is "in Christ;" not a mere nominal professor of Christianity as contrasted with a Mohammedan, an idolater, or a Jew; but a sinner who has received the Lord Jesus Christ, whom God sent, as his Saviour. By being "in Christ" I do not refer to God's eternal purpose, but to the blessed reality of being regarded by God as now standing before Him in all the acceptability of His beloved Son. God's purpose before the world was, that all the saints of this present time should be "in Christ;" but, as Paul says, "we were in the flesh," "we were all by nature children of wrath even as others;" and in the last of Romans he speaks of some being in Christ before him.
However men may classify the human family, Scripture now speaks of only two classes — those who are "in Christ," and those who are "in the flesh." All are naturally in the flesh. They may be moral, virtuous, amiable, kind or the reverse, educated or uneducated, religious in their way or irreligious; but being only in their natural state, they are far from God. "To be carnally minded is death." In Rom. 8:7 we are told that "the carnal mind" — that is, the mind of man in his natural state — "is enmity against God;" quite contrary to and opposed to God. But, worse than this, it is lawless, and refuses to obey God — "is not subject to the law of God." But worst of all, God says it is so bad that it cannot be subject — "neither indeed can be." Thus the divine verdict as to the condition of every child of Adam is hopelessly bad. Hence God Himself does not propose to mend or improve man in the flesh, for He says it cannot be subject to Him; but He gives him life. Christ says, "I am come that they might have life." God creates us in Christ Jesus. "If any man be in Christ — a new creation." He gives us also the Holy Ghost to link us with Christ in the heavenlies. It is not true that God gives people His Spirit to help them in the flesh, or to improve the flesh; but having given those who believe in the Lord Jesus life, eternal life, and made them sons, He sends forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. It is a point of the highest importance in the present day, when man is so exalted, to see that God pronounces man in the flesh to be hopelessly and irremediably bad. It is God's verdict of the natural standing, which belongs to us all as "in Adam." The whole nature is foul, utterly unclean, and incapable of being made fit for God's presence. The whole history of man from the fall shows that nothing can be worse. Judgments, commandments, ordinances, even the personal ministry of Christ Himself, failed to improve man in the flesh, and only brought out the evil of the heart. As to law, it is positively stated that "as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse." There was, therefore, but one way in which God could deal with man in the flesh; namely, judgment unto death. This God has done in a Substitute, His only-begotten, well-beloved Son, for all who believe in His name. Jesus, who knew no sin, was made sin for us. We are also told in Rom. 8:3 — "What the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh." Thus we see that "sin in the flesh" has been condemned by God Himself in Christ crucified. It is also most blessedly true that Christ bare our sins, suffered for our actual transgressions, in His own body on the tree; but here it is rather the bad nature, what we were in the flesh. And, after all, this is the greatest plague of every true Christian. Many who have enjoyed the blessed reality of forgiveness of sins are so troubled because of lusts, pride, inward feelings, and selfishness within, that the question with them often is, "Am I a Christian?" It is most blessed, therefore, to see that God has dealt with this judicially for us in the death of Jesus. Hence we read in Romans 6: "Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him." This is what God has done. It is an accomplished fact, whether we believe it or not, that God has judicially set aside our old man in the death of Jesus. So that, when contemplating Jesus in death upon the tree, we see how that God has not only dealt with Christ in judgment there for the transgressions we have committed against Him, but also that our old evil nature, our old man, is crucified with Him. Happy those who simply believe what God says about it. Paul did. It was, therefore, to him a blessed reality. He could say, "I am crucified with Christ;" and he could assert it also as a divine fact, that "they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts." (Gal. 2:20, and Gal. 5:24.)
It is quite true that God's children feel, and deeply feel, this evil nature; in fact, only those who are taught of God do; but accepting by faith the full value of what God has done for them in the death of His Son, they hearken to the divine injunction so to reckon (Rom. 6:11): "Reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Is this the way, beloved friends, that we reckon? The truth is most important both for peace and walk. How could we who feel the evil workings within be at rest before God, unless we saw that He had dealt with it, and judicially set it aside in the death of Christ? When we have been sometimes ready to cry out, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me (not who shall forgive my sins, but deliver me) from the body of this death?" we can surely then look up to God and say, "Thou hast delivered me from this old man by the death of Christ;" "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord." The believer is delivered from it by being dead to sin in Jesus his Substitute. Quite true that he still feels it; but he knows it to be a judged and condemned foe. He is therefore content to go on with these two natures, saying, "So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin." (Rom. 7:24, 25.) And he knows too something of the meaning of our Lord's words, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit."
As to power in walk and conflict, he cannot now trust self, cannot look there for resources; for he knows that in him — that is, in the flesh — dwells no good thing; he knows that he has died to sin; he therefore looks only to Christ risen and ascended for everything, and this is the great secret of spiritual power.
It is, then, most blessed to see how graciously God has delivered us, in righteousness, from "our old man," by the death of Christ, and given us life in Him risen; thus are we freed from the standing in sin and death which we had when "we were in the flesh."
The way being now cleared, let us look a little more particularly at what Scripture teaches as to our position and hope.
In Romans 8:9 God says, "Ye are not in the flesh," and the first verse speaks of us as "in Christ Jesus," and the second verse of "life in Christ Jesus making us free from the law of sin and death." What a wonderful thing it is to be "free from sin" — "free from the law of sin and death;" but how can it be otherwise if God regards us now as not in the flesh, but in Christ, who is at His own right hand? What an exalted position! Christ our life, our peace, our righteousness, yea, blessed with "all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ." Can anything be plainer? We see by the death of Christ that our fleshly standing is gone, that before God we are not in the flesh, but that we have another life and standing "in Christ." Well, then, might the apostle say, "The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me."
What a position the grace of God has brought us into! Could we be higher than in Christ risen and ascended? as the apostle expresses it in Ephesians, quickened together, raised up together, and made to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. All of God's rich and abundant mercy, the fruit of His own creative power: "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works." All of grace and to the praise of His glory. We do not hope to be a new creation; for it is a present reality — "If any man be in Christ, a new creation." A Christian, then, is not a man mended up in the flesh, but a person who has a new nature, has life in a risen Christ, is a new creation. He does not wait to die in order to have this; for he is now in Christ, created in Christ Jesus. It is quite true that He will not have the redemption of the body till Christ comes; but Scripture speaks of us now as "in Christ," that Christ who is in the heavenlies is our life, that we are a new creation, filled to the full in Christ, fully blessed in Him — "Ye are complete in Him." What depths of divine grace, what everlasting consolation, what a source of joy and gladness, God thus sets before us!
Observe that in Colossians 2:9 the person of Christ is most blessedly set before us. The man Christ Jesus is in heaven. The Nazarene is glorified — "crowned with glory and honour." The man is there who once trod Jerusalem's streets, sat on Sychar's well, and wept tears of deepest sympathy with sorrowing ones at Bethany. But now He is in glory. When here He was God manifested in the flesh, and there He is no less God; for "in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily." And all this divine glory, shining brightly in the risen and ascended man, is brought to bear on the subject we are considering; for the next words are, "And ye are complete in Him." Where am I then? What is my position now before God? I am told it is "in Christ," "complete in Him," "in whom dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily," who is "the Head of all principality and power."
Can anything, I ask, exceed the dignity, the holy and exalted character, of the position God has given us in Christ? Could anything be added to warrant the heart's fullest confidence? Could we have more perfect security? or could anything else be wished to constrain us to devotedness of heart and life to Him who has so loved us? It is not future blessings we are now contemplating, but present possessions. Have we entered upon them? and are we living upon them as present realities? Some Christians seem like men who have been saved from drowning by a life-boat, and are fearing as to whether they will ever reach the land. They do not see their present standing in Christ. It is true that we are not yet bodily in heavenly places; but it is true that Christ is there and that we are in Him. "Ye are (not shall be, but are) complete in Him, which is the Head of all principality and power." All that we need for happy and solid enjoyment of these wondrous truths is to credit what God has said. It is a work worthy of God, which He has accomplished for us in Christ Jesus, and by His precious blood; and to Him be all the glory. "This is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son hath not life." (1 John 5:11, 12.) But more than this; we are united to Christ risen and ascended by the Holy Ghost: "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body." (1 Cor. 12:13.)
A few words as to the Christian's hope. We must not confound our hope with the Jewish hope. The Jews are taught to look for the Messiah to come to the earth and set up the glories of the kingdom. We look for Christ to come into the air and catch us up to meet Him. The Jews wait for the day of the Lord, and their scriptures abound with instruction concerning it. We wait for the morning-star which comes before the day. The coming of Christ to meet us in the air is not found in the Old Testament Scriptures; but was a revelation made to Paul to communicate to the church, as we find in 1 Thess. 4:15. Israel's glory will be ushered in with judgment; the Christian's glory will be ushered in with a shout.
What can the Christian hope for but Christ's coming? He does not hope to be a child of God; he is one. He does not hope to be in Christ; he is in Christ. What can his hope be, then, but the coming of the Lord Himself to take him to glory? Surely it is a blessed hope, a comforting hope, and a soul-purifying hope. Well might the Thessalonian believers turn from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven; and well might the apostle Paul say, "Our citizenship is in heaven, from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ."