J. A. Trench.
Article 3 of 55 from 'Truth for Believers' Volume 2.
In seeking the light of Scripture as to what the expression, "in Christ," conveys, it is important to bear in mind that the starting-point of Christianity was Christ as man taking a new place on high consequent on the work of redemption having been accomplished. "In Christ" sets forth this place as that of everyone who believes God as to the value of the work on the ground of which Christ has taken His place on high. By that work He has won the title in righteousness to set every believer in His place, in life, righteousness, and perfect acceptance before God. In Christ is found the new character of the Christian's life as possessed in Him. It is life such as it never existed before, in a risen Man, past every question of sin, death, the judgment of God, and the power of Satan. Then again it expresses the righteousness in which the believer stands: "He who knew no sin became sin for us, that we might become God's righteousness in him." (2 Cor. 5:21) Nor is it otherwise with our acceptance; for "to the praise of the glory of his grace he hath made us accepted in the beloved." (Eph. 1:6) And in one all-inclusive statement (Col. 2:9) we are in Him — "complete in him" — who also as the exalted Man on high is above all principality and power. Further, we learn from the Lord, in John 14:20, that it was to be the characteristic portion of the believer, when the Spirit was come, to know that Christ was in the Father, and we in Him, and He in us. But there are two ways in which this new and wonderful position of the Christian is presented to us in the Bible.
First, as we have been looking at it, objectively; that is, as revealed to the opened eye of faith in all the perfection of it in Christ risen and glorified. Then in the ways of God with us in order that we may enter into the position subjectively; that is, so as to be consciously in our own souls in all the blessedness of the position of Christ before God. For the deeply interesting study of these ways of God with us we naturally turn to the epistle to the Romans, where are found the great foundation truths of how God, in grace that reigns through righteousness, can take up a poor sinner into relationships with Himself. Our place in Christ comes first fully into view in Romans 8:1: "There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ." Much had gone before in the epistle to lead up to such a statement — much that is needed for our souls in order to enter into it intelligently. "No condemnation" does not merely express that I am justified, but that being in Christ I am in all the impossibility of condemnation for Him. No wave of judgment could reach Noah shut in by the Lord in the ark. Condemnation must first reach Christ where He is in glory before it can reach those that are in Him. Let us turn back then to try and trace a little what brings the believer into such a position, free to look up upon Christ, and to know that Christ's place is the only measure of ours. The whole of the first part of the epistle has been taken up with our sins, and how God has met our case in relation to them. It is by the double aspect of the work of Christ, as the propitiation through faith in His blood, laying the ground for God to be righteous in justifying any ungodly sinner that believes in Jesus (Rom. 3:25), and as substitute for all who have believed; for "He was delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification." (Rom. 4:25) So that the moment we rest upon God's testimony as to these accomplished facts of the work of Christ, we have peace with God through Him (Rom. 5:1), and receive the Holy Ghost who is the power of our entrance into, and enjoyment of, the whole Christian position. But before it can be ours to enter into and enjoy, there is a deeper question than that of our sins that has to be gone into in the soul with God, namely that of sin. This is taken up from Romans 5:12, and is the subject of Romans 6 - 7. "By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned." Adam only became the head of a race when he had sinned, thus involving his race in his ruin. From him we inherited a corrupt, fallen flesh, incapable of any good; this is the root that produced all the evil of our life. The solemn truth of this our common state has to be brought home to us individually in the ways of God with us, in order that we may know in all its reality deliverance out of that state, just as we had to be convicted of our sins to know pardon and peace. The process is a painful and humbling one, as is opened out to us in Romans 7; but it is needed to break the will of the flesh, as we learn how incorrigible the evil of it, and our utter helplessness against it. Sooner or later, whether before forgiveness is known or after, we have all to go through this experimental learning of what the flesh is in us, in order to enter into our place in Christ, and the liberty that flows from it. The fact of a struggle within proves the existence of a nature we have received from God by new birth. Only thus could it be said of any, "I delight in the law of God after the inward man." This was the beginning of a divine work in our souls. The conviction of sins was the sure mark of it. And when the new-born ones rested on God's testimony as to the finished work of Christ, they were justified from all things, and received the Spirit to dwell within them.
The epistle to the Ephesians brings out the full light of the position in Christ from the standpoint of God's eternal counsels.
But there is another aspect of the place and state we were found in, and of how it has been met, that is needed in order that we may apprehend what it is to be in Christ, according to that wonderful point of view. I refer to our connection with the fallen race of the first man, and the need of transference to that of a wholly new order of man in Christ.
We learned in the epistle to the Romans, not only that our sins had been met by the cross of Christ, but also that the root that produced them, the flesh in us derived from fallen Adam, has been condemned in the death of the Son of God. But the truth goes further still, and in the epistle to the Colossians we are brought to the end of the man to whom alone these principles of the flesh could apply. Thus in all this, while there are points of contact with the truth in Romans, there is an advance upon that epistle, which if it be spiritually discerned, greatly clears the way for what is before us as to the full positive revelation of "in Christ" in Ephesians.
But how are we to approach the wonderful revelation of what was in the heart of God for us from eternity? If the ground is simpler because it is wholly a question of God acting from Himself to make good what He has counselled for His own glory in Christ, it is so much the more beyond all thought in the immensity of the blessing that lies out before us. Worship is the true attitude of the soul as we receive such communications; even as the Apostle seeks relief in it, as it were, in the greatness of the revelation filling his thoughts. (Ver. 3) We have but to take up the place we are given in simple faith, like the once prodigal at the Father's feast, with hearts bowed before the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to bless Him "who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ." Not a blessing withheld, of the richest character, in the highest place, and all made ours in Christ. No wonder the Apostle's heart is full as he proceeds to the inspired communication of the blessings in their order.
And now nothing can be more important for our apprehension of them, than to seek to get hold of the point of view at which they are presented to us. Verse 4, "According as he has chosen us in him before the foundation of the world." Observe that we are carried back before the history of man opened; before even the foundation of the world that God had yet to fit for his habitation, was laid; before time itself began; to learn what the choice of God was in eternity. There is no activity of counsel yet, but simply what He chose, as suited to His own nature. How astonishing to learn by the next words that it was "us, in him" as seen in the perfection of Christ "holy and without blame before him in love." Time is not taken into account. But if it was in Christ God had us thus before Him in eternity, it is when Christ was here that it became manifested what God's choice was. And so it was in Matthew 3:16-17, when the heavens were opened to Him and the Father's voice proclaimed "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased." As we behold Him there, was He not holy, and without blame, and in love, the cherished object of the Father's delight, out before His own gaze? That is what we were chosen in Him to be.
But besides this place in Christ before God, there comes the thought of what relationship would suit the heart of God for those so chosen to be in Him. For it will be observed how in this whole passage it is not that God plans for our blessing merely, but for what would satisfy Himself in the character of the blessing. This only enhances it infinitely. And now we find the counsels of God in activity. "Having predestinated us unto sonship by Jesus Christ to himself." ("Adoption of sons" is really one word, "sonship.") If God had been pleased to put us into the position of angels, how marvellous it would have seemed to us. But that would not meet His thoughts. The elect angels, though they excel in strength and ever do His will, are but ministering spirits (servants, that is), and never could be anything else. But it was the will of God that His house should be filled with the cry of "Abba, Father." Hence sonship was to be our blessed relationship "to himself" — mark, the most precious part of the verse — "according to the good pleasure of his will." This relationship was also manifested in Christ in all the blessedness of Son with the Father, as we have heard the word "This is my beloved Son."
Yet there is more, for which we are in measure prepared, when we hear of something that is to be "to the praise of the glory of his grace" (ver. 6), that is, of the full revelation of His grace.
It is that He "hath taken us into favour [for the word expresses nothing less than this] in the Beloved." The oft-repeated "in Christ" of the epistle is here changed with divine design to bring out that all the favour in which the Beloved Son is in His presence, is our place in it. We are beloved in the Beloved One.
These verses that we have been looking at, set forth how God saw us in Christ in eternity in the counsels of His own love. Nevertheless it is very blessed that it can be brought out that we have redemption also in Him (ver. 7), because it provides the righteous basis for the accomplishment of the counsels. It forms the link between God's counsels and us where we were in our sins, involving the forgiveness of them. Only that now it is not the same revelation of the glory of His grace, as in our acceptance, but we are met by the riches of His grace, in the poverty of our need.
Even now all is not yet told of what was in the purpose of God for us. There was to be an inheritance suited to the dignity of such a calling — "His calling." (Ver. 18) What it is comes out in His making known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure which He hath purposed in Himself; namely, that when the dispensations of time have had their course, He would, as the object of His ways in them, head up all things in heaven and upon earth in Christ. For now we find that in Him we have been made heirs of that whole inheritance of glory, having been predestinated to it "according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will."
What thoughts are these of divine and infinite love, communicated to us that we may enter into them by simple faith. For if verses 4-6 give us His calling, in all that is so infinitely above us, verses 9-11, add our inheritance in all that vast scene of glory that will be below us, all made ours in Christ.
There is but one thing more needed to complete the glorious position of the Christian, as it also gives us the present power of the realisation of it: it is the sealing of the Holy Ghost. (Vers. 13, 14) "In whom also having believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise which is the earnest of our inheritance." Again we can look back to see the manifestation of it with Christ when He was here, and the Spirit of God descended like a dove and abode upon Him. It is only in Him, and according to the salvation He has wrought for us that the moment we believed the glad tidings we received the Holy Ghost, and have thus been sealed for God, while He is the earnest for us of all that is before us in the glory of the inheritance, when redemption will have been put forth in power to it.
May this brief study, however partial and defective, of what is conveyed to us by the expression "in Christ" be used to encourage our hearts to seek to enter into the fulness of the blessing made ours to enjoy by faith, and the power of the Holy Ghost.