If you are like me you are apt to drive through familiar areas without paying careful attention. This happened recently as I was driving my daughters and did not see a speed-bump. As you might imagine we all got quite a surprise and were quickly paying attention!
We can do the same thing when driving through familiar areas in our Bibles. We can become so familiar with words and phrases and books and verses that we miss their freshness and profundity. God puts theological speed-bumps in the Scriptures that we might slow down and consider them.
One such theological speed-bump is found in Ephesians 1. When you read In the first 14 verses the name “Christ” appears 15 times. The phrase “in Christ” or “in him” occurs 11 times. The temptation is to be lulled to sleep with the repition. But the treasure is in being awakened by the treasure! We must understand what the Bible means by saying “in Christ”.
The phrase “in Christ”refers to the believer’s union with Christ.
Let me tell you first, what it doesn’t mean*.
- This is not referring to a union of essence like we have between the Father, Son and Spirit. When a believer is united to Christ he does not become a god.
- This is not referring to a political union, like that which exists between a king and his subjects. The union of the believer to Jesus is far greater than a political conquest.
- This is not referring to a moral union like that which exists between friends. As close as David and Jonathan were, the believer and Jesus are even closer as they are united.
What then do we mean by union to Christ?
Simply put, the believer’s union to Christ is referring to a legal and a spiritual union.
- The legal union refers to the fact that God has appointed Christ to be the believer’s representative. Therefore, Christ acts on our behalf, in our place in every way. We would all appreciate this when thinking in legal terms; if we needed one to represent us before the court we would want the best litigator to plead our case. However, in the case of Jesus he does not plead our case on our behalf as our advocate. No it’s much better. Jesus Christ the Righteous, pleads his case on our behalf. He pleads his record on our behalf before God! He stands as our representative.
- The spiritual union refers to us being joined to Christ by faith through the Holy Spirit. As one historic confession says, “In all unions there is something that binds together the things or persons united…Christ apprehends them by his Spirit and they receive him by (faith)….the crowning excellence of this union is that it can never be dissolved.”
What does this translate into? In short: believers share in all of the benefits that Jesus has purchased (Eph. 1).
- we share in the fellowship of his suffering and death (Rom. 6.6,8)
- we share in the fellowship of his resurrection (Gal. 2.20)
- we share in the fellowship of his victory over our enemies (Col. 2.10)
- we partake of his righteousness (Rom. 5.1)
- we are joint heirs sharing in his inheritance (Eph. 1, Rom. 8)
- we are sanctified fully into the image of Christ (1 Thes 5.23; Jud 24)
All of these “in Christ” statements here in Ephesians 1 remind us that Jesus is the mediator of all divine blessings; apart from Jesus there is nothing but curse. In Jesus there is nothing but blessing.
Don’t drive fast over these theological speed-bumps. Slow down and linger long over the words and the truths contained therein.
*many of these categories are formed from the Westminster Confession of Faith