The phrase “in Christ” occurs 165 times in the Pauline Epistles.
But what exactly does it mean to be ‘in Christ’?
In Kent Hughes’ Ephesians commentary on one of the Bible’s most glorious passages (Ephesians 1:3-14), he answers the question. Below I share a collection of quotes that summarize Hughes’ (and Scriptures’) amazing answer.
First, [being “in Christ”] indicates radical transformation.
Paul delineates this in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
Being “in Christ” is nothing less than being made alive. “. . . so also in Christ shall all be made alive,” says Paul (1 Corinthians 15:22; cf. 2:5). This is a total spiritual change. “He becomes the soil in which they grow, the atmosphere which they breathe, the source and goal of their entire existence as men.”“In Christ” far outstrips the term “Christian” in describing Christianity. —Kent Hughes
Being in Christ brings a radical reorientation—a movement from external righteousness to inward righteousness that radicalizes our conduct. As a result, though the world hates, those in Christ forgive; while the world lusts for more, those in Christ are content.
From my perspective, “in Christ” far outstrips the term “Christian” in describing Christianity.
Secondly, being in Christ brings a dynamic unity of cosmic dimensions.
The heart of our unity is that we become members of the Body of Christ. Spiritually there is organic relationship with him. We are “seated . . . in the heavenly places” with him (2:6)— we are there because we are in him. Through this union we also enter into a profound oneness with other believers. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
Thirdly, our being in Christ brings deep satisfaction. The simple fact is, it is not possible to be fulfilled outside of Christ.
The pleasure that the world offers is very much like a Chinese dinner. No matter how good it is, you’ll be hungry again in two hours! It is in Christ, and in Christ only, that lasting fulfillment, deep human satisfaction, is found. “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst’” (John 6:35).
Could there be a more enticing menu—transformation, union, satisfaction? This fare meets every need. How does it come to us? Humanly speaking it comes through believing, as Paul says in verse 13— “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.” Believing in Christ is the path to being in Christ! This worked for me and millions of others, and it will most surely work for all who come to Christ.
Praise God for the transformation, unity, and deep satisfaction that we in Christ enjoy!
If you enjoyed learning about the theological and practical depth of what it means to be ‘in Christ’, I encourage you to study Ephesians, a book that uses the phrase 36 times, and highlight each time it mentions in Christ.
Ephesians will develop what life in Christ means for the individual and the church. You may enjoy Hughes’ easy-to-read devotional commentary like I did or his sermons that led to the book. (My Spanish speaking friends will enjoy Sugel Michelen’s great series on Ephesians.)