Of Him Are You in Christ
I have one more post on Gender Issues, but I wanted to complement and capitalize on Greg Steikes’s excellent post on Colossae by introducing you to someone you may not know, but should.
In 1864 at Oxford University, Thomas Dehaney Bernard delivered a set of lectures that time has proven to be one of the timeless classics of the Bampton Lectures (an Oxford lecture series that continues to this day). In The Progress of Doctrine in the New Testament, Bernard provides a wide-angle view of the providential, organic unfolding of theology through the NT, from Gospels to Acts to Epistles to Apocalypse. Amid a profusion of sophisticated treatments of the theology of the NT, Bernard’s theological overview of the NT is like the warm and fragrant draft from window open on an era when theologians thought more and wrote less. Few modern theological works breathe the rich devotional air that animates Bernard’s keen insights into NT theology.
As Greg’s last column illustrated, Paul’s unique doctrine of our union with Christ is distilled in the single phrase “in Christ.” And Bernard’s two-part lecture on the Epistles contains the single most concise synopsis that I’m aware of in the literature of Pauline studies. Here is a summary extract. Don’t gulp it; sip it. Most of it is Scripture (without the references).
Of him are ye in Christ Jesus (1 Cor 1:30). I take this text, because it appears to me to contain the fundamental idea which underlies the whole range of the Epistles. The fundamental thought in every page is expressed in this text, “Of him are ye in Christ Jesus.”
In Christ Jesus! It is no symbolical form of speech, but the statement of a fact, as real in regard to the spirit as the fact of our being in the world is real in regard to the body.
Believers are in Christ so as to be partakers in all that he does, and has, and is. They died with him, and rose with him, and live with him, and in him are seated in heavenly places. When the eye of God looks on them they are found in Christ, and there is “no condemnation to those that are in Christ,” and they are righteous in his righteousness, and loved with the love which rests on him [because they are accepted in the Beloved], and are sons of God in his sonship, and heirs with him of his inheritance, and are soon to be glorified with him in his glory. And this standing which they have in Christ, and the present and future portion which it secures, are contemplated in eternal counsels, and predestined before the foundation of the world.
It is no flight of mysterious rhetoric, but the brief expression of the settled, habitual, fundamental view of the state of those who are here addressed, “Of him are ye in Christ Jesus.” This idea underlies all that is said, gives the point of view from which every subject is regarded, and supplies the standard of character and the rules of conduct.
The Churches are “in Christ”; the persons are “in Christ.” They are “found in Christ” and “preserved in Christ.” They are “saved” and “sanctified in Christ”; are “rooted, built up,” and “made perfect in Christ.” Their ways are “ways that be in Christ”; their conversation is “a good conversation in Christ”; their faith, hope, love, joy, their whole life is “in Christ.” They think, they speak, they walk “in Christ.” They labor and suffer, they sorrow and rejoice, they conquer and triumph “in theLord.” They receive each other and love each other “in the Lord.”
The fundamental relations and primal duties of life have been drawn within the same circle. “The man is not without the woman, nor the woman without the man in the Lord.” Wives submit themselves to their husbands “in the Lord” and children obey their parents “in the Lord.” The broadest distinctions vanish in the common bond of this all-embracing relation. “As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ; there is neither Greek nor Jew, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; they are all one in Christ Jesus.” The influence of it extends over the whole field of action, and men “do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.” The truth which they hold is “the truth as it is in Jesus”; the will by which they guide themselves is “the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning them.” Those who have entered into this existence depart, but they “die in the Lord,” they “sleep in Jesus,” they are “the dead inChrist”; and “when he shall appear,” they will appear with him; and when he comes, “God shall bring them with him,” and they shall “reign in life by one — Jesus Christ.”
“Of him are ye in Christ Jesus.” That is not the statement of a doctrine, but the summary of a life. Men bid me live in duty and truth, in purity and love. They do well. But the Gospel does better, calling me to live in Christ, and to find in him the enjoyment of all that I would possess and the realization of all that I would become.
My pastor once wrote that the expression in Christ “is not a superfluous prepositional phrase that could just as easily have been omitted from the text without loss; it is the biggest, most all-encompassing truth in the text—the truth without which the text itself is superfluous!” (Mark Minnick, “First Partakers,” Frontline, January/February 1998).
That’s not dramatic overstatement. Christianity without union with Christ is nothing but lifeless moralism.
Photo: Sea of Galilee, looking west to east from Tiberius