"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ" (Ephesians 1:3). Ask the average Christian what it means to be saved and you'll likely get some variation of ask Jesus into your heart or receive Jesus into your life. As acceptable as these descriptions of salvation have become in modern Christian circles they are actually foreign to Scripture. The writers of the New Testament had little if anything to say about asking Jesus into your heart or receiving Him into your life.
There is one phrase, however, some variation of which appears approximately 135 times in the New Testament (some theologians suggest it appears upwards to 200 times) and that is in Christ. Other variations of this phrase include, In Him, in the Beloved, and in the heavenly places. To give a better idea of how often this phrase is used, consider the fact that in Christ appears approximately 93 times in the New Testament, 46 times in the book of Ephesians alone. In Him appears approximately 41 times while in the Beloved appears one time. The writings of the Apostle Paul are rich in using some variation of in Christ.
The New Testament writers teach us that as believers, we are in Christ. Whenever we think about salvation and what it means to be saved we often think in terms of something we did--"I asked Jesus to come into my heart," or "I received Jesus into my life." To be saved, however, means to be in Christ. It means that God has placed me into Christ. This understanding expresses the spiritual union with Jesus we enjoy as a result of our salvation. It means we are united with Christ and that this union identifies us with Christ. This understanding is one reason I prefer the first-century descriptive term Christian over the modern phrase Christ follower. But we'll save that discussion for another time.
What does it mean to be in Christ? Beginning in Paul's letter to the Ephesians we discover our union with Christ began in eternity past with the Father's plan. Since God's plan to save us began before He brought the universe into existence, it speaks to the fact our being in Christ is not an afterthought nor is it God moving from Plan A to Plan B. Our salvation by grace through faith has been God's Plan A all along! God the Father has "blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ" (Eph. 1:3). In fact, "He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world" (Eph. 1:4), going so far as to have "predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself" (Eph. 1:5). All of this, He says, is "to the praise of the glory of His grace" (Eph. 1:6). Our union with Christ, therefore, began in eternity past with God's past election.
Past election, however, is incomplete without present redemption. To be in Christ means we have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus. Paul writes, "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace" (Eph. 1:7). In fact, the Bible teaches one of the many meanings of being in Christ is that we have died with Him (Gal. 2:20) and we have been raised with Him (Eph. 2:5-6). To be in Christ, therefore, means my present identity is one of being just that--in Christ. When God the Father looks at us He no longer sees a dirty, filthy, wicked, and unholy sinner. He sees the holiness and righteousness of Christ because my sins have been transferred onto Christ (at the Cross) and Christ's righteousness has been transferred to me. All of this, according to the Apostle Paul, is "to the praise of His glory" (Eph. 1:12).
Both past election and present redemption guarantee a third reality for those who are in Christ. God's Word promises for us a future inheritance. "In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation--having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God's own possession" (Eph. 1:13-14). The Holy Spirit--God's Spirit--comes to indwell and seal all those who are in Christ. According to pastor and theologian John MacArthur, this seal signifies security, authenticity, ownership, and authority. The Holy Spirit is given as a pledge of the believer's future inheritance in glory. In Christ, "we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will" (Eph. 1:11). Our inheritance, then, is both a present and future reality--right now but not yet. This is amazing to think about. Whatever Christ is heir of we are, too. Why? Because we are in Christ. And just like the Father's choice in past election and the Son's work in present redemption, our future inheritance, guaranteed by the indwelling Holy Spirit is, "to the praise of His glory" (Eph. 1:14). The ultimate purpose for our having been saved and placed in Christ is the glory of God. If that is God's ultimate purpose then perhaps that ought to be my ultimate purpose, too--to live and die in such a way so as to bring glory to God.
When it comes to these matters theologians have debated for centuries how all these things work out in the Christian life. Some have emphasized God's sovereign election while others have emphasized our personal responsibility. Regardless of where one might land on these matters we must understand that salvation is, in a sense, a mystery. We don't fully understand how God's sovereign election and a person's responsibility to believe meet. But this much we do know--God has provided for our salvation through the finished work of redemption. All of this was accomplished in Christ. Our responsibility is to hear and believe the gospel. When that happens, we are saved and "sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise" (Eph. 1:13). Have you believed the gospel--the good news that Jesus lived the perfect life you could never live and died for your sins and rose from the dead three days later? If you have not, why not take a few moments right now to place your faith and trust in Christ and His finished work of redemption. The moment you believe, God will place you in Christ--a union that will last for all eternity!
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