Christians today live in a time of great light. The Holy Ghost has revealed to us the powerful meaning of Jesus' work on the cross, and the incredible blessings this means for our lives.
Yet there was a time when Christ's wonderful work was obscured from the world. That period was known as the Dark Ages - simply because the meaning of the cross was veiled from the eyes of humanity.
Most sermons during that time focused on God's wrath and on damnation. The popes and priests preached a gospel of works - and the people performed a variety of acts to try to find peace with God. They traveled for miles to shrines, knelt in worship before stone icons, repeated long prayers, fondled prayer beads. Yet all these things only increased their bondage and brought deeper darkness to their souls.
People then knew nothing of the benefits and blessings available through Christ's victory at Calvary. Yet even today, with all the teaching available on the subject, the majority of Christians still do not understand many important aspects of Christ's work for us. I would like to talk about one of those aspects in this message - and that is, what it means to be "in Christ."
As a shepherd of the Lord's flock, I occasionally preach on the subjects of hell, damnation and God's wrath. But more and more I have become convinced the only way I can lead God's people to victorious living is to preach the blessings and benefits of "being in Christ."
The fact is, being in Christ is the only foundation upon which true holiness and righteousness can be built. Without this foundation, we'll rely on our flesh to try to produce a form of holiness in ourselves. But true holiness is obtained only through knowing the riches of God in Christ Jesus:
"For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world" (Titus 2:11-12). Only God's grace can teach us the kind of theology that leads to holiness. And no works can ever produce that!
Only as we understand the blessings that are ours by being in Christ will we stand on a firm foundation: "To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27).
Yet, do you know what it means to be "in Christ"? I've heard many Christians speak of it - but I believe very few comprehend it!
I Pray the Holy Spirit Will Open
Our Eyes to Discover in God's
Word the Incredible Benefits
Of "Being in Christ Jesus"!
God spoke to Isaiah about a certain servant who delights his heart: "Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth" (Isaiah 42:1). Who is this one whom God sustains and upholds, guarding his every step? Who is his chosen, his elect - the one in whom he so delights?
We find the answer in Matthew's gospel: "And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God, descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: and lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:16-17).
The Hebrew word for "I am well pleased" here is "delight." God was saying, in other words, "My soul delights in my son, Jesus Christ!"
Throughout the Old Testament, untold numbers of sheep and cattle were offered to the Lord as sacrifices. Rivers of animals' blood flowed for centuries. Yet the Bible says none of these sacrifices brought the Lord any pleasure: "For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.... In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure" (Hebrews 10:4,6).
Yet in the very next verse we read these wonderful words from Jesus: "Then said I, Lo, I come...to do thy will, O God" (verse 7). Christ came to earth to do what no animal sacrifice could do!
"Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me" (verse 5). God had prepared a physical body for Jesus here on earth - a body that would provide the final, perfect sacrifice.
In short, God abased himself for our sake. Encasing himself in a human womb, he took on our nature. And he gave up the riches of heaven to become poor for us - giving his life to ransom us!
From the Foundation of the World,
God Had Only One Plan to Reconcile
Fallen, Sinful Humankind and Bring
Us Back Into His Good Graces.
God's plan for saving humankind was simple. He said, "I'm going to send forth my own son as a deliverer. And after he has died, risen and stands before me in glory, I will recognize only him!" You see, Jesus is of the very Spirit and essence of God - and only he could ever stand before the holy father. God would never accept any works by human flesh, no matter how good they might appear. He would recognize only Christ - the servant who perfectly pleased and delighted him!
So the Lord said, "My son will be the one and only sacrificial lamb. And he will gather up in himself all who have been severed from me. He will reconcile man to me by his own blood!" "For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God..." (1 Peter 3:18).
Now, when Jesus said, "...a body hast thou prepared me" (Hebrews 10:5), he meant not only a human body, but a spiritual body as well. And this body consists of all who believe in him:
"The God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory...hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all" (Ephesians 1:17,22-23).
"There is one body..." (4:4). All who are "in Christ" by faith are born into this spiritual body. Indeed, the moment we give our hearts fully to Jesus, repenting of our sin and trusting in him, we are engrafted, adopted, infused into his body: "We are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones" (5:30).
Yes, there is a physical man in heaven: Jesus, the son, is seated at the right hand of the father. But he is not seen physically in this world. The fact is, we - the members of Christ's body on earth - are the only Jesus this world will ever see!
Yet the church is not a single denomination or any organized structure. It is not merely a collection of believers gathered around a doctrine or a code of ethics. Rather, the church referred to in scripture is a body of born-again believers who acknowledge Jesus as the firstborn of a new humanity:
"This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church" (5:32). "The husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body" (5:23). "He is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence" (Colossians 1:18). All who are in Christ's body submit to his headship. And they know God accepts no one except those who are "in Christ"!
In Micah 6, a Backslidden,
Perplexed Israel Asked, "How
Can We Stand Before A Holy God?"
"Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?" (Micah 6:6-7).
The Israelites in this passage were asking a good question: "How can any human approach a holy God? How can we ever please him and be accepted by him? What kind of sacrifice does he want from us - our blood, our bodies, our children?"
God's answer appears throughout the scriptures: "I do not want your sacrifices - your good works, your promises, your moral deeds. None of these fleshly things is acceptable in my sight. Nothing can please or delight me, except my son - and all who are gathered in him!"
Right now, I want you to try to think of the most moral, upright person you know. Even he or she is not accepted in God's presence, outside of Christ. And all of that person's good works, kind nature and generosity are filthy rags in God's sight!
So, how are we accepted by God? Paul writes, "...he hath made us accepted in the beloved" (Ephesians 1:6). We're accepted only as we are "in the beloved" - that is, in Christ, a part of his body. Our good works come as a result of being in him!
"That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; *even in him*" (1:10, emphasis mine). "Through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father" (2:18). We don't have any access to God - other than by being in Christ!
If you've given your heart fully to Jesus, you've probably voiced the same questions Israel asked: "Oh, God, how can I please you? How can I ever stand before you with all my failures and faults? How can I be accepted by you, beloved to you, a delight to you?
"I've striven, made promises, tried my best. But every time I think I'm making progress, I take two steps back. Should I read more of the Bible? Should I spend more time in prayer? Should I do more witnessing? Lord, what do you want from me?"
God answers us as he did Israel: "I don't want any of your sacrifices or good works. I recognize only the work of my son, who delights and pleases me!
"Yet, I have selected you as my own son's beloved bride. I chose you from before the foundation of the world to be wed to him. I wooed you, convicted you - and through my Spirit I brought you into him. So, I ask you - how can I not love and delight in my son's bride - the bride of my own choosing? I cannot hate my own flesh!"
Jesus prayed to the father: "All mine are thine, and thine are mine; I am glorified in them" (John 17:10). "...the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them" (verse 26).
Jesus makes it very clear: When we are one with him, we enjoy the very same love of the father he enjoys. God delights in us as much as he does in his own son! He says, "I love all who are in my son - for all who are his are mine!"
The Bible also tells us God is our father, just as he is Christ's father. Jesus testified: "...I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God" (20:17).
So, how hard are you striving to please God? Do you go through seasons in which you feel you're delighting him? And do you have other, "low" seasons when you feel you're displeasing him?
Beloved, you have to put facts ahead of your feelings! And the fact is, God's pleasure in you has nothing to do with your strivings, intensity, good intentions or actions. No - it all has to do with your faith!
I believe God wants us to have what I call a "focused faith." This is a faith that says, "All your faith my be focused on this one principle - that if you wish to stand holy before God, you must come to him 'in Christ'!"
The writer of Hebrews warns against having "...an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God" (Hebrews 3:12). This is an issue of faith! When we move away from the foundational doctrine of being accepted by God being in Christ, we depart from the Lord. And we turn back to the law, the flesh and spiritual bondage!
"We which have believed do enter into rest...for he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his" (4:3,10). Scripture makes it clear: The evidence of faith is rest!
The only way to bring your striving, sweating, troubled soul into peace is to convince yourself, "I am in Christ - and in him, I am accepted by God and pleasing to him. He delights in me, regardless of whether I'm up or down. No matter how I feel, I know my position in Christ - that I'm seated with him in heavenly places!"
If Being "in Christ" Provides Such
Incredible Blessings, How Can We
Know We're Truly "in Christ"?
There are many evidences of being "in Christ." But I want to give you three clear evidences from scripture that prove whether you are in Christ:
(Please note - these evidences are contingent upon your first repenting of sin, forsaking all wickedness, trusting in Christ for eternal salvation, and allowing him to translate you out of darkness and into his kingdom of light.)
1. You are in Christ if you are continually in the process of being renewed. Those who are "in Christ" do not rest on a one-time conversion experience. Rather, they constantly cry out to be changed and renewed by the Holy Spirit. Their daily prayer is, "Lord, take out of me everything that's unlike you. Purge me, and remake me in the image of your son!"
"Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17). "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour" (Titus 3:5-6).
"Regeneration" here means "making anew," or "reviving and producing something new." Paul is saying, "The Holy Ghost is at work in you - giving you a makeover!"
You see, Christ has the Holy Ghost without measure. And because we are part of his body, his Spirit flows down to each of us, every joint and member. So, as we are in Christ, we are being nourished by his Spirit - made over into the image of Jesus himself!
2. You are in Christ if you govern your life by the scriptures. Do you revere and fear God's word? Do you go daily to the mirror of scripture to be changed by it?
"Whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him" (1 John 2:5). The Bible makes it clear: We know we're in Christ if we love and obey his word. And this is also how God's love is perfected in us!
Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: "...Pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you" (2 Thessalonians 3:1). The phrase "free course" means "meeting no opposition in you." Paul was saying, "As you read or hear the word, honor it and make it the rule of your life. Let it govern you!"
Christians often quote this verse: "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32). But this promise hinges on the preceding verse: "...If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed" (verse 31).
The phrase "if you continue in my word" means "if you live in and keep my commandments." In other words: "As you are in me, I will reveal my truth to you. But I won't reveal it to you, if you don't intend to live by it. You'll know the truth only after you've committed to obey it!"
3. You are in Christ if your faith is mixed with charity. Scripture says if you do not have charity, or unconditional love, you cannot be in Christ:
"Though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing" (1 Corinthians 13:2). "Nothing" in Greek here means, "I am nothing now - nor will I ever be anything." In other words: "Without unconditional love for all, I'm a nobody - and I'll always be a nobody!"
You can be a gifted preacher or a powerful evangelist...you can heal others by your faith...you can move mountains by speaking a single word...you can teach God's word with power and anointing...but if you don't have love for others, you're nothing!
"...If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his spirit" (1 John 4:12-13).
Paul Lists a Number of the
"Fruits of Charity" - But I Want
to Focus on Just One of Them.
If you possess this fruit, then you have the clearest evidence that Christ resides in you. It's simply this: "Charity...is not easily provoked..." (1 Corinthians 13:4-5).
The Greek word for "provoked" is "paraxuno." It comes from a root word meaning "acid" and "quick or sudden." yet it also has an additional root meaning of "one close by." Put together, these meanings become very significant: To be provoked is to fly off the handle with acid remarks, to have a temper tantrum - and to aim it all at someone who's close to you!
In short, the Bible is saying, "If you're in Christ, loving unconditionally, you will no longer be easily provoked. And your greatest tests will come from those closest to you - your spouse, your children, your friends!"
I ask you: Do you have a short fuse? How easily does your temper flare? If you are in Christ, a voice will rise up in you when you're angry, crying out, "Lord, help me! Holy Spirit, calm me down!"
Just a few days before I wrote this message, I had to practice what I'm preaching. My wife, Gwen, said something to me that unwittingly pushed a button inside me. She didn't mean it as a putdown - but I took it that way, and it set me off. I quickly got hot under the collar - and suddenly, out of my mouth spewed a stream of acid remarks - heated, angry words, each one a putdown.
Gwen tried to apologize (for something she hadn't even done) - but I turned my back on her and went to my study. I sat for an hour in the dark, complaining to the Lord: "God, she hit me where I'm sensitive - and it hurt. I had to respond!"
Yet as I tried to pray, the heavens were as brass. The next morning, as I took out my Bible to begin my daily study, the pages fell open to First Corinthians. And my eyes fell on this verse: "Charity...is not easily provoked..." (same verse).
Suddenly, I was looking into the mirror of God's word - and I saw the face of a preacher who was easily provoked! My heart was smitten, and I cried out, "Oh, Lord, that's me. God, forgive me!"
Immediately I called out to Gwen, to come into my office. When she entered, somewhat bewildered, I could only point to the passage and say, "Honey, read this. It describes me, doesn't it? I'm too easily provoked. Gwen, please forgive me!"
Beloved, I know I'm in Christ - because, first, I want to be changed, renewed, formed into Christ's image by the Holy Spirit. And second, I know I'm in Christ because I tremble at his word. Finally, I know I'm in Christ because I yearn to love unconditionally the person who's closest to me.
Do you have these three evidences in your heart? Do you have a hunger to be renewed by the Holy Spirit - to be changed into the image of Jesus? Is God's word your daily bread, the very substance of your life? And do you have charity, unconditional love, for all people - yet especially for those closest to you?
Dear saint, you may not be perfect. But if you're in Christ, then you're continually dealing with these issues in your life, through the power of the Holy Ghost. And by faith, you can come to the father and be totally accepted, no matter what your struggle - because of Christ in you!
It's time for you to rejoice over your blessed position in Christ. You are the heavenly father's beloved child - his delightful servant, who's forever being changed into his son's image - because Christ is in you!
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