In my previous post I compared the believer’s relationship “with” or “in” Christ to symbiosis, but don’t let the word scare you.
The word simply describes the mutual sharing between two distinct organisms. Certainly, we benefit greatly from this relationship “with Christ.” But unlike mistletoe—the parasite that only takes nutrients from its host tree but gives nothing back—our relationship “in Christ” glorifies Him through the fruit of the Spirit.
This unique “in Christ” experience began the moment we truly believed in and received Christ as Savior and Master. The Holy Spirit baptized or fused us into the body of Christ and a new symbiotic-like relationship with Christ began.
How real was this relationship to the apostle Paul? In Galatians 2:20, it’s hard to see where Paul ends and Christ begins! In fact, you can’t. They have become one. “I have been crucified with Christ,” he wrote. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20-21).
When I consider Paul’s claim that for him to live was the same as Christ living in or through him, I am reminded of this excerpt from a song that we sang in our church last Sunday: “For we carry His life in our veins.”* I suspect Paul would raise a hearty “amen” to those words. “carry His life in our veins.” (*Turn Your Eyes, 2019, Sovereign Grace Worship)
I want to explore a few of the spiritual blessings that we experience “in Christ.” And they are many.
In Christ we are “holy and blameless” before God
Paul wrote “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:3,4).
Apart from Christ we remain alienated from the holy God because of our sin. Let’s face it, guilt stains almost everything we do in this life. But because we are “in Christ”—and He in us—the slate has been cleaned and we stand blameless. Satan the accuser may throw the book at us through all our days, but nothing sticks. That’s blameless!
In Christ we have redemption
Scripture says: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us…” (Ephesians 1:7,6).
He paid the debt we could never repay. Our account has been stamped “PAID IN FULL,” and we have been forgiven once for all.
Paul expands these truths in Ephesians 2:4-10):
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
We have been loved unconditionally, granted mercy beyond belief and lavished with grace. God is the great benefactor; we are the beneficiaries.
In Christ, we can experience a productive life
Consider Jesus’ words:
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:1–8).
Another translation says, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you.” The very next sentence emphasizes the essential relationship between a vine and its branches. Unless the branch abides—remains—in the vine, it can’t bear fruit. Neither can we be fruitful through our own independent efforts—no matter how well intentioned. But with the resurrected Christ dwelling in and empowering us, we will be fruitful.
The singular purpose for planting a vineyard is grapes. In the same way, Jesus’ metaphor emphasized that the singular purpose of a true disciple is to bear fruit. People who only mouth the name of Jesus (with no real heart connection) don’t bear fruit that will last. They simply can’t. Authentic disciples bear fruit. In fact, God will prune away anything that saps away our spiritual energy. The more intimately we choose to abide in Jesus, the more beautiful fruit we will see in our lives.
In Christ, we experience productive prayer
“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”
In other words, the relationship flows in both directions. God is glorified, and we enjoy childlike confidence that dares to ask our heavenly Father whatever we desire—because Jesus lives in us. To abide in Christ is to experience fruitful prayer, because this relationship with Jesus enables us to know how to pray.
In Christ, we have a new identity, belong to a new family and are heirs with Him.
“In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:4-6).
Paul stated that if Christ is in us, the Holy Spirit also dwells in us as well, and identifies us as God’s children.
“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:14–17)
Sharing an inheritance with the Creator of everything? How could we begin to wrap our minds around a concept like that? But it is completely true. God says so.
In Christ we receive power to break the bond of sin over our lives
Responding to a rhetorical question about continuing in sin, Paul wrote, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:1–14).
In Christ we will never be condemned to Hell
We need never fear the impending sentence, “I find you guilty.” Why? Because the sentence has already been paid in full. Paul said it this way in Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
In Christ, we have a new mission
Our new mission, the assignment that will last as long as we have breath, is to know Him and serve Him because we love Him. Having been saved by grace, not by our efforts, “…we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
After his dramatic encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus, Paul considered all his previous attempts to please God as rubbish—garbage headed for the landfill—compared to the sheer joy of knowing Christ. Wanting to become more like Christ, Paul pressed on, endured persecution and eventually martyrdom, anticipating “the upward call of God in Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:14). And so we also share his anticipation.
In Christ, we enjoy a new potential
Paul’s goal was to live so that “Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me” (Philippians 1:21).
In Christ, we anticipate a new destination.
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:1–4).
Not just to arrive in heaven, but “to appear “with Christ” who is seated at the right hand of God—the seat of highest honor in the universe. Life doesn’t any better than that!
I have only scratched the surface, of course, of what it means to be “in Christ.” But here is a question that ought to concern us all: How do we do it? How do we abide or remain in Him? What does abiding involve? Jesus made it very clear: “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:10–11).
There, in plain words, is the key to abiding in Christ. OBEDIENCE. To obey Jesus’ commands is to know and to love Him more intimately. To welcome His word into our hearts as Paul wrote in Colossians 3:16.
By grace, through faith, we have been placed into—fused with—Christ. We share this symbiotic-like relationship with Him, but we can’t abide in Christ apart from knowing and submitting to God’s Word.
*All Scripture is from the English Standard Version.