Every time the Apostle Paul's letter to the Ephesians, I am struck by how frequently Paul uses the phrase, “in him.”
He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him… (1:4)
In him we have redemption through his blood… (1:7)
He set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth… (1:10)
In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will… (1:11)
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, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory… (1:13) For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace… (2:15)
In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (2:22)
We have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him... (3:12)
You have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self… (4:21-22)
In addition to these verses, Paul uses the phrase, “in Christ,” twenty-five times in his letters. Theologian Louis Berkhof calls this relationship an “intimate, vital, and spiritual union between Christ and His people, in virtue of which He is the source of their life and strength, of their blessedness and salvation.” This means that we enjoy the benefits of everything Jesus accomplished. We own his perfect record through faith in him alone. We possess his strength in place of our weakness. His victory over sin and death is our victory over sin and death. His reward is ours also. Even now, as Christ sits at the right hand of God the Father, we too are seated with him and we rule with him in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:20-21). There are so many practical ways in which this realty transforms our lives. Let me share just three of these with you: First, if we are in fact united to Christ through faith and have all of the benefits of our union with him credited to us, then we have a new identity. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). This has to change how we understand ourselves. No longer are we defined by our upbringings, our education, our skills and abilities, our appearance, our resources, our power, our relationships, or anything else. All of that pales in comparison to the unshakable truth that we are in Christ, adopted as his children, with all of the benefits which accompany that reality.
Second, the most genuine way to live in light of this relationship is to pursue Christ-likeness. Since Jesus lived in perfect obedience to his Father, the best way for us to live consistently with our new identity is to pursue holiness as well. Contrary to popular belief, being “authentic” does not mean doing whatever “makes us happy.” It means that you and I seek to think, speak, and live in ways that reflect the holiness of Christ Jesus himself, trusting that when God gets the glory, we get the joy. Third, we must realize that the power to live this way comes not from mustering up a solid dose of self-discipline, but from looking to the One who has saved us into himself. It is no longer we who live, “but Christ who lives in us” (Galatians 2:20). Instead of relying on your own power, look to the One who dwells in you through the Holy Spirit and who works in you to “will and to work according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12-13). All of this “in him” language means that God is personal. He is with us and for us. Our relationship with him is just that; a relationship. It’s dynamic and intimate. So when you’re going through seasons of pleasure, prosperity, fruitfulness, and confidence, or periods of temptation, emptiness, doubt, and fear we can rest confidently in the fact that our hope is in the One who has drawn us to himself, through love and grace, and promises to be with us, and in us, to the very end of the age.