The Dilemma of the "In-Christ" Motif
By Colin Standish
FOR many evangelical and reform Christians, the "in Christ" motif is the central theme of the apostle Paul's theology. Now Seventh-day Adventists are infusing the errors of Evangelical Protestantism into the everlasting gospel that God has entrusted to this church. In much the same way as the early Christian church imbibed step by step the errors of paganism, so efforts are being made to build a neo-Adventism containing some of the evangelical errors.
One example of this is the following: "The central theme of the apostle Paul's theology regarding the gospel is the 'in Christ' motif or idea. It is based on the biblical teaching of solidarity or corporate oneness, a concept that is largely foreign to the Western mind although still common in many parts of the world today." Beyond Belief, 33.
It is true that on a significant number of occasions Paul uses the term "in Christ." Here are some of them:
"And was unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea which were in Christ." Galatians 1:22.
"For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." 1 Corinthians 15:22.
"Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." Romans 3:24.
"So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another." Romans 12:5.
The issue of the "in Christ" motif revolves around the belief that Adam's sin brought guilt to all men, and Jesus is responsible for the salvation of all men. Human consent plays no part in either, according to this theology.
As expressed by many, the concept of "in Christ" asserts that, in what appears to be a mystical way, the whole human race was "in Christ" when He died for the sins of the world on Calvary. It has been taken so far that a book editor of the Pacific Press asserted, "In Jesus we paid the penalty for our sin." Signs of the Times, November, 1993. This surely is blasphemy. To suggest that we had anything to do with the expiation of our sins would be to deny the substitutionary role of Jesus. The Scripture is clear, the gospel prophet makes it plain that Christ was our full and complete Substitute.
"Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all." Isaiah 53:4-6.
Paul also acknowledged this great truth:
"For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures." 1 Corinthians 15:3.
"And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins." 1 Corinthians 15:17.
"Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father." Galatians 1:4.
That we contribute nothing to our salvation is made plain by Jesus:
"I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing." John 15:5.
Jesus further proclaimed that the only possibility of salvation was through Christ:
"But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26.
It is frequently argued that the whole human race was "in Adam" when he sinned, because each of us is a genetic descendent of Adam. From this argument it is claimed that, in what appears to be a mysterious way, we were "in Christ" when He died on the cross. But this teaching cannot be sustained from Scripture.
"But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. . . . For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life." Romans 5:8, 10.
This passage clearly states that Christ died that we might be reconciled to God, so that the love of God might be understood by each one of us, and that Jesus might be our Sin-Bearer. In no way--actually, genetically, or mystically--did we have anything to do with the price paid for our redemption. To imply that we were "in Christ" when He died, so that in that sense we paid the penalty for sin, is surely an abomination and blasphemy.
Inevitably the term "in Christ" is used to refer to justification. Thus this concept is used to affirm the error of justification-alone salvation. Luther was the one who emphasized justification-alone salvation at the time of the Reformation, and others took up the catch-cry. However, the Bible is very clear that sanctification is also necessary to qualify us for heaven.
"But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth." 2 Thessalonians 2:13.
"He that is righteous [justification], let him be righteous [justification] still: and he that is holy [sanctification], let him be holy [sanctification] still." Revelation 22:11.
But there are two major considerations that we will examine:
1) What did Paul mean by being "in Christ"?
2) How important to his and indeed the Bible's theology is the "Christ in" motif.
First, let us address Paul's concept of "in Christ." Did he, as Elder Sequeira suggests, emphasize that all humanity was "in Christ" on the cross of Calvary? In other words, is it part of the so-called objective gospel that was done apart from and independent from the decision-making processes of man? I believe the evidence is all in the other direction. Let us look at what Paul has to say about it:
"Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. . . . For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." 2 Corinthians 5:17, 21. All emphasis supplied unless otherwise noted.
"But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption." 1 Corinthians 1:30.
"There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." Romans 8:1.
Clearly these texts emphatically denote a transformation of character, something that could not have taken place 2000 years ago without our consent. We must recognize that God, in His infinite love, manipulates no human being, but that He has given to man a will to decide and to choose. God would not force salvation on any man, nor would He force him to be justified.
2 Corinthians 5:17 is emphatic that to be "in Christ" brings transformation of the life. But perhaps no text more clearly destroys the concept of the Evangelicals and evangelical Seventh-day Adventists than the message of Paul contained in his salutations at the end of his epistle to the Romans:
"Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellowprisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me." Romans 16:7.
Let us examine this text closely. In what might seem less than a deep theological dialogue, Paul nevertheless makes the striking statement that his relatives were "in Christ" before him. Now if, as Elder Sequeira states, all humanity was "in Christ" at the same time, when Christ was crucified on Calvary, than this statement would be erroneous. Paul is simply declaring that his relatives accepted the saving grace of Jesus before he accepted it. There is not the slightest hint that Paul is referring here to some mystical involvement of the human race "in Christ" on the cross of Calvary. This concept is as foreign to the Bible as is the Roman Catholic concept that the wafer that the priest "blesses," somehow in a mystical way becomes the very body of Jesus Christ.
Now let us address the second issue. Does Paul emphasize "Christ in" us as well as us "in Christ"? Of course, he does, for these two aspects of salvation, like justification and sanctification, while being different, are inseparable:
"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.
"I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." Galatians 2:20
"Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus." Philippians 2:5.
"But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his." Romans 8:9.
"For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." Philippians 2:13.
It is wholly inexcusable to diminish the work of Christ (and the other members of the Godhead) in us, so as to uphold the "in Christ" motif. Both are absolutely essential to our salvation. Clearly one cannot be "in Christ" unless Christ is in him. And, of course, the reverse is equally true. There is no appropriate way in which the concept of "in Christ" and "Christ in" can be separated one from the other. Thus Christ in His discourses frequently placed the two concepts together. In fact, it seems as if He did this uniformly as reported by John:
"He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him." John 6:56.
"Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. . . . At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you." John 14:17, 20.
"Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. . . . If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you." John 15:4, 7.
"I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me." John 17:23.
Not only does John record these significant statements of Jesus, but he himself emphasized them in his first epistle:
"And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us." 1 John 3:24.
"Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him." 1 John 4:13-16.
Frequently the argument of Paul in the book of Hebrews is used. Paul states that Levi, yet unborn, was in the loins of Abraham when Abraham returned tithe to Melchizedek. Paul uses this fact as a basis for demonstrating that the High Priestly ministry of Melchizedek was a higher ministry than the Levitical priesthood. It is an interesting argument and it does reflect upon the thinking of the Israelites and their relation of forbearer to descendent. But it is a text which cannot be used to claim that all humanity was "in Christ" when Jesus died, nor is it possible to use this text to teach the error that each one bore the penalty for sin "in Christ" on Calvary. Every evidence of the Scripture declares that Christ was alone when He bore that penalty. No one else shared the unbelievable anguish of that moment.
"I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with me: for I will tread them in mine anger, and trample them in my fury; and their blood shall be sprinkled upon my garments, and I will stain all my raiment." Isaiah 63:3.
If we would say that we were all "in Christ" and we paid the penalty, then Jesus did not pay the penalty alone. Instead, it took the perfect Son of God to die for each one of us--the Righteous for the unrighteous, the Guiltless for the guilty, the Sinless for the sinner, the Just for the unjust, the Holy for the unholy. Tragically, the belief that we were "in Christ" when He died, leads to the concept that every human being was justified and saved on Calvary. While there are those who claim that we can lose that salvation by rejecting it, there is no evidence in such a gospel that we have to actively accept the salvation of God that God has offered to us. Yet the words of Scripture are clear that we need not reject salvation to lose it, we need only to neglect it:
"How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him." Hebrews 2:3.
In the illustration of the vine and the branches of John 15, we have a special picture of the situation. Those who are in a saving relationship with Jesus are both "in Christ," as well as possessing "Christ in" them, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The vine and the branch are both in each other, and when they are separated, the branch is destined to die. And so it is with salvation. An undue emphasis upon the "in Christ" motif, disassociating the concept from "Christ in" us is an imbalance and a denial of the fullness of the role of Christ in the plan of salvation. Such a limitation of the provisions of Christ's sacrifice can lead only to many souls being lost from the kingdom of heaven. Eternity is at stake. This is not a trivial matter nor a nicety of theological debate; it is a matter of eternal life and eternal damnation.
May God preserve us from following such satanic delusions that we might stand steadfast in the faith delivered to God's remnant church.