Is Christ in Us or Are We in Christ?

In ChristAs Christians, does Christ live in us, or do we live in Christ? Several months ago, I did a post on Jesus into the Heart. It has been a relatively popular post, receiving over 500 hits. I am currently teaching an online course on the book of Ephesians, and was struck again by the Pauline phrase, “in Christ.” This is a key phrase for Ephesians, and some think it is the key phrase for Paul’s theology as a whole (more important than “justification by faith”). When reading Ephesians, one is struck by this immediately. The phrase “in Christ” or “in him [Christ]” occurs eleven times in the first fourteen verses alone. Here is a sample:

  • Paul commends the readers for being “faithful in Christ.
  • The Father has “blessed us in Christ.”
  • We have redemption in him.”
  • In him” we were marked with the seal of Holy Spirit

This idea, that we are “in Christ” in various ways, is found over 150 times in Paul’s letters. Overall, it has a spacial sense: this is where we dwell. We live “in Christ.” This is metaphorical to a degree, but not simply conceptual or idealistic. We find our identity “in Christ” as Christian believers. Our spiritual address is “in Christ.” We are at home when we are “in Christ.”

This has other implications for Paul. If we are “in Christ,” we are part of Christ’s body, the church, of which he is the head. To be “in Christ” is not an exclusive relationship, but a corporate identity, to be part of the chosen people of God. As Paul says in Ephesians 1:4, God “chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.”

So our desire to understand Jesus as dwelling in our hearts has some biblical basis (maybe four references), but the reality that we dwell in Christ is overwhelming. As Klyne Snodgrass has written, if Jesus in our hearts was all there was to it, it would make Jesus about one inch tall. If we dwell in Christ, Jesus is big enough to include the billions of Christian who have believed since the foundation of the world. That’s the Christ I want most.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College


One thought on “Is Christ in Us or Are We in Christ?

  1. “To be “in Christ” is not an exclusive relationship, but a corporate identity, to be part of the chosen people of God.” Exactly.

    I think the scholarship of the “New Perspective on Paul” has done a great job of pointing out the corporate identity of the Christian faith as essential. Paul tends to write about justification in the context of the Jews and Gentiles both being a part of the people of God, which is to say that justification is discussed within the context of ecclesiology. Salvation is a matter of being a part of the people of God, first of all, not just me and Jesus. Ecclesiology is not an afterthought after the real business of justification is taken care of. The New Perspective also does a great job of correcting some Protestant misreadings of Paul (i.e. the smearing of 1st-century Judaism as a “works-righteousness” religion as opposed to the New Testament religion of pure grace where our works don’t matter).

    Obviously we don’t want to swing to the other extreme where the Christian faith has no personal relation to God and is only known corporately, but in our highly individualized culture, I don’t think that’s too big of a risk.

    Great post.

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