Thursday, March 10, 2016


In God's ways, we often learn a truth objectively (i.e. "this is a fact") before we learn it subjectively (i.e. in our experience). It might take us a very long time to go from the one to the other, but it is God's way that we believe what He has said before we experience it. The key is to accept what God has said is true, whether we experience it or not. As we accept God's assessment, we experience it.

This is true of our standing in Christ. We are accepted "in Christ" and only in Christ. This is objectively true. As we walk through this wicked world, we learn what that means.

Ephesians 1 and John 15 illustrate this. Ephesians 1:6 tells us we are "accepted in the Beloved" (KJV). That's an objective statement: it's a statement about how God sees us. God doesn't accept me as such, He accepts me as a man in Christ.

The idea of being "in Christ" pervades the New Testament, especially Paul's epistles. It reminds us that God has really only been pleased with one Man, but He is content to bundle us up together in the one Man, so that what God thinks about that one Man He thinks about me. Ephesians 2 takes it further: we are quickened "with Him", raised together "with Him", and seated "with Him" (Ephesians 2:1–7). This is God's view of things, and I could never see them outside of revelation.

John 15 approaches this from the standpoint of human experience. There it isn't what God sees, but what we experience. So where Ephesians 1:6 talks about us "in Christ", John 15:4 tells us the necessity of "abiding in" Him. Christ Himself says it's impossible for us to "bear fruit" unless we abide in Him (John 14:4–5).

Ephesians 1 tells us that my being "in Christ" is God's work, and God's work alone. I cannot somehow get myself into that position. And Ephesians 1:3–6 makes it clear that God marked me out for this blessing before the world began (v. 4), and there's no hint that I can do anything to end it. So Ephesians 1 approaches this from the perspective of God's sovereignty.

John 15 approaches this from the standpoint of human responsibility: here it's not an issue of God's eternal purpose, it's an issue of my practical walk through the wicked world. I am living down here, Christ is living up there: if I am to produce fruit for God down here, I must abide in Christ. Now, I cannot do anything to stop being "in Christ" in the Ephesians 1 sense – that was determined before the world began. But I can definitely fail to "abide in Christ" in the John 15 sense.

So how do I do this?

In the practical sense, abiding in Christ really comes down to accepting what God has already said. Philippians 3:8–11 gives us an view of what it means to be "in Christ" in practice:

  1. it means having no righteousness of my own (v. 9)
  2. it means knowing Him (v. 10)
  3. it means knowing the power of His resurrection (v. 10)
  4. it means having fellowship in His sufferings (v. 10)
  5. it means being conformed to His death (v. 10)
The first item on this list is the key: being "in Christ" means having no righteousness of my own. It means I give up on myself: I don't try to do better, I am content to have Christ as my righteousness.

The key to abiding in Christ is being content to abide in Christ.

Romans 8 and Colossians 3 give us other views of the same truth. Romans 8:1–4 gives us an amazing summation of God's work in salvation: He has placed me "in Christ" where there is no condemnation (v. 1), He has set me free from the law of sin and death by His Spirit (v. 2), He has condemned the sin in my flesh (v. 3). This might remind us of Ephesians 1, where the work is entirely God's.

But there is human responsibility: we are no longer debtors to the flesh to live after it (v. 12), and if we choose to live according to the flesh, the end result is death (v. 13). This isn't an issue of God punishing us, it's the natural consequence of choosing a life according to what God has already condemned (compare v. 3 with v. 10).

But I stress again that the key here is not that I live right (remember Philippians 3:9!), the key is that I be content to have Christ as my only righteousness. And this is the single hardest thing we ever try to do. It's incredibly hard for us to accept God sees my "goodness" no more than He sees my "badness", when I am in Christ.

We need to learn this lesson: first we accept what God says is true (I am accepted in the Beloved (Ephesians 1:6)), then we can learn it in our experience (I can only please God "in Christ" (Romans 8:3–8)).

1 comment:

Robert Thomson said...

Thank you for this very helpful article.

It has often been pointed out, in relation to the offerings, that God begins with the thought of acceptance through the burnt offering and works his way from that point to end with the trespass offering. Most of us came in the opposite direction in our experience. It is not said, ' he shall be accepted by it' but 'it shall be accepted for him' Lev 1:4

Many of us struggle with the idea of our goodness and badness. As I have become older, I have seen that this, along with many of our problems, comes from defective gospel preaching. The cross is usually presented as a generic term for Calvary. The nature of the cross as an instrument of the judicial termination of a mans life in this world is often concealed. The offence of the cross is minimised by the current crop of gospel preachers whose main aim seems to be a desire to be liked by the audience. The cross could not make any distinction between the 'goodness' or 'badness' of a man and therefore it put the whole man to death. There is tremendous freedom for all who come to see that God never will expect anything from man after the flesh. 'God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh'. Rom 8:3

It seems to me therefore that the starting point of 'abiding in Him' is to be done with any thought that I can contribute to the Christian life from personal ability, resources, talents, or ideas. 'Without Me, ye can do nothing' is a divine promise as is, 'even the youths shall faint and be weary and the young men shall utterly fall' Isa 40:30