1) I Am In Christ
Text: Ephesians 1:1-14
Who do you think you are? How do you see yourself? How would you answer the question: I am “blank”? I am rich, I am poor. I am young, I am old. I am smart, I’m stupid. I’m loved, I’m hated. I’m single, I’m married. I’m married, I’m divorced. I’m successful, I’m a failure. I have hope, I’m hopeless. How do you see yourself? Your identity, who you think you are, starts when you’re a kid. Were you the first-born, or the baby in the family, or the middle child? Were you the funny kid, the chubby kid, the athletic kid, the arty kid, or the nerdy kid? And when we become teenagers suddenly who other people think you are becomes really important. What you wear, and your hair, and your appearance, and how attractive you are, all get all wrapped up in your sense of identity. And when you reach adulthood, suddenly you have all these other issues: Will I go to church, or not? Will I drink, or not? Will I follow the crowd, or not? Will I go to Uni or get a job? And when we get a job it can so easily define who we think we are - I’m a carpenter, or a mechanic, or a cop, or a teacher, or a hairdresser… And then you get married, all of a sudden your identity gets very conflicted. You thought the person you married was going to help you become who you wanted to be, and they were thinking the same thing, and suddenly two selfish people with separate identities join in misery, I mean marriage. But the point is that we have to redefine our identity from me to us. And then you have children and suddenly you have all this responsibility, and it defines your existence, when you eat, when you sleep (if you do), how you spend your money, how vacations are planned, and how life is organized. And all of a sudden, your hobbies, your friendships, your free time, the things that defined who you were, are gone. And just when you think you’ve got it worked out they all grow up and move out of home and you have to ask yourself again, Who Am I? And sometimes life throws a curve ball and you lose your job, or get divorced, or your spouse dies, or you suffer a debilitating illness, and suddenly the question of your identity comes up all over again. So how would you answer that question: I am “blank”?
Over the next 8 weeks we’re going to answer the question: Who Am I? It’s a question that we all ask ourselves, sometimes consciously, sometimes less consciously. Sometimes others answer it for us. But the purpose of this series is to help you answer that question biblically! And we’re going to do that by studying the first few chapters of Ephesians, and see how Paul answers that question. By the end of this series my hope is that when someone asks who you are, you’ll say, “I’m a Christian, my life is defined by Jesus, and in Christ I am holy, I am blessed, I am loved, I am saved, I am reconciled, and so on.” This morning we’re going to start by looking at Paul’s first answer to this question of who we are – I am in Christ. And I hope that’s how you already consider yourselves, maybe not ‘I am in Christ,’ but I’m sure most of you consider yourself a Christian, someone who believes in Jesus and follows Jesus. If someone asked who you are, I would hope that you would tell them ‘I’m a Christian!’ But this morning I want to specifically look at this idea that what defines Christians is being ‘in Christ.’
1) What does it mean to be in Christ?
So firstly, what does it mean to be in Christ?
a) It is Jesus’ term (Jn 15:5)
In John 15:5 Jesus says, ‘5 I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (Jn 15:5)’ So firstly, this idea of being in Jesus is Jesus’ idea, it’s Jesus’ term.
b) It is a relational term
Secondly, it’s a relational term. Jesus talks about us remaining in him and he in us. What Jesus is talking about is our connection to him. He uses the image of a branch being connected to the vine. I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed but even if you graft a branch into a vine they become one, that’s how close the connection is, they are joined together.
c) It is a faith term
Thirdly, this idea of being ‘in Christ’ is a faith term. The way in which we get connected to Jesus is by believing in him. Jesus says it over and over in the Gospel of John, ‘35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” (Jn 6:35)’ And ‘38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him. (Jn 7:38)’ And again, ‘25 …I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. (Jn 11:25-26a)’ And in John 14 Jesus says, ‘1 …Trust in God; trust also in me. (Jn 14:1b)’ And ‘12 …anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. (Jn 14:12)’ The point is that it is by faith, by believing or trusting in Jesus and his death on the cross, that we become connected to him. It is by faith in Christ that we find ourselves in Christ.
d) It is a life term
Fourthly, this idea of being in Christ is also a life term. By that I mean that when we are in Christ, when we are connected to him, his life flows into us and through us. Jesus said that when we remain in him and he in us we will bear much fruit, apart from him we can do nothing. The only way we are able to achieve the life that God wants us to live is if we are in Christ, if we are connected to him through faith, if his power flows through us by the Holy Spirit. Without Jesus living in us through the Holy Spirit we can’t do anything of spiritual value. We can do plenty of worldly value, but nothing that will make a scrap of eternal difference. The key to living the spiritual life is all about being in Christ. If you’re not in Christ, whatever you’re into it isn’t Christianity!
e) You are either in Christ or in Adam (1 Cor 15:21-22)
So if you’re not in Christ then what is the alternative? In our society we tend to think of ourselves in individualistic terms, which means we think of ourselves in terms of ourself, for example: I am young or old; black or white; rich or poor; a labor or liberal supporter; healthy or sick; single, married, or divorced. But while these things might explain us they don’t define us. According to the Bible there are only two categories of human beings: you are either in Christ, or you are in Adam. Paul writes, ‘21 For since death came through a man, [that’s Adam] the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man [that’s Christ]. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Cor 15:21-22)’ If you are in Adam, and everyone on this planet is born ‘in Adam,’ you will die, because that’s the result of your sin. But if you are born again ‘in Christ’ Jesus deals with your sin on the cross, and he dies in your place, so that instead of receiving death, you receive eternal life. So the question each one of us has to ask is: Am I in Adam, or in Christ? Am I on Adam’s team, or am I on Jesus’ team? If you are in Adam you are physically alive but spiritually dead, but according to Paul, ‘4 …because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions… (Eph 2:4-5a)’ And that’s what the Gospel is all about, that’s what grace is all about, how in Christ God makes those who are spiritually dead, become spiritually alive. Like I said earlier being in Christ is a life thing.
f) It is Paul’s favourite term
And if you’ve ever read Ephesians the first thing you’ll notice is that this idea of being ‘in Christ’ is one of Paul’s favourite terms. Do you know how many times the Bible calls those who believe in Jesus ‘Christians?’ Only three times! But the Bible uses this idea of being ‘in Christ’ over 200 times. Anyone who tells you something 200 times: firstly, thinks it’s important; and secondly, they’re concerned you’re going to forget it. This idea of being ‘in Christ’ is the primary way that the Bible speaks about Christians. And Paul uses ‘in Christ,’ and ‘in him,’ and ‘in the Lord,’ over 30 times in Ephesians alone.
2) What does it mean to be in Christ in Ephesians?
So what does it mean to be ‘in Christ’ in Ephesians? Well that’s pretty much what we’re going to be looking at over the next 8 weeks, so I just want to give you a summary this morning. And rather than looking at each of the thirty instances in Ephesians I just want to look at the 9 times that Paul talks about being ‘in Christ,’ or ‘in him,’ in our text this morning.
a) In Christ you can be faithful
Firstly, Paul says in Christ you can be faithful. In verse 1 he says, ‘1 …To the saints [that’s what we’re going to talk about next week] in Ephesus, [and he calls them] the faithful in Christ Jesus. (Eph 1:1b)’ Have any of you struggled in your faith? Have any of you been unable to pray? Have you gone through times when you haven’t opened your Bible for days, or even weeks? Have any of you struggled coming to church? Have you ever struggled with sin in your life, things you hope others won’t find out about? Have any of you struggled with faithfulness? Have you asked yourself, “How can I become more faithful?” The answer is in Christ. You can only be faithful in Christ. It’s only in Christ that you can live a faithful life. If you remain in Jesus and he remains in you, you will bear much fruit. This isn’t self-help, this is Christ’s help. This is not about me living a life that glorifies God. This is about God living a life through me that glorifies him. It’s not just my life for him, it’s his life through mine. And when you are in Christ you can be faithful, because Christ was faithful. He never rebelled, he never sinned, he never strayed. When he lives in us he helps us to live for him. It’s the faithfulness of Christ to us that allows us to live out the faithfulness of Christ. You can be faithful when you are in Christ.
b) In Christ you are blessed
Secondly, in Christ you are blessed. Verse 3, ‘3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. (Eph 1:3)’ Do you ever fell like you’re not blessed? You work your butt off but you get nowhere. You invest yourself in people but they seem only to take and never give anything in return. You’re trying to live the right way, but things still end up going wrong? Sometimes we feel as if we’re cursed, but according to Paul those who are in Christ are blessed. Sometimes that’s financially, sometimes that’s emotionally, sometimes that’s physically, but all the time it’s spiritually. You’ve been blessed with the righteousness of Christ. You’ve been blessed with the love of Christ. You’ve been blessed with the forgiveness of Christ. You’ve been blessed with eternal life in Christ. We deserve hell, everything else is a blessing. Everything else is a blessing. You are blessed. Unfortunately, sometimes we’re blind to God’s blessings, we’re so consumed with what we want that we forget to appreciate and praise God for what he’s already provided. We need to open our eyes and see the multitude of blessing that we have in Christ. We’re going to be looking at that more in a fortnight, but you need to remember that in Christ you are blessed.
c) In Christ you were chosen
Thirdly, in Christ you are chosen. Paul writes, ‘4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world… (Eph 1:4a)’ Have you ever felt what it’s like to not be chosen, to be passed over and ignored? How many of you have never been picked for anything awesome? You were the kid in school, they’re like, “Today, we’re going to draw a name out of a hat,” and you’re like, “It won’t be mine, it never is. Now, if it was chicken pox, I’d get picked, but not for something special!” You’re never chosen, you’re never favoured, but in Christ, you have been chosen. Some people don’t like the idea that God chooses some people but not others, but the point of being chosen is not to ask questions, but to rejoice. God picked me, God chose me, God decided to love me. Instead of asking “Why was I chosen? Why wasn’t someone else chosen?” We should be saying, “Even though I’m no better than anyone else, in fact, I know I’m worse than some, the good news is he didn’t come looking for the prettiest, or the smartest, or the best-behaved, he came looking for me, he chose me!” In Christ you are chosen by God.
d) In Christ you are holy
Fourthly, God chose you in Christ to be holy. Paul continues, ‘4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. (Eph 1:4)’ In the sight of Jesus we are holy and blameless. Now we know the truth, we know we are unholy, we know we’re guilty, that we’re to blame. Have you ever thought, “I’m not clean, I’m dirty! The things I’ve done, the things I’ve thought, the things I’ve said, they’re not holy, they’re unholy?” Often we label ourselves according to a particular sin that we struggle with – we think of ourselves as an alcoholic, or someone with an anger issue, or a porn addict, or some other thing. That’s what you’ve done, then that’s who you are. But it’s not true. Who you are is who you are in Christ. What you’ve done is a sin, and it may explain you, but by the grace of God it doesn’t have to define you. Elsewhere, Paul says, ‘1 there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Rom 8:1)’ In Christ you are no longer dirty, you’ve been made clean. In Christ you are no longer condemned, instead you are blameless. In Christ you are no longer defined by your sin, you are defined by Christ’s righteousness, his holiness, his perfect obedience. In Christ you are holy.
e) In Christ you are forgiven
Next, Paul tells us that in Christ you are forgiven. Verse 7, ‘7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins… (Eph 1:7a)’ Have you ever thought, “Life is hard right now because God is punishing me, I stuffed up and God is angry with me, I brought it on myself?” Well according to Paul, in Christ you’re forgiven, not punished. Jesus took your punishment, Jesus died in your place, Jesus traded places with you. Christ was condemned so that in him you could be forgiven. God never punishes those who are in Christ because he’s already punished Christ. The wrath of God was poured out on the Son of God, not the children of God. Now the Bible says that the Father disciplines us as his children, but it’s always in love, it’s never in anger; it’s always for our good, never for our destruction; it’s always that we might grow, not that we would be discouraged. It’s Satan who wants us to think that God is punishing us. It’s Satan who wants us to think that Jesus’ death on the cross isn’t enough and we have to pay some of it back ourselves. But if you are in Christ then you are forgiven, not a little bit forgiven, but completely. God doesn’t keep a record against you, it’s been erased in Christ.
f) In Christ you can know God’s will
Next, in Christ you can know God’s will. Paul says, ‘9 And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ. (Eph 1:9)’ Have you ever been confused about what the will of God is? What does God want me to do? Well according to Paul ‘In Christ, we find the meaning and purpose of life. Our problem is that we often ask the wrong questions. We ask ‘Am I going to be rich or will I be poor? Am I going to get married or remain single? Should I move house, or change job, or go back to study?’ The real question should be: how does God want me to live in this situation? God’s will for me is: whatever circumstance I find myself in I need to live out of my identity in Christ. If I’m poor, God’s will is that in Christ I trust God. If it’s rich, God’s will is that in Christ I will be generous. If it’s single, it’s to live as Christ did, as a godly single person. If it’s in marriage, then in Christ I want to love and serve my spouse. The question should never be, “God, what is your step by step will for my life?” Instead it should be, “Right now, what does it mean to live my life in Christ?” God’s will is that we live out of our relationship with Jesus for the glory of God.
g) In Christ you are reconciled
Next, Paul says that in Christ you are reconciled. The NIV talks about how God’s purpose is ‘10 …to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. (Eph 1:10b)’ But in the Greek it’s literally, ‘…to unite all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth, in him.’ According to Paul God’s plan was to bring all things together, or reconcile all things in Christ. But the reality is many of us struggle with feelings of loneliness. Maybe you feel separated, or isolated, or distant from God. But according to Paul in Christ you are reconciled with God. You may not feel it, but you need to believe it. Don’t doubt it, don’t deny it, don’t disregard it. Emotionally you may feel distant from God, but positionally, you’re in Christ. Practically, you may have wandered, but positionally, you’re in Christ. And in week six we’re going to unpack what this means for our relationships with one another. But today I want you to remember that if you are in Christ, no matter how you feel, you have been reconciled with God.
h) In Christ you have hope
The eighth thing Paul says is that in Christ you have hope. Paul talks about the Christians in Ephesus ‘12 …who were the first to hope in Christ… (Eph 1:12b)’ Westside, our hope is in Christ. Our hope is not in our government, or our beauty, or our education, or our success. Our hope is not in our marriages, our children, our families, or our friends. Our hope is in Christ, for apart from Christ, there is no hope. If you’ve been hanging your hope on the economy, the economy will crash. There’s no hope in morality, you’ll never be good enough to save yourself. If you’ve been hanging your hope on anything other than Jesus Christ, it will fail you. Hope is only found in Christ.
i) In Christ you have the Holy Spirit
Finally, Paul says that in Christ you have the Holy Spirit. Verse 13, ‘13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit. (Eph 1:13)’ Notice that it’s for ‘you also.’ It’s not just for Paul, it’s not just for the apostles, it’s not just for the first century church, it’s not for Pentecostal churches, or even for someone in another row, it’s for you. According to Paul you were marked in him, that’s in Christ, with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit. If you are in Christ you have the Holy Spirit. In fact, the way you know your identity in Christ is through the presence, person, and power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the means by which the power and the presence of Christ is made available to those who are in Christ. You do not live life by your own power; you live life by the power of the Holy Spirit. You do not need to motivate yourself; you need to allow the Holy Spirit to motivate you. You need the Holy Spirit to fill you so you can live the life that God desires. The Holy Spirit comes with new wisdom, he comes with new passion, he comes to transform you by making you more like Christ, by allowing the life of Christ to become your life. It’s not about your performance, it’s about the Spirit wanting to perform new life in you. Through the Holy Spirit you can be the person you never believed was possible. You can do things you would otherwise be incapable of doing. You can endure suffering that you never thought you could endure. The Good News is that in Christ you have the Holy Spirit.
This is just the tip of the iceberg for Paul, as I said there are around 30 of these ‘in Christ’ statements in Ephesians. But Paul’s point is that our identity isn’t wrapped up in our achievements, or our efforts, or our spouse, or our kids, or anyone or anything else other than Jesus Christ. If I start to define my identity in Alice then I’m putting her in the place of God. Or if I define my identity in my kids then they become my god. Or even if I find my identity as a pastor then my ministry becomes my god. And the Bible calls that idolatry. We commit idolatry if we find our identity in anything or anyone else other than in Jesus. If good things become God things, if important things start to define your identity, you won’t be able to live the kind of life that Jesus has for you. Suddenly, you’re not getting your life, and your sustenance, and your nourishment, and your hope, and your joy from Jesus, but from someone or something that has taken his place. It’s only when your identity is in Christ that you are able to love God, and your spouse, and your kids and other people. It’s only when your identity is in Christ that Christ’s life flows through you. It’s only in Christ that you can be faithful and know God’s blessings. It’s only in Christ that you are chosen to be holy and blameless. It’s only in Christ that you can be forgiven and reconciled; that you can know God’s will, that you can know hope, that you can be filled with the Holy Spirit. Are you in Christ, have you put your faith in him, is your identity in Jesus? Amen.