The Dilemma of the "In Christ" Motif

By Colin and Russell Standish

For many Evangelicals the "in Christ" motif is the central theme of the apostle Paulís theology. It is true on a significant number of occasions Paul uses the term "in Christ."

Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me (Romans 16:7 All emphasis added).

And was unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea which were in Christ (Galatians 1:22).

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new (2 Corinthians 5:17).

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 5:21).

The issue of the "in Christ" motif revolves around the belief that Adam was responsible for the guilt of all men and Jesus is responsible for the salvation of all men, and that human consent plays no part in either.

For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:22).

Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adamís transgression, who is the figure of Him that was to come. But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification. For if by one manís offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by One, Jesus Christ. Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of One the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life (Romans 5:14Ė18).


A Blasphemous Deviation from Truth

It is frequently argued that the whole human race was in Adam when he sinned because each one of us is a genetic descendant of Adam. It is further argued that in a mysterious way, when Jesus died on the cross we were all in Christ so that "in Christ" we paid the penalty for our sins. This concept is blasphemy. The Scripture does not confirm it nor imply it. When we look at the fifth chapter of Romans which is used as a basis for this theology we read,

But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

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 5:10).

Each 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 more beautiful way is this truth expressed than in the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah.

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 (Isaiah 53:5).

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 mystically when He died so that in that sense we paid the penalty for our own sins is surely an abomination and blasphemy. Inevitably the "in Christ" concept is seen by many Evangelicals as outside the saving grace of Jesus. Let us look more closely at this whole situation. What was Paul talking about when he talked about "in Christ"?

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new (2 Corinthians 5:17).


In Christ and Christ in Us

The dilemma of Evangelicals who emphasize the "in Christ" motif, is that Paul does not talk about the objective gospel that they also espouse, but rather he explains that if we are in Christ we are new creatures, the old habits are passed away, and we are now in newness of life. There must be an entire transformation of character, a total subjective change of heart. This fact surely demonstrates the completeness of the new-birth experience. Paul also identifies the "Christ in" concept as central to salvation.

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: whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus (Colossians 1:27Ė28).

It will be seen that Paul, in this reference, uses both Christ in and in Christ as essential and complementary aspects of salvation. One cannot be "in Christ" if Christ is not in him. Similarly the reverse is equally true.

There is no appropriate way in which the concepts of in Christ and Christ in can be separated one from another, any more than justification and sanctification can be separated. Thus Christ in His discourses frequently placed the two concepts together.

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 (John 14:17).

At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in Me, and I in you (John 14:20).

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 (John 15:4).

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 15:7).

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.

But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:13).

This same beautiful message is seen when Paul speaks concerning "Christ in" us.

For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13).

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).

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).

Christ Alone Bore the Penalty for Sinful Humanity

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 Melchisedec. Paul uses this fact as a basis for demonstrating that the High-priestly ministry of Melchisedec was a higher ministry than the Levitical priesthood. It is an interesting argument, and it does reflect upon the thinking of the Israelites in their relationship of forebear to descendant. But it is a text which cannot be used to claim that all humanity was in Christ when He died. Nor is it possible to use this text to teach the error that each one bore the penalty for his or her sins in Christ on Calvary. Every evidence of the Scripture declares that Christ was alone when He bore that penalty. No one else shared the unimaginable 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 were to say that we were all "in Christ" and we paid the penalty, then Jesus did not pay the penalty alone. It took the perfect Son of God to die for each one of usóthe 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 that God has offered to us. Yet the words of Scripture are clear that we need not reject the 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 branch 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 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 on the in Christ motif, dissociating this concept from "Christ in" us, is an imbalance and a denial of the fulness of the role of Christ in the plan of salvation. Such a limitation of the provisions of Christís 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.

To learn more about the danger of the false doctrines seen in the Evangelical movement today and the extent of their spread order your own copy of the entire book The Evangelical Dilemma, by Colin and Russell Standish, from which this article was taken. This book is available through Hartland Publications: PO Box 1, Rapidan, VA, 22733. Phone: 1-800-774-3566. Or order online at


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