I want to talk to you about the most significant aspect of our sanctification, in fact, the sole power of our sanctification, and that is Christ in us. The Son of God, second member of the Trinity, the Lord Jesus Christ, according to the New Testament, lives in every believer. He is in us. And also, we are in Him. In fact, about ninety times, about ninety times in the New Testament it says we are in Christ, or we are in the Lord Jesus, or we are in the Lord Jesus Christ, ninety times.
There is no religion in the world that maintains that kind of concept with its deity. Nobody is ever said to be in Buddha, or Buddha in him; or in Muhammad, or Muhammad in him; or in Allah, and Allah in him; or any other deity. This is the definitive reality of the only true faith, Christianity, that we are in Christ and Christ is in us. And we were in Christ before He was in us. We were in Christ before anything in the universe even existed. In the mind of God we were in Christ before creation. And when we were redeemed we were not only in Christ, we had already been in Christ, we were in Christ when He came into the world and lived a righteous life.
We were in Christ when He died a substitutionary death. We were in Christ when He was buried. We were in Christ when He rose. We were in Christ when He ascended. We were in Christ when He took His seat at the right hand of the Father. We were in Christ when He was crowned with glory. But when we were regenerated, justified, converted, Christ came to be in us. This is a profound reality, and is the distinguishing characteristic of Christianity and the whole power and motive of our sanctification. Not too long ago I was thinking about a little kind of a couplet poem that I read a long time ago, and it said this: “Though Christ a thousand times in Bethlehem be born, if He’s not born in you your soul is still forlorn.”
We celebrate the fact that the Son of God was in the womb of Mary, and that is a remarkable reality, obviously the miraculous essence of the incarnation. But the Son of God, not as an infant, but in His fullness lives in every believer. Colossians 3:11 says, “Christ is all, and in all.” That is an absolutely comprehensive, unqualified statement. Christ is all, all of God, and is in all who belong to God. That’s why 1 Corinthians 3:16 says, “You are the temple of God.”
Ephesians 3:20 says, “The power of God works in you the fullness of God.” Ephesians 2:22 says, “You are a dwelling place of the Spirit.” Christ is in you, God is in you, and the Holy Spirit is in you. The Trinity is in you because the Trinity is indivisible. So when we say, “Christ is in you,” that’s not one person of the Trinity, that’s just identifying Christ as one of the realities of the triune God, one of the Persons of the triune God; and not to say the others aren’t there as well, because the Spirit of the Lord is there, and God Himself is there. You are the temple of God, you are the temple of Christ, you are the temple of the Holy Spirit. This is amazing, startling, stunning language that the triune God has taken up residence in every regenerated Christian believer. We are the dwelling place of God.
Paul’s prayer, now you remember in Galatians 4, is, “Since that is true, I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you.” He wants to see the God who is in us dominate our lives so that we take the shape of Christ who is the manifestation of God: Christ formed in you. Christ is in you; you are to become like Christ. He has to take over your life so that you are, in some measure, indistinguishable from Him.
Now as we’ve been saying in these first messages this is the essence of sanctification. When we think about our biography it’s election, justification, and glorification; and between justification and glorification just one thing is going on, and that’s sanctification. That’s the process of making you holy, decreasing your attachment to sin and increasing your attachment to righteousness, decreasing your frequency of sin and increasing your frequency of righteousness, becoming less like you were and more like Christ is. Sanctification is the work of God in the soul between justification and glorification. The issue is that we are to work out, Philippians 2, what God is working in us. We are to take on the character of the very one who dwells in us. That is godliness, holiness, Christlikeness.
When we talk about 2 Corinthians 3:18, as we gaze at His glory we’re changed into His image, from one level of glory to the next, in a progression; and that is the work of the Lord who is the Spirit. The Holy Spirit does this transforming, shaping us into the Christ that we have living in us when we gaze at His glory. And that is the process of sanctification.
We talked about the fact that we’re not passive in that. There’s a popular idea that we are to be passive, to let go, let God. We talked about that as kind of an antinomian view that says Christ already lived a perfect life for us, so we don’t need to pay attention to that. That is contrary to 2 Peter, that with all diligence we add to our faith all those virtues. This is every faithful pastor’s longing for His church. Paul is saying, “I’m in labor pains until Christ is formed in you.” The popular and pervasive indifference to sanctification that dominates our contemporary church culture is a triumph of sin, it is a triumph of worldliness, it is a triumph of ignorance, it is a triumph of carnality. Very opposite of sanctification.
So I want to look more carefully now into this spiritual, supernatural union with the Lord. I think it’s so simply defined in Colossians 3:4 where the Scripture says, “Christ who is our life,” not part of it; He is our life. Now Scripture is clear that we were, before Christ was in us, we were in Christ. And I think this is truth that you need to understand that is marvelously laid out in Ephesians chapter 1.
We were in Christ when God chose the elect. We were in Christ when He came into the world, lived a righteous life, died a substitutionary death, as I said, was buried, rose, ascended, was seated at the right hand of the Father, and crowned with glory. We are in Christ before we ever lived. If you’re wondering how that works, turn back, if you will, to Ephesians chapter 1, and let’s look a little more closely at that wonderful portion of Scripture.
The summation statement is given in verse 3: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies” – or heavenly places – “in Christ.” Now the operative phrase is “in Christ.” Every spiritual blessing that heaven possesses to grant is in Christ.
Apart from Christ there are no heavenly blessings. There is no other name by which you may be saved. Apart from Christ, heaven gives you nothing but judgment and wrath. There is no way to tap any heavenly blessings unless you are in Christ. Apart from Christ there is only condemnation and judgment. Everything is in Christ.
And I want you to think about what it is to be in Christ, so let’s look a little more closely at the next verse, Ephesians 1:4. And this really in itself is a startling statement, “just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world.” Okay, we’re before the foundation of the world here, which is to say we’re in eternity past. Nothing exists except God Himself. And God, the triune God, designs a purpose that unfolds in redemptive history. That purpose involves the creation of a universe, the creation of an earth, the creation of humanity and all the supporting creatures.
All of that is a theater for God to put on the drama of redemption, in order to bring into His presence forever those who are in Christ. He chose us in Him. What does that mean? That means this, that when God chose before the foundation of the world who He would save we were there in His mind – you were there, I was there. Everyone who will ever believe through all of human history was chosen in Christ. That’s why I say before anything was created, before you were ever born, before you ever believed, before you were ever saved, you were already in Christ in the mind of God. This is just incredibly profound.
You are not an accident. You didn’t come to this conclusion on your own, this came from the mind of God in eternity past in the uninfluenced, independent, sovereign will of the one true God. God had His elect in His infinite mind when He designed the plan to save them; they were already in His Son. He set His love on them and set in motion the plan to bring them to glory as a bride for His Son. He knew who they were. Scripture says their names were written down in the Lamb’s Book of Life from before the foundation of the world.
This is the truth of election. The doctrine of election means that we were in Christ before anything existed. And the truth of election then – listen – establishes that our union with Christ is an eternal one. It was an eternal one when God initiated it; and, of course, it goes on everlastingly in the eternal glory of heaven.
All the elect were present in the mind of the Father and the mind of the Son and the mind of the Holy Spirit. God knew exactly who was in His Son, He knew exactly who was going to be redeemed, He knew exactly who was going to be brought to heaven. The plan of redemption was laid out, the work of redemption was done by Christ, and through all of that, we, by name, by person, by identity, were in the mind of the triune God. So the divinely ordained bond of union between the Redeemer and those He redeemed was established in eternity past. The benefits then of the work of redemption when Christ came into the world are actually secured for us not by something we did, but by God’s eternal, sovereign, uninfluenced decree before the world began.
So when you think about being in Christ this is a transcendent thought that is so vast, if you try to press this thing too far into eternity you’ll lose your mind. It’s just too vast; but it’s true. God has had you in His mind from all eternity past when there was no time, which means this, that you were eternally in His mind. Eternally He had designed to set His love on you, and to place you in His Son, even at the act of election.
Then the apostle Paul turns to redemption. Now we move into time. He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, and the goal was that we would be holy and blameless before Him, and that’s glorification. So, keep it in mind: He made the choice in eternity past that we would be eventually holy and blameless before Him; that’s glorification. You go from election to glorification. So when God chose us He didn’t choose just to forgive our sins, He chose to bring us to glory. That’s why in John 6 Jesus said, “All the Father gives to Me will come to Me, and I’ll lose none of them, but raise Him at the last day,” because the plan was not partial, the plan was comprehensive. The plan was to bring us who are in Christ in holiness and blamelessness before Him.
What was behind this? In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself. In love did it because of love. He did it because of love. He set His love on us when we didn’t exist.
So it really is not that we were so lovable, because the fact is we weren’t; we’re all born in sin, enemies of God. But God’s incomprehensible, lavish love was set on us so that He, by the kind intention of His own will to the praise of the glory of His own grace, which He freely bestowed us in the beloved, made us sons.
Now what does it mean to be a son? The key concept in adoption is inheritance; that’s the key concept in adoption in Scripture. It’s inheritance. He set for us in eternity past because we were in Christ there, that one day we would receive the inheritance of all that heaven possesses, along with the one in whom we find our life, the Lord Jesus Christ. So the Bible talks about us being joint heirs with Christ.
Now in order to make this a reality He had to do the work of redemption, verse 7: “In Him” – in Christ – “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us all.” Now we come to redemption. In Him we have redemption.
What does that mean? It means that when He did His work of redemption we were in Him. Just as we were in Him before the foundation of the world, we were in Him when He did the work of redemption. Listen to Colossians 1:13, “He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Did you get that? In Him, in His beloved Son we have redemption. We are united to Him in every way.
In Galatians, back in chapter 3 and verse 27, “For all of you who were immersed into Christ,” – not water baptism, but the actual union at the time of salvation – “all of you were immersed into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ.” Powerful language.
So we literally are united to Him in His life of obedience. We’re united to Him in His life of obedience. He was living a holy life and we were there in Him living that holy life. That kind of incredible reality is spoken of again by the apostle Paul, Romans 5:19, “Through the obedience of the One the many were made righteous.”
The righteousness of Christ, the sinless righteousness of Christ throughout His life was credited to us, because we were in the mind of God and in the mind of Christ and in the mind of the Holy Spirit in Christ in His obedience. He said, “I’ll only do what the Father tells Me to do. I only do what the Father shows Me to do. I only do what the Father wills. I never do anything other than what the Father wills,” a perfect life of obedience. And we were united in Him in that obedience.
That is why again in 1 Corinthians chapter 1, verse 30, an important verse we talked about earlier, “By His doing” – by the work of God – “you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us righteousness and sanctification, and redemption.” We are in Christ, and in Christ we have our sanctification. The Father considers the elect to have literally lived Christ’s life, just as He considers Christ to have died our death. He takes our place on the cross. Our sins are placed on Him, and His righteousness is placed on us. We were in Him when we died, and so the penalty for sin was paid. We were in Him when He lived, even though we hadn’t been born. In the mind of God we were in Christ as He lived His perfect life on our behalf.
He who knew no sin became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him – again, in Him. In Him we have become the righteousness of God. Paul likes to say, “I don’t have a righteousness of my own, but I have the righteousness of God because I’m in Christ. And that righteousness was credited to us” – listen – “when Christ lived a perfect life thousands of years before we were ever born, because in the mind of God we were already in Him by virtue of sovereign election.”
He bore our sins in His body, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. And the most central reality of our union with Christ is His atoning work. Obviously it’s the work of His incarnation, His sinless life, His atoning death. God literally inflicted undeserved suffering, undeserved punishment on the Lord Jesus and consequently bestowed undeserved heavenly blessing on sinners. Say it again: He inflicted undeserved suffering on the Lord Jesus and bestowed undeserved blessing on sinners. The Lord Jesus was treated other than He deserved so we could be treated other than we deserve. This is the great essential understanding of the atonement. The undeserved suffering of the one in God’s eyes becomes the sufficient ground for the unmerited blessing of the other.
Now there are people who say, “Uh, I don’t know about that; that seems like a miscarriage of justice, punishing someone who’s innocent and blessing someone who’s guilty.” If it seems a miscarriage of justice note this: the plan was designed, sanctioned, and completed by the holy and divine Judge, the supreme source of truth and justice. Sorry, your definition of justice isn’t the important one, only God’s is.
You say, “Well, wait a minute; doesn’t seem fair to Jesus Christ.” Then note this: His substitution was voluntary. He said, “No man takes My life from Me, I lay it down of Myself.” He did it for the joy that was set before Him. There is no law violated, because the holy Lawgiver only does what is righteous. There are no rights denied, because the Son of God only does what the Father wills, because He also perfectly wills it. All the atonement realities originated in the love of God for His Son and the love of God for sinners, and the Son was willing because He knew the outcome was to fill heaven with a redeemed humanity who would forever and ever and ever glorify the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and fill eternal heaven with worship.
So the main aspect that you need to understand about the atonement and the work of redemption is the intimate, personal, eternal union between the Lord Jesus Christ and the elect sinners for whom He lived, for whom He died, for whom He rose, for whom He ascended, and for whom He was coronated. The deity of the substitute, Christ, gives the act of substitution the character of personal homage to the broken holy law of God, personal recognition of the evil wrought by sin, personal experience of the offence that sin is to holy God, and that all by the Lord Himself, for whose satisfaction the penalties are rendered. Isaiah 53 says that through it all His soul was satisfied. So in offering Himself the Lord Jesus is joined to all who are in Him.
Let me spread that out a little bit for you. Scripture says we died with Christ. We live with Him, we’ve gone through that; we died with Christ. Romans 6:8, “If we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him.” Colossians 2:20, “You have died with Christ.” Colossians 3:3, “You have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Second Timothy 2, “If we died with Him, we shall also live with Him.” Romans 6:6, “knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him.” We died with Him. When He died, we died.
We were buried with Him. Romans 6:4, “We have been buried with Him.” Colossians 2:12, “having been buried with Him.” We lived with Him His life, we died with Him His death, we were buried with Him in His burial, and then we were raised with Him, Colossians 2:12, “You were also raised with Him.” Colossians 3:1, “You have been raised up with Christ.” Ephesians 2:6, “You were raised with Him.” And then when He ascended to glory we were seated with Him heaven. Ephesians 2:6, “He seated us with Him in the heavenly places.” This is stunning and staggering truth.
Think back to the time of our Lord’s life. His life was my life, your life. His punishment was our punishment. His death was our death. His burial was our burial. His resurrection was our resurrection. His ascension is our ascension. His exaltation is our exaltation. And that is why Ephesians 1:3 says, “We are blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ.” And when the Lord was doing this redemptive work we hadn’t lived. Still God considered us to be in union with His Son and our Savior all through His accomplished work of redemption.
Now listen to this: the Lord Jesus did not live, He did not die, He did not rise, He did not ascend, He did not take His throne for an unknown group of people. Did you get that? He did not do all that for an unknown group of people yet to be decided, He did it for those who were already in Him by the sovereign act of God. It is not a potential work of redemption it is an actual one. That is what theologians have called “particular redemption.”
We were there in Him before time. We were there in Him during His earthly work of redemption. We are in Him now, and we will be in Him forever. And how did that happen? How is that applied to us? It is applied to us through faith.
Listen to Ephesians 2:5, “even when we were dead in our transgressions, God” – because He’s rich in mercy because of the great love with which He loved us – “made us alive together with Christ.” What a statement. When He raised Christ He raised us. “He raised us up with Him,” – verse 6 – “seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” That’s that joint heir reality.
How did it happen? “For by grace you have been saved through faith. It is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” It is all a gift of God based upon God’s sovereign election. The role we play is through faith. “But faith is not of ourselves, even the faith to believe is a gift of God.”
God gives the gift of faith to the elect. So we have always been in Christ, always in the mind of God, eternally in Christ. And the Lord has just, according to Ephesians 1:8, lavished us with the riches of His grace. This sort of takes your life in a completely new direction, doesn’t it? You thought you just arrived nineteen years ago. As far as the world is concerned, you did; as far as God is concerned, you were in His mind in eternity past. You were always in His mind. When there was no time you were in His mind.
Lavish grace, lavish wisdom. So go back to Ephesians 1. All this that He lavished on us, no wonder it says in verse 8, “In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him.” There we are back in eternity past. He purposes in Christ to lavish us with the riches of His grace; and then in the Scripture He gives us all wisdom and insight to understand this incredible mystery of His will.
Verse 11 says, “We’ve been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.” He gets all the praise, He gets all the glory. He did the choosing, He did the regenerating. He gave the faith and repentance.
Now, something else has happened in sanctification. We’re in Christ, but something remarkable has happened in sanctification. Christ is now – what? – in us. We are in Christ who has become to us sanctification; but now Christ is in us. We are in Christ in every sense.
It’s kind of an interesting thing to think about, but in 1 Thessalonians it refers to the dead in Christ. Even when you’re dead you’re still in Christ. Even when you’re dead you’re still in Christ. Even when your body’s lying in a grave decaying it still belongs to Christ, and one day will be raised to join your glorified spirit in His presence. You are never not in Christ, as far as God’s concerned, from eternity past through eternity future. And then when you become a believer you become the temple of God, the temple of Christ, the temple of the Holy Spirit; and Christ takes up residence in you.
Now it’s no longer – listen – something that is in the mind of God when you aren’t there, it is now reality and you are there, and Christ is now in you. No wonder Paul says to the Corinthians, “What? What? You who have been in Christ from all eternity, you who have belonged to God and to Christ from eternity past through eternity future, you in whom Christ now lives, would you join Christ to a prostitute?” It’s a stunning statement. “Would you do that?”
Christ is now in you. When you were in Christ you couldn’t do anything. When it was just you in Christ, Christ did everything. Now Christ is in you. Turn to John 15 – a lot of ways we could talk about it. But turn to John 15.
Now the rest was all God’s side of you being in Christ, now there’s a dramatic change: Christ is in you. And in John 15, verse 4, “Abided in Me, and I in you. If you abide in Me and I in you, if you’re in Me and I’m also in you, as a branch can’t bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do” – what? When you were just in Christ in the mind of God you couldn’t do anything, but when Christ came to live in you now you bear fruit. Now you bear fruit.
He contrasts that with the Judas branch that bears no fruit, cut off and burned, distinguishing Judas from the other disciples. And verse 8 says, “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, that you bear much fruit.” You now have Christ in you and you can bear much fruit.
And this is permanent, by the way. He will never leave us or forsake us. Nothing will ever separate us from the love of God in Christ. Our life is hid with Christ in God; that can never change. No one can ever snatch us out of God’s hand, no one can ever do anything to cause Christ to leave us. This is the reality that is at the foundation of sanctification: Christ in us.
Now, just for the sake of time, go back to Ephesians 1, couple of comments. So our election was in Him, our redemption is in Him, our sanctification is in Him and Him in us, and then glorification. We look at the glorification as we look at verse 10, “The summing up of all things in Christ, things in heaven and things in earth,” the end of everything. And then in the end of verse 10, “In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.”
We will one day in Christ be to the praise of His glory. We are going – down into verse 14 – we are going to receive an inheritance, and the Holy Spirit is the down payment the pledge of that inheritance to the praise of His glory, and he talks about our inheritance. We have an inheritance, we have a promise, we have a pledge, we are sealed, we are going to be redeemed as God’s permanent, everlasting, personal possession, all to the praise of the glory of His grace. So sanctification is now, not only have I been in Christ through all His redemptive work when I wasn’t even alive, He did it all for me. But now by His sovereign power in regeneration, justification, Christ is in me; and the life which I live I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.
I live then in a relationship with Christ, not the law, right? You don’t define this by the law, you define this by Christ. That’s why 2 Peter 3:18 says, “Grow in grace. Grow in grace.” You don’t grow in law, you grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Again we’re back to 2 Corinthians 3:18. As you grow in your knowledge of Christ you’re growing in grace. Why? Because the more you know about Christ the more wonderful He becomes to you, the more He takes over your life and the more you look like Him.
The nature of our union with Christ in the New Testament is demonstrated a number of ways. Sometimes it’s a foundation and a building. He’s the foundation, we’re the building, Ephesians 2. Sometimes it’s a vine and branches; He’s the vine, we’re the branches, John 15. Sometimes it’s a husband and a wife, Ephesians 5, even a head and a body, those kinds of pictures. But all of it is to illustrate the inseparable connection that we have with Christ when we’re not just in Him but He is in us. This is the thing that you need to be conscious of: Christ – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – alive in me everywhere I go, everything I think, everything I say, everything I do.
Just summing it up: It is an organic unity – we are like one body. It is a legal unity – Christ is our representative head. It is a virtual unity – all life flows from Him. It is a spiritual unity, because God is a spirit. It is a permanent unity, because nothing can ever alter it. So being a sanctified Christian is not just somehow having an unusual love for Christ. A lot of people have sentimental attitudes toward Christ. It’s not having some kind of a mission connection to Jesus who wants to help poor people, although that’s noble and expected thing.
Being a Christian is not having some kind of affinity for the morality that the Lord upheld, being a Christian is not having a sacramental union with Christ in that you go through certain rituals, and being a Christian is not merely a religious association with Christ. Being a Christian is to say this: “He is your life.” First John 4:15, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God abides in him, and he in God.” It’s about being in Him and He in us.
I love the beginning of the 1 Thessalonian epistle. Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ.” We are in Him, He is in us. May you be filled up with all the fullness of God who dwells in you. May you be filled with the Spirit of Christ who lives in you. This will dramatically, dramatically transform not only your relationship to Him vertically, but every horizontal relationship as well.
Lord, again, thank You for Your Word, its power and its clarity. And so much more could be explored in this great theme. May all of us be students of what it means to have the promise that we are not only in Christ, but He is in us. May that always be in our conscious thoughts: “Christ is in me.” Wherever I go, whatever I do, whatever I think, whatever I say, Christ is there. And because He’s there we can bear much fruit to Your glory. Make it so, we pray in the name of the one who loved us and gave Himself for us. Amen.
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