'In' Doctrine!

To indoctrinate is "to teach (a person or group) to accept a set of beliefs uncritically."  This is not good.  When Jesus commands us to follow him he invites us to "taste and see that the Lord is good."  He also warns us to "test the spirits to see whether they are from God."  The Holy Spirit does not indoctrinate those that follow Jesus, but urges us to think critically the whole way.  Why?  God wants us to be fully persuaded ourselves that he is good so that he has won our total allegiance.

To that end I invite you to critically reconsider a long standing traditional understanding of the 'in' doctrine.  2 Corinthians 5:17 (WEB) says, "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away. Behold, all things have become new."  Traditional interpretation concludes that only those who have made a volitional decision to trust Christ are in fact "in Christ" and released from the condemnation that would eventually eternally damn them.  The verse could lend to this interpretation... perhaps.  Yet is it possible that tradition has indoctrinated us?  Is faith the condition to God's love or is faith instead the "eyes" to see his love?  We need critical thinking.

I have argued in the past and now again that this traditional understanding is too simple and falls short of appreciating that the elect of God have always been safe from God's eternal wrath since the foundation of the world, EVEN while unbelieving!  Of course the unbelieving elect are not safe from God's wrath against their wickedness and idolatry.  But the elect of God will never be in jeopardy of eternal damnation, thanks to Jesus, "the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world" (Revelation 13:8b NIV).  If the doctrine of predestination means PRE-destined in any sense whatsoever, then this must also be true.  Think about it!  Ephesians 1:3-4 (WEB) also agrees, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ; even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and without defect before him in love."  The elect were chosen in him, that is in Christ, before the foundation of the world.  Wow, consider that the elect were always in Christ!

I have also written elsewhere proposing that personal faith does not cause our personal justification.  Rather, all the elect were justified at the cross, once for all, according to Romans 5:18, and personal faith is instead the RECEIVING of our justification already completed by Christ.  Read more here if interested.  I have also noted that the 'in' doctrine teaches us about Jesus' intimacy with this Father, our intimacy with Jesus, and the mysterious picture of all this is the intimacy between a husband and wife.  Jesus said in John 14:20 (WEB), "In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you."  Some of this stuff gets pretty steamy, but read my thoughts on that subject here and here.

So now join me is re-visting the 'in' doctrine.  Take the time to read the article links above and you will see that the 'in' doctrine is quite deep.  However, at the most basic level those who are 'in' Christ are simply 'hidden inside of Christ' and thus protected from God the Father's righteous justice against sin and the sinner.  God cannot see our sin because it is 'hidden in Christ.'  Those who are 'hidden in Christ' are safe and through the 'eyes' of faith can be free from fear of eternal damnation.

So the two big questions are...

1) who is 'in Christ' and

2) how did they get there?

Consider 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 (WEB).

16) Therefore we know no one after the flesh from now on. Even though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now we know him so no more. 17) Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away. Behold, all things have become new. 18) But all things are of God, who reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ, and gave to us the ministry of reconciliation; 19) namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not reckoning to them their trespasses, and having committed to us the word of reconciliation.

20) We are therefore ambassadors on behalf of Christ, as though God were entreating by us: we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21) For him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

This Scripture seems to say that only believers are 'in Christ', because only Christians are ever called a new creation.  True.  Yet the passage also seems to say that God himself is reconciling the world 'in Christ', apart from any human provided condition.  Also true!  How are we to add up these observations?

In a nutshell I propose that the 'in doctrine' has both an actual and an acknowledged aspect.  Just like Christians commonly say we have both a positional and practical righteousness with God, so the elect have a positional and practical aspect to being 'in Christ'.  Again, as a Christian I am still a sinner.  The practical reality is that I sin every day in big or small ways.  Yet I trust that my position with God is that he sees me perfectly without sin.  He does not condemn me for my sin because through the blood of Christ my position with him is justified.  My faith did not make it so, but I trust that it is so!  Likewise I propose that the elect of God, even the unbelieving elect, are 'in Christ' though they do not acknowledge or even care to understand this happy truth.  However, when one's eyes are open and faith begins we are able to acknowledge and enjoy the freedom from condemnation that all the elect actually have 'in Christ'.  What happy yet sad news!  This is Happy and we are forgiven because all mankind is actually forgiven.  Yet this is Sad because very few acknowledge this forgiveness.

Let's consider a simple chart of sinful man's status 'in Adam' and 'in Christ' when considered from both God and man's view points.

In Adam In Christ
The elect IF no Christ...
Bound to sin, Romans 11:32
Deserve condemnation, Romans 5:16
Deserve wrath, Romans 9:22
But not Adam, Christ is! Romans 5:18-19
The elect because of Christ...
Chosen before creation, Ephesians 1:4
Reconciled before faith, Romans 5:10
Loved before faith, 1 John 4:10,19
In Christ before faith, 2 Corinthians 5:19
With eyes closed...
Adam's descendant, Romans 5:12
SELF-condemned, Titus 3:11
Object of wrath by NATURE, Eph 2:3
Dead, Ephesians 2:1
With eyes open...
Christ's brother, Hebrews 2:11
Christ condemns none, John 3:17
New creation, 2 Corinthians 5:17
Alive, Romans 5:21

So you see faith does not change our actual position with God at all.  He has chosen to love and forgive us, and that is grace.  However, faith does enable us to see God's love for us, changes our heart towards God, practically impacts our struggle with sin, and spares us future judgments in Hades. This understanding is Biblical, agrees that God's love truly is unconditional, and properly defines 'faith' as trusting in God's love instead of as a condition to God's love.  This understanding also reminds us just how pitiable the condition of unbelievers are when they are surrounded by the truth of God's love for them and all mankind, but their eyes are not open to see Jesus, just like we were in unbelief.  Without faith we are like desperate blind lame starving paupers stumbling and grumbling around in a banquet hall overflowing with luscious foods that we cannot see and refuse to acknowledge.  Lord open the eyes of the blind!

Who is 'in' Christ?  Everyone the Lamb died for from before the creation of the world is safely 'in Christ' from God's point of view, that is... all mankind.  How did we get 'in Christ'?  We certainly did not put ourselves there through faith!  Our faith did not make it so, but Christians trust that it is so!  Christian faith is simply trusting that Jesus has hidden us in himself, safe from God's wrath, along with the whole world, just as he said he did, 2 Corinthians 5:18-19.

Hopefully, this awesome news propels us to passionate prayer and compassionate evangelism for our fellowman who are deeply loved by God.  In fact that is Paul own conclusion when he says, "We are therefore ambassadors on behalf of Christ, as though God were entreating by us: we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

Your sins are paid for!  Believe!  Know God!  Rejoice!