A Study of "in Christ"


      Paul wrote, "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8: 1). Being in Christ, as we shall see, is urgently important. There are no fewer than thirteen different Greek prepositions translated "in" (King James Version). Though the object of this material is not to critique the translation of these different prepositions as "in" in all their occurrences, suffice us to say that the King James translation did not always adhere to strict grammatical rules as to the technical differences between "in," "into," "unto," "out of," and "by." In general, the Greek preposition "en" (one preposition translated "in") simply denotes location or sphere (see addendum 1). There are other phrases involving "en" that essentially often denote the same basic meaning as "in Christ" (more later).

     "In Christ" or its equivalent as used in Ephesians. The phrase "in Christ" or its equal is used about 27 times by Paul in his letter to the church at Ephesus. He addressed the Ephesian Christians as "faithful in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 1: 1). Sometimes Paul simply wrote "in him," Christ being the antecedent (Eph. 1: 4, 7, 11, 2: 21, 22, etc.). However, "in Christ" or "in Christ Jesus" is a recurring phrase. The expression "in Christ," as often used in Ephesians, is explained as follows: "This expression 'in Christ' is one of the hinges of the epistle….denoting the intimate vital union through faith between Christ and his people" (The Pulpit Commentary).

     "In Christ" or "in the Lord" in general has a number of fine shades or nuances in its use in Holy Writ. The simple and often intended meaning of "in Christ" or "in the Lord" is to denote a relation with Christ. Hence, Paul wrote, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ" (Eph. 1: 3). In these instances of "in Christ," to be in Christ is tantamount to being in his spiritual body, his church (Eph. 1: 22, 23). However, the science of semantics requires that we recognize that we cannot assign to "in Christ" a universal, inflexible, and exclusive meaning. For instance, Paul wrote "This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord…" (Eph. 4: 17). Did he mean, "I testify in the church?" The meaning is apparently "I testify in harmony with Christ, by his power, and in the domain of his guidance" (an affirmation of Paul's inspiration). Paul wrote that children are to obey their parents "in the Lord" (Eph. 6: 1). Here "in the Lord" (en kurio) is obviously and simply saying "in harmony with the Lord's will" (cp. Col. 3: 18, Acts 5: 29, see addendum 2). All children are obligated to obey their parents. It is in this same vein that Paul wrote, "For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judae are in Christ Jesus…" (I Thes. 2: 14).

     At this time, let us briefly consider I Corinthians 7: 39. The verse reads, "The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord." Does the expression "only in the Lord" (monon en kurio) only apply to a widow? Does "only in the Lord" mean she must marry a Christian? If Paul had wanted to teach the widow is to marry a Christian, why did not he simply say so instead of employing an expression that does not flow with the action. Paul would literally be saying, "marry in the church." How does one "marry in the church?" The language is awkward. However, the nuance "according to the will of the Lord" smoothly flows and is in harmony with the context. (See addendum 2.)

     Beloved, being in Christ, whether sphere is meant, as such, as in the church or the idea of in consistency with the Lord's will in a technical differentiation, is essential to our spiritual well being. It is in Christ that one is a new creature, the love of God is enjoyed, and redemption is experienced (2 Cor. 5: 7; Rom. 3: 24; 8: 39). Moreover, purity is in Christ, we are begotten in Christ, and sanctification is in Christ (2 Cor. 11: 3; I Cor. 4: 15; I Cor. 1: 2).

     The means of entry into Christ. Since being in Christ is so vitally important, how does one gain access into Jesus Christ? Beloved, the scriptures are plain in this matter: "For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ," Paul wrote (Gal. 3: 27). Please appreciate the fact that Paul wrote, "baptized into Christ" (eis christon). I point this out to stress the fact Paul did not teach man is baptized "in Christ." You see, most of the religious world teaches that man is already in Christ (saved) when he is baptized; hence, baptized in Christ. The preposition "eis" (not "en") is always used with reference to forward thrust or to obtain (gain entrance, in this case). (See addendum 3.) Hence, "Christ" (christon) in Galatians 3: 27 is in the accusative case (The Analytical Greek Lexicon, pg. 439).

     Addendum 1: En is used with the dative case (New Testament Greek for Beginners, pg. 40, 41, by J. Gresham Machen). The dative case corresponds to the locative, some grammarians list eight cases rather than the five taught by Machen. The locative case is the "in case" (Beginner's Grammar of the Greek New Testament by Davis, pg. 43, 29).

     Addendum 2: Paul had just taught in verses 12-14 that the believer was to remain married to the unbeliever. Why would he now, in the same context, issue a command that the widow must only marry "in the church" (whatever that means) or marry a Christian, as some like to arbitrarily inject. Does it not make more sense to say that Paul is evidently teaching by the phrase "only in the Lord" that the widow (inclusive of all) must not marry one who has no right to marry, for instance?

     Concerned readers, even though I do all I can to encourage Christians to marry Christians, I become rather upset when I hear I Corinthians 7: 39 used to teach that a Christian must marry a Christian. Do not we realize that if this is the case, the Christian who marries a non-Christian is in fornication and is producing illegitimate children? Such "marriages" must be dissolved, to be consistent. Yet, Paul said the believer and unbeliever are to remain together. Remain in fornication? Certainly not.

     I have witnessed the above view encourage such false doctrines as are rampant today that involve laxity toward the unscripturally married. "Yes, it is automatically a sin for a Christian to marry a non-Christian," some say, "but they can repent and remain together." Such views pervert and make a mockery out of repentance!

     Fellow students, there is no man who can prove beyond all doubt that "only in the Lord" means a Christian. I meant what I said, no man. However, we can prove in general that the widow and all others must marry "according to the will of the Lord." We are in trouble when we start playing down a generic and inserting a specific. If Paul had wanted to say "a Christian," he would have said so in plain, unambiguous language (typical of language involving a command). However, he did not.

     Addendum 3:  Machen wrote, "The preposition en, meaning in, always takes the dative case. Thus in the house is expressed by en to oiko; in the truth by en te aletheia, etc. The preposition eis, meaning into, on the other hand, always takes the accusative. Thus into the house is expressed by eis ton oikon" (New Testament Greek for Beginners, pg. 40).