When Paul opens his letter to the Colossians he begins, “To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are in Colosse” (Col. 1:2). Notice he describes them as “in Christ.” Let’s see how he describes those “in Christ.” See if this describes us today? “In Christ” is a favorite of Paul. It is so easy to read right over that little phrase but it is filled with great meaning.
First of all, spiritually, they were “in Christ.” What he means is that people are related to the Lord Jesus. He means that Jesus Christ is the environment in which they live; that He is the atmosphere that they breathe; that He is the dominating factor of their lives; that He is the One who directs them in the way they ought to go. That is one aspect of what it means to be “in Christ.”
But, in addition to that, Paul also means that when God looks at people who are “in Christ” He does not see them in all their failure. He sees them as forgiven by the grace and mercy provided by the blood of Christ (Gal. 3:27-29; Col. 3; Romans 4:6-8; 1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Cor. 5:21). If we were to stand before God in all our uncleanness we would be unacceptable. But, when we’re in Christ we’re clothed with the righteousness His blood supplies and are “accepted in the Beloved.” And so, when Paul writes to the people who are “in Christ,” as he does repeatedly, we recognize that he is talking about their spiritual condition and spiritual position.
So, the first thing we should do is ask ourselves, “Would I see myself as living in Christ? Do I have a definite union with Him? Do I see Christ as the atmosphere that I breathe? The environment in which I live? The dominating factor of my life? And am I wearing the garment of righteousness He provides, or do I think I’m going to make it on my own?”
“In Christ” also meant that they were morally “Holy” (Col. 1:2). Notice, that these people who are “in Christ” spiritually are also called “saints.” The word “holy” is a very interesting word. It is a word that people react to. If we are called “holier-than-thou” it’s a word that we don’t like very much. People would think that was ridiculous. Why? It is because we do not understand what “holy” means. It is viewed as degrading. However, the root word from which the idea of “holiness” comes is the word that means simply, “to cut.” “Cut” leads to the idea of “separated.” Separated leads to the idea of “distinctive.” Distinctive leads to “other than.” Holy means, “distinctive, separate, other, something else.” So that when God picks out a word to describe Himself He describes Himself as Holy! What does He mean? He means He is distinct; He’s separate; He’s other; if we can use the colloquial, “He is truly something else.” So, Isaiah 40:25 says, “To whom then will you liken Me, Or to whom shall I be equal?” says the Holy One.”
Now, when we read about people who are “in Christ” spiritually, we’ve also got to recognize that they are required to be “holy” morally. Which means they are “something else.” They live distinctively. People who are “holy” have a new set of priorities. Their lives are attractive and winsome. Their distinctive lives adorn the gospel of Christ.
“In Christ” also meant they were faithful. Paul describes them intellectually as “faithful,” or “believing” (Col. 1:2). In the NKJV it reads like this “to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ.” The word translated “faithful” can equally be translated “believing.” You see, “Faith-ful” and “Full of faith” come from the same Greek word. They only have one word for both. If you are full of a faith, that is “believing,” you should demonstrate it by being “faithful.” Think of it this way, if you are trusting you demonstrate it by being trustworthy. The two terms always work hand in glove. Paul is saying these believers in Colosse have intellectually subscribed to the gospel that has been presented to them. But even more than intellectually—morally it has had ramifications in their life-style, and spiritually it has now placed them into Christ.
So, when we talk about Christians we’re talking about people who are spiritually “in Christ,” morally are “holy,” and intellectually are “believing” the truth of the gospel.
“In Christ” also described them sociologically, they are “Brothers.” Notice also he calls them “brothers in Christ at Colosse” (Col. 1:2). This means sociologically there were some differences too. They had become brothers in Christ. Now, this is very significant because in this little group of people that we call the church at Colosse they regarded themselves as being brothers. Despite the racial differences, some being Jews and some being Greeks. No doubt many of them, had run into real problems with their “blood relatives.” There was some real division when some of them became Christians. There would have been sharp divisions in families when some of them would become Christians. Some of you can perhaps empathize with this.
In the fellowship of believers the Colossians had discovered a whole lot of new brothers and sisters. They were a part of a new family and incidentally it’s a much larger family. That is one of the great draws of being a Christian today. With the breakup of marriages, with the breakup of homes, with the vast spaces between relatives, people need close relationships. And when people become Christians, spiritually believing people, they are introduced to a whole new community. And they find many new brothers and sisters.
So, here we get a great description of what it means to be “in Christ.” “In Christ” we belong in a family as brothers and sisters. “In Christ” the foundation of our thinking grows out of our faith. “In Christ” we are morally distinctive. “In Christ” we are seen as clean. What is puzzling is why everybody wouldn’t want to be “in Christ?” Would we really rather be “in Satan?”
By Rickie Jenkins
From Expository Files 22.2; February 2015