Posted by: Dan | January 11, 2005

In Christ

I was reading something one of my brothers wrote and I was struck by what he said. Drawing on theological tradition he looks back to the idea of original sin and affirms that hubris was the motivating factor. It was because Adam and Eve sought to be like God that they became sub-human. Motivated by pride they sought to elevate themselves and instead found themselves fallen. Keeping this in mind as a warning my brother than suggests that as Christians we must beware of committing the same sin of pride. Let us not presume to be Christ and bring salvation to the world or we may discover that we are far less than Christ and have brought destruction to the world. Therefore, my brother concludes, we should focus on being with Christ. In humility we must journey in love relationship with Jesus and therefore avoid the pitfalls of hubris.

Now this is an intriguing application of the Fall narrative and it certainly avoids one extreme but I fear that it gravitates too far to the other extreme and (as extremes tend to do) ends up being too simplistic. Here it is important to maintain biblical thinking and language. What sort of language does the New Testament apply to a Christian's relation to Jesus? I would argue that the appropriate term is not a call to be Christ, nor is it a call to be with Christ but rather it is a call to be in Christ. Indeed, many prominent New Testament scholars argue that being “in Christ” is the central theme of Paul's entire theology (cf. NT Wright and many others, especially those belonging to the “New Perspectives on Paul”). To use the language of “in Christ” avoids both extremes will providing a more nuanced (and complicated) understanding of Christian identity. To say that believers are Christ can result in the hubris that my brother mentions. However, to simply say that believers journey with Christ can completely lose track of the new creation that Christ has accomplished and the in-breaking of the kingdom that began at Pentecost. One side is sinfully prideful, the other sinfully humble. Indeed, contemporary Western Christians seem to more often commit the sin of humility. No, you are not a sinner saved by grace, you are a new creation.

To be in Christ picks up on the strengths of both extremes without committing the mistakes of either. Thus, there are times when believers are so intimately linked with Jesus' mission, suffering and glory that it is hard to discern between the two. However, there is also a clear demarcation between Jesus, the Lord of creation, and his disciples. In pursuing Christian identity we need to start with an understanding of ourselves as in Christ and work out from there. Together we will discover how being in Christ impacts all areas of our living and when it is appropriate to speak of ourselves as Christ and when it is appropriate to speak of ourselves with Christ – always keeping the central motif in mind.

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