“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (1 Corinthians 5:17-20)
I want us to look at this passage with three questions in mind: First, what does it mean to be IN Christ. Second, how does a person get to be IN Christ. And third, how can we know if we are truly IN Christ?
So, point number one, which is lifted from that first clause on verse 17: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ . . .” What does it mean to be IN Christ? This answer to this question, by the way, establishes what it really means to be a Christian.
So, what does it mean to be IN Christ? Let’s let Scripture answer the question. Here is 1 Corinthians 12:12 “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
Now, here is Colossians 1:15-18 “For by Him [Christ] all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church.”
As most here know, the ‘Church’ is entirely comprised of all who are part of the Body of Christ – perhaps better described as His ‘mystical’ or spiritual Body. That means, to be “in Christ’ a person must of necessity be part of Christ’s spiritual or mystical body, which the New Testament defines as the Church.
To use our bodies as an illustration, we have to be as inseparably linked to His mystical Body as our hands or feet or eyes are inseparably linked to our body. If we lose a hand, the hand will die. If we lose a leg, the leg will die, and so forth. Likewise, if we are separated from Christ’s Body – WE will die.
Furthermore, just as the parts of our body respond to the direction of our head, so also those who are in the mystical Body of Christ respond to the direction of our supernatural Head – who is Jesus Christ.
So, to summarize – to be IN Christ means we are part of His supernatural and mystical Body. And that then begs the next question:
Point number two: How do we get to be in His mystical Body? The answer to that question is really simple – so simple a child can understand it. I know that most of you, if not all of you here, have heard many times what I am about to tell you, but I take my direction from what the apostle Peter, out of his deep concern for his readers – what Peter wrote to his readers:
“[And] I will always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them, and have been established in the truth which is present with you. I consider it right, as long as I am in this earthly dwelling, to stir you up by way of reminder.” (2 Peter 1:12-13)
The Lord Jesus and the writers of the New Testament told us so often how and why the Father places anyone into the mystical Body of Christ that no one who reads the New Testament with an open heart could say they missed it. For example, here is what Jesus said to the Pharisee Nicodemus:
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
If we’ve been in the Church for any length of time, we’ve heard John 3:16 again and again: Whoever believes in the Son of God, whom the Father gave to suffer for our sins – whoever believes in Him HAS eternal live.
But what does it really mean to believe? The Greek word translated, ‘Believe’ in this context means to fully commit oneself to Christ in faithful obedience, trust, confidence, and fidelity.
You see, Biblical belief in Jesus the Christ is not at all a mere mental acknowledgment of who Jesus is and what He has done. Belief without obedience is NOT a belief that saves anyone. So, this text in John 3 can be paraphrased: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever commits to Him in faithful obedience shall not perish but have eternal life.”
THAT is how one is born again – faithful commitment of ourselves to follow Jesus as absolute Lord, Master, and King of our life. In other words, what He says, we will do. Where He sends us, we will go. How He lived in obedience to His Father, so will we. We’ll circle back to this point momentarily, but for now, let’s unpack this phrase about obedience to the Master.
God tells us throughout the inerrant, infallible, and fully inspired Scriptures that all humanity – that includes me and you – we have all sinned and fall short of His demand for our perfection.
Here is Matthew 5:48 – “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” And, here is Romans 3:23 “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
John also tells us: “This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.” (1 John1:5-10)
So, for the Father to place us into the Body of Christ, we must fully commit ourselves to Christ by first confessing to Him our sins – not only our past sins, but our ongoing, daily sins. Next, we have to repent of those sins, knowing that repentance is not simply being sorry for our sins. Repentance means we are telling God we will not – to the best of our abilities – we WILL NOT DO IT AGAIN.
Listen to what God said to Israel. And don’t think for a moment He does not say exactly the same thing to you and me – “Repent and turn away from all your transgressions, so that iniquity may not become a stumbling block to you. Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,” declares the Lord God. “Therefore, repent and live.” (Ezekiel 30b-32)
Now please hear this, because this is crucial to our ability to mature as a Christian: Confession, followed by true repentance, ALWAYS – ALWAYS – results in God's forgiveness of those sins. As John just told us: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
So, once again, what must we do for the Father to place us IN Christ? Confession; Repentance; And ongoing obedience to Christ. And part of that obedience will involve water baptism.
You’ll remember what Jesus commanded His disciples: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
And Peter to the crowd in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost: “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38).
Those who know their Bibles know that EVERY instance – with the only exception of the thief of the cross – every instance in the New Testament when a person came to true faith in Christ, they were baptized in water. Not once – again, except for the thief on the cross – not once is conversion and baptism not connected.
So, in essence, those steps – if we want to call them ‘steps’ – are those we must all follow if we want to be – AND REMAIN – in the Body of Christ.
And also, those who know their Bibles also know that not everyone who thinks he or she is IN Christ is really in Him. How tragic it will be for those who faithfully attended church each week, who faithfully tithed their income, who routinely received Holy Communion, who worked in the church as a pastor, priest, deacon, or usher, or children’s teacher – how tragic and horrific will it be for them to be reminded of what Jesus said in
“Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, ‘Lord, open up to us!’ then He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence [SOUNDS TO ME LIKE HOLY COMMUNION], and You taught in our streets’; and He will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you are from; Depart from Me, all you evildoers.’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Luke 13:24-28)
Which brings us to the third and last point of this message: How can we KNOW we are in Christ? How can we know we have not deluded ourselves into believing we are IN Christ when, in reality, we have only an academic knowledge of Him? How can we be sure we will not hear the Lord say to us at the Judgment: “Depart from Me. I never knew you”?
The answer to that question is not complicated. But our pride, makes the answer for some not so easy to accept. As Jeremiah tells us: “The heart is deceitful above all things and it is extremely sick; Who can understand it fully and know its secret motives? (Jeremiah 17:9, AMP)
That’s why the apostle Paul urges all the faithful to humbly “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5)
He also tells us of himself: “So I do not run as if I did not know where I was going. And I do not fight like a man just beating the air. But I control my own body really well. I make my body obey me. After telling others the good news, I myself do not want to be left out.” (1 Corinthians 9:26-27, World English Bible)
So, here is how “I” test myself. Here is the question I often ask myself. And it is the same question every honest and humble Christian must ask him or herself: Am I DIFFERENT today from what I was before I met Christ?
Please remember the first part of today’s text in which Paul wrote: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
The operative word here is “NEW creature” or other translations, a NEW creation.” As God tells us again and again regarding our confessed sins, all of them have passed into oblivion in God's view of things. That’s what the ‘remission of sins’ means when we look at the word ‘forgiveness’ in the New Testament Greek language. All our sins completely erased. Obliterated. As if we never committed them. At our conversion AND throughout our lives with each true confession and repentance, God gives us a totally new slate on which to continue writing our NEW lives.
But this text in 2 Corinthians covers more than our SINS which were cast from us when we became new creatures. The text also addresses our old attitudes. For the Christian whose HEART now practices what the mind has discovered, the attitudes we had as unregenerated men and women have also passed into oblivion: Attitudes about sexual morality. Our views about what is a godly lifestyle. How we think the Ten Commandments apply to us. Our opinion about the authority of the Bible over our life. What are our attitudes about money and gossip, and slander? What about our habits regarding the television shows we watch, the books and magazines we read?
And perhaps most important – what is out attitude toward maturing in our relationship with Christ and seeking DAILY to please Him in everything we do, say, and think?
In other words, if our attitudes toward every area of life are essentially the same today as they were before we came to Christ, if those attitudes are STILL part of our ‘nature’ then we very much need to examine ourselves to see whether we are truly IN Christ. Are we truly new creations in Christ. Or are we just playing at being a Christian, saying the right words and doing the right things – but all without a true change of heart?
Listen: God is not a doting Grandfather who merely says, ‘Tsk, tsk” when we sin. He still demands of us holiness in our actions, words, AND thoughts. He demands that we become more and more conformed to the image of His Son. He demands, as He tell us through Paul: That we present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)
I close today’s message as I began it: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
We’ve seen what the Bible means when it talks about being a new creation. We’ve seen what it says about being ‘In Christ.’ We’ve also seen how anyone gets to be ‘In Christ.’ And we have been reminded what being IN Christ looks like – that being a NEW lifestyle, a NEW desire to grow in Christian maturity. A NEW desire to please God in all that we do, think, and say.
May God the Holy Spirit continue His work in us, that we will always walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, “to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” (Colossians 1:10b)