Christ in You ♦ You in Christ

WHETHER YOU CALL IT “The Plan of Salvation” or “Righteousness by Faith,” the topic of how God saves us from sin sometimes seems impossibly complicated.

Sometimes you read the hair-splitting and pretentious pontificating of theologians, and you’re left with the impression that unless you have a doctorate or two and live in an ivory tower, you’re simply not equipped to understand redemption (or soteriology, as they would be more likely to put it).

Yet if salvation isn’t simple enough for even a child to understand, then God hasn’t reached down far enough to save everyone.

In my own church, the topic—usually flying under the flag “Righteousness by Faith”—has divided churches, pitted members against each other, generated often more heat than light, and like an autoimmune disease, caused the Body of Christ to declare war on itself.

Perhaps a large part of the problem is simply that we too often yield to the natural selfish human impulse to speak and debate and contend, more than we listen and pray and seek. Because the truth in all its simplicity is right there in the Word—and the Spirit of God is not just available, but eager, to make it unmistakably clear.

An old preacher supposedly said, “When I was young, I had all Bible truth comprised in 300 doctrines. Now that I’m old, I have only two: ‘I am a great sinner’—and ‘Jesus is a great Savior.'”

I believe the old cleric was close to the mark. I too see really just two parts to the one great theme of salvation: Christ in you…and you in Christ. The apostle Paul sets them forth as follows:

Christ in you: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Galatians 2:20.

You in Christ: “But of Him [God the Father] you are in Christ Jesus.” 1 Corinthians 1:30.

Paul develops these twin themes in far greater detail in his epistles, but these two verses serve to summarize them.

“Christ in you” is what we often call sanctification—the process by which Jesus lives in us through His Spirit to bring, in real time, obedience and a character like His.

“You in Christ” is what we often call justification—the once-for-all act of Jesus in removing sin’s penalty from us. We were forgiven at the Cross. Our salvation was completed there with no effort from us. We can’t add to it. We can only accept it.

“Christ in you” has to do with power—power to overcome, to obey, to resist temptation, to live in the Spirit rather than the “flesh.” It is the fruit of salvation.

“You in Christ” has to do with pardon—pardon not only for our sins (plural) but for our basic inborn sin (singular) of rebellion. It is the root of salvation.

Paul, of course, is not the only Bible writer to address salvation—they all did. Some through stories. Some through symbols. Some through “theology.” Some through recounting the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Let’s not get so lost examining individual trees that we lose track of the forest. Let’s not cloud the clarity of salvation with high-sounding terminology or intellectual abstractions. Let’s keep a balance between the objective facts of salvation and the subjective experience of it.

In the end, it has to be simple. Let’s not pull the lifeline of salvation away from a drowning world by making tragically complicated what God made so clear and simple.


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