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The New Testament writers understood that it was possible to be “in Christ” and for Christ to be in us in a way that leaps over the moments. It is this eternal time and spiritual connection that makes Christ’s blood work for us. When we view time in this way, we have a true and immediate connection of to Christ.
Although he was not present at Christ’s crucifixion, the apostle Paul could say: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).
In these words we have spiritual participation in the person and work of Christ that is not restricted by time or by space. This way of seeing life in Christ is pervasive in the New Testament. Consider:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Cor. 5:17)
If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. (Rom. 6:5)
Believers are in Christ and with Christ in all that has happened to Him. “God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions . . . And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:4–6).
This mystical union was at the heart of the teaching of the great Reformer John Calvin.
First, we must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us. Therefore, to share with us what he has received from the Father, he had to become ours and to dwell with us.5
“In Christ” is a mystical/spiritual union that becomes a believer’s new identity. Origen, a teacher in the early church, wrote, “He became what we are that we might become like He is.” Because Jesus died to sin, those who believe in Him have died to sin as well. Because Jesus has been raised from the dead, we are raised from the dead. Because God has raised Christ to the heavenly realms and seated Him at His right hand, we too have been raised to the heavenlies and are seated at God’s right hand.
As a result of our mystical union with Christ, my identity is now that of Christ; this means I am justified and no longer guilty of sin, no longer estranged from God, no longer a slave to spiritual forces that would overpower and deform me.
Now that we are justified, we can share in the process of sanctification: growth in holiness and character development.
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