“But now by Christ Jesus you who were once afar off have become near by the blood of Christ.”

This place is as good as any for the consideration of the phrase “in Christ.” It occurs in many of Paul’s epistles, and we have already seen it here in 1:3 (in him), 6 (in the beloved), 7 (in whom), 10, 11, 13, 20, and 2:5…, 6, 7, 10, and now 13. Some of these instances are easily understood, but others have led exegetes to adopt a mystical interpretation. An early medieval theologian used iron and fire as an illustration. We merge with God as the fire impregnates the iron to such an extent that we cannot tell whether it is iron or fire. Thus we permeate God, or better, God permeates us. Less explicit, some Neo-orthodox writers, as I have indicated elsewhere, try to modify the doctrine of election by charging Calvinists with failing to notice that election takes place “in Christ.” This not only misrepresents Calvinists, but in itself lacks meaning. Various Baptists, as also noted elsewhere, insist that en must be local, as in a room. In addition to being poor Greek, the insistence on the locative meaning makes nonsense of scores of verses. Others, regarding themselves as orthodox and very devout, impose a mystic aura on the phrase, and lapse into rapturous vacuity.

In reply to all, we must insist that the rational God gave us a rational message that we are obligated to understand, or at least try to understand. All Scripture is profitable for doctrine. Of course, as Peter complained about Paul, the Scriptures contain material hard to understand, but they contain nothing but what is understandable. Now then, what is the meaning of “in Christ”? Different passages may indeed use slightly different meanings; but probably the large majority of puzzling passages become clear when en is translated by by. That is, en often denotes agency or means. Here the phrase means simply that Christ brought us near to the commonwealth of Israel, the covenants, and the promise. In other places en will indicate that Christ is our legal representative, so that his act counts as ours.

Gordon H. Clark

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