We begin this post with an illustrative story (and will refer back to it throughout this series…)
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Picture for a moment a beautiful stretch of ocean beach in the early morning. It is an inspiring, solitary masterpiece of God’s creation. There is one section of this otherwise virgin seascape, however, that spoils the natural beauty. Strewn around in this section are the remnants of a beach party the night before. There is a fire pit, some littered trash, a few forgotten articles of clothing and a dozen or so empty liquor bottles.
As the tide moves in and the waves continue to crash further and further up the beach, the area where the party was is soon encroached on by the pounding surf. Little by little the littered remnants of the party the night before are picked up by the waves and drawn out to sea. The bottles, being left empty and uncapped from the previous night’s revelry, begin to be filled with water as they are tossed about in the pounding surf and rolling waves. As the sun continues to rise, the debris slowly makes its way out past the crashing surf to where it is picked up by a rip tide that carries it swiftly out into the swelling, wide open ocean. In the chop of the rip tide, the bottles continue to fill with water until, one by one, they plunge beneath the surface and silently glide down into the depths. On their journey downward, the labels adhered to them, having been soaked and saturated in the salty seawater, loosen and gracefully slip off. Now the bottles come to rest in the depths of the ocean as simple, glass containers, filled with, and forever a part of, the vast, wide ocean that surrounds them.
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We begin with this story because it will help to illustrate a number of aspects of what it means for the Church to be “IN” CHRIST. Of all the prepositions describing the Church’s relationship to her Lord, I believe this two-letter preposition, “IN”, is the most sublime of them all. It is daunting to stand before such a little word and feel so infinitesimally small in comparison to it. Who would guess so much could be represented by just two little letters?! In light of this, we will be dedicating four posts to exploring this immense, little preposition, “IN”, as it relates to the Church “IN” CHRIST.
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So, what does this story mean, and how does it relate to the Church being “in Christ?”
Well, those bottles are a picture of you and I, believers in Jesus Christ.
Consider that once we were a part of this world’s system. We were filled with the intoxicating “spirits” of this age. We bore the labels of this world, and after the world was through with us, many of us were left empty and alone, discarded in the darkness of spiritual night.
With the dawning of a new Day, however, the Sun began to rise on us. The surging tide of God’s grace stretched closer and closer until it swept in, lifted us up, and carried us off into the great wide ocean of God’s love in Jesus Christ. As waves of mercy broke over us, we were filled with the living water that surrounded us. Carried along by the currents of God’s Spirit, our vessels became filled to the brim, and we plunged into the depths of Jesus Christ. Saturated by the grace of God, the adhered labels of our former life gracefully slipped off leaving us innocent and new. Identified now simply by the sea that surrounded and filled us, we forever became one with the One in whom all fullness dwells.
We are now “IN” CHRIST!
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The Church “IN” CHRIST
Repeatedly throughout the New Testament, reference is made to the body of believers being “in Christ” (Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 1:30; Gal. 3:26,28; Eph. 2:6, 2:10, 2:21-22; Col. 1:28, 2:10; Phil. 3:9, to name a few.)). In contemplating this phrase, four words come to mind that I believe capture the essence of what this “INness” means and encompasses. We will consider the first of them here and the others in the subsequent posts.
The first word is “intimacy.” Jesus spoke of the intimate relationship that He had with the Father as He being “IN” the Father, and the Father being “IN” Him. There is no greater oneness and intimacy that can be had than when two beings mutually indwell one another. This is also the relationship that we have with Jesus Christ. We are “IN” Him, and He is “IN” us making us continually, perpetually, eternally ONE.
As we consider our story, we see this intimate oneness also exists between the ocean and the bottles. The bottles are “IN” the ocean, and the ocean is “IN” the bottles. The bottles do not have to strive to create this oneness. Having been “baptized” into, and filled with, the ocean, they have simply come to a place of rest in it. They are now as intimate as bottles and ocean can be.
We, also, who have been baptized into and filled with Christ, have come to a place of rest in intimate oneness with Him. We are perpetually abiding in Him, and He in us. There is no separation, alienation or distance between us for we mutually indwell each other. This is our continual state once we are IN Christ Jesus.
This abiding reality, though eternally established, and our present possession “in Christ”, is not something that we are always conscious of, daily experience or regularly live in the good of, however. This intimate oneness is not something that we create, but it is a reality that we need to enter into experientially in order to fulfill God’s intention and desire for us in relationship with Himself.
So, how do we enter into the experience of intimate oneness with the Lord on a daily basis?
Here are a few principles that I believe are significant:
First of all, as has been stated, our intimacy with the Lord begins (and ends) with a PRESENT REALITY that is already ours because we are “IN” CHRIST, and HE is “IN” us. Our communion with Him comes out of a place of established intimacy, rather than one of distance and a striving to create intimacy. Even as man was created on the sixth day at the end of the work of creation, and he entered immediately into God’s rest on the seventh day, so the work of creating eternal union between us and Christ has already been accomplished and we must simply enter in and experience His rest concerning it. It doesn’t begin with that which we must do, but with that which has been done. This, I believe, is the primary key, and the one most often missed, when it comes to pursuing daily intimacy with the Lord. We begin with the unchanging truth that we are already intimately and inseparably one.
Secondly, we enter into the awareness and experience of this present reality by FAITH. The bottles in the ocean have this intimate oneness, but they do not have the awareness of, or the ability to consciously experience, its reality. We, however, have been given a spiritual and a soulish nature that together give us the capability of entering into and experiencing it in living reality. It is through our spiritual senses informing and confirming Truth in our soul that faith arises and causes us to enter into the reality of this present oneness “in Christ.”
Thirdly, this faith is most effectively increased through PRAYERFUL MEDITATION on the WORD OF GOD concerning this reality. As we meditate on those Scriptures which reveal the significance and substance of our being “IN” CHRIST, and of CHRIST being “IN” us, our spirit and soul are quickened to more fully apprehend the reality of our spiritual union with Him.
Fourthly, this faith is most powerfully released through the exercise of THANKSGIVING and PRAISE in relation to it. Psalm 100:4 says, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise...” Thanksgiving and praise are the most fitting expressions of the heart when entering God’s dwelling place. As we enter into the reality of Christ being our dwelling place, and we being His, thanksgiving and praise are the two attitudes most helpful and most appropriate. As we sincerely express these to the Lord from the depths of our heart, we find that faith is powerfully released through them. This in turn causes us to enter more fully into the awareness of His intimate, abiding Presence.
Fifthly, once we have entered into this living experience of His Presence, both within us and around us, we can enter into a place of REST “in Christ.” Here we can allow Him to quietly saturate us and sanctify us, spirit, soul and body, as we simply “soak in His ocean.” Here all striving and self-activity ceases as we lovingly yield to the “currents” of His Spirit. Here communion is face to face in intimacy and quiet worship as we experience the joy and glory of our mutual indwelling. This is where we experience the spiritual union and communion that is eternally ours IN Christ Jesus.
Lastly, as we come out of a time of spiritual communion and intimacy with the Lord, we must learn to nurture and carry this intimacy with us into the busyness of our day. The same principles that govern these set apart times, also govern the cultivation of intimacy in the busy times. If we can discipline ourselves to RETURN to them over and over again throughout the day we will begin to experience the abiding Presence and intimacy of the Lord more fully and consistently in our lives. As Isaiah said, “In returning and rest shall be your salvation. In quietness and confidence shall be your strength” (Isaiah 30:15). We must continually return to our place of rest “in Christ”, in quietness and confidence. We are perpetually “IN” HIM, and HE is “IN” us. This is our salvation and our strength.
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In closing, I would like encourage you to set apart some time to simply be with the Lord. Consider the things that have been shared here, and use them as a guide, if you would like. The Lord wants to bring us into a place of abiding rest, communion and intimacy with Himself in His Presence… “IN” CHRIST.