The New Testament teaches that Christians are “in Christ” as a result of their salvation. Well-known verses like 2 Corinthians 5:17, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation,” and Romans 8:1, which says there is no condemnation for “those who are in Christ Jesus” reveal this important truth (emphases added). But what is the meaning of being “in Christ” and its implications?
To be “in Christ” expresses the spiritual union that a believer has with Jesus as a result of their salvation. Also called “union with Christ,” the doctrine states that Christians are identified with Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, which has incredible implications for now and in the future.
What does the New Testament teach about being in Christ? What does it mean to die “in Christ” and rise in him? Is being “in Christ” just a future blessing or is it relevant for today? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
Also see What is the Law of Christ? to learn more.
What does the New Testament teach about being In Christ?
Christian theologians from different traditions define being “in Christ” or having “union with Christ” in similar ways. One says it’s the “work of God to join his people in eternal covenant with the Son.”  Another explains that the term means that “Christians receive every benefit of salvation.” 
Some theologians estimate that in the New Testament a Christian’s identity of being “in Christ” is mentioned more than 200 hundred times if all its variations are counted (e.g. “in him,” Eph. 1:4). Scholars are in agreement that the phrase appears most in Ephesians, where it occurs 36 times in six chapters.
Philip Graham Ryken writes, “It is sometimes said that the most important word in the New Testament is ‘in,’ especially when it is joined to the name ‘Christ.’ ‘In Christ’ is such a little phrase that it is easy to read right past, yet it must be important because it occurs more than 200 times” in the New Testament. 
7 Facts About a Christian’s Union with Christ
There are different aspects to a believer’s identity of being “in Christ” that are evident in the New Testament. There are different aspects of the union because the results of salvation are multifaceted. Followers of Jesus receive blessing upon blessing because they are united with him. Below are seven facts about a Christian’s union with Jesus.
1. A Christian’s union with Christ is part of the Father’s plan
The Father planned for Christians to be spiritually united with Jesus before the world or any people even existed. Therefore, being “in Christ” is not an afterthought, but part of God’s eternal plan of salvation. The three verses below are examples of places where the New Testament articulates this truth.
- Ephesians 1:4, “Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.”
- Ephesians 1:11-12, “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.”
- 2 Timothy 1:9, God “saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.”
Also see What Does It Mean To Be Crucified With Christ? to learn more.
2. A Christian’s union with Christ includes dying “in him”
Because of their inherent sinful nature, all people are dead in sin (Rom. 3:23; Eph. 2:1). Yet, when he died on the cross, Christ willingly became the substitute for sinners and took the penalty for their sin.
As a result of the crucifixion, people’s sin was transferred to Christ and Christ’s righteousness was transferred to people. Paul writes, “For our sake [the Father] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21; cf. Isa. 53:6).
The New Testament teaches that Christians died in Christ when their sin was transferred to him on the cross. The three verses below are examples of places where Paul mentions this.
- Romans 6:6, “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.”
- Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
- 2 Corinthians 5:14, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died.”
3. A Christian’s union with Christ includes rising “in him”
C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Once a man is united to God, how could he not live forever?” Because Jesus’ righteousness has been transferred to sinners, death has no hold on them and they will rise with Christ. The three verses below are examples of the New Testament’s teaching about this.
- Romans 6:5, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
- Ephesians 2:6, God “raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus”
- 1 Corinthians 15:22, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”
Also see Why Is Jesus Called the Son of David? to learn more.
4. A Christian’s union with Christ includes a present identity
Believers are united in Christ’s death and resurrection, which occurred in the past. This enables them to live forever with God even after they physically die, which will occur in the future. Yet, there are present blessings for those who are in Christ as well.
The three verses below are examples of the New Testament teaching about this and mention sanctification (i.e. spiritual maturity), spiritual blessings, and faith and love.
- 1 Corinthians 1:30, “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”
- Ephesians 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”
- 1 Timothy 1:14, “and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus“
5. A Christian’s union with Christ includes present empowerment
New Testament writers, especially Paul, mention doing certain behaviors “in the Lord” dozens of times. The phrase suggests that the righteous behaviors associated with Christian living are rooted in a person’s union with Christ. Below are three examples of this reality.
- Philippians 4:10, “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity.”
- 1 Thessalonians 4:1, “Finally, brothers, we ask and encourage you in the Lord Jesus to live in a way that is pleasing to God, just as you have received from us. This is how you already live, so you should do so all the more.”
- 1 Corinthians 15:58, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
“I’m not afraid of the devil. The devil can handle me – he’s got judo I never heard of. But he can’t handle the One to whom I’m joined; he can’t handle the One to whom I’m united; he can’t handle the One whose nature dwells in my nature.” – A.W. Tozer
Also see Who Washed Jesus’ Feet? to learn more.
6. A Christian’s union with Christ includes his union with them
In Galatians 2:20 (quoted above), Paul says that he has been crucified with Christ and it’s “no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” Below are three more examples of where the New Testament teaches that union with Christ doesn’t only involve the believer in Christ, but Christ in the believer.
- John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
- Colossians 1:27, “To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
- Ephesians 3:17, “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith— that you, being rooted and grounded in love”
“This is the stunning message of Christianity; Jesus died for you so that He might live in you. Jesus doesn’t merely improve your old nature; He imparts to you and entirely new nature – one that is completely united with His.” – David Platt
Also see Did Jesus Eat Fish? to learn more.
7. A Christian’s union with Christ involves mimicking his ways
Being “like Christ” is an important part of being “in Christ.” The three verses below are examples of this way of life for believers.
- 1 John 2:6, “whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked”
- Philippians 1:20, “as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death”
- Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her”
“Because of our union with Christ, we are not hated. Weakness, wrongdoing, and failings cling to us, yes. But they do not establish who we are. We are the beloved of God. Though sin still exists in our lives, we have the status of the One who gave his life for us and to us – God’s own Son.” – Bryan Chapell
Also see What Is a Disciple of Jesus Christ? to learn more.
 The Baker Compact Dictionary of Theological Terms by Gregg Allision. p. 216.
 Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem. p. 841.
 The Message of Salvation by Philip Graham Ryken. p. 186.
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