Recently at ICC we’re been learning how we can be “In Christ”. It’s a concept that most people really have problem getting their heads around. We’ve learned, for example, that we can be “in Howick” and “in Christ”, we can be “in our workplace”, and “in Christ”. We could be a nurse, working “in the hospital” and be “In Christ”. This got me to thinking, what does it mean to be “In Christ”? It seems to be one of those mysterious terms that people in Church throw about, but dont seem to be able to explain. So I thought, its time to explain it, and some things that are behind it.
First, in order to be “In Christ” we must first be reborn according to John 3. Then in Romans Paul tells us more about this process:
Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose, 8:29 because those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 8:30 And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified.
Wow, some words in here, predestining, conforming, image, justified, glorified, foreknowing… It’s worth noting that despite what philosophers will tell you, predestination in Scripture is all about salvation, and God’s plan to redeem creation, and not all about determinism and making everything happen. This is however, a subject for another much more boring sermon. The focus here is on what the foreknowing and predestining is for. That is, the purpose of this foreknowing and predestining is for us to be conformed to the Image of God’s Son, who is of course, Jesus of Nazareth.
So then, being “in Christ” is something to do with this being conformed to the image of Christ.
Since the Hebrew mind understands things differently to the modern European mind, we should investigate a bit before we get to this. Now, at the end of this sermon, I am going to ask you some questions, and getting to the questions is a little bit of a winding path. My style of preaching is not to give you answers, but to get you to ask yourselves questions, so in order to do that I need to give you some information first. Hopefully you will go away a little bit better able to understand some things in Scripture, and hopefully, very hopefully, considering something new.
The Greek thinker views the world through the mind, which is abstract thought, but the Hebrew thinker views the world through the senses, which is concrete thought.
Understanding this concept becomes most important when we get to what the bible refers to as mysteries. Let’s look at some examples of concrete thought:
Let’s look at an example of a word picture in Ps 1:3: “He is like a tree, planted by streams of water, which yields fruit in season, and who’s leaf does not wither”. Here we have concrete words expressing abstract thought, the tree is someone who is upright or righteous, streams of water are grace, fruit is good character, and unwithered leaf is prosperity. These are common ways of expressing these abstract thoughts in “real” terms. But English does not work the same, for example in English, Ps 103:8 reads: “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love”. In Hebrew the concept of anger is expressed by the idea of flared nostrils, as when one is angry one breathes more heavily and the nostrils flare, so they use the concrete idea of “nose” to express the abstract idea of anger. So, literally in Hebrew the passage reads, “slow to nose”. You’ll understand why the translators choose to change that word, and also that the Hebrew mind sees things differently than us. The idea of concrete things which represent abstract ideas flows on to all sorts of things in Scripture. In order to be able to comprehend alot of what is said we need to get our heads around this concept. This is especially relevant when it comes to apocalyptic literature. The greek word “apocalypse” means “revelation” and is where we get the name of the last book of the bible. It is literally, “the apocalypse of John”. The book of apocalypse is called “the book of mysteries”, and we need to understand the difference between concrete and abstract thought to get our heads around it.
In the bible a mystery is not the same as how we see it. We think of a mystery and something needing to be solved, a question that requires an answer, a riddle that needs a solution. However, in the bible a mystery is more like a secret kind of knowledge. It is something you either know the answer to, or do not. An example is here:
1 Cor 2:14 The unbeliever does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. 2:15 The one who is spiritual discerns all things, yet he himself is understood by no one. 2:16 For who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to advise him? But we have the mind of Christ.
This is an example of how as Christians we are expected to have a different kind of knowledge to the world. We know things that they do not know, and in fact can not. We have knowledge of the mysteries of faith.
Parts of Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and Matthew are apocalyptic, but the best known is our book of mysteries. Generally the purpose of this form of literature is to “unveil” something which has or will come to pass, and is usually in the form of a vision. What is being unveiled to us in Revelation is “a mystery”, and as I have said, it is not a puzzle for which there is a solution, or a riddle.
Here is an example:
Rev 1:20 The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and the seven golden lamp-stands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches and the seven lamp-stands are the seven churches.
So, what we read here is that there is a mystery, a puzzle; the seven stars and the seven lamp-stands and that the solution to the puzzle is that they are the seven angels and the seven churches.
So, how do we identify what the author is meaning here? We need to understand that the author is not saying the lamp-stands are a symbol for the church, and the church is not a lamp-stand. They correspond to each other, both being equally real.
We have also in Rev 21 some other symbols for the church; the bride and the holy city. Let’s take the example of a Bride. Which one is the real one? Is the symbol of the human bride or the Church the example? In reality human marriage is just a pale shadow of the union between Christ and the Church, but the fact is, one is not an explanation of the other; the church is not the bride and the bride is not the church, but a bride is a bride and a church is also a bride. These are interchangeable terms for the same thing, you are meant to be able to say “the bride of Christ” and everyone will know you are talking about the church, not that churches are like human brides.
The point is you see, John does not want to tell us about lamp-stands being churches, or churches being brides, what John wants to do is tell us things ABOUT the Church. The mystery is merely a vehicle to be used, a literary device, in order to point you to the information which is to follow.
Let’s take another example,
17:9 (This requires a mind that has wisdom.) The seven heads are seven mountains the woman sits on. They are also seven kings: 17:10 five have fallen; one is, and the other has not yet come, but whenever he does come, he must remain for only a brief time.
Here are some mysteries for us to consider, heads, hills or mountains, and kings. What is the mystery of the heads which are mountains which are kings?
If you know your bible then you will know that mountains symbolise strength and power, although, not more powerful than God, for Ps 76:4 says “God is greater than the mountains”, and elsewhere we read that even the mountains will tremble in the face of God.
So, rather than the solution being the physical reality of hills, for example, Rome, the answer is actually hills are strength, and the heads are something strong and related to the beast (verse 11). We know from elsewhere that the “beast” is all that is unGodly, for example:
Then another sign appeared in heaven: a huge red dragon that had seven heads and ten horns, and on its heads were seven diadem crowns.
Then I saw a beast coming up out of the sea. It had ten horns and seven heads, and on its horns were ten diadem crowns, and on its heads a blasphemous name.
A blasphemous dragon, which generally refers to chaos, and everything opposed to God. God is, of course, the one who makes order from Chaos, which is symbolised most often by water, and beasts in the water. This is of course, the purpose of Genesis 1, to explain how God has created order from chaos.
So, the hills and heads are in fact the chaotic powers that have perverted the earth, and therefore the Kings must be the embodiment of this powerful evil. As the hills do not refer to a particular real hill (or seven hills), likewise the King is not a reference to a particular King, but rather to a succession of Kings, or more likely, the whole idea of “kingship”.
So, when John is given a vision of these things, the images that come to mind are that of heads, hills, kings, all tainted by the perversion and evil of the world. John is not trying to tell you that the hills are a particular hill, or that the heads are particular heads, or the kings are particular kings, He is trying to tell you THINGS ABOUT these things. Hills are real, heads are real, kings are real, but its the realities, the spiritual realities if you like, that lie behind them, the mysteries, that are important.
If I say to you, “this is the mystery of my bro’s, they are my homies, they are mah dawgs”. You already know that my bro’s, homies, and dawgs refer to the same thing, and that what I am about to tell you is something about those bro’s, homies and dogs. The mystery is not that Bro’s are Homies or that Bro’s and Homies are dawgs, there is no puzzle. It is just a way of referring to the information which will follow.
Right, so we’ve had some fun with the apocalypse, and now hopefully you can see that the Hebrew does not think like we do, so, when we say “in Christ”, we are referring to a mystery, not a puzzle. The mystery that you should already comprehend, since you are “spiritual”, that is, saved, is that you are in Christ, being conformed to the “image of Christ”. To find out what an “image” is we go all the way back to Genesis 1:26:
1:26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness, so they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move on the earth.”
So, here we can see the use of image the first time. The Hebrew word is “tselem” and it most often refers to statues, models, replicas, and can even be used of cave paintings, piles of stones and altars. The word for likeness “dymut” means “to be like”. Without even going to a detailed study of what these two parallel terms mean, we can get some idea from the text itself. Humanity is made the image and to be like God, in order than they might rule over “everything”. The function of the word “tselem” is to “be like” God, not to be a copy of God, not to look like God, but rather, to represent God, in much the same way that a Judge “represents” the authority of the legal system, or a Governor represents the ruler who appoints them. It is best understood as being a “viceroy”, someone who is intimately involved with, related to, and trusted by the King who places them in charge to do his work.
It is worth noting that in Gen 5 after the fall, Adam’s children are in the image and likeness of Adam. They still have the image of God, like Adam, but they are going to function like Adam, being now outside of this intimate, closely related, trusting relationship.
So, coming back to what Paul says in Romans:
8:29 because those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
The greek for image is Eikon, and it always refers to a prototype that it resembles and from which it is drawn. Gregory of Nazianzus stated: “For this is the nature of an image [eikonos]:to be an imitation of an archetype.” The monarch’s head on a coin is an eikon (Matt. 22:20); the reflection of the sun in the water is an eikon; and the statue in stone or other material also is an eikon (Rev. 13:14). The illustration that comes closest to fully revealing the meaning of eikon is that of the relation of a child to his parents, for a child is “a living image” (empsychos eikon) of his parents. Like the Hebrew word for image, the greek word refers to the function, representing, unlike the abstract idea of a copy.
Ok, so we know what an image is, to be like and to represent God. What does it mean to be conformed to be Christ’s representative? The Greek word is “summorphos” and it means “to be fashioned into”. In Phil 3:10 and 21 we read something similar:
“My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death,”
“who will transform these humble bodies of ours into the likeness of his glorious body by means of that power by which he is able to subject all things to himself.”
The words “be like him” and “transform” are the same Greek word as “conform”, and appears to mean a powerful process of identification, or “becoming like”. Paul is the only one to use these words in the NT, in these 2 verses and a also Phil 3:10. They have a special meaning for him, and Dr Larry Perkins of the Northwest Baptist Seminary says that this image, or function to which we are being molded, much like a potter molding clay, but more like someone forming a statue out of titanium with a sledge hammer, is the image Paul has given in Phil 2:
2:6 who though he existed in the form of God
did not regard equality with God
as something to be grasped,
2:7 but emptied himself
by taking on the form of a slave,
by looking like other men,
and by sharing in human nature.
2:8 He humbled himself,
by becoming obedient to the point of death
– even death on a cross!
Paul says that by the power that God made all things subject to him, the power by which he created all things, he will “powerfully transform” us. I cant emphasise enough just what power is involved here. The nearest thing is the analogy of forming a statue out of titanium with a hammer. The power and force involved are huge, and almost beyond comprehension. It is the same power that can take a person and completely change them, to birth them again.
This powerful transformation is orchestrated by God, but we have a part too, and it involves learning to be humble, to depend on God, to serve and care for one another, to live together in harmony, in close relationship, in trust with one another.
How are we expressing this “in Christ-ness” in our lives?
Do you embrace it or resent it?
Does knowing that we will one day be transformed to a glorious human as Christ is now, enable and empower you to identify with his death now?
Can you be humble, to put others before yourself?
We can not die on the cross like Christ, but we can, a little bit each day, kill of pride, arrogance, anger, lust, greed, and all sinful aspects of our nature because we have been powerfully transformed.