Many Christians have a troubling blind spot, and it diminishes both their usefulness for God and also their joy in life. In my years as a pastor, I’ve seen the blind spot over and over again. I’ve seen it in myself. Whereas Christians rightly celebrate forgiveness of past sins and assurance of a future in heaven, they’re less discerning about the present. In particular, they seem unaware of the riches of life in Christ right now.
As Christians, we’re organically linked to Christ at the deepest level. The apostle Paul makes the point repeatedly in a simple but easily overlooked prepositional phrase. No less than 164 times, Paul refers to Christians as people “in Christ” or “in him” or “in God” or “in the Lord.” It’s a tantalizing phrase, with thrilling implications for the lives of Christians.
Christ in You
Much depends on how we interpret the preposition “in.” Grammatically, it’s probably specifying location. As Christians, our lives are located in Christ.
To bring out the full sense of Paul’s teaching, consider a similar phrase: “in California.” As a native Californian, I can testify to what that means. Those who step into California experience exactly what the brochures say: a life of sun, sand, and surf. To live “in California” is to be immersed in the delights of the Golden State—so much so that those delights become part of you. California runs in your blood. To be “in California” is to experience California within you.
In the same way, to be in Christ is to experience Christ within you.
We can illustrate further by drawing an analogy from electricity. Every electrician carries a toolbox stuffed with plugs and sockets. And every electrician understands the relationship of plugs and sockets. When a plug is inserted into a socket, the plug gives nothing to the socket; rather, the socket gives everything to the plug. It sends a charge of electricity surging into the plug.
Whereas Christians rightly celebrate forgiveness of past sins and assurance of a future in heaven, they’re less discerning about the present. In particular, they seem to be unaware of the riches of life in Christ right now.
As Christians, we’re the plug, and Christ is the socket. To be in Christ is to plug into him, not in the sense that we give anything to Christ, but in the sense that he gives everything to us. At the moment of conversion, when by faith we entrust our lives to Jesus Christ, he sends a surge into us of what he essentially is, an electrifying current of his love and power and peace and joy and righteousness—indeed, a current of his own life. According to Paul, when Christ indwells our hearts, we are “filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:19).
This is a surprising affirmation. Surely only God can be filled with all his fullness. To suggest that we can as well seems almost blasphemous, except that it is recorded in the inspired Scriptures. To be in Christ is to be filled with all the fullness—all the infinite fullness—of God himself.
Power of Christ’s Indwelling
Again, this is a blind spot for many Christians. Rather than celebrate our fullness, we often succumb to felt-deficiencies. We feel inadequate and insecure. We’re troubled by fear, guilt, and loneliness. We worry about the losses that might arrive tomorrow—losses of reputation or relationships, power or possessions, health or happiness. We lose sleep, become irritable, and sink into despair. But how is this possible for people filled with all the fullness of Christ? Nothing the world throws up in our path can diminish in the slightest the life we possess in Christ. If we were to lose everything meaningful to us, we would still be indwelled by infinite fullness.
Fullness of life is a mystery to the world, but it shouldn’t be to Christians. To saints in Christ the “mystery [has] now [been] revealed” (Col. 1:26), a mystery which Paul distills into three words: “Christ in you” (Col. 1:27).
To be in Christ is to plug into him, not in the sense that we give anything to Christ, but in the sense that he gives everything to us.
The indwelling Christ: it’s perhaps Christianity’s capstone. And it is underscored in nearly all of Paul’s letters. See, for instance, Galatians 2:20; 4:19; 2 Corinthians 4:6; and Romans 8:10, 11. According to Paul, Christ has done something not only to us (forgiven past sins and assured a future in heaven), but also in us (electrified the present).
Paul encourages us to reckon with this reality. “Do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?” (2 Cor. 13:5). “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16).
If we truly understood the fullness of Christ indwelling our hearts, we would not easily be discouraged. We would not wilt under the opinions of others. We would not be anxious for tomorrow. Rather, we would know ourselves to be inhabited by the unlimited resources of the life of Christ. We would never lose heart. We would be more than conquerors.
The indwelling Christ: it’s perhaps Christianity’s capstone.
This magnificent truth gives rise to one of Paul’s most passionate prayers. “I bow my knees before the Father [and pray] . . . that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being” (Eph. 3:14–17). The apostle follows with an even more ardent plea: that God would give you “strength to comprehend” what it means to be “filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:18–19).
When we comprehend who we are in Christ, and who Christ is in us, we’re set free from felt-deficiencies, we’re buoyed by the presence of his Spirit, and we’re prepared to discover the joy of increasing usefulness to God, “who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us” (Eph. 3:20).
For too many Christians, life in Christ is an under-appreciated reality. It may even be Christianity’s best-kept secret.