I contributed today’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.
For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.
As he does elsewhere, Paul places the account of salvation on a big stage – nothing less than the story stretching from the first Adam to the second Adam.
He puts it even more succinctly in 1 Corinthians 15:22: ‘For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all shall be made alive.’ It’s by virtue of our union with Adam that we die, and by virtue of our union with Christ that we’re made alive. God fulfils not merely his promise of descendants for Abraham, but creates a new humanity in Christ.
And that little word ‘in’ is all-important.
What’s the central thought of Paul’s letters? Is it justification? Reconciliation? Adoption? Those are certainly important to Paul. But what’s most central is Jesus. The prior, primary, central, fundamental reality for Paul is our union with Christ, being in Christ. And all the benefits of salvation flow from that union – our justification, adoption, redemption, sanctification, preservation and glorification, and our being joined to each other in the church, the body of Christ.
Knowing who we are in Christ has all sorts of implications, as Paul will go on to explain: ‘count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus’ (6:11); ‘there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ (8:1); ‘in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others’ (12:5).
All this could sound ever so abstract were it not for our all-consuming interest in identity. Who am I, really? We can spend a lot of time wondering. For some of us, the answer depends to a large extent on what others think and say about us – our parents, our peers, our colleagues. What conclusions about me are reflected back in the way they treat me? Who am I – the joker, the trouble-maker, the failure, the helper?
In Christ, we can know who we are. I may be a son, a husband, a father, a colleague – those things make me who I am. And they are not suppressed, but gloriously redefined in the light of my being in Christ, as I bring that identity into my everyday work, my relationship with my spouse, my conversations with my children, my handling of money, my use of time.
In our union with Christ – and Christ alone – our humanity is not obliterated but restored.