Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 8, 2008
Why does St. Paul say 'in Christ,' 'with Christ'?
By SR. LOUISE ZDUNICH, NDC
The Christian partaking in Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection is incorporated into the Body of Christ.
Paul uses various ways to express the intimate relationship of Christ and Christians. We need to reflect on what he says as only he could understand this relationship so well. These phrases are rich in meaning so my suggestions are limited.
“Into Christ” is the beginning of the movement for the believer, torn from the original condition in Adam, natural inclination in the flesh and the Law toward incorporation into Christ through faith and Baptism.
This is accomplished “through Christ,” by the mediation of his ministry, his present state as Lord and his end-time role, thus opening the path to future Christian experience “in Christ” and “with Christ.”
Identifying “with Christ” at the beginning in Christ’s redemptive acts of suffering, dying and rising, the Christian is associated “with Christ” at the end in Christ’s eschatological glory. Human destiny is to be “with Christ” but during life, is “in Christ.”
So what does “in Christ” mean? The deepest and most difficult, this phrase appears 165 times so it’s important to try to understand. Paul uses two forms: “in the Lord” and “in Christ.”
Paul’s favourite title for Christ is “Lord” which meant “God” for the Jews because the word “God” was too sacred to pronounce. But the pagans also used it for their gods and emperors did too.
For Paul, it meant a sovereign Lord and master. The risen Christ, as Lord, influences the Christian life in practical ethical conduct.
Paul uses it in greetings and exhortations, telling Christians to become “in the Lord” what they really are “in Christ.” He also uses it in formulating his own plans and activities as his goal is always to be guided and influenced by the “the Lord.”
For Paul, “in Christ” is the culmination of Christian life denoting a close union, an incorporation, with one totally belonging to Christ. A transformation of the whole person occurs so Paul can say: “If you are in Christ, you are a new creature” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
The Christian partaking in Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection is incorporated into the Body of Christ, bodies shared so intimately that Paul can say, “Your bodies are part of Christ’s body.” This experience is rooted in the reality of the bodily Christ and is a living dynamic union with the risen Christ. At the end, the Christian will be with Christ in glory.
The basis of this union is the possession of the Holy Spirit. As part of Christ’s body, the individual Christian’s suffering fills up what is lacking in Christ’s suffering which Christ began in his earthly life.
This continues in time until the cosmic dimensions of Christ are achieved at the end of time.
For us, is the Gospel a prized possession entrusted to us? Do we ponder and enter into this intimate union Christ offers?
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