In Christ and Christ in Us

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(2 Cor. 12)
Occasionally a chapter like this brings out a complete picture of certain truth as a whole. There were judaizing teachers who were calling in question Paul's apostleship, and he appeals to the Corinthians in a remarkable way in the following chapter to judge themselves. He had been the means of their conversion: If you want to know my apostleship, “examine yourselves whether ye be in the faith.” This is not a precept at all, but a taunt, though a gracious one of course. If Christ is in you, where did you get Him? Through my ministry. He had been obliged to go over the ground of chapter 11, and, having done so, he says, “It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.” I come now not to what I have done for the Lord, but to what the Lord has done for me. What is so remarkable in this chapter is, that it begins with the highest place a Christian can be in, and it ends with the lowest, even actual sin.
Paul, though greatly comforted by the report Titus had brought at the beginning of the epistle, was still a little uneasy about the Corinthians. (Ver. 20, 21.) “We do all things, dearly beloved, for your edifying.”
In that way we find the highest place the Christian can be in, the third heaven; and the lowest place of actual sin. They are the extremes at both ends in this picture of the Christian condition; but there is also the ordinary condition of the Christian. “I know [not 'knew'] a man in Christ;” he speaks not of himself, though it was himself plainly enough, but of “a man in Christ,” such a one caught “up to the third heaven.” He was caught up in an extraordinary way, and he had an apostolic vision, which strengthened his faith for service; still his place could not be more than “in Christ.” Every man that has the Spirit of Christ is in Christ. “There is therefore no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus. “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature.” In that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”
Our place before God is there; we are in Christ before God. We learn the blessed truth, that Christians are in Christ. We find Christ in a man too farther on in the chapter. “In Christ” is put in direct contrast with being in the flesh. We never have the true apprehension of our standing till we find this that we are in Christ. The treasure is in an earthen vessel, but our place before God is simply that, and only that. Therefore the apostle says in Rom. 6!.."when we were in the flesh.” This is describing the condition of a person where he is not in Christ. I could not say “when I was at B.” while I am there; I could say “when I was in England” after I have left it. Do you know in the consciousness of your souls that you are not in the flesh at all? Taking your place and standing before God, it is not your place at all. In the state of your mind, you may be in the flesh, for want of instruction; but if you were really in the flesh, there must be condemnation. “The carnal mind is enmity against God.” Is this my state before God? It is all the opposite to that of being in Christ. If you really believe, if you have the Spirit of Christ, you are not in the flesh at all, but in Christ, who is in the third heavens, or above all heavens. This is a different thing from mere forgiveness. As a child of Adam I am found out of the earthly paradise, and my mind is enmity against God. Christ comes, accomplishes blessed redemption for the vilest, and brings the believer to God.
A man's being in prison is his condition, not his guilt. Adam was driven from paradise, but this was not his guilt, but the punishment of it; beside that, his will was enmity against God. There is the putting away of all this by Christ. If the sinner feels he is defiled by sin, he is cleansed by Christ; if the believer feels he is guilty, he is forgiven; if men believe Him whom they have offended, “Their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” The work of the Lord Jesus Christ is a perfect answer to God. We get first our need met through the Lord and Savior; but there is another thing, not what we have done, but what we are—our condition and state connected with it, as the tree is connected with the fruit.
We are out of the earthly paradise, and certainly we are not in the heavenly paradise. But the believer is brought out of where he was. There he is looked at as dying in Christ. Washed in His precious blood, and having His Spirit in me, I know then that I died with Him, and I reckon myself dead. “Ye are dead.” How am I alive then? “And your life is hid with Christ in God.” I have a life in Christ which makes me free from the old life; I may be foolish and yield to it—quite true. “What the law could not do.... God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.” The tree as contrasted with the fruit has been condemned, but condemned to death: so I have done with it. Then what are you? In Christ, not in Adam. “In the flesh” is a condition I have nothing more to say to, as being in it. God has brought us to Himself in Christ; we are in Christ before God, and there only before God. By virtue of His precious blood, the Holy Ghost takes His abode in us; then I can say, I am in Christ, and Christ is in me. Not only has Christ cleared away the sin, but He has taken me out of the place I was in and put me into a new one. My place before God is only in Christ, and in Christ consequent on His having borne my sins, consequent on Satan's having done His worst, consequent on the cup of wrath having been drunk. The Christ I know is the one who has accomplished the wonderful work of redemption.
This makes one understand what the apostle speaks of here, “a man in Christ.” I will glory in that man, but of myself I will not glory. So we ought always, beloved friends, because it is all of grace. The Christian has died in Christ, he is risen in Christ; and we have been made “to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” By redemption He has taken us out of the condition we were in, and the flesh is a condemned thing. “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.”
Beloved friends, let me ask you, do you know what it is to be in Christ? If not, do not rest till you do. It is harder to understand that we are in Christ than that we are forgiven. A man rejoices when he knows his sins are forgiven; but what gives real depth is knowing that we are out of that condition.
At the Red Sea the Israelites were desired to “stand still and see the salvation of God:” God was not a judge kept outside as before. Just look at the apostle before Agrippa: “would to God that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost and altogether such as I am, except these bonds” —not “would to God that all that hear me were Christians.” Was this vanity or pride? Far from it; but he was conscious of his place in Christ. It was not a matter of attainment; the apostle would have shrunk from that more than any of us. Could you say, as to the privileges that belong to you, “would to God that.....all that hear me.....were both almost and altogether such as I am?”
Christ being risen has become the Christian's life, who treats the flesh as a thing dead and gone; before God he is in this new condition in Christ.
The Christ who has become my life (I say Christ has become my life, and Christ in that very power in which He rose from the dead), the Christ who is my life, is past the wrath, past the sins, past death, past everything. Where is Christ? Far above all heavens. Looking up, I can say, The Christ who is this perfectness is in the presence of God for me!
See what a difference it is. You cannot impute sin, as a present thing, to a dead man. And such is before God the truth in Christ of the Christian. He is justified and cleared from everything because he is not in the flesh; he is dead. Such is the blessed place into which we are thus brought. How do I get this? By having Christ's life in me, and the blessed One before God for me. This is not all; for in point of fact “the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.” We have an apostolic vision in this chapter; what effect had it on the flesh? It was “puffed up.” Now Paul, not one has ever been in the third heaven but you! Only see the way the flesh is judged there! Leave the flesh without law, and it is lawless; put it under law, it breaks law; put it in connection with Christ, it crucifies Him; put the Holy Ghost in a man, the flesh lusts against Him; take a man to the third heaven, it is puffed up; and, if there were a fourth heaven, flesh would be more puffed up still. The remedy is—not more grace, but keeping it utterly down.
The new man is obedient and dependent; it is not an independent thing that sets up to act for itself. I am dependent on His grace every instant. The flesh will not be this. Satan tried Christ. “Command that these stones he made bread,” but He remained in dependence and obedience. Satan would have us, if we know these amazing privileges, to get out of dependence into self-will. What is to be done to keep practically dead? “Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.” If we are in Christ before God, Christ is in us. We have divine life; we want power to live in obedience and in constant dependence. “The heart is deceitful above all things: who can know it?” God does know it. Paul was in danger here, but the Lord had thought about all that, and He has the remedy all ready— “a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet him.” What a comfort it is to us, if we are in earnest, if we seek to serve and to glorify God down here, that the eye of the Lord Jesus is never off us! “He withdraweth not his eyes from the righteous.” Let us remember the flesh never can be made any better; but Christ is continually thinking of us to do the needed thing. What does He do? He puts down the flesh. How does He deal with us? He makes nothing of us; and this is not at all pleasant.
The Lord took care by this thorn in the flesh that Paul should be a person in some way contemptible. Paul asked three times that it should be taken away. Not at all, the Lord says: I have given it on purpose; I must make nothing of Paul, that Christ may be everything in Paul. Do you say you are in Christ before God, and loved as Christ is loved? Take care, however; you are in a place of temptation; you have to bear “about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus.” I reckon myself dead, if I talk of my place before God; I bear about the dying of the Lord Jesus, if I am to manifest the life of Christ in this world. Nature, of course, does not like that; but, if we are to manifest the life of Christ, the flesh must be put down.
Reckon yourselves to be dead, because Christ has died. When you go down to this world, the only possible dealing with the flesh is making nothing of you. This is not power, but it is the way God deals with us to give power, whether to an apostle or to the giver of a cup of cold water. If you are in Christ, one wants nothing but Christ from you. The thorn is not power in itself, but preparation for power. Suppose Paul despicable in his ministry: well, there never was such a work done before. Then there must be something besides Paul here; Christ must be here. Ah! says Paul, “I glory in my infirmities that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” His strength is made perfect in weakness. He cannot make it perfect in our strength! I am as weak as water—a poor weak thing: God has chosen that no flesh may glory in His presence. Where a person is nothing, “my grace is sufficient.” Where is His strength made perfect? In a person who has no strength at all: then it must be Christ. When I am made nothing of, “I glory in my infirmities.” There is what the Christian is.
God says, I am dead, and loved as Christ is loved. My place is in Christ, and in Christ only. Experience contradicts this. So I have to find out that the flesh is a judged and dead thing. “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live.” If in point of fact the flesh is there, it is a judged thing. If I know that my servant is a rogue, I keep my things all locked up, and so they are safe; not that he is changed, but that the state of things is changed. When the flesh is really distrusted, though it is there, there is not a twentieth part of the danger. The Lord keeps me then; He sends a thorn, if needed, to put me down completely. When the flesh is practically put down and in its place, then Christ's strength is made perfect in weakness, for there can be no doubt that it is His power. Are your hearts content that self should be put down? Are you glad of it? Can you glory in infirmities that the power of Christ may rest upon you?
If we seek to live Christ, if we are conscious that our portion is Christ, we shall want more of that kind of putting down of the flesh. We want more depth—all of us—showing us what the flesh is, and what Christ is. The time is coming when we shall see that all the rest was worse than vanity, stunting the life of Christ, instead of mortifying our members on the earth.
The Lord give us so to see Christ that we may now say with the apostle “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord!”