By Will Graham


It is no mistake that the German Reformer Martin Luther is best known for the doctrine of justification by faith alone. At some point in the early sixteenth century, the balm of Romans 1:17- “the just shall live by faith”- soothed his anxious heart and led him to exclaim that he felt altogether born again and as if the gates of paradise had been opened before him. Having experienced the naked power of the primitive Gospel, his religious mourning turned into dancing. Until the day he died, Luther never tired of preaching about what Christ had done ‘for us’.

Protestant Orthodoxy soon followed Luther’s footsteps. The next few generations of pro-Reformation thinkers wrote extensively upon Christ’s work for us in order to distance themselves more and more from a decadent Roman Catholicism. Luther’s right-hand man Philipp Melanchton oversaw the first official publication of the Augsburg Confession (1530) in which the doctrine of justification was proclaimed loud and clear in no uncertain terms:

“Our churches also teach that humans cannot be justified before God by their own power, merits or deeds. Rather they are freely justified for Christ’s sake through faith. By faith we mean this: that they believe that they are both received into God’s favour and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. For by His death, Christ has paid the debt for our sins. Thus God views the person who has faith to be righteous in His sight.[1]

Throughout the rest of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Protestantism would lay constant stress upon the Christ who died ‘for’ us, that is, the Christ of the doctrine of justification. And rightly so! But due to the Reformation’s passion for the Christ ‘for us’, it never got around to developing a full teaching about the Christ who is ‘in us’. This one-sided tendency of Protestant theology wouldn’t be corrected until the great Holy Ghost revivals and awakenings of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries came along.


You may be thinking: so what? What’s the big deal? Does it really matter whether we talk about Christ ‘for us’ or Christ ‘in us’. Why all the fuss over two seemingly insignificant terms- ‘for’ and ‘in’?

Well, just on a linguistic note, there is quite a distinction. It’s not the same thing to be ‘for’ sharks as to be ‘in’ a shark. But the main reason it’s important to make a distinction between ‘for’ and ‘in’ is because the New Testament does as well. When Scripture speaks of Christ ‘for us’ it is expounding the significance of what Jesus objectively wrought on the cross when He took our deserved punishment upon Himself. He died for the forgiveness of sins. It is this objective work of Christ that cannot be altered or destroyed. His sacrifice was historically carried out once and for all. This work is now represented through the church’s preaching and sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Supper).

Nevertheless, salvation doesn’t just have an objective side to it. There is also the necessity of a subjective side i.e. one that affects the inward parts of every child of God. Every individual amongst the congregation needs a personal assurance that the church seeks to declare objectively. This is what the New Testament is getting at when it refers to Christ ‘in us’ or alternatively, to us being ‘in Christ’. This is also where the terms ‘regeneration’ and ‘renewal’ come into play. In no way does it cancel the doctrine of Christ being ‘for us’, it merely complements and ‘perfects’ it (so to speak).

So what’s the difference between Christ ‘for us’ and Christ ‘in’ us? Answer: ‘For us’ alludes to Jesus’ objective work of salvation on the cross whereas ‘in us’ refers to what He does in each of us subjectively. It’s that simple.


‘In Christ’ is one of the most well-known concepts in the New Testament. It refers to a fresh way of living, a new mode of existence wherein God and His Kingdom take full priority. It entails a break with a former lifestyle in which sin and self reigned supreme (this ugly form of existence can be described as ‘in Adam’). Therefore being in Christ presupposes both faith and repentance. No one gets into Christ without the grace of conversion wrought by the very Spirit of God.

The effects of this blessedness are plain for all to see. A soul immersed in Christ will abound in spiritual fruit, loving his (her) brothers and sisters in the Lord whilst keeping a safe distance from any form of iniquity. Any other teaching is foreign to the celestial doctrine of the New Testament. No one can be ‘in Christ’ if they live like a devil. One who is ‘in Christ’ will walk like Christ and live like Christ in much the same way as a man immersed in a swimming pool of yellow paint will soon spread the colour yellow wherever he goes. It’s impossible to be dipped into Jesus without others taking notice. John put it this way: “He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked” (1 John 2:6).

To be in Christ, then, also signifies thinking with the same mind as Christ. What did He live for? What did He think about? What did He pray for? The glory of the Father! This means that every disciple must behave in the same way. The ruling fervour in their lives becomes the will of the Father in all things. Rather than praying their own will into being, they intercede thus: “Nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). And even when the will of the Father demands suffering, heartache and tribulations, the true Jesus-follower will gladly and gratefully take upon himself (herself) the yoke of the Lord. After all, is not life’s chief joy to find oneself in the perfect will of the Father? What mere trifle on earth could compare to such extravagant bliss?


This biblical teaching of being ‘in Christ’ can go a long way to helping those of us who live in the twenty-first century Western world. It is one thing to be a religious professor confessing the tenets of Evangelical faith, but it is quite another thing to be transformed by them deep down via the power of the Spirit. Multitudes may proclaim aloud that they know they are God’s children and that Jesus loved them enough to die for them; but a verbal assent to a fluffy brand of Christianity is not enough. There must be substance and weight.

The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, may have recently declared Britain to be a “post-Christian” nation due to the exorbitant fall in regular church attendance. But if the full truth be told, Britain hasn’t become “post-Christian” because no one goes to church anymore. It turned “post-Christian” generations ago when the folk in the church stopped living out the implications of Christ being ‘in’ them. Content with merely parroting out Sunday after Sunday what Christ had done ‘for’ them, they lost the vitality of the Holy Spirit and that’s why British spirituality is in the mess it’s in today.

So I ask you today: where is the evidence that Christ is ‘in’ you? Have you personally felt the kiss of God’s grace? Do you know what it is to be renewed and regenerated by the Spirit of God? Or have you stopped at what Jesus did ‘for’ you without going any further?

I encourage you to dive into Christ! To submerge yourself in Him! And to ask Him continually and unceasingly: “Lord Jesus, abide in me!”

[1] Augsburg Confession (1530), Article IV.


The New Cruse