There is a message going around these days that many Christians are missing out on significant blessings of Christ because of insufficient awareness of the power of His indwelling presence. This message goes something like this: There is a distinction between Christ-for-you and Christ-in-you. The former references the finished work of Christ on the cross and His forgiveness of your sin. The blessings of Christ-for-you are well and good, but they are understood as past blessings. Christ-in-you, on the other hand, has more riches to bestow in your here-and-now daily life. Christians need to appreciate and connect with Christ on the inside. It is the experience of Jesus within that provides divine power and strength to meet the challenges of everyday life. Our union with Christ taps His power, peace, and joy that deliver us from the fears, hurts, and disappointments that come from living in this fallen world. The key to rising above all that the sinful world unleashes against us is becoming aware and celebrating the riches of our union of Christ within. The message is enticing: if you are not feeling enough joy, excitement, and a fulfilling life of faith, connect with Christ-in-you and these uplifting experiences can be yours.
Certainly, the New Testament and especially the writings of Paul teach believers that Christ and the Holy Spirit dwell within them. Paul reminded the Corinthians to appreciate this reality: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16). “Do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?” (2 Cor. 13:5). The preposition in is the common translation of the Greek word, eis. More accurately, however, eis means into. Our connection with Christ is not casual; it is an intimate union. Forget for a moment our modern sense of being into something or someone. Paul teaches that baptism brings about a profound union with Christ-the-crucified. Baptism unites us with Christ in his death to sin on the cross with the inheritance of his glorious resurrection (Rom. 6:3-11). From this union, the baptized are into Christ, and Christ is into us. Being so united to the crucified Christ, Paul declares that we should reckon ourselves dead to sin, alive to God, and slaves of righteousness (Rom. 6:11, 18).
Certainly, the New Testament and especially the writings of Paul teach believers that Christ and the Holy Spirit dwell within them.
Let’s return to the issue of our experience of faith life in daily living. Perhaps you have secretly longed for a more fulfilling experience of your life with Christ. Should you think that the answer is Christ-in-you; that you should seek and connect with him inside to receive a greater measure of his power, comfort, and peace? Should you buy into the message that experiencing Christ-in-you is the way to earn more blessings in your walk of faith?
It is meaningful to distinguish between the finished saving work of Christ on the cross (e.g., full atonement for our sins) and his saving work through the Gospel (e.g., bestowing his saving gifts). However, the distinction between Christ-for-you and Christ-in-you can present a misleading dichotomy. This dichotomy assumes our Lord provides us with additional blessings through his presence in our hearts. When Paul instructs us about receiving the saving work and gifts of Christ, however, he does not direct us to Christ in you. Instead, he directs the reader only to the preaching of the cross of Christ. He would know nothing among the Corinthians except a Gospel that proclaimed, “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 1:17, 2:2). He declared to the Romans that he was not ashamed of this Gospel because “it is the power of God for salvation for all who believe . . .” (Rom. 1:16). The power of the Gospel is the proclaimed “word of Christ” used by the Spirit to connect us to Christ by faith (Rom. 10:16). The Gospel proclaims the saving work and gifts of Christ then and now.
Following the Apostle Paul, Luther and the Wittenberg reformers emphasized that the Gospel is always the external Word of Christ. Christ carries out his saving work and bestows his saving gifts on sinners from the outside. Through the external proclaimed Word and sacraments, our Lord creates and nurtures faith, hope, and love on the inside. Christ-for-you bestows the blessings of salvation from outside you and plants them by faith along with his dwelling in you. Will Christ-in-you eliminate or diminish the anguish and turmoil that comes from living in this fallen world? No, and often quite the reverse.
However, the distinction between Christ-for-you and Christ-in-you can present a misleading dichotomy.
For now, believers are consigned to groan along with this fallen world because we have just the first fruits of our Lord’s final victory (Rom. 8:23). The “all things” that God will work for our good (Rom. 8:28) are especially the rotten, tragic, disappointing, and fear-producing things that befall us. Paul stresses that while tribulation, distress, persecution, nakedness, peril, and sword can be expected in this life, they cannot “separate us from the love of God through Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:35-39). For now, standard Christian living includes spiritual warfare and the anguish that goes with it. Part of the battlefield is within us, for there, the enemy is also present. The reformers never appeal to Christ-in-you as a source of strength or comfort amid spiritual warfare. Indeed, Luther could refer to the heart as the “devil’s playground.” Satan uses God’s law written on our hearts (Rom. 2:15) either to convince us that our works are so righteous that we do not need the saving work of Christ, or that they are so wretched and numerous that we do not qualify for it. Self-righteousness or despair are his victory and our defeat.
The fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, etc. (Gal. 5:22) certainly counter the disappointments, fears, anxiety, and turmoil of spiritual warfare, but they do not replace them. It is silly to think that if Jesus would have experienced more of the Spirit within, he would not have experienced turmoil great enough to sweat drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. An angel, not some connection with the Spirit, came and ministered to our Lord amid his agony (see Luke 22:44-44). And it would be a mistake to think that if the Apostle Paul connected more with Christ-in-you, he could have experienced less turmoil about his fleshly self’s slavery to sin (see Romans 7:15-24). Christ promises to continue his saving work for you from the outside in his external Word. This is where all of the power of the Gospel comes to you for your salvation. Take heart! While your life may continue to have its hurts, disappointments, fears, and discouragements, Christ-for-you promises to give you a peace that will pass all understanding. Ironically, this means that while you may become progressively more disturbed about yourself and the rotten things in your life, you can sleep well.