Last night, I was reviewing some discussions I had with a couple of Roman Catholics back when I began this blog over a year ago. The dialogue reached a point where the Catholics claimed to be “in Christ” just as much as I claimed to be “in Christ.” I was a Catholic for twenty-seven years; educated in a Catholic grammar and high school, and I’ve learned even more about Catholicism since I left that church and accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior in 1983. I’m fully aware that Catholic parlance is filled with references to “Jesus the Savior,” “faith,” “grace,” and the like, but when Catholics use such terms, they mean something entirely different than what evangelicals understand.
In my exchanges with the Catholics about being “in Christ,” I said the term referred to a believer’s position before a Holy God; covered in Christ’s righteousness. I have no righteousness of my own. When I accepted Jesus as my Savior, His perfect righteousness was imputed to me. In Holy God’s perfect court of Law, I stand completely condemned by my sin, but my Savior took my place and bore the penalty for my sin on the cross. I am washed and redeemed by His blood and I’m able to go free ONLY because of His righteousness.
In contrast, Rome teaches that God’s grace is infused into the Catholic through its sacraments, empowering them to obey the Ten Commandments (impossible!) and live an increasingly sanctified life, enabling them to merit Heaven. So a Catholic faithful to their church’s teachings cannot rightly say they are “in Christ,” because their salvation depends ultimately on how well they obey the Ten Commandments (impossible!) right up until the moment of their death. Positionally before God, they are NOT “in Christ,” they are “outside of Christ” because they are attempting to merit their own salvation rather than accepting Jesus as Savior by faith alone.
My Catholics friends were quite taken aback that I would dare to suggest that they were not “in Christ.” Who was I to tell them that? Was I making myself out to be God Almighty by deciding who was going to Heaven and who wasn’t? How rude! How narrow-minded and judgmental!
But God’s Word says there is only one Way to salvation, and that’s Jesus Christ. Christ is either your Savior or He is not. It’s not enough to call Christ your Savior, you must be trusting in Him by faith alone. If you tell me that salvation is merited by obeying the Ten Commandments through grace (impossible!), as Catholicism teaches, then I can tell you with absolute confidence that Jesus is not your Savior and you are not “in Christ.” To illustrate, let’s suppose you’re on a sinking ship in the middle of the ocean, and I show up in my rescue boat and beg you to get in. Praising and admiring the rescue boat for its wonderful qualities won’t save you. You have to abandon your ship and get into the rescue boat. You have to be in the rescue boat for the boat to save you. Likewise, gushing about “Jesus the Savior,” “faith,” and “grace” won’t save you when you’re still trying to merit your own salvation. You’re not “in Christ,” you’re denying Christ and trusting in your own abilities and “goodness.”
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” – 2 Corinthians 5:21
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” – Romans 8:1
In today’s climate of plurality and tolerance, theological debates such as the one above are widely frowned upon and are to be avoided at all costs. The only requirement, according to Rick Warren and friends, is that we all “just love Jesus.” That’s a sinking ship, friends.
What does it mean to be in Christ?