Be What You Are in Christ

The gospel is great, isn’t it? One of the many blessings that have to come to believers through the gospel of Christ is that we have been sanctified; in other words, we are holy. That doesn’t mean that we are already perfectly Christlike or that we no longer struggle against sin. In this context, it refers to our position, or standing, “in Christ.” Like the believers that composed the church of God in Corinth despite their struggles and failures, we have been “sanctified in Christ Jesus” and are now called “saints” (1Co 1:2).[1] The call to be holy is a call to be what we are in Christ.

Realize Who You Are in Christ

Although the Lord Jesus became like us, He also remained different from us (Heb 4:15). He lived a perfectly holy life and continues to do so; we do not. However, from the time that we first trusted Christ through the gospel message, God has viewed us “in Christ”; our position in Christ is one of being sanctified. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come!” (2Co 5:17). We do not have to make ourselves a new creation; Christ has done it already. Our standing in holiness hinges upon our having been united with Christ. “Anything which occupies us so that we are diverted from our acceptance and growth is a hindrance, even if it be a thing apparently so excellent as service. It is a wonderful moment for the believer when by faith he occupies his standing in the favor of his Father – when he knows that he is received by Him in all the acceptance of the Lord Jesus Christ. He does not then think of himself, or of his worthiness, at all. He thinks of the Lord Jesus.”[2] Grasping and cherishing our position before God “in Christ” is vital for Christian living, because holiness is all about union with Christ.

Be What You Are in Christ

Once we understand our identity in Christ, we are better equipped to live in practical holiness. Christian life is a matter of living out the truth of the gospel that has granted us a sanctified position. In other words, we are to be what we already are in Christ. Notice, for example, that Ephesians 1:1 calls the Christians “saints,” and then when the epistle turns to more practical instruction in chapter 4, believers are urged “to walk worthy of the calling you have received” (v1). Because God has called us saints, He is justified in calling us to live as saints in our behaviour.

Remain (Abide) in Christ

But here is the key that is too often overlooked as we pursue holiness. Just as our holy position before God is all about union with Christ, so it is with our practical growth in holiness. “Holiness is not the way to Christ, but Christ is the way to holiness” (Charles H. Spurgeon). Just as we could not achieve our position in Christ in our own merit or by our flesh, so we cannot grow in holiness by our own merit or by our flesh. It is impossible apart from union with Christ.

This is why the Lord Jesus used the picture of the vine and the branches in John 15: “Remain in me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without me” (vv4-5). John 15 is not entertaining the possibility of believers losing eternal life but is teaching that the way to practically bear fruit for God is to practically remain (or abide, dwell) in Christ. And to remain in Christ is to be like a branch attached to the vine, drawing its life and sustenance from the vine, depending on the vine, enjoying a vital, living union with the vine. This means obeying Christ and enjoying time communing with Him. We cannot grow in holiness apart from practical union with Christ. As our Lord says above, “You can do nothing without me.”

But through fellowship with Christ, God the gardener will ensure there is fruit in our lives.[3] In the setting of John 15, fruit is primarily the development of Christlike character, including holiness. A heart enthralled with Christ, a desire to know Him more intimately, meditating upon Him in the Scriptures, a will given over to the obedience of His commandments – if we are occupied with Christ in these ways, our lives will gradually grow into His likeness. Holiness is all about union with Christ.

Beloved child of God, are you presently remaining in Christ? Are you learning more of His grace as you spend time with Him in prayer and in the Word? Are you living in happy fellowship with Him? The good news is that you can! You really can, because God has accepted you in Christ. You have been united with Him by faith, and even though you haven’t always lived in the power of that union, your position of being sanctified “in Christ” has never changed. So you can be what you are – a saint – by remaining occupied with the holy Lord Jesus and your relationship with Him.

[1] Scripture quotations in this article are from the CSB.

[2] C.A.C.,, a worthwhile read.

[3] The implications of John 15 are very similar to the teaching on the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. See this article on the Holy Spirit and Sanctification: