Confession: I don’t really like mystery novels. If you know me, that may come as a surprise. I think I seem the type. I like the idea of a mystery and occasionally read them hoping that this time I’ll enjoy myself, but I inevitably get frustrated while reading because I read too fast and miss important details. I’m not nearly as astute as the detective, so I’m forever confused or flipping back to the beginning to see what happened that I missed. Let’s just say, I do not have a future in police work. For this reason (and probably about a thousand others), I’m glad I was born on this side of Calvary. Had I been a Jew living before the arrival of Christ, I would have been bamboozled by the prophecies regarding the Messiah and gobsmacked at the idea of Gentiles being part of the covenant people.
Several times in the New Testament, different concepts are referred to as “mysteries.” For instance, Christ describes His teaching on the Kingdom as a mystery (Mark 4:11); and Paul defines a few things mysteries: the inclusion of Gentiles in God’s plan of redemption (Rom. 11:25); the resurrection of believers (1 Cor. 15:51); that Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body of Christ (Eph. 3:1-6); and the man of lawlessness (2 Thess. 2:7). The end of Colossians 1 also contains a few references to a “mystery,” one that, fortunately for my poor Sherlockian skills, has already been revealed.
As the first chapter of Colossians wraps up, we find Paul sharing a bit of his philosophy of ministry with his readers. We know from the final verse of the epistle that Paul is writing from jail, and he tells the Colossian believers that he rejoices in his sufferings and that his ministry is a gift from God that he’s been called to steward. What is that ministry? I’ll let Paul answer in his own words: “The preaching of the word of God, that is the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations but now has been manifested to His saints” (Col. 1:25b-26). So, Paul has been called to preach the mystery. But what exactly is the mystery? Thankfully, in the next verse, Paul lays it out pretty clearly, calling it “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27b).
It must have been pretty astonishing for the Jews to learn that now the Gentiles (or pagans as they would have known them) were now going to be allowed into God’s covenant. But I’m not sure that’s as shocking as the mystery Paul lays out for us here. I’m talking about the glorious, perplexing truth of our union with Christ.
Space will fail me to even come close to doing this topic justice. However, let me try to capture a sliver of its glory in just a few words. Being united with Christ—the idea that I am in Christ and Christ is in me—means that Christ represents me, though not in the sense that a defense lawyer represents his client. In court, the representative speaks on behalf of the accused but does not receive that sentence that his client receives, nor does the defendant receive the innocence (of the alleged crime) of his lawyer. You see, the attorney represents his client but is distinct from him. Christ’s representation, on the other hand, is different. He’s in me (and I’m in Him—another mystery!), and His perfections become mine. To put it another way, His righteousness is my righteousness. His mercy is my mercy. His compassionate forgiveness is my compassionate forgiveness. His victory over sin is my victory over sin!
Author and pastor Rankin Wilbourne puts it this way:
“When we are in Christ, every part of Christ’s life, not only his death, has significance for us. We share in his life and obedience, his death and his resurrection, even his ascension! We participate in another’s victory. All that is his becomes ours…Our union with Christ is rooted and grounded in Christ’s union with us in the incarnation.”*
Does that seem too good to be true? It does to me, too. Thankfully, though, it’s not a scam. Here is a small sample of the plethora of gifts that have come your way as a result of being in Christ.
- You are not your old fleshly self. You’re a brand spanking new creature. (2 Cor. 5:17)
- You possess the righteousness of Christ.(2 Cor. 5:21)
- You are no longer spiritually dead, but alive. (Rom. 6:11; 1 Cor. 15:22)
- You have Every. Spiritual. Blessing. (Eph. 1:3-17)
- You sit with Christ in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:6)
- You have the riches of the grace and kindness of God (Eph. 2:7)
- You were created for good works, not the hostile works of your flesh (Eph. 2:10)
- You have the peace of God. (Phil. 4:7)
These glorious truths mean that you and I can live in victory over sin! It’s no longer me indulging my flesh and walking according to the “prince of the power of the air.” Now Christ fights my flesh in me. I don’t have to rely on my own strength to defeat sin or to make it to heaven. I don’t have a chance if that’s my plight. However, the Apostle John assures us, “Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Because I’m in Christ and Christ is in me, the great adversarial trio—the world, the flesh, and the devil—doesn’t stand a chance! Aren’t you starting to love this mystery?
And, as if that weren’t enough, this mystery isn’t for just today. Most translations use the same phrase at the end of verse 27: “the hope of glory,” which I love. It’s poetic and beautiful, and apparently the best rendering of the Greek. However, the New Living Translation paraphrase gives us a good commentary on what the phrase means: “…Christ lives in you. This gives you assurance of sharing His glory.” Our union with Christ gives us confidence for living today, but it also gives us hope for eternity. In our sins, we had hope of what we deserved—God’s wrath suffered through eternal damnation. However, in Christ, there is no condemnation (Rom. 8:1). Instead, we have hope. Hope that we will forever share in the glory of our great God and Savior. To borrow from one of our great hymns, this truth gives us “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.”
No, I don’t love Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, or Nancy Drew. But I’ll take this mystery any day!
*Union with Christ by Rankin Wilbourne, pg. 45