To be “in Christ,” or not to be “in Christ”? Is that the question?

“For as in poverty all the members of the family hunger, even so in inheritance shall all the members of the family be filled.”

Even before I get to the scriptural reason I wrote the above statement, I trust you can see that these aren’t two options the family in question has to choose between. These are simply two equally true statements, both of which apply to the same group of people at different points in time. Simply put, this is what’s known as a parallelism, and the people in the first clause of the parallelism (all the members of the family) are the exact same set of people in the second clause, just experiencing two different reactions (hunger and lack of hunger) due to two different factors (poverty and inherited wealth) that were both equally imposed upon them, with no say in the matter on their part, at two different periods of time in their lives (one being the present and one being the future).

A parallelism like this can also be expressed somewhat mathematically: “For as in ax hunger, even so in z, shall x be filled.” The set known as “x” is the exact same group of people in both clauses (with “a” and “z” being two different reasons for their two different states at two different times), not two separate groups of people who have to choose between poverty and inheritance. The family (“x”) begins hungry “through poverty” or “because of poverty” (“in a”) rather than because of any financial choice of their own, and they will also eventually be filled with food “through inheritance” or “because of inheritance” (“in z”) rather than because of any financial choice of their own. The words “for as“ and “even so” tell us this is a parallelism, and because this is a parallelism it means that the variables on either side of the phrase “even so” have to be equal to one another, and so the x on either side of ”even so” has to consist of the exact same number of people.

It’s equally important to notice that the above statement doesn’t say, “For as all the members of the family in poverty hunger, even so shall all the members of the family in inheritance be filled” (or, to put it mathematically, it doesn’t say, “For as x in a hunger, even so shall y in z be filled” — with x being the family members “in poverty” and y being another set of family members who are “in inheritance” in this version of the example). Neither does it say, “For as all the members of the family in poverty hunger, even so shall all the members of the family who choose to have an inheritance be filled,” I should note. No choice is implied here at all; rather, two sets of chronological experiences by the same group of people are spoken of.

And so I trust it’s now clear to everyone reading this that the parallelism is simply telling us: even as, because they have little money right now, the members of this family are all hungry, it’s equally true that, because of a promised inheritance, the same members of this family will all eventually never go hungry again for the rest of their lives. It should be equally clear that it isn’t saying that only the family members in poverty are going hungry while only the family members who will inherit money no longer will be, but rather that every member of this family both began with and will end with the exact same experience as every other member of said family.

But what does this have to do with Scripture, or with being “in Christ”? Well, there’s a similar parallelism (actually, there are a number of them, but I’m going to cover just one here) in Scripture that says: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” – 1 Corinthians 15:22

Of course, those of us in the body of Christ are already quite familiar with this passage, since it’s one of the verses that helped lead us to understand what Paul’s Gospel actually means, and so we know it’s telling us: just as it’s true that, because of what Adam did, all humans are mortal, it’s equally true that, because of what Christ did, all humans will eventually be made immortal. (To be “made alive” simply means to be made immortal, or to be brought beyond the reach of death, and should never be confused with simple resurrection; note that not everyone will actually die, although it’s also true that most people will have to first be resurrected before they can be made immortal since relatively few people will still be alive right before their quickening — “to be quickened” simply means ”to be made immortal,” by the way — and this fact has caused Christians throughout history to often confuse the meaning of this verse, but simply being resurrected is no guarantee that one will be quickened at that point, as the general resurrection prior to the Great White Throne Judgement should make obvious.)

While those of us in the body of Christ are well aware of the above truths, most Christians who read this verse are instead forced to interpret it as saying there are two separate groups of people being referred to here, those who are “in Adam” and those who are “in Christ,” and that only those who are “in Christ” will be saved (and that those who are “in Adam” won’t be), and because of this they have to read the verse as instead saying, “For as in Adam all die, even so shall all in Christ be made alive.”

You see, Paul’s parallelism here can also be expressed mathematically, the exact same way the example I gave above can be: “For as in ax die, even so in z, shall x be made alive.” (For reference, see again my first mathematical example: “For as in ax hunger, even so in z, shall x be filled.”) Just like in my example parallelism, the set known as “x” is the exact same group of people in both clauses (with “a” and “z” again being two different reasons for their two respective states at two different periods of time), not two separate groups of people who have to choose between Adam and Christ. In fact, since this is a parallelism, and because we know that nobody chose to be mortal “in Adam” but rather that we were all simply born that way, this also tells us that “even so” nobody can choose to be “in Christ” in this particular verse either. “All” (“x”) became mortal “through Adam” or “because of what Adam did” (“in a”) rather than because of any choice of their own (our mortality precedes any sin of our own, and is in fact the reason we sin), and they will eventually become immortal “through Christ” or “because of what Christ did” (“in z”) rather than because of any choice of their own.

So why do Christians get confused by this verse? It’s due to a combination of the fact that they’ve misunderstood the various passages in Scripture about judgement and hell — and are interpreting this and other Pauline passages about salvation in light of their misunderstandings of those judgement passages rather than interpreting those particular passages in light of this and other Pauline passages about salvation — along with the fact that this verse says “in Adam” and “in Christ” rather than “through” or “because of” them. These factors lead them to assume one can only be “in” one of the two people, which causes them to miss the fact that the word “all” in both clauses is the exact same group of people (“all of humanity”). To be fair, “in” can mean “inside” something, positionally-speaking (either literally or figuratively, depending on the context), but it can also mean “through (the action of)” or “because of” something or someone, and that’s what Paul was getting at in this parallelism, as I’m hoping my example about poverty and hunger, as well as the mathematical way of expressing the respective parallelisms, helped make clear.

However, let’s forget all of the above, for the moment, and assume that “in” in this passage actually is referring to being “in Christ” from a positional perspective rather than referring to our impending immortality being because of what Christ accomplished. Does that change anything at all about the end result I concluded it would culminate in (all humans eventually experiencing salvation)? Not even slightly. To put it simply, just as every human begins “in Adam” (and hence is mortal), even so (meaning ”equally so”) every human will end “in Christ” (and hence will be made immortal).

But how can I say that? Isn’t it true that only believers are “in Christ,” positionally-speaking? Well, the answer to that question is both “yes” and “no.” This all comes down to understanding one of the most important principles of scriptural interpretation there is, one I’ve discussed various times in the past on this site: the difference between the absolute perspective and the relative perspective. (If you aren’t familiar with this particular hermeneutical principle, read this article and then this article before continuing with the one you’re reading now, because without understanding this concept, it’s basically impossible to properly interpret much of Scripture at all without coming to all sorts of confused conclusions.) From a relative perspective, yes, it can be said that only believers are currently “in Christ,” based on what Paul wrote to the Romans. But from an absolute perspective, we know that all things in heaven and on earth will eventually be headed up “in Christ,” as Paul wrote to the Ephesians.

So, simply put, even if “in Christ” in 1 Corinthians 15:22 was meant to be positional in nature, everyone will eventually be “in Christ” from an absolute perspective anyway, and the fact that this is a parallelism makes it clear that it has to be talking about the absolute rather than the relative perspective.