By Heritier Raphael Mesa Nteke, sx
There is no doubt that the Greek phrase “en Christo,” (in Christ) is the most used single phrase in Paul’s writings. Indeed, it appears about 164 times all in all of Paul’s letters. With different tones, it stresses on a Christ-centered life. Paul, in fact, speaks of belonging to Christ, being Christ-possessed, being captured by Christ, being apprehended by Christ, to put on Christ, and different other expressions which can be all summed up by a Christocentric life. What then would a life deeply seated in Christ as its pivotal point look like?
As we might see, “Being in Christ” is for Paul a code word for our participation in the universal pattern of transformation. As stressed by Richard Rohr, the Christ who is within us leads us definitely to a life of connection with the reality and of participation to God’s plan for humanity. This is what Paul means, when in Corinthians 3 he speaks of “all belong to you, you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.” Certainly, we cannot agree more with Rohr that “holiness is precisely our capacity for connection. The more you can connect, and the more you can connect with, the holier you are.”
This is properly understood in the context of Paul’s image of the body of Christ. Being in Christ means that, as Christians, we are parts of one Body that has Christ as its head. In this corporate personality, Jesus includes all the believers in himself. We can therefore say like Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). Likewise, this analogy of the Body has a threefold presupposition. At the outset, since we all form the body which has Christ as its head, we are to be totally dependent on Christ lest we become pointless. This urges us to have a life that reflects our identity as being “sealed by Christ.” Hence, a dichotomy or dual identity of Christian’s behaviour in the world is strictly condemned and cannot in any way be tolerated. 1 Corinthians 5: 16 read “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute?”
Further, this image of the body of Christ brings about the notion of communion and unity of Christians. As one body, we shall no more be governed by the law of differences and distinctions. Indeed, we read in Gal 3: 28 “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Christians are thus urged to be in communion not only with Christ the head, but with one another; going beyond social, cultural, anthropo-morphological and economic differences. “We are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.” (Rom 12: 5) This, undoubtedly, leads to a mutual acceptance and fosters social harmony. Just as the body has different parts connected with one another, we are invited – imitating the image of a web— to create a world where pluralism, differences, pluriformity and diversity are seen more as richness than as a threat. We are to live in a harmonious and definitely not competitive universe. We cannot help here but wonder how different would have been our society and history if we had understood this truth and put it consistently into practice?
Ultimately, being “in Christ” as part of one body has a missiological purpose. We are asked to move to a life of commitment as bodily service to one another. This conveys the urge for a social, economic and political transformation. A life in Christ is surely a life which moves one from a oneself-centered existence to the otherness, to the reality-centered existence. This is truly what Jesus’ message on the Kingdom of God is all about. It is all about taking part to this mission of transforming the reality, the world into a place where God rules. It is creating a new world of total harmony, love and communion out of the chaos of the old order. Being “in Christ”, we therefore take part in such a grandiose enterprise! Absolutely, this necessitates a change of life, an inner transformation, a metanoia, a Damascene-like turning point, an illumination or awakening experience – to use here an Asian or eastern language.
Christian life, like a Christ-centered existence, becomes therefore a journey towards illumination. From the very moment that we open ourselves to God’s presence and decide to participate in something greater than ourselves, we engage irreversibly towards a new life, a transformed existence.