Fifty-two years ago I knelt before a chair with a letter spread out before me — a letter from a mission board secretary, asking me to go to India. I knew that the answering of that letter might determine my life work. So I prayed: “Dear Lord, I’m willing to go anywhere, do anything, and be anything You want me to be, provided You show me where.” The Inner Voice replied, “It’s India.” I arose from my knees and repeated those words to myself, “It’s India.” It was settled. I was called to be a missionary. Fifty-one years later I knelt in that same room before a chair, probably not the same one, and thanked God with a deep heartfelt thanks for the unfolding purpose of these glorious years as a missionary. Success or failure mattered little — being true to that call was the only thing that mattered.
If I was called to be a missionary, I was pushed into being an author — it was a very gentle push, but a push nevertheless. Dr. Diffendorfer, secretary of the mission board, said to me, “Why don’t you write down what you have been saying to the American people, before you return to India?” I replied, “Give me a month off and I’ll do it.” So during the month of May, 1925, I wrote The Christ of the Indian Road, gave it to the publishers with an apology (which they deleted), and went back to India. I was surprised to find I was an author, for I had no intention of becoming one. I was pushed into it. Since then it has been the same push or pull that has led me to write another book. Some need has tugged at my inmost being demanding to be met, and a book has resulted. This twenty-third book is the result of a feeling of a need. The need is this:
Some concept that would reduce the whole of life to the utmost simplicity. If you have that, you’re “in”; if you don’t have it, you’re “out.” By “in” I mean “in life,” and by “out,” “out of life.” I felt I had found that concept in the phrase “in Christ.” If you are “in Christ” you’re “in life”; if you are “out of Christ” you’re “out of life.” If that proposition be true, then it cuts down through all veneer, all seeming, all make-believe, all marginalisms, all halfwayisms — through everything — and brings us to the ultimate essence of things: If you are “in Christ” you are in life; if you are “out of Christ” you’re out of life, here and now, and hereafter.
Obviously, this concept goes deeper than being interested in religion, for you may be interested in religion and not be “in Christ.” You may be in the church and not be “in Christ”; in orthodoxy, and not in Him…
The phrase “in Christ” is the ultimate phrase in the Christian faith, for it locates us in a Person — the Divine Person — and it locates us in Him here and now. It brings us to the ultimate relationship — “in.” Obviously this “in” brings us nearer than “near Christ,” “following Christ,” “believing in Christ,” or even “committed to Christ.” You cannot go further or deeper than “in.”
What would be involved in becoming “in Christ”? Some are “in self” — they are determined by self-interest primarily — it is the driving force of their lives. To get and to get on for self is the compelling motive. Some are “in the herd.” Before they act, they look around — they don’t act; they only react to what the herd does. The roots of their motives are in “What will people think?” Making self, or the herd, our God, is sin, the chief sin.
To be “in Christ” means to pull up the roots of one’s very life from the soil of sin and self and herd and plant them “in Christ.” He becomes the source of our life, the source of our thinking, our feeling, our acting, our being.
This obviously involves self-surrender. Not merely the surrender of our sins, our bad habits, our wrong thinking, and our wrong motives, but of the very self behind all these. All of these are symptoms; the unsurrendered self is the disease. So the phrase “in Christ” is not only the ultimate concept, but it demands the ultimate act — self-surrender. The only thing we own is just ourselves. We don’t own our money, our property, not even the house we live in, for we will leave it all behind. The only thing we will take out with us is just ourselves. It is the only thing we own. That one thing we own — the self — is deliberately handed back to the Giver in an act of supreme self-surrender with words something like these: “I can’t handle this self of mine. Take me as I am, and make me as I ought to be. I give myself and my sins and my problems to Thee; but myself first and foremost. I’ve been ‘in myself.’; now I am ‘in Thee.'” We lose ourselves, and to our astonishment find ourselves. We live when we live “in Him.”
One would expect that this ultimate concept in Christianity, “in Christ,” leading to the ultimate human response, self-surrender, would be deeply embedded in the New Testament. Is it? It is far more deeply embedded in the New Testament than many things upon which we have built whole denominations — the new birth, conversion, baptism of the Holy Spirit, justification by faith, baptism by water, apostolic succession, presbyters, bishops, forms of church government, inner light, absence of forms.
The phrase “in Christ” or its equivalent is found 172 times in the New Testament … Paul, the greatest interpreter of Christianity, fastens upon the phrase “in Christ” and uses it in his epistles ninety-seven times — more than all the rest put together. With deep insight he saw that this was the ultimate phrase, dividing all humanity into two classes, “in Christ” and “out of Christ”; so that his world was not divided by B.C. and A.D., but into I.C. and O.C. — “In Christ,” and “Outside Christ.” Those “in Christ” have life, those “Outside Christ” have death.
[“And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” 1 John 5:11,2]
This is the ultimate division. Each person is placed, not arbitrarily, but by the facts, on one side or the other of that line — “in Christ” or “outside Christ.” This is a division that divides — the only division that divides. It reduces life to simplicity. Every thought, every aspiration, every act, every reaction, all one’s possessions, all one’s relationships are either “in Christ” or “outside Christ.” If they are “in Christ” they have eternal life; if “outside Christ” they have eternal death…
What happens to life and living when you are “in Christ” and what happens when you are “out”? The angel said to the writer of the Book of Revelation: “Write what you see.” This I have tried to do; I’ve written what I see in Scripture and what I see at work in life. They are the same.
A non-Christian chairman of one of my meetings in India commented at the close of my address: “If what the speaker has said isn’t true, it doesn’t matter; but if it is true, then nothing else matters.” If the thesis of this book isn’t true, then it doesn’t matter — forget it; but if it is true, then nothing else matters — you can’t forget it.
From the Introduction to the book In Christ by E. Stanley Jones (Abingdon Press, 1961). He was a 20th-century Methodist Christian missionary and theologian (1884-1973). This volume features 365 daily devotions on the phrase “In Christ.” For more on his legacy and resources, see www.estanleyjonesfoundation.com
Bracketed biblical quotation added
 Being “in Christ” in terms of salvation is by grace alone, though faith alone (Eph 2:8,9). However, living in the full potential and implications of the “in Christ” Life, requires this radical self denial and abiding trust in His enabling presence (Rom. 6:11-14). – JBW