But what does the phrase “in Christ” mean? That it is a figurative expression I think is clear, and does not mean literally in the person of Christ. But that it means some near and intimate relationship to him, I think is also clear.
The spirit of man is spoken of as being in him — i.e., in his body. “For what man knoweth the things of a man save the spirit of man which is in him?” (1 Cor. 2:11). And if there is anything in the scriptures that is called the body of Christ, and in which his Spirit or the Spirit of God dwells, then to be in that body is to be in Christ. Is there anything that is called the body of Christ? If so, what is it?
“And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all.” (Eph. 1:22). “And he is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the first born from the dead.” (Col. 1:18). “Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh, for his body’s sake, which is the church.” (Col. 1:24). Here we have three plain declarations that the church is the body of Christ.
In writing to the Corinthians, Paul says they are the church of God, (1 Cor. 1:2), and in the latter says to them, “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” (1 Cor. 12:27). These passages settle the question that the church is the body of Christ and to be in the church is to be in Christ. But does the Spirit dwell in the church? “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16). Here he calls the church the temple of God and says the Spirit dwells in it. Hence, to be in Christ is to be in the kingdom of God, is to be in the kingdom of his dear Son, is to be in the church of God, in the temple of God, in the body of Christ.
But some man will doubtless ask, “Does this not attach too much importance to membership in the church? I have heard great and good men say it is not absolutely necessary for a person to be in the church in order to be saved, but that they can be saved out of the church as well as in it.”
I have heard all this too, but not from inspired men. It may be true that salvation is not in those organizations called churches which uninspired men have gotten up. But inspired men have clearly taught that salvation is in the church of God, and nowhere else. And as it is true that salvation is in Christ, and in none else, it is important that we know how persons get into Christ.