What does it mean to ‘participate’ in Christ?

As discussed in several earlier posts (see here), I spent most of my research time over the summer concentrated on the phrase ‘in Christ’ in Paul.

I chose to do this for multiple reasons, I will not bore you with them all, but one of the reasons is I find a lot to like in what is called the Participatory School of Pauline Soteriology (also called Apocalyptic, Eschatological, Mystical and even Pneumatologically Participatory Martyrlogical Eschatology by one well-know lover of acronyms).

Yet, one of my main critiques of this school is there is often no clear understanding of what ‘participatory’ means. In other words, it sounds great (and more importantly seems to be a faithful reading of Paul) to say we participate in Christ, but what does that actually entail.

Thus, I was on a quest this summer to find how I would define participatory soteriology in Paul and I returned with five key terms.

  1. Unconditional – given as free gift
  2. Real – a concrete reality
  3. Relational – become fully relational beings
  4. Transformational – produces actual and lasting change
  5. Eternal – once Christ is put on it is forever

Obviously, each of these terms needs to be more fully described and more importantly tied with texts*, but they at least introduce the themes I see orbiting around the phrase ‘in Christ’ in Paul’s letters.

A second idea I found during my quest is the recognition that Paul incorporated three central realities into those found ‘in Christ’: righteousness, baptism into death, and an exalted newness of life. Also, fundamental is Paul found these ideas first in Christ. That is to say, they are realities present in Christ which are then ‘put on’ those ‘in Christ.’ Thus, my understanding of ‘in Christ’ found a referent in Christ. It became a phrase that describes both the cause and effect of Paul’s understanding of salvation.

While I have long way to go to complete my quest, the phrase I continually returned to this summer, in teaching and research, is at least a beginning,

What is real in Christ is real in those now ‘in Christ.’

 

*The central texts for these ideas, and I believe for understanding ‘in Christ’ in Paul, are Rom 3, Rom 6, Gal 3, and Eph 2.

2 thoughts on “What does it mean to ‘participate’ in Christ?

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