From New Covenant and New Testament revelation we see that God relates to two basic categories of human beings. All people are either “in Christ” by faith or they are not. All of redemptive history points to Jesus Christ and those who are in him by faith. In Romans 4 Paul explains how this “in Christ” relationship worked for those saved during Old Testament times and the New Testament is thorough in explaining how believers are “in Christ” by faith since the church began at Pentecost. This “in Christ” relationship is repeated again and again in the New Testament in different ways such as:
1 Cor. 15:22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
Galatians 3:26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.
Therefore, faith is the key to being “in Christ”. Most questions concerning how God deals with man can be answered if this basic “in Christ” test is used as a foundational presupposition about God’s relationship to man. For example, does God love all men equally and unconditionally? Keeping the categories distinct will show that Scripture describes a clear difference in how God loves these two categories.
When Scripture speaks of judgment, love, righteousness, or anything else it is important to distinguish which category is being considered. For example, the judgment to determine eternal destiny will be different for each category. Those who are NOT in Christ will be judged by their deeds and works. In this judgment God does not grade on a curve, but grades on a scale that requires a perfect sinless record in order to be reconciled to God. This is the very bad news that Paul covers in Rom. 1:18 through 3:20. However, those who are “in Christ” will be judged on the perfect sinless record of Jesus Christ. They will be covered by His righteousness and atonement for their sins. His fulfillment of the Old Covenant [Mt. 5:17] and atonement is the very good news of the gospel that begins in Rom. 3:21.
Does this mean those who are “in Christ” can and possibly will proceed full steam ahead in pursuit of a sinful life? When we go back to the fundamentals of this “in Christ” relationship, we find that this relationship also changes the heart of those who are “in Christ”. From 2 Cor. 5:17 to Rom 8:9 to Rom. 6 to Eph. 2:5 to John 3:3 to Hebrews 8 we find the same message and that is those who are “in Christ” have been changed by the power of God. Therefore, those who are “in Christ” will not continue unchanged in a pursuit of sin. They have been changed by the power of God and while sin will remain a problem, they are no longer under its power.
In stark contrast to being in Christ, those who are NOT in Christ are still under the power of sin and are still under God’s wrath. They do not have peace with God and neither the law or their attempts to perform good works can bring them to an “in Christ” relationship with God. The only way is through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.
If we will start with the “in Christ” relationship with God rather than get bogged down and confused by covenant relationships, Old Testament law, ethnicity, parental status, or different dispensations, then much of the confusion about the characteristics and identity of believers becomes clear. Paul did this very thing in the following passage:
Galatians 3:25-29 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.
God did not make a saving covenant with any nation or family and he made no promise of salvation to any nation or family. The New Covenant was made with God’s elect on an individual one on one basis and each individual is “in Christ” by his own personal faith alone.