Paul taught a mysterious unity between Christ and the believer:
“I have been crucified with Christ” (Gal. 2:20)
“Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20)
“All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (3:27).
Phrases such as “by faith in the Son of God” (2:20) and “through faith in Christ Jesus” (2:16; 3:26) are often understood as referring to a single concept, namely belief in Christ, and that is a correct. In Paul’s day Christians were distinguished by their belief that Jesus was from God.
However, we should be careful because the phrase “in Christ” is also used without the words “through faith”, which means that the phrase “in Christ” has a separate meaning by itself. For instance:
- “In Christ” does the blessing of Abraham come to the Gentiles (3:14, 29).
- “In Christ” do we have liberty from the law (2:4).
- “In Christ” means neither circumcision nor uncircumcision anything (5:6).
- “In Christ” are we seeking to be justified (2:17).
- “In Christ” is there no distinction between Jew and Greek (3:28).
The NASB translates Gal. 3:26 as:
“you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus”.
The NIV, recognising the distinctive meaning of the phrase “in Christ”, separates the phrases “in Christ” and “through faith”, and translates 3:26 as:
“in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith”
In this way the phrase “through faith in Christ Jesus” is divided into two concepts:
The first concept is faith, which may be faith in Christ specifically or faith in God generally. For instance, Abraham received the promise “through the righteousness of faith” (Rom. 4:13), but he did not literally have faith in Christ because he did not know about Christ, at least not as clearly as we do today.
The second is the “in Christ” concept, referring to the mysterious unity between Christ and the believer. We should not think of ourselves as separate from Christ. As Paul explains in Gal. 3:16 and 19, the promises that were made to Abraham were actually made to and inherited by Christ. Christians are, metaphorically speaking, inside Christ, and only share in the promises “in Christ Jesus”.
The point is perhaps that we should not underestimate the value the Cross. Christ is the Vehicle through which we are saved. He “gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (1:4). Without Christ there would not have been any rescue.