Paul’s writings indicate 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” (Gal. 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 indicating a single concept, namely belief in Christ, and that may be correct. In Paul’s day, Christians were distinguished by their belief that Jesus was from God.
However, the phrase “in Christ” is also used without the words “through faith.” For example, “you are all one in Christ” (Gal. 3:28). It is therefore also possible to separate phrases such as “through faith in Christ Jesus” (3:26) into two concepts. This means that the phrase “in Christ” has a separate meaning by itself. For example:
- “In Christ,” the blessing of Abraham comes to the Gentiles (3:14, 29).
- “In Christ,” we have liberty from the law (2:4).
- “In Christ,” neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything (5:6).
- “In Christ” are we seeking to be justified (2:17).
- “In Christ,” there no distinction between Jew and Greek (3:28).
The NASB translates Galatians 3:26 as follows:
“you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.”
The NIV recognizes the distinctive meaning of the phrase “in Christ” and separates the phrases “in Christ” and “through faith” by translating this verse as follows:
“In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.”
In this way, the NASB-phrase “through faith in Christ Jesus” is divided into two concepts:
The first concept is faith, which may be faith in Christ or faith in God. 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 Galatians 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 of 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.