Paul begins the book of Ephesians with a long, cumbersome sentence, praising God the Father “who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph. 1:3).
Just as Rom 8:28–29 represents the Golden Chain of salvation, so here in Eph 1:3–14 Paul gives us what we could call the Golden Chain of participation in Christ. Paul’s long opening sentence could be placed into four sections, each beginning with “in Christ”:
1. in Christ, we have election (vv. 4–6)
2. in Christ, we have liberation and forgiveness (vv. 7–10).
3. in Christ, we have an inheritance and therefore hope (vv. 11–12.
4. in Christ, we have the sealing of the Spirit, the pledge of our inheritance (vv. 13–14).
These blessings constitute one reality – all that we have “in Christ” – ex- pressed in three tenses: past (election), present (forgiveness and the Spirit), and future (the hope of our inheritance).
Stated differently: “in Christ” is shorthand for the whole doctrine of salvation, and thus the whole of redemptive history. What might otherwise have been unrelated discrete events (e.g., election, atonement, sanctification) become, on this view, a single christological coat of many canonical colors.
To seek to understand union with Christ in relation to redemptive history is to examine “in Christ” in the framework not of exegesis but biblical theology.
The key question here is not merely what is union with Christ but also when is union with Christ? When were we incorporated into the Messiah and “blessed in Christ” with every spiritual blessing?