What does Paul mean by “in Christ before me” in Romans 16:7?
What Paul says here can easily seem puzzling if we think the expression “in Christ” has to mean, or can only refer to, being in the “new creature,” the church the body of Christ. But that is not what the expression has to mean. In fact, the expressions “in Christ” and “in the Lord/LORD” are used in God’s program with Israel.
For example, in Isaiah 45:24-25 the expression “in the LORD” is used in connection with prophetically describing what redeemed Israelites will one day say regarding being justified in God’s sight.
24 Surely, shall one say, in the LORD have I righteousness and strength: even to him shall men come; and all that are incensed against him shall be ashamed.
25 In the LORD shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory. (Isaiah 45:24-25)
Notice also how that Peter ends his first epistle to the remnant of Israel saying,
14 Greet ye one another with a kiss of charity. Peace be with you all that are in Christ Jesus. Amen. (I Peter 5:14)
Peter, therefore, recognizes that the members of the remnant of Israel are “in Christ Jesus.”
These are just two examples, but they show that the expressions “in Christ” and “in the Lord” can be used in a way that does not refer to being in the body of Christ in this dispensation. In truth, the expression has a much more fundamental meaning, and one that is applicable to both of God’s programs.
Simply put, the expression “in Christ” first and foremost refers to the issue of no longer being “in Adam.” It refers to the new position and identity one has before God having become a beneficiary of Christ’s redemptive work. And as such it is used in both of God’s programs.
“In Adam” is the position and identity before God that all men have by nature, including the natural seed of Abraham. And as such all men by nature are unrighteous sinners and unholy in God’s sight. They are under the debt and penalty of their sins and have as their lot the prospect of coming under the judgment of God for their sins. What men need is a change of identity.
And again this is something people need regardless of whether they are in Israel’s program or in this present dispensation of God’s grace. They need to be no longer identified with Adam, but rather they need to be identified with one who is perfectly righteous and perfectly holy in God’s sight. And this of course is not only exactly what Christ is, but He is also the only one with whom such a righteous and holy identification can be had. And thanks be to God that just such an identification can be had; that men can actually have a change of identity and go from being “in Adam” to being “in Christ.” Redemption is what provides for just such a legal change of status or identity.
Briefly put, the one who functions as the Redeemer legally assumes the identity of the one he is redeeming in order to pay the price to release him from his helpless predicament. Upon successfully paying the price to release him from his debt, the one redeemed is then able to legally have applied to him the benefits and even the identity of his Redeemer.
And so when one becomes a beneficiary of Christ’s redemptive work on the cross, he by being made the righteousness of God “in Christ” is justified unto eternal life and changes his identity from being a condemned sinner “in Adam” to being an at-one with God justified saint “in Christ.”
Again, it is this most basic meaning to the expression “in Christ” that I am persuaded Paul has in mind in Romans 16:7 regarding Andronicus and Junia.
— K. R. Blades