Without Christ (1)
Remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.
The verse above describes every Christian who has, and will, ever live. Every Christian was a stranger, indeed, an enemy, of God, born outside “the covenant of promise,” and has, by grace, through regeneration by the Spirit, been brought into that covenant. We were once “separate from Christ”; many still are. Ryle dedicates a chapter to explaining what it means to be without Christ. First, he says, those without knowledge are without Christ. But bare knowledge does not constitute saving faith.
It is quite possible to know all about Christ, and yet not to put our trust in Him. There are multitudes who know every article of the Belief, and can tell you glibly that Christ was ‘born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried.’ They learned it at school. They have it sticking fast in their memories. But they make no practical use of their knowledge. They put their trust in something which is not ‘Christ.’ They hope to go to heaven because they are moral and well-conducted—because they say their prayers and go to Church—because they have been baptized and go to the Lord’s Table. But as to a lively faith in God’s mercy through Christ—a real, intelligent confidence in Christ’s blood and righteousness and intercession—these are things of which they know nothing at all. And of all such persons I can see but one true account. They are ‘without Christ.’
I am aware that many do not admit the truth of what I have just said. Some tell us that all baptized people are members of Christ by virtue of their baptism. Others tell us that where there is a head-knowledge, we have no right to question a person’s interest in Christ. To these views I have only one plain answer. The Bible forbids us to say that any man is joined to Christ until he believes. Baptism is no proof that we are joined to Christ. . . . Head-knowledge is no proof that we are joined to Christ. The devils know Christ well enough, but have no portion in Him. God knows, no doubt, who are His from all eternity. But man knows nothing of anyone’s justification until he believes. The grand question is, ‘Do we believe?’ It is written, ‘He that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.’ ‘He that believeth not shall be damned.’ (John 3:36; Mark 16:16.) If Bible words mean anything, to be without faith is to be ‘without Christ.’
—J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 341–342.
What It Means to Be a Christian
What I Believe