This article is part of the 10 Things You Should Know series.
1. Our communion with Christ assumes being in union with Christ.
In Communion with God John Owen states, “Our communion with God consists in his communication of himself to us, with our return to him of that which he requires and accepts, flowing from that union which in Jesus Christ we have with him.”
Before we can have communion (or fellowship) with Christ, we must first be in right relationship to him. That relationship can only come from our being in union with Christ. Our union with Christ is a monergistic act of divine grace that calls, covenantally binds, and applies all of Christ’s redemptive work to us. Through our being in union with Christ, we have regeneration, conversion (faith and repentance), justification, sanctification, and glorification. It is rooted in divine election and grounded in the salvific work of Jesus. For the saints of God, this binding union relationship cannot and will not be changed. At the moment of conversion, we are forever the adopted sons and daughters of God through Christ.
2. Our communion with Christ is our enduring fellowship with Christ.
Now that we are united to Christ, we are called to have authentic fellowship with our Lord and Savior. Paul reminds us that we have been given this privilege by the Father: “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship (koinonia) of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor. 1:9). We have not been called into the type of union whereby two strangers are dwelling together under the same roof. Rather, we are called into a sweet and intimate type of koinonia in which our lives are necessarily interwoven with Christ. His will, plans, and affections must grow into and become our will, plans, and affections. His kingdom is now our kingdom and his glory is now our daily pursuit.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told his disciples that they are to put away the normal worries of this world and “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33). As King Jesus builds his kingdom, part of our communion with him is our joining with Christ to seek and pursue his kingdom.
3. Our communion with Christ is fueled by our love for Christ.
The greatest command in Scripture is to “love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all of your soul and with all of your mind” (Matt. 22:37). This command certainly applies to our love of Jesus Christ: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:37). Our love for Christ must be our greatest desire as we live out our communion with Him since it drives and shapes our side of the fellowship. Just as God’s love for us was demonstrated in the Father’s sending of the Son to save sinners (Rom. 5:8), and the Son’s love for us was seen in his laying down his life for the people of God (John 15:13), so too our love for Christ synchronizes our lives as we seek deeper and more intimate communion with him.
4. Our communion with Christ is celebrated through our obedience to Christ.
In John 14, Jesus points out that our love for Christ is displayed in our obedience to God. He says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15) and “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him” (John 14:21).
Paul reminds us that through our being baptized into Christ Jesus (union with Christ) that we are also baptized into Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection (Rom. 6). Since Christ was raised, we too are made alive in Christ in order to live to God in obedience (Rom. 6:8–10). By the grace of God (Rom. 6:14), believers are called and equipped to “present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness” (Rom. 6:13). Thus, as we seek to deepen our fellowship with Christ, we must be willing to live a life of daily obedience.
Now that we are united to Christ, we are called to have authentic fellowship with our Lord and Savior.
5. Our communion with Christ is impeded by our sin.
While our union with Christ cannot be hindered or broken, the sweetness and intimacy of our fellowship with Christ can be hampered through sin. Much like a marriage can be hurt when a covenant partner commits wrong, so too can our communion with Christ suffer when we fail to demonstrate our love to Him through obedience. Each moment of willful sin can erode and chip away at our communion with Christ: “If we say that we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice truth” (1 John 1:6).
Moreover, when we sin against the God of perfect holiness, he will bring loving discipline as a Father to a son: “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the ones he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (Heb. 12:5–6).
So how can Christians enjoy communion with Christ this side of glorification knowing that our sin harms the tenderness of the relationship? We need to learn to hate sin because God hates sin. We have to remember that just as Christ has made us alive together with him in his resurrection, he has also baptized us into his death (Rom. 6:3). This means that we are no longer bound to our former fallen natures as the old self has died to sin (Rom. 6:2), been buried in Christ’s burial (Rom. 6:4), and crucified in Christ’s crucifixion so that we are no longer enslaved to sin (Rom. 6:6). In other words, we should “consider ourselves dead to sin” (Rom. 6:11) because sin is no longer our goal. Rather, our new goal is to live for Christ’s glory in righteousness (Rom 6.19). By the power of the Holy Spirit indwelling us, we can say no to sin and walk in obedience.
6. Our communion with Christ is reenergized through our repentance.
When we sin, we distort our communion with Christ. However, when we authentically repent of our sin and seek forgiveness, God is faithful to forgive us: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8–9). This repentance is not the initial repentance of sin that takes place in our union with Christ (we understand that all of the sins of the people of God are forgiven at the moment of conversion: faith and repentance). Rather, this is the repentance of sin that understands that our continued iniquities hurt our communion with Christ. Thus, with hurting hearts and authentic sorrow, we seek a mended fellowship with Christ through the confession and repentance of sin.
7. Our communion with Christ is grounded in our commitment to the word of God.
We cannot love that which we do not know. Moreover, as sinful creatures, we can love the idea of someone more than we love the actual person. This must not be the case in our communion with Christ. God has uniquely revealed himself to us through his word. Thus, if we are to know sincerely the Lord whom we are united to, then we must be committed to the study of God’s word. The Bible communicates who Christ is: he is the Son of God (Matt. 8:29), the revelation of the Father (Heb. 1:3-4), the Lamb of God (John 1:29), the Root of David (Rev. 5:5), Immanuel (Matt. 1:23), our bridegroom (Matt. 9:15), the “I Am” (John 8:56–58), our Redeemer (Rom. 3:24), the seed of the woman, the good shepherd (John 10:11), our propitiation (1 John 2:2), and our great high priest (Heb. 4:14–16). All of these names and titles are found in the word of God and await the adopted child of God who seeks to understand Christ. As we grow in our understanding of Christ, we also grow in our fellowship with him.
8. Our communion with Christ is demonstrated through our love and service to others.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Certainly, our communion with Christ is a private and intimate matter. But there is a large portion of it that is public and authentically demonstrated (avoiding the heart of hypocrisy—Matt. 6:1–8) by our love for others. Since we are called to love God and love the things/people that he loves, then we are also called to love people. In fact, Jesus says that loving God and neighbor are the two commandments which the entire law and prophets depend upon (Matt. 22:37–40). Put another way, no one can love God and fellowship with Christ without loving others. Thus, our true love, devotion, and service to others in the name of Christ is an authentic demonstration of our communion with Christ.
9. Our communion with Christ is tested through persecution and suffering.
Every authentic believer will face suffering and persecution because of Christ: “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:18). Peter reminds us that these ordeals are tests: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Pet. 4:12). Our union with Christ ensures that we will suffer and these moments of suffering are tests of our communion with Christ.
When we suffer as believers, we have a few options concerning our response. We can suffer with a hard heart and complain against God, grumble against him, and question his sovereignty in our lives. This approach will not enhance our communion with Christ. Or we can cry out to God, lean upon him, trust him, and depend upon him to deliver us from or persevere us through our sufferings. This later approach will improve our communion with Christ since it brings increased trust and communication with him.
10. Our communion with Christ is strengthened through consistent prayer.
Prayer is our opportunity to communicate with God through Christ. While forsaking prayer does not break our union with Christ, it certainly harms our fellowship with him. When a marital partner neglects the other through a failure to communicate, the relationship is hindered. On the other hand, when husbands and wives communicate positively with one another in consistent patterns, then the marriage is enhanced. The same holds true for our communication to Christ through prayer. When we pray, we tend to feel more connected to Christ. Through prayer we can seek God’s: wisdom, protection, healing, will, counsel, direction, abundance, closeness, and sanctification in our lives (and those of others). All of our godly communication with Christ through prayer greatly strengthens our communion with him.
Benjamin M. Skaug is a contributor to Biblical Spirituality edited by Christopher W. Morgan.