Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE COMMUNION OF THE BELIEVER’S UNION WITH CHRIST”

 

In the course of my preaching, I frequently make mention of Colossians 1.15 and the Apostle Paul’s reference to “the invisible God.” As well, I typically point out that not only can God not be seen, He is also imperceptible to the other senses as well, and cannot be discovered by hearing, feeling, smelling, or the sense of taste unless He chooses to reveal Himself to an individual. The invisibility of God is borne out by John 5.37, where Jesus said of God, “Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape,” and First John 4.12, where the apostle writes, “No man hath seen God at any time.” Thus, while God cannot ordinarily be perceived by means of the physical senses, believers can and ought to “see” the Lord with the eye of faith, Hebrews 12.2: “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.” Of course, this is a terrible disadvantage to the sinner who doubts the existence of God until he dies and wakes up in Hell.

Because God is invisible, and yet because He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance, Second Peter 3.9, He sent His Son, Jesus Christ. Listen to how the Apostle Paul summarizes the Lord Jesus Christ’s mission to sinful mankind, in Philippians 2.7-11:

 

7      But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:

8      And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

9      Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:

10     That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;

11     And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

 

What did the Lord Jesus Christ accomplish by His death on the cross for our sins and His resurrection from the dead and ascension to the Father’s right hand? What Paul points out to the Philippians is the glory God the Father receives when every knee bows and every tongue confesses that the risen and exalted Jesus Christ is Lord. What the Savior also accomplished is the salvation of the sinner, and the union with Christ I have been speaking to the past several Sunday mornings. This morning I want to set before you a consideration of the communion that results from the union with Christ that is experienced by the believer.

In the New Testament, the Greek word koinwnia is typically translated communion, and refers to close association involving mutual interests and sharing, association, communion, fellowship, and close relationship.[1] I bring this up at this point because the believer’s union with Christ should be experienced in a deeply enriching communion between the believer and the Savior. We know that in some sense Christ is in the believer, the believer is in Christ, the Spirit is in the believer, and the believer is in the Spirit. Such realities as these should be expected to produce a number of outcomes. That is, if Christ really is in the believer in the person of the Holy Spirit, if the believer really is in Christ, if the Holy Spirit truly indwells each believer, and if the believer actually is in the Spirit, there should be some type of evidence of this reality in the life of the believer. What might these evidences, these effects, be? These byproducts, if you will, include (1) an awareness of the divine presence in the believer’s heart, (2) a heightened sense of dependence in the believer on the Savior, (3) knowledge from actually experiencing the Father’s love, the Son’s grace, and the Spirit’s comfort in the believer’s life, (4) communion, which is to say fellowship, with the Father and the Son through the Spirit, and (5) a quickening of the believer’s spiritual faculties. One aspect of this final evidence is the renewing of the believer’s mind that is referred to in Romans 12.2. Believers in Christ come to find that they actually think better than they could prior to their conversion to Christ.

Turn to Second Corinthians 13.14, where the Apostle Paul’s closing statement refers to the communion believers in Christ can expect to experience: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.” The word communion is our word koinwnia. This truth is also represented by the figurative words of the risen Lord to the church at Laodicea, in Revelation 3.20: “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” Jesus speaks of communion in that verse.

It has always been God’s desire to commune with His people. Genesis 3.8 implies Adam’s communion with God “in the garden in the cool of the day.” For 300 years Enoch “walked with God” (Genesis 5.22, 24) - a metaphor indicating profound, personal communion with his Redeemer. Noah likewise walked with the Lord (Genesis 6.9) and conversed with him heart to heart (Genesis 6.13-21; 7.1-4; 8.15-17). Abraham also engaged the LORD in intimate personal communication and worship (Genesis 17.1-22). In a theophany, a divine manifestation, Moses at the burning bush saw the LORD, conversed with Him, and experienced godly fear and a profound sense of His presence (Exodus 3.1-4.17). Saul of Tarsus saw the risen Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 26.13; First Corinthians 9.1) and while in a trance in Jerusalem (Acts 22.17-18). He spoke with Christ (Acts 22.10, 18-21; 26.15-18) and communed with Him during his time in the Arabian Desert (Galatians 1.17-18). John, “the beloved disciple,” experienced deep, spiritual communion with Jesus during the Last Supper (John 13.23-26; 21.20). He lovingly beheld Jesus during His crucifixion (John 19.26-27), was present at the grave (John 20.2-8), and enjoyed the company of Jesus at the Sea of Galilee (John 21).

Though the examples I have cited all refer to different believer’s communion, you might have noticed that some of the communion experiences involved the five senses, in which Christ was physically present or God miraculously manifested Himself to be seen or heard. It may very well be that Enoch and Noah’s experiences were by faith and were not experienced by means of the physical senses. However, it is certain that Christians of our era by and large experience communion apart from apprehending Jesus with the five senses. First Peter 1.8 declares it to us: “Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.” That speaks of experiencing communion with the presently unseen Savior, a communion that relies on faith.[2]

The biblical examples and passages I have pointed out to you suggest that Christians in union with Christ practice what you could term a true mysticism. Let me be very careful with this word mysticism, since it is usually misused. Skeptics quip, “Mysticism is something that begins in mist and ends in schism.” If it is a so-called mysticism that goes beyond the bounds of revealed truth, then I am a skeptic. However, there is a sense in which the believer’s union with Christ results in a communion that is properly regarded as mystical. Union and the believer’s resulting communion with Christ is mystical, first, in the sense that it is a mystery not fully explicable in human language and concepts. Paul makes this observation in Ephesians 5.32 and Colossians 1.27. What do I mean by this? I mean that a believer’s communion with Christ is a mystery because of the limitations of language to describe it. Words are symbols whose meanings are tied to things within our grasp. However, words fall short in their ability to fully explain that that lies beyond our senses, in the realm of the spiritual.

There is another reason why a believer’s communion with Christ is recognized to be a mystery. It is because the believer’s union with Christ involves the finite person’s gracious experience of the infinite God in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. This morning I would like to explore in your thinking three aspects of this mystic communion believers experience in their Christian lives:

 

First, THERE IS WHAT WE CAN REFER TO AS A RELATIONAL MYSTICISM

 

This is communion whereby the believer consciously enters into the holy of holies to engage and commune with God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ through the Spirit, by means of prayer, by means of a rich devotional life, by means of meditation, and perhaps by means of one’s cherished consciousness of the relationship established by means of the believer’s faith in Christ:

First, consider John 15.9-10:

 

9      As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.

10     If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.

 

Notice the operative phrases in this passage that reveal just how the believer’s communion is experienced. Verse 9 concludes, “continue ye in my love.” This word continue translates the Greek word that is typically translated abide. Christ is instructing His disciples to keep their place in His love. Therefore, too, we are to keep our place in His love. Verse 10 shows us how to keep our place in His love, by keeping His commandments, consciously doing His will, and engaging in the varied activities I just mentioned. In this way, the believer abides in Christ’s love and communes with Him.

Next, take note of the last phrase of Second Corinthians 6.16: “I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Here is a declaration of the relationship that believers have with God. Of course, God is everyone’s God, but not all men are His people in this sense. Only believers in Jesus Christ. How is this communion experienced and expressed? Notice the next two verses:

 

17     Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you,

18     And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.

 

Once again, we see that communion with God is bound up in obedience to God and compliance with His wishes. In turn, the relationship we already have with God as believers is exhibited by the way God treats us and the way believers respond to Him.

Third, read Philippians 2.1: “If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies. . . .” In this verse, the Apostle Paul is setting forth certainties to his readers. Notice two of the certainties he makes mention of, the believer’s “consolation in Christ” and “fellowship of the Spirit.” What is Paul setting forth here in an undeniable way? He is asserting that if you are a believer and are therefore in Christ, you are consoled by Christ. How can you be a Christian and not be consoled? Next, he asserts that if you are a believer and are therefore indwelt by the Spirit, you have fellowship with the Spirit. How can you be a believer and not experience this fellowship?

Can this communion be fully explained? No. However, is it not experienced? It certainly is. Therefore, this experience based upon the believer’s relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Spirit truly is communion, but is a mystical communion. Its affects you, and you respond to its effects in the living of your Christian life, in great measure by complying with God’s wishes, by obeying Him.

 

Next, THERE IS WHAT WE CAN REFER TO AS A MORAL MYSTICISM

 

The believer’s union with Jesus Christ produces the experience of his corruption giving way to holiness of life and ethical conduct. This is called sanctification. Several passages address this issue:

First, John 12.46: “I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness.” There can be no doubt that our Lord’s reference here to light and darkness, as in other places, are references to moral matters. Light equals that which is good, that which is holy, and that which is righteous. Darkness is the absence of those qualities. No one would suggest that the believer is by nature good, holy, or righteous in any way. However, upon becoming a believer in Jesus Christ, one no longer abides in darkness, but abides in the light.

Next, Second Corinthians 3.18: “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” If the previous verse we read addressed the place the Lord Jesus Christ occupies in the sanctification of the believer, this verse places more emphasis on the fact that change takes place, and that change is accomplished by the Spirit of the Lord. That this occurs is declared. How this occurs is not fully explained, because it is a mystery. Since the result is the believer’s life actually improving over time, as he becomes more Christ-like and more godly, it truly is a moral mysticism.

Third, Philippians 3.10: “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.” Here we see the Apostle Paul relating his own experience to his readers. However, it is important for us to realize that Paul’s experience was written so that it might be normative, so other Christians would yearn for and experience what Paul experienced. Can evidence of this experience be seen in the lives of other Christians? Yes. Many believers can bear testimony to what Paul speaks of here. Can it be fully explained or completely understood? No. Hence the label moral mysticism.

Fourth, First John 2.10 and 3.24:

 

2.10     He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him.

 

3.24      And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.

 

These two verses also speak to this matter of moral mysticism. First John 2.10 mentions “none occasion of stumbling in him,” while First John 3.24 mentions keeping His commandments. Dwelling in, he in Him, God abiding in us, and the indwelling Spirit all have to do with union that leads to this communion of consecration, this experience of abiding in the light and giving none occasion to stumbling.

My friends, when the sinner comes to faith in Christ he is justified. He benefits from what Christ has done for him in pronouncing him just in the sight of God. However, the union with Christ having been established at the moment of justification, God’s sanctifying work then begins, with the believer beginning the process of change by means of the communion he experiences in his Christian life. Is this process entirely explainable or understandable? No. Thus, we refer to it is a moral mysticism.

 

Finally, THERE IS WHAT WE CAN REFER TO AS A KNOWLEDGE MYSTICISM

 

First Corinthians 13.12: “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” At present believers are very limited in our knowledge, and we know only in part. Our future, however, will be characterized by full knowledge. Precisely how we know what we know concerning spiritual reality and our communion with Christ is not fully explained.

Second Corinthians 4.6: “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Again, Paul speaks of knowledge. This knowledge comes from God. However, the precise details of this knowledge are a mystery, not fully comprehensible.

Second Corinthians 12.2-4:

 

2      I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven.

3      And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;)

4      How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.

 

This is a perfect illustration of knowledge mysticism. The Apostle Paul knows something, though he is not sure who it is he knows something about, or some of the details related to what he knows. I think Paul is talking about knowledge about himself, but I cannot prove what I think to be true.

First John 5.20: “And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.” John speaks here of the believer gaining knowledge of God and His truth in fellowship with Christ, in our communion, though we are not told exactly how and to what extent we have such knowledge.

You might call this illumination. Over the years, I have been asked how did I come to understand some of the things I seem to have a firm hold on. Study and prayer are important, of course. However, some of the things a believer knows to be true and can verify in scripture are truth he does not always know how he came to know. It is a mystery.

 

A Bible scholar named John Murray once wrote, “There is an intelligent mysticism in the life of faith.” What did he mean by that? I think he meant that every authentic believer, to some degree, should be a mystic in the sense that the Apostle John and the Apostle Paul were mystics. The reason I tend to shy away from the kind of mysticism most people are exposed to is because the mysticism associated with the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements, and the mysticism seen in many evangelical circles, is strongly influenced by eastern religions. Mysticism of the kind where the individual allegedly melts into the Divine as a drop of water is absorbed into the ocean is not at all scriptural. Bruce Demarest writes, “While allowing for an ‘I-Thou’ meeting [in the Christian’s communion], we find no basis in Scripture for an ‘I-Thou’ merging [in the Christian’s communion].”

In authentic Christian mysticism, there may be peak experiences of communion, and at times even communication, but never absorption into the Divine, never a loss of personal identity or self-control, and never anything like a deification of the worshipper.[3]

“Pastor, why is it that the communion you are referring to is foreign to me? I have no experiences that seem to me to be ‘holy of holies’ experiences of communion with God.” I am sorry to hear that. There is nothing comparable to the wonder and glory of communion with the Father and the Son through the Holy Spirit. How is it possible you have never experienced such communion? There are two possibilities: First, it could be that you are a Christian who refuses to spend the time needed in God’s Word, the time needed in prayer, the time needed in meditation and contemplation, the time needed in investing your life in service to God. Spend your life focused on self and serving self and I guarantee you will have no such experiences of rich communion. However, a more likely explanation is that you are not converted. You see, union with Christ is the basis for communion with Christ. If your communion does not exist, your union is a figment of your imagination.



[1] Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), pages 552-553.

[2] Hebrews 11.1, 3, 6

[3] This message relies heavily on an arrangement of Bible truth in Bruce Demarest, The Cross And Salvation, (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, hardcover edition 2006), pages 339-341.

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org