That is what the Apostle John meant when he said in 1 John 1:3 that his purpose in preaching Christ was “so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” What is the full glory of the fellowship we have with the Apostolic church when we come to believe the gospel John preached? It’s not just that we enjoy fellowship with one another, but rather, with one another we have fellowship with the Father and with the Son. That is stunning in its scope and glory. When the Holy Spirit unites us to Christ when we believe the gospel, we are swept up into communion with the triune God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As Ephesians 2:18 puts it, “For through him [Jesus] we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” The Spirit brings us to Jesus, plants us into Christ, and in Christ we have access to the Father.
I’m making a plea for an experiential, felt Christianity. I’m making a plea for a felt Christ. It is the work of the Spirit always to lead us into deeper and more soul-nourishing communion with Christ. We are not rationalists. We are supernaturalists. We believe in the Holy Spirit who brings us into real communication and communion and fellowship with the risen and exalted Christ Himself, and, in Christ, with the Father. If that makes us uncomfortable, if our theology is satisfied with doctrines and practices only and knows nothing of spiritual intimacy with God, it may be that we are still not yet converted.
Union, Communion, and the Ordinary Means of Grace
But how do we grow into a deepening experience and understanding of communion with the triune God? Is it just something that comes over you, like a chill, when you’re not expecting it? Is it some eerie, spooky mumbo-jumbo that only the super-spiritual can know, the fruit perhaps of some second blessing? Or at the other end of the spectrum, is a deepening communion with God the product of the right application of technique? Can spiritual experience be manufactured? Can you produce an experience of God with the right ambience, with maybe a few candles and the right aesthetic?
Westminster Larger Catechism 154 asks, “What are the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of his mediation?” Having described our union with Christ, our question now is, How do we enjoy the benefits Christ has won for us? Now that we are “in Him,” how do we commune with Him? Listen to the catechism’s answer: “The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to his church the benefits of his mediation, are all his ordinances; especially the word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for their salvation.”
All the ordinances, all the disciplines and practices ordained by Christ in His Word are the outward and ordinary means. Then it lists the three central and primary means, of which all the others are derivative. Christ communicates His benefits to us by the Word, the sacraments, and prayer.
But, before we go much further, we need to recognize that the means of grace fall into two broad categories. There are private means of grace, and there are corporate means of grace. Strictly speaking, they are not two separate sets of disciplines, but they are different applications of the same three means: the Word, the sacraments, and prayer.
Christ has ordained the public (and private) use of the Word and prayer, and the corporate use of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, that by the diligent, believing use of them the fact of our union with Christ might be enjoyed in growing communion with Him. If we are longing for a deepening experience of Jesus, if we want more of the felt presence of Christ in our Christian lives, we do not need to attend special meetings. We do not need to undergo some kind of spiritual catharsis or any kind of second blessing. We need to go to corporate worship. We need to sit under the faithful exposition of the Word week in and week out. We need to open our Bibles at home and drink in its truth. We need to cry to God for the work of the Spirit in our hearts. We must not neglect the Lord’s Table; rather, we must join with our brothers and sisters in eating the bread and the wine.
By such means Christ has promised to strengthen our faith, to kill our sin, to comfort our hearts, and to deepen our assurance that we are indeed in Him and He in us. May God help us use the means of grace with faith and expectation that we might enjoy the glories of our union with Christ to the praise of His great name!
Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series on union with Christ and was previously published February 8, 2019. Previous post. Next post.