Union with Christ is, as we have begun to see, one of those architectonic principles that shapes the fabric of the Christian life. In this article, I want to highlight a few of the implications of our union with Christ for our spirituality. To be sure, spirituality is fascinating to people today. Usually when we run across the idea, it suggests the pursuit of subjective spiritual experience, often linked to mental and emotional well-being, sometimes suggesting practices like Eastern meditation and mindfulness. But true Christian spirituality has little in common with that way of thinking. And the fundamental point of difference has to do with the center—the object, the focal point. In the models of spirituality common in our culture, the self is the focal point. We pursue spiritual experience for the sake of experience, or possibly for the sense of well-being it is alleged to promise. But in authentically Christian spirituality, experience—though present and vital, rich and real—isn’t the goal and the self isn’t the focus. In Christian spirituality, God in Christ by the Holy Spirit is the focus. Knowing Him and delighting in Him are our objectives. Insofar as thoughts of self have a place in Christian spirituality at all, it is a small one. This view of spirituality helps us see ourselves truly only insofar as we come to know God truly.

For our purposes, I am defining “spirituality” as the pursuit, by means of scriptural disciplines, of an ever-growing, deeply felt communion with the triune God. My argument is that the doctrine of union with Christ is at the very heart of all our fellowship with God and every discipline or habit of grace by which that fellowship may be cultivated.

Union Leads to Communion

In John 14:16, Jesus promised the disciples that He would ask the Father to give them another Helper, whom He identifies as the Spirit of truth. The phrase “another Helper” means another of the same kind. Jesus was departing to the Father, by way of the cross, but He would send another helper of the same character as Himself. This Helper is the Holy Spirit, who would dwell with the disciples and be in them. But in verses 18–19, we learn that the link between Christ and the Spirit is far more profound than we might first think. Jesus says, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me” (emphasis added). Jesus, though departing, would come to His disciples. This isn’t a reference to the resurrection or to the second coming of Jesus at the end of the age. This is a reference to the coming of the Holy Spirit. There is a union between Christ and the Spirit such that the Spirit communicates to us the presence of Christ. Jesus comes to us and indwells us by the Spirit. When Jesus says, “Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I in you” (vv. 19–20), He is telling us the consequence of the Spirit’s mighty work. In the Spirit, we are united to Jesus Christ.

Jesus helps us see the wonder of that union in verse 20: “In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I in you.” Jesus and the Father are one. There is a union and communion between the Father and the Son in the fellowship of the blessed Trinity. The Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, communicates to us, mediates to us, our union and communion with Christ, who is one with the Father. The Spirit’s ministry will be to help us know, experience, and enjoy the fact that Christ is in the Father and that we are in Christ and Christ is in us.

It is the work of the Spirit always to lead us into deeper and more soul-nourishing communion with Christ.

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.

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