Communion, Union, and You

There is a book coming out shortly by the puritan theologian John Owen entitled Communion With the Triune God. These paragraphs are from Kelly Kapic's forward. Thanks to my friend, Matt Adair for posting this on his fine blog.

"...note that Owen maintains an essential distinction between union and communion. Believers are united to Christ in God by the Spirit. This union is a unilateral action by God, in which those who were dead are made alive, those who lived in darkness begin to see the light, and those who were enslaved to sin are set free to be loved and to love. When one speaks of “union,” it must be clear that the human person is merely receptive, being the object of God’s gracious action. This is the state and condition of all true saints. Communion with God, however, is distinct from union. Those who are united to Christ are called to respond to God’s loving embrace. While union with Christ is something that does not ebb and flow, one’s experience of communion with Christ can fluctuate. This is an important theological and experiential distinction, for it protects the biblical truth that we are saved by radical and free divine grace. Furthermore, this distinction also protects the biblical truth that the children of God have a relationship with their Lord, and that there are things they can do that either help or hinder it. When a believer grows comfortable with sin (whether sins of commission or sins of omission) this invariably affects the level of intimacy this person feels with God. It is not that the Father’s love grows and diminishes for his children in accordance with their actions, for his love is unflinching. It is not that God turns from us, but that we run from him. Sin tends to isolate the believer, making him feel distant from God. Then come the accusations—both from Satan and self—which can make the believer worry that he is under God’s wrath. In truth, however, saints stand not under wrath but in the safe shadow of the cross.

While a saint’s consistency in prayer, corporate worship, and biblical meditation are not things that make God love him more or less, such activities tend to foster the beautiful experience of communion with God. Giving in to temptations and neglecting devotion to God threaten the communion but not the union.And it is this union which encourages the believer to turn from sin and to the God who is quick to forgive, abounding in compassion, and faithful in his unending love. Let there be no misunderstanding—for Owen, Christian obedience was of utmost importance, but it was always understood to flow out of this union and never seen as the ground for it. In harmony with Bunyan and other dissenters like him, Owen “insisted upon a very personal and emotional experience of union with Christ and the Holy Spirit,” and out of this union naturally flowed active communion."

This is such a key distinction, and I am grateful for the reminder of this truth. It is helpful for all of us who daily battle the flesh and the idolotry of addictions.

One of the key factors of addiction is isolation. We never act out in community, but we isolate ourselves from those that truly love us, and get alone, or with other addicts so that we can worship an unworthy god that is unable to save us or fix us. A god that wants to destroy and kill us. Remember the prodigal - he left the loving relationship with his Father in order to do what he wanted to do. He left unconditional, undying, eternal love for the temporary, conditional and powerless love of the world.

How many times have you acted out with your little g god, and then felt immediately that the true God was now so upset with you that you were now surely bound for hell? Or maybe you have felt that He was so mad at you that he would want nothing to do with you. You're already in the pig-sty, you already stink, so no way you can go home - your Father wants nothing to do with you now, so you may as well stay, right?

So often while I was in active addiction, I thought that God would have nothing to do with me. I also convinced myself that he hated me as a result of my actions and that I no longer deserved salvation. Do you ever feel like that?

My raging narcissism as an addict drove me to actually believe that my salvation was determined by me and what I did or didn't do. It's easy for us to forget God's sovereignty isn't it? We don't even realize we are doing it - it's a very subtle shift that the accuser uses to undermine good theology. "Oh, God can't love you for that. It's all over for you because you just looked at porn. So, you may as well keep looking at it since you're already damned."

Kapic's summary of John Owens' book should provide immense comfort to you! Remember that your salvation is based on the grace of God, not you. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, your redemption is the work of Christ, not you. That's a great truth, isn't it?

Eugene Peterson's translation of John 10:25-30 reminds us, "
Jesus answered, "I told you, but you don't believe. Everything I have done has been authorized by my Father, actions that speak louder than words. You don't believe because you're not my sheep. My sheep recognize my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them real and eternal life. They are protected from the Destroyer for good. No one can steal them from out of my hand. The Father who put them under my care is so much greater than the Destroyer and Thief. No one could ever get them away from him. I and the Father are one heart and mind."

Our salvation is never in danger, once God has transformed our hearts. Our relationship with God, however, is affected by our actions. We can't do anything to make God love us any more, or any less, but we can affect our communion with God. That's why abiding in the vine is so important.

It is in that abiding communion with God that we are made more like Christ. That's not work we can do on our own. That's why Jesus said, "Apart from me, you can do nothing." If we choose to isolate ourselves from God, and not engage in our relationship with our own creator, then the relationship is damaged. But we are the ones who damaged it.

And we come back to the conspiracy of grace - Our Father is waiting at the gate for us to come back home from the pig-sty.

How many times have you asked God to take the desire away from you? We then subtly blame God for our addiction because He is not taking the desire away. Just like the Father was waiting for his son to want to come home, to want relationship with him, Our Father waits for us to desire Him above our own pig-stys. I am firmly convinced, my friends, that God does not take our sinful desires away from us - He waits for us to desire Him and His Glory above all else. When we do that, He sweeps in with His astounding and empowering Grace. The prodigal desired his relationship with his Father, and the Father ran to meet, embrace and clothe him.

Come home, prodigal. Come home.

2 Response to "Communion, Union, and You"

  • barron Says:

    Good Morning Tal

    I just subscribed to your blog and look forward to reading it! i see you are doing a Blue Like Jazz mens group book study, That book contributed to change my life!

    Tal we are getting some amazing responses to!Oteil and I are very encouraged and know that we are pursuing Gods work!

    I like your signature line, chief sinner in charge! Hmmm i could run for that office!

    Glory be to God!


  • St. Clinton Says:

    "God does not take our sinful desires away from us"

    So true. Such a useless prayer that I prayed many times. But thank Him that He doesn't. It only made me treasure Him all the more!