“Communion With” and “Abiding in” Christ
Communion with Christ: Union with Christ is the foundation enabling communion with and abiding in Christ. Union occurs when the Holy Spirit works faith in those being redeemed, thereby uniting them to Christ. Union with Christ is entirely a work of God in which believers are recipients of His grace. A believer’s Union with Christ legally and spiritually unites them to Him, making Him legally their covenant head, and the source of their spiritual life. Like justification, Union with Christ is a permanent work of God. It does not and cannot change.
Scripture says God created people for communion with Him. Before the Fall (Genesis 3), Adam and Eve freely walked and communed with God. Their fall into sin broke that relationship, and made them unholy, spiritually dead, and separated from God. In grace God determined to restore people into intimate relationship with Him. How that is made possible is found in the remainder of the Bible.
Think of communion between two or more human persons. It involves joint participation in events and mutual good will. So does a believer’s communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Communion with God is not an optional good. It is both necessary and rewarding. It is the end for which people were created.
Communion with the Father is through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Believers rejoice in who God is, what He has done, what He is doing, and what He will do. Thoughtful, respective, regular communication with Him is vital. God communicates primarily through His written Word. Believers are to study and meditate on His Word with the aid of the Holy Spirit. They are to regularly and thoughtfully approach God in prayer.
One way believers bring glory to God is through communion with Him. Another is by believing Him and acting accordingly. Another is completing the work He gave us to do. Individual things we do can bring glory to God when we do them in communion with Him.
Communion with God can be thought of as primarily His communication to us and our response to Him. Communion involves deliberate awareness, attentive involvement, and, in all things, thankfulness to God for His great love in spirt of our failures. The indwelling Holy Spirit facilitates communion by enabling understanding of His Word and guiding our response.
As recorded in the Bible, eager people, having experienced Jesus’ miraculous production of food, came again to Him in anticipation of more such miracles. Jesus responded to their presence by saying, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35b). On the night of His arrest, He said similar things about remembering Him. “Our Lord Jesus, in the night wherein he was betrayed, instituted the sacrament of his body and blood, called the Lord’s Supper, to be observed in his church unto the end of the world, for the perpetual remembrance of the sacrifice of himself in his death, the sealing all benefits thereof unto true believers, their spiritual nourishment and growth in him, their further engagement in and to all duties which they owe unto him, and to be a bond and pledge of their communion with him, and with each other, as members of his mystical body” (WCF: Chap. 29). When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we commune with God. As we partake, we receive spiritual nourishment. Our partaking is also a pledge to sustain communion with Him, and with one other, as members of Christ’s mystical body.
Communion on God’s part is unwavering and consistent in quality. With us it is different. Our affections and efforts at communion with Him vary with mood and circumstances. Communion with God may at times be vivid and real to us. Other times it seems dim and distant. In God’s grace, our Union with Christ does not depend on us or our circumstances. When the Holy Spirit worked faith in us, our relationship of Union with Christ was established once for all time.
The objective reality, which enables believers to subjectively commune with God, is our “forever” Union with Christ. We commune with God in many ways. We marvel at what He created, we rejoice in His love for us, we rejoice in His redemption graciously bestowed on us, we are thankful for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and on and on. We commune with God through (1.) Prayer. (2.) Study of and meditation on God’s Word while attentively seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance and understanding. (3.) Obediently doing good works designed for believers before creation, and (4.) the Lord’s Supper. Communion with Christ is distinct, but not separable from, Union with Christ.
The immediate effect of being united to Christ is dramatic. Having been spiritually dead in sin, believers are instantly made spiritually alive in Christ. This gracious work of regeneration is a work of God alone. Those receiving the blessing of Union with Christ do nothing, can do nothing, to cause their spiritual rebirth.
Adopting believers into God’s family was always a part of God’s plan. Adoption, like regeneration and justification, is a work of God alone. Before creation, God elected some to be adopted as “sons.” Ephesians 1:4-6: “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” Adoption has been objectively true since eternity past. It has been subjectively and legally true since the Holy Spirit worked faith in us.
“Abiding in Christ”
Union with Christ is the foundation on which Abiding in Christ rests. Adoption into His family provides a true family atmosphere for abiding in Christ. All who believe are adopted. “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). Believers are to be actively “in Christ,” always dependent on Christ, steadfastly holding allegiance to Him, and obediently following His lead.
As members of God’s family, believers are loved by God with a special love. They receive specific attention, guiding and admonishing. He provides for their needs, including the need to abide in Christ. His indwelling Holy Spirit oversees every detail of a believer’s life.
What does Scripture mean by “abiding?” The neatest answer to that question is Jesus’ metaphor of the “True Vine” which we have examined in detail (John 15:1-17). Active abiding in Christ requires continuingly trusting and obeying Him. The old hymn tells us to “trust and obey for there is no other way.” That truth is essential to abiding in Christ, our vine. There is no other way! United to Christ, His life flows through us. Separated from Christ, nothing of spiritual, eternal significance will come to us or from us. “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). “Nothing” refers to the absence of spiritual fruit, absence of the laying up of treasures in heaven, and absence of other eternal things.
What is the Sap that Flows from the Vine to the Branches
Jesus tells us what it is: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7). “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love” (John 15:9). “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). Jesus specifically connects abiding in Him with His words abiding in us. We are to be His loving, joyful followers. Love, and joy are a part of the “sap” that flows from Him to believers abiding in Him. His words are to be obeyed and always be before our minds.
Believers are to receive Jesus’ Words – to believe, study, and meditate on them – to recognize and emulate His love for His people and the Father – to receive and emulate His joy. Jesus, our Lord, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross for our benefit. If we abide in Christ, the “fruit of the Spirit” will be produced in us. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23).
Christ’s life flows in believers and the indwelling Spirit uses that life to transform them and enable their doing good works. Through providential events, our loving Father, the vine dresser, cares for us externally, and, if necessary for our eternal benefit, disciplines us.
Does John 15:6 Mean a Believer Can Lose Their Salvation
John 15:6: “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”
The short answer is NO! That isn’t what it means. Here is why. Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44a). Also, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:28-29).
In his first letter, John refers to branches broken off. He says “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19). Those who left would have continued (abided) in John’s flock if they had been “of us,” but they were not “of us.” They left the church. Did they lose their salvation? From John’s comments, it seems those who left were never true believers (think parable of the tares and wheat). Once united to Christ by the Holy Spirit working faith in them, there is no way a believer can be snatched from the Father’s hand.
Union with Christ establishes a believer’s legal status. Through Christ they have been justified, redeemed, their sins forgiven, credited with the righteousness of Christ, and adopted. They are being sanctified and will be glorified. Communion with Christ represents a believer’s relational status with Christ. Believers have access to the presence of the Father through Christ. The Holy Spirit indwells them. Their hearts and lives are known to God and He cares for each one. Through Christ, by the Holy Spirit, they know God. Their relationship with Christ gives access to joy unspeakable (John 15:11; Psalm 16:11). Abiding in Christ means trusting Him to meet needs and depending on Him to enable treasures to be stored up in heaven.
Summary of Union with Christ: Necessity and Benefits
Part 1: Discusses the ultimate purpose of salvation. Answers in part the question “What in mortal life affects eternal life?” Discusses two categories of sin problem and how God deals with them. How redemption, justification and transformation take place. Definition of Union.
Part 2: Discusses the Holy Trinity. Defines a human person as a human nature (includes physical body) plus a source of “I” (mission control center that directs the nature). The Trinity consists of one divine nature shared by 3 divine persons, each person having an independent “I.” Incarnate Christ = Divine Son with His divine “I” + human nature (including body) derived from His mother Mary through conception by the Holy Spirit. Christ is fully God and fully man, one person, 2 natures. His divine “I” directs both His divine and His human natures.
Part 3: Discusses fallen human nature and God’s Plan of Salvation. Discusses how Union with Christ happens, and the role of the Holy Spirit in applying the salvation earned by Christ. Answers questions like “Is Union of Christ a union of the infinite with the finite? In what sense can we become one with Christ? How I think Union with Christ works.”
Part 4: For a sinner receiving salvation, the process is extremely simple, so simple even a child can hear the gospel, understand the basic point, believe and be saved. But behind that simplicity is a complex, costly process ordained in eternity and implemented in “time” by God through Christ. Do we have souls? Are our souls immortal? What happens at mortal death? Job asked the question, “If a man dies, shall he live again?” For believers, Jesus answered Job’s question when He spoke to Martha as her brother Lazarus lay dead: “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26). “Do you?” “Do I?” A discussion on body and soul and what happens at mortal death, in the intermediate state, at glorification, and what we know about heaven.
Part 5: Review of 1st four Lessons. Discusses how salvation is manifested in believers during their mortal lives. Scriptural evidence and data on Union with Christ. Life in Christ.
Part 6: Discusses what metaphors are and how interpreted? Key metaphors from Scripture for Union with Christ – metaphors concerning light. Metaphors in Scripture for Union with Christ – from Jesus, from Paul, from Peter. Comments on Union with Christ.
Part 7: Discusses background for “The True Vine” metaphor, “True Vine” Part 1.
Part 8: “True Vine” metaphor, Part 2. Commentary on John 15:1-6.
Part 9: “True Vine” metaphor, Part 3. Commentary on John 15:8-17.
Part 10: Discusses God’s preparation for Union with Christ: In eternity before creation. In creation. In events preceding the advent of Christ. In the Incarnation. At Pentecost.
Part 11: Discusses benefits of Union with Christ: Dealing with our separation from God. Dealing with our lack of righteousness. Declaration of legal righteousness and imputation of Christ’s righteousness. Dealing with our sin nature
Part 12: Discusses adoption into God’s family – God’s great gift of grace. Adoption provides the foundation for Christian living. J.I. Packer says in his book, Knowing God, having right standing before God the judge is wonderful and essential, but the gift of being loved and cared for by God the Father is astounding.
Part 13: Discusses “communion with” and “Abiding in” Christ. These blessings rest on the foundation of Union with Christ. Given eternal life by Christ, believer’s will never perish, and nothing can remove them from their Union with Christ.