Kevin DeYoung continues with the general theme of our union with Christ in the 9th chapter of The Hole in Our Holiness. That union is the foundation of our communion with Christ. That communion with Christ is important to our growth in holiness.
Communion with Christ is only possible for those who are in Christ, or united with Christ. Communion, or fellowship, with Christ is our ultimate goal. All of the blessings of the gospel, including sanctification, come to us in Christ. We do not seek them, including holiness, apart from Christ. We seek them from Christ. All that you could ever seek, with the exception of sin, is to be found in Christ. Seeking them elsewhere is an exercise in futility.
“Just as a once-for-all, objective justification leads to a slow-growth, subjective sanctification, so our unchanging union with Christ leads us to an ever-increasing communion with Christ.”
DeYoung distinguishes between union and communion. They cannot be separated from one another, as if you have one without the other. But they are different. Our union with Christ is unbreakable. Our communion with Christ is subject to change depending on whether we are pursuing Him or sin at a given time. It is like marriage, he notes, we are in the state of marriage regardless of how we feel about each other at the moment. But the strength of our marriage is variable, depending on love and sacrifice. You are not more or less marriage. You either are or are not. But your marriage can be more or less healthy. Similarly, we are not more or less a Christian (union with Christ), but our relationship is more or less healthy (communion & sanctification).
“I don’t want to belabor the point, but it’s important we understand that communion with God is predicated on union with Christ and not the other way around.”
God wants our communion with Christ to deepen, become better and sweeter. He wants us to grow in our knowledge and dependence upon Christ. He wants us to grow in affection for Christ as we grow in our understanding of His love for us. It is here that DeYoung rightly brings in John 15. When I was in seminary, there was a book on the hermeneutical spiral. Here we have the communion-sanctification spiral. As we experience greater communion with Christ our obedience grows. As our obedience grows, we experience greater communion with Christ. And, the opposite holds true. True obedience to God is a function of love (as well as faith).
“We obey as we abide and abide as we obey.”
We must be careful here. We do not maintain our status with God by our obedience. That is NOT what he is saying. Our experience of that status which we have only in Christ is affected by whether we are drawing closer to Christ or moving farther from Him. If I am not repenting of my sin, I won’t feel close to Christ unless I’m delusional. I don’t feel close to my wife when I am sinning against her. Distance enters our relationship. We are still married. That hasn’t changed, but we are not as close as we were. When I repent, closeness and intimacy returns to the relationship.
So, on the one hand our sanctification is about resting- resting in Christ. We do not create or sustain our union with Him. There is a security there that is designed to draw us closer. So, while we rest in Christ we also move toward Christ in confidence. Just like any spouses, we do the things that develop closeness.
Here Christianity sounds boring. Read your Bible, pray, serve with fellow Christians, partake of the Sacraments. Yes, family life is not always exciting. But it is those ordinary things that build close relationships- it is eating meals together, talking together, working and playing together. We aren’t to live for the “extraordinary.” The extraordinary is only necessary because you have neglected the ordinary. You find you have drifted and don’t know each other, and something drastic has to happen. There are plenty of movies that follow this theme: distant family members, ready to kill each other or go their separate ways, enduring a crisis often associated with a road trip of some kind, learning about each other and understanding each other.
Church life is about the ordinary. We aren’t meant to go from revival to revival. That’s like having a marriage crisis each year. If we are regularly making use of the means of grace, by faith, we are growing closer to Christ. Our thirst for the dramatic is unhealthy. It is a sign of an unhealthy spirituality. God’s dramatic intrusions are indication that we have gone astray. If your pattern of spirituality find you in need of the dramatic on a fairly regular basis, something is really wrong.
We can often try to motivate people to use the means of grace inappropriately. We use the stick of shame or fear. We should us the carrot of communion- Jesus offers to meet you here (in prayer, service, Bible reading, the Sacraments). He offers you more of Himself! But too often we are like the adult child who only calls his parents when he wants money, or feels guilt-tripped into calling. Calling is better seen as an act of love and a way to deepen a relationship.
So, while we are to grow in holiness, what we are really seeking is fellowship with Christ. We seek Christ, in whom holiness is found. Seek Him! Seek your satisfaction in Him! Seek your sanctification in Him!