Christ, Our Righteousness, Part 7
We’ve made some progress, but we have a ways to go! In our last installment – Christ, Our Righteousness, Part 6 – we tried to explain the difference between gaining and having salvation and gaining and having fellowship with God. One cannot have fellowship with God without first having salvation, but it is – unfortunately – possible to have salvation from God without real, continuing fellowship. Salvation is dependent upon God, while fellowship is largely dependent upon us. Certainly God helps even in our fellowship (through guidance and chastisement, or discipline), but it is something we are mainly responsible to maintain. There are too many who believe that maintaining fellowship is synonymous with maintaining salvation and this is simply not true, at least, from my understanding of Scripture.
We noted previously that salvation does several things for us.
- allows God to declare us permanently and legally righteous
- forgives all sin – past, present, and future (since God resides in the eternal present and sees it all at once)
- opens the door to fellowship with God
- provides all that we need for life and godliness here and now
- seals us unto the day of redemption when we stand before Him at the Bema Seat of Judgment for our works, not for salvation
- removes us from under God’s condemnation forever
The above six items are not exhaustive by any means but they should provide for you a sense of just how meaningful and rich our union with Christ is through salvation that God grants to us. This is the groundwork of our salvation. Paul referred to this on numerous occasions and he, as well as other writers of the New Testament, endeavored to push their readers and congregants to a point beyond this understanding. It was important to these men as leaders within the Christian community, that Christians in their charge understood the life to which they had been called. It wasn’t supposed to simply be “Hey, I’ve got salvation! Cool!” and then live any way they wanted to live. It was supposed to be, “Hey, I’ve got salvation! Cool! Now, what do I do?” Paul and other writers were there to teach them the next steps involved and in all boils down to one word: fellowship. Whether it is fellowship with God first or fellowship with other Christians second, the reality of being in relationship with Christ goes beyond our salvation into the realm of fellowship, which is made possible initially only by our salvation in Christ. Without that, we cannot have fellowship with God. With salvation, we enter into fellowship with God and it is our job to maintain that. The reason it is our job to maintain it is because we are the ones who are capable of falling out of fellowship with God through sin. God cannot sin. He can’t even be tempted by sin. It has no hold on Him whatsoever. Sin does however, have sway in our lives and it is because of that, we fail God, we walk away from Him as the Prodigal Son did, or we condemn ourselves as though we have really lost our salvation (though that is impossible), because we believe the lies of the devil and his angels.
God wants us as far away from those lies as possible and it can only occur when we maintain our fellowship with Him. Let me use a completely human example of what it means to have or be in fellowship with someone.
I am legally married to my wife. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that there is no such thing as divorce. I’m married until I die. Being legally married to my wife allows me to enjoy the benefits of that relationship with her. Certainly, fellowship is very much part of that relationship.
How do I maintain that fellowship? How do I cause it to even grow? Conversely, are there things I can do that will break off fellowship momentarily or even for a longer amount of time? Can I damage that fellowship so that I end up never restoring fellowship with my wife?
First, how do I maintain fellowship with my wife?
Fellowship is entered into the moment I started dating the woman who became my wife. However, it doesn’t really become official until we become engaged and marry. It is at that point – marriage – when we exchange vows, where we promise certain things to one another and before God and gathered witnesses. This ceremony and the accompanying piece of paper makes everything a legally valid enterprise. The relationship I enjoyed with my wife before we married just got kicked up a number of notches and literally, God does not recognize divorce except in the case of adultery. That aside, we’re pretending for this example that divorce is not a recognized option.
My wife and I married and our fellowship took on a new level. We began living with one another, doing this “dance” to get to know one another better during life’s difficult moments and easier moments. We endeavored to spend more time with one another and it was (and remains) a growing process where we came to know the other person more fully, more completely. After 30 years, we certainly believe we know and love each other more now than when we first married or even first met.
Yet, at the same time, these past 30 years have had their times of upset, anger, and frustration. During these times, we pulled apart from one another. My wife, by her nature, is more forgiving than I am, which meant that when we argued or grew impatient and frustrated with one another, I was often the one who carried the grudge. Sometimes, it would last only a few moments. Other times it would last a few hours. On the rare occasion, I would go to bed angry and it would not be until the next day that I moved back toward my wife in reconciliation.
During those times of anger or frustration when we moved apart from one another emotionally, did we continue to have fellowship? Clearly, no. We were allowing anger to get the best of us (or me) and it wasn’t until calm crept back int and the desire to restore fellowship with my wife that we would move toward one another. There has never been a time when my wife has withheld forgiveness for an unkind or rash word I’ve spoken. I’ve had to man up and admit my fault (when it was my fault) and ask her forgiveness, but once I did that, her forgiveness was displayed.
Once my wife and I were back in fellowship, we continued on as though that bump in the road had not occurred. We were once again united in purpose. We wanted the best for one another. We endeavored to continue to be with the other and learn as much as possible about that other person. We enjoyed their company once again even in the little things like going to the hardware store to pick up this, that, or the other thing. A trip to the grocery store was enjoyable (except I usually let my wife deal with the produce while I go pick up other items). Life was good again because we were in fellowship. There was no problem we couldn’t solve together if we just endeavored to come back together in fellowship after an argument.
Now, consider the couple that grows apart. This can happen to everyone. We marry under the delusion that those feelings of euphoria will always be there. Sleep? Who needs it. Food? Nah, I’ve got “love.” Those feelings fade and the hard work of life takes hold. For many couples, this hard work becomes intolerable and because it feels so much like actual work, one or both partners begins to chaff under it. Soon, they grow tired of the pressure created by the loss of feelings and start looking elsewhere to find them again. This means they might pour themselves into their work or have an affair. In either case, even though they haven’t argued, they have grown apart. The fellowship has stopped and one or both are looking elsewhere for “fellowship” that they should only be looking for and expecting with their lawfully wedded spouse.
Just look at the state of marriage today and you’ll see broken people, people out of fellowship with one another. They might continue with their relationship for the “sake of the kids” or something else, but in reality, they’re doing no one any favors, least of all themselves.
Let’s say again that divorce is never an option. These people might continue to live together in what is legally termed “marriage,” but their hearts are far from the other person. They long ago stopped their fellowship with that other person and are simply now going through the motions, if that. Though married, they lack fellowship.
That can happen to the Christian. I’ve read about too many people who start their Christian journey filled with joy. They can’t stop talking about how much Jesus means to them. In fact, because of their joy, they stop complete strangers on the street to share their testimony. They are literally bold for Christ and they love it. They so much enjoy talking about Jesus that nothing can stop them.
Then one day, they realize they haven’t talked about Jesus that much. The fervor they once had has dissipated. They’re more apathetic about the whole thing. Tell someone about Jesus? Nah, let someone else do it. They’re tired and they’ve got things on their mind.
Relationships are work! There is no getting around that. It requires a constant vigilance, energy, and devotion to remain in quality fellowship with someone else, doesn’t it? If that is needed for human relationships, how much more is it needed for our relationship with God?
Again, we’re not talking about the potential of losing salvation, which cannot happen, biblically speaking. We are talking about the potential of going out of fellowship with God, which can and does happen all too often.
We’ll be back with more next time!