Christ, Our Fellowship, Part 8
In our most recent article in this series – Part 7 – we spoke about how our fellowship with God can truly only occur when we are partnering with God to bring His will to fruition in and through our lives. This is very clear throughout Scripture. You cannot fellowship with God unless you are willing to partner with Him so that His will is performed in and through you.
Isn’t this what Paul meant in Philippians 3:7-11?
7 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (emphasis added)
In reality, Paul understood that for him, to fellowship with God meant to suffer for Him. How many of us want to do that? How many of us are willing to do that, even willingly accept the fact of upcoming suffering in order to be “conformed to His death”? What does that mean?
Paul is saying that to become like Christ – the way He thought, the way He lived – happens when we do the same things that Jesus did. What did Jesus do? He submitted Himself to the Father in all things. This allowed the Father to work His perfect will in and through Jesus. In essence, Jesus was the epitome of the perfect Son. Unlike the Prodigal Son of Luke 15 who went astray because he viewed his earthly father wrongly, Jesus never strayed. He never saw the Father in an incorrect way. He only viewed Him constantly in truth. Because of this, Jesus was always willing to submit Himself to the Father’s will and did so gladly.
Paul wanted to do the same thing. He understood that things came into his life because God in Christ brought them into his life. Paul’s choice was to submit or rebel to those things. Paul also understood that submitting to at least some of the things that God brought Paul’s way would cause suffering, yet Paul was more than willing to suffer for Jesus because of how much Jesus had suffered for Paul…and you and me.
We cannot fellowship with God unless we are willing to also suffer as He suffered. This might entail simple forms of persecution or intense. It might involve dealing with personal physical issues that make you feel handicapped and/or limited. It may involve illnesses and sicknesses that sap you of your strength. It may involve God placing you in a corner of the world where persecution against Christians is very intense. It may involve what might be called a rather humdrum existence as you live out a life of love simply, consistently, and convincingly to those with whom you are in contact daily. Each road that stretches before a person is assigned by God.
The apostle Paul went through quite a few things during his life after he had met Jesus on the road to Damascus as he relates to us in 2 Corinthians 11:24-27 –
- Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one,
- Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep;
- In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren;
- In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and in thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.
Part of what Paul suffered he suffered because of his intense persecution of Jewish individuals who embraced Christianity. He felt it his job to chase them down and either arrest them or watch as they were executed. As a Jew of Jews, Paul believed that the actions of some Jews (whom he saw as departing Judaism) would negatively impact the entire nation of Israel. He gained this understanding from his knowledge of the Scriptures in which there are numerous examples of just a few Jews doing things that caused God to judge the entire Israel nation. Paul wanted to avoid that and did what he felt was necessary to bring these “wayward” Jews to judgment.
It is interesting that though Paul understood that after his conversion, he believed God would have him reach out to Gentiles, often Jews would follow him from city to city throughout Asia Minor in order to hamper his efforts. Reading through the book of Acts from chapter 9 onward paints a very interesting picture of what Paul endured. Even though he wasn’t necessarily trying to reach Jewish people with the gospel (though he did attempt that as well), the Jews who chased him from place to place were more concerned about disrupting all chances he had at spreading the gospel message.
Still, Paul did not give up. In fact, during his last imprisonment, when he sensed the end of his life before him, he stated that he had run the good race and had finished. He didn’t give up. He had kept the “faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). He never gave into doubts or temptations to quit. Had he quit, certainly, the persecution would have stopped as well.
By the way, as a quick aside here, when Paul said he had kept the “faith,” I believe he was referring to his convictions regarding serving and submitting himself to God in Christ on a daily basis. I don’t believe he was saying that he could have lost his salvation. I concur with Constable and others who insist that Paul was speaking as a faithful servant who kept or guarded those things in his charge (cf. 1 Cor. 4:2; Matt. 25:14-30; Luke 19:11-27). Paul is not speaking of an alleged loss of salvation that authentic Christians might experience if they lose heart and even give up. I’ve covered this elsewhere.
To enjoy fellowship with God in Christ, a person must have salvation. That is the first prerequisite because it is what changes a person’s legal standing before God from unrighteous to righteous. Second to that, the person who has salvation must be willing to submit to God’s rule in their life. As they do this, fellowship with God can begin and be enjoyed. As we learn from Paul, we often enjoy true fellowship in the midst of trials, problems, and sufferings in this life. Those who shrink from that – if they have salvation – will lose quite a bit in this life and the next.
I do not believe in Lordship Salvation, the idea that in order to be truly saved a person must make and keep Jesus Lord of his/her life on a daily basis. People who believe this also believe that salvation can be lost when/if Jesus ceases to be Lord of a person’s life.
The Bible teaches that salvation comes from the new birth (John 3) and provides the penitent with a new legal standing before God that cannot change. He/she goes from unrighteous to righteous. But this is the beginning of our new life in Christ. Once we have salvation, we still have to choose fellowship and choosing that often means choosing to be conformed into His image through many sufferings. It is the unfortunate way the system was designed, but that is still humanity’s fault. Had it not been for our willful sin (in Adam and Eve), there would have been no need for salvation in the first place.
I’m guessing that the more we are willing to be conformed to Him through the sufferings that come our way, the more grateful we become for salvation itself. Some can enter into this fellowship (of suffering) with hardly a hiccup or beat. For others, it takes time and is a process whereby God removes a layer at a time. In the end, He moves all of us toward that point when we will be fully like His Son. That day is coming for all of us.
If you have salvation, you are invited, expected to enter into fellowship with Him. Fellowship comes only after a person receives salvation and by making and keeping Him Lord of your life. It is a decision that needs to be renewed daily, moment-by-moment.