Mark D. Roberts

Part 6 of series: What is the Christian Life?
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In my last post I proposed that the Christian life is koinonia, which should be understood as intimate fellowship. This koinonia is with God through Jesus Christ, but not only with God. I’ll explain what I mean in today’s and tomorrow’s posts.
Let’s return 1 John for a moment. John declares the message of life to his spiritual children “so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). John’s order may surprise us. Rather than first mentioning fellowship with God, John gives prior emphasis to the intimate fellowship he wishes to share with those who receive his letter. We might expect things to be the other way around, with the accent placed on fellowship with God rather than fellowship with people. But John accentuates the human dimension because it is essential to full fellowship with God.
The inseparability of divine and human fellowship appears again in verses 6-7:

So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness. We are not living in the truth. But if we are living in the light of God’s presence, just as Christ is, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from every sin.

Once we see in verse 6 that “living in spiritual darkness” precludes fellowship with God, we would expect verse 7 to read: “but if we are living in the light of God’s presence, then we have fellowship with God.” Instead, John mentions “fellowship with one another” as if it were almost identical to fellowship with God.
Later in his letter John makes a analogous point about loving God:

Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is born of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God—for God is love. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. . . . No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love has been brought to full expression through us. If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we have not seen? And God himself has commanded that we must love not only him but our Christian brothers and sisters, too (1 John 4:7-8, 11-12, 20-21).

In this passage, love for God and love for God’s people are so closely connected that we cannot love God without loving God’s children, our brothers and sisters in Christ. When we love each other, God lives in us. If we don’t love each other, we don’t know God. The interweaving of relationship with God and relationship with God’s people is so complex in this chapter that we might easily become confused. Without a doubt, however, relationship with God is inseparable from relationship with the people of God. We cannot have one without the other. We cannot love God without loving our spiritual siblings, even as we cannot have intimate fellowship with God apart from intimate fellowship with these siblings.
The virtual equation of fellowship with God and with God’s people might seem surprising. Isn’t the Christian life really about relationship with God? Isn’t fellowship with people plainly secondary in significance? I suppose that if we had to choose between relationship with God and relationship with people, we’d rightly join up with God. But by making this sort of distinction we miss the indivisibility of divine and human fellowship as taught in the Bible. We echo the bias of our culture rather than the revealed word of God.
Many popular versions of the Christian life separate that which the Bible holds together so consistently. American individualism has penetrated deeply within our conceptions of Christianity. What really matters, we are told, is our personal relationship with God. That’s true as far as it goes. But, in biblical perspective, that personal relationship always has corporate implications. We tend to equate personal with private, whereas the Bible links personal and corporate. God’s personal relationship with me draws me into personal relationships with others. (Photo: Hey, even the Lone Ranger wasn’t really alone. He had his best friend and partner, Tonto, not to mention Silver!)
In my next post I’ll show how the inseparability of relationship with God and relationship with people is revealed throughout the Bible.

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