Many years after the death of Christ, the Apostle John affirmed, ‘Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ’ (1 John 1:3). Here is the great mystery which Christ’s disciples at first could not understand. When Jesus, at the last supper in the upper room, told them he was going away, and that this would be better for them, they were only dismayed. They did not understand that his going away did not mean that he was going to leave them. On the contrary, he said, he was going in order to be with them always and everywhere. He would send the Holy Spirit, but not as a substitute for himself, for in the Godhead Christ and the Holy Spirit are one. So he can say, ‘I will send him unto you,’ and not contradict himself with the promise, ‘I will come to you’ (John16:7; 14:18). The purpose of this coming is for a fellowship closer than the disciples could ever know when Jesus was bodily in their midst.
This is a very large subject and I only want to take up one practical question: How is this fellowship with Christ and the Holy Spirit maintained and continued in the lives of Christians? The answer is through the Scriptures. In the upper room Jesus emphasised the fundamental place of his words: ‘If a man love me, he will keep my words’ (John 14:23) ‘If ye abide in me and my words abide in you . . .’ (15:7). ‘Remember the word that I said unto you’ (15:20). But how can we hear Christ’s words today? The answer is, the Holy Spirit. According to Christ’s promise, the Spirit of truth has come and given us the very words of Christ. They are in our hands now. ‘All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.’ The Bible is not simply the thoughts of God, it is his Word: ‘We have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is of God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things also we speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Spirit teaches . . . We have the mind of Christ’ (1 Cor. 2:12, 13, 16).
Communion with God rests on the ongoing teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit by his Word. To this Christ refers in his words of intercession: ‘I have given them thy word . . . sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth’ (John 17:14, 17). It is not the simple reading of Scripture that sanctifies, but God speaking by his Word: ‘Take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God’ (Eph. 6:17). William Cowper’s words are exactly true:
The Spirit breathes upon the word
And brings the truth to sight;
Precepts and promises afford
A sanctifying light.
By this means the believer knows communion with Christ. It is by the Holy Spirit and his Word that there is an ongoing receiving from the fulness that is in Christ our Head, so that the Christian can repeat the words: ‘We beheld his glory . . . full of grace and truth . . . And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace’ (John 1:14, 16). ‘We all, with open face, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord’ (2 Cor. 3:18). Such experience is not to be understood apart from Scripture. In the words of an old Methodist:
“Prayer is very good, and there’s no gettin’ on without that, but I don’t believe prayer is prayer without the Word. Prayer is no good without faith, and faith cometh by the Word of God. I know ’tis so with me. I can’t pray right till I get hold of a promise; then I can go so bold as a lion. Prayer without the Word is a heartless kind o’ thing. There isn’t any grip about it.”
Ephesians 3:16-21 is a key passage on the relation of faith to the experience of Christ. Paul prays for the Christians at Ephesus, that the Father ‘would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strength- ened with might by his Spirit in the inner man.’ For what purpose does he ask for the Spirit’s empowering? It is ‘that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.’ The prayer is not that Christ would come to live in them (which was already true), but that the Spirit of God would so strengthen their faith that Christ’s indwelling would be a greater conscious reality. And as that happens, they will advance in apprehending the fulness that is in Christ—‘that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passes knowl- edge, that you might be filled with all the fulness of God.’
– Iain Murray