Mystical Union: Friendship with GodIntroduction
Christians have always had difficulty trying to define the type of relationship we mere humans have with God. In the Old Testament God seems so great and awesome and we so puny. The Bible tells us, that through Jesus we have entered into a new relationship with our Creator, yet how do we describe it? Words like "adoption", "sonship", are the ones commonly used, but probably the most descriptive of terms is "mystical union". This is a mysterious term used by theologians to describe a mysterious reality, namely, that in Christ we become friends with God.
It is quite possible that "fellowship" with God lies behind the purpose of our creation. Not because God was lonely and needed friends, but because he is a self-giving person who wants others to share his being. He created us and gathered us to himself to share in the wonder of his person - the capacity to develop interpersonal relationships. So, our new life with Christ is all about friendship with Christ - friendship with God forever.
It is easy to say all this, but very difficult to understand what it means for our day-to-day living. So, what does it mean for us in the "here and now" to be mystically united to God in Christ?
When we are "born again" our old life dies with Christ on the cross and a new resurrected life is created in us. The old life is the life enslaved to sin and awaiting the judgement of God. The new life is the life possessed by the Spirit, a life which experiences the blessing of God. The Bible describes this as being "united" or "identified" with Jesus in his death and resurrection.
The new life is created by means of the indwelling Spirit of Christ whose resurrection power enlivens us. Having been "baptized", "indwelt" by the the Holy Spirit, we are progressively shaped into the image of the glorified Christ. For you see, there is a sense where we are actually identified with the ascension of Jesus and united with him in his heavenly reign. Right now we are with him in the heavenlies experiencing all the blessings of having him as our intimate friend, Eph.1:3, 2:6. In fact, there is a sense where we are now as Christ already is, and certainly in the eyes of God that's the way we are. For the present, we are being shaped into that image - being "filled with the Spirit".
This union we have with Christ in the heavenlies is made real for us by the Holy Spirit while we live on this earth, Jn.14:15-18, Rom.8:1-27.
The Bible describes this union in the following ways:
i) Abiding in Christ, Jn.15:5, 2Cor.5:17.
ii) Christ in us, Gal.2:20, Eph.3:17-18.
iii) Members of Christ's body, 1Cor.6:15-19, Eph.1:22-23, 4:15-16.
iv) Marriage. The church is related to Jesus as a wife is to her husband. Eph.5:23-32.
v) Jesus our foundation, 1Pet.2:4-5.
vi) The vine. Jesus is the vine and we are the branches, Jn.15:1-8.
The following are some Bible terms that develop the truth that Jesus is our friend, a friendship we experience by his involvement in our innermost being.
i) Salvation, 1Pet.1:3-12
ii) Eternal life, Jn.6
iii) Peace with God, Eph.2:11-18
iv) New birth, 1Pet.1:23
v) Union with Jesus, Rom.6
vi) Having the Spirit, Rom.8:1-27
Friendship with God defined
Our friendship with Jesus is in many ways similar to a normal human relationship. It has a starting point, growing and deepening during our lifetime. Just like a normal friendship, it can be broken or harmed if we act in a hurtful way toward our Lord. The Bible calls the harming of the relationship "grieving the Spirit". Everything we understand about a normal human friendship applies to our friendship with Jesus. So we talk of self-giving, openness, trust, support, care. ..... Probably the best words from the Bible describing our new relationship with Jesus are "love", "union", "oneness".
In other ways our friendship with Jesus is dissimilar to a normal human relationship. As he is spirit, our normal human senses of touch, sight, hearing..... do not apply. This is a real limitation to our relationship with Jesus and is why we so often yearn to depart this life and be with the Lord - to see him face to face, Phil.1:21-26, 3:10-14. The truth is simple enough, while we are part of this world our experience of heaven is limited, 1Cor.13:12.
The practical ways we experience a friendship with God
Although we can't see and touch Jesus, we do experience his friendship in similar ways to a normal human relationship. We experience objective, or outward acts of Jesus' love for us, and we experience subjective, or inward feelings of the deep relationship we have with him.
1. The objective touch of Jesus
Like a good friend he keeps all his promises. He does everything he promised to do, and more. So, his love is demonstrated in faithfulness and this can be seen in the following:
i] Teaches us all things. He reveals himself to us and he gives us an understanding of reality. This he does through the Bible.
ii] Renews us. We can observe an ongoing change in our character. He moulds us daily into his image through the indwelling Spirit. He is continually shaping us into the person we are in reality. In saying this, we must never think that as Jesus' friend we are, or will be, perfect in this life. Life's purpose is to prepare us for eternity - trouble lifts us up to where we belong. We will constantly trip and fall, but Jesus will be there to help us up and dust us off.
iii] Equips and empowers us for service. We find that we are able to do what he asks of us, even though at times this seems beyond our capacity. More than that, we find that many of our natural abilities are, as it were, supercharged. We are able to do things for Jesus which we would never have imagined possible, Rom.12:1-8.
iv] Cares, encourages, strengthens, supports and protects in life's journey as we struggle against the powers of darkness. In times of greatest stress we can see the evidence of his involvement in the events, as he stands with us; we are not alone.
v] Blesses. He answers our prayers. At times we are filled with wonder at the way he involves himself in our lives.
vi] Disciplines. Like a good friend he straightens us up when we go astray; he points up our faults and purifies us through the rough and tumble of life.
2. The subjective touch of Jesus
Like a very dear friend we experience a deep inward warmth toward Jesus. Note the following:
i] A sense of acceptance. The guilt that once separated us from God has gone; he has forgiven us.
ii] A sense of hope. We look forward to being with him face to face for eternity, Rom.8.
iii] A sense of trust. We know that he will do all that he has promised, Rom.4:21, 8:38.
iv] A sense of fatherly care. The Spirit prompts believers to call God, "Father", and bears witness in our inner being, that we are God's children, Rom.8:15-17, Gal.4:6, Rom.5:5.
v] A sense of the active indwelling of God. We feel that he is intimately involved in our lives, Jn.14:15-23.
vi] A sense of being filled with the fullness of the love of God in our inner being, Eph.3:16-19.
vii] A sense of joy through the Spirit who enables us to rejoice with a joy that is glorified, 1Pet.1:8.
viii] A sense of peace. A peace, says the Bible, that passes all understanding, Phil.4:4-7.
The limitations to knowing God in Christ
The following limitations constantly appear:
i] Emotions or feelings can never be scientifically measured. There are times when we may feel all of the above subjective feelings. At other times we will only feel some of them, or even none of them. At times our feelings will be strong, while at other times they will be gentle or subtle.
ii] Our emotional reactions, stimulated by our relationship with Jesus, will be determined by some or all of the following: Our personality; Outward circumstances or events; Our mental and physical health; Our depth of commitment toward Jesus; Our understanding of the Bible; The will of God. Each one of us is different emotionally, but God loves us all the same.
iii] In the earthly sphere, the vehicle of communication is our human bodies, but between us and God, the vehicle is the Holy Spirit. As this is other-worldly, and therefore not discerned by the senses, we will sense a communication gap.
iv] Our relationship with God is also limited because of our present involvement in fallen humanity. Although through Christ we experience a renewal of our beings, we will always be tainted by the "fall". In this sense we face the limitations of human existence and thus limitations in our relationship with God.
v] Relationships are growing things. We have to slowly get to know and understand each other for friendships to grow, and the same is so of our relationship with God in Christ.
Developing our relationship with God in Christ
Cementing our friendship with the Lord and increasing the sensitivity of that friendship, comes primarily by grace through faith.
Our knowledge of Jesus increases as we trust him more and more. The more we rest on him, the more we see his hand in our lives. The more we trust him to do the things he promised he would do, the more we experience his involvement in and around us. Thus, in the outward circumstances of life and in our deeper inward feelings, by grace through faith, we experience the touch of Jesus, 2Pet.1:3-11.
Friends with the Lord in eternity
In the last day, Jesus will return to take us to himself. In that day every tear will be wiped away and we will know the Lord even as he knows us. We will rise from the dead, put on the new glorified body and go to be with the Lord forever. He is even now preparing a place for us, John 14:2. The Bible sometimes describes this occasion as a great feast, and what better way for old friends to get together?
We often see God as an authoritarian God. How do you feel about such a God, but at the same time, a God who wants to be your intimate friend for eternity?