Last month we began considering the whole issue of balance in the Christian life. We are called to love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and strength and mind.
This means that the truth of God’s Word, under the blessing of God’s Spirit, needs to be grasped by the mind, ascend to the heart, and be worked out in the life. This is true Christianity, and Christian growth is merely this process happening more deeply, and affecting and transforming us more profoundly.
William Williams, Pantycelyn (1717-91), shortly before his death, identified the three parts of true Christianity as follows: ‘first true light respecting the plan of salvation; … [second] intimate fellowship with God …Lastly, … life and conduct, such as would reveal to the ungodly that there is a great difference between us and them’.
Williams puts his finger on the experiential and relational character of true Christianity when he draws attention to ‘intimate fellowship with God in all our dealings with the world, and in all the exercises and ordinances of religion’.
Having been brought back to God, we are to walk together with him in all aspects of our lives. It is the reality of a living relationship with the living God in the realities of day-to-day life.
Old Testament saints knew such fellowship with God. Enoch walked with God and pleased him; he did not see death, for God took him. Abraham was the friend of God, and God revealed his will to him, Genesis 18. God talked with Moses, and Moses interceded for the people with God.
We see the same thing in the New Testament. Paul’s great desire was to know Christ, the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings. John tells us that ‘our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ’.
We see it all modelled most fully in the fellowship of the Lord Jesus Christ with his Father. He did his Father’s will, depended on his Father’s strength, delighted in his Father’s presence, and aimed at his Father’s glory.
True fellowship with God is not merely a sense of God’s presence in public worship or private prayer. Rather, it is the reality of walking with God in all the affairs of daily life, without any barrier between us.
We all know what it is like to be estranged from someone. Fellowship means that all such estrangement has been removed, and in its place there is intimacy, honesty and openness.
The great enemy of fellowship with God is sin. This has been atoned for by the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross who ‘suffered once for sins … that he might bring us to God’.
As such, all Christians have been reconciled to God — enemies have been made friends and adopted into God’s family — strangers have been made sons. We are in a true and living relationship with our God and Father.
But sin in our lives also mars our fellowship with God. It dulls our consciences, or causes us to hide away from him in shame. It blunts our spiritual taste and desire, and it grieves the Holy Spirit who enables our fellowship with God as he reveals Christ to us, enables us to embrace his truth, and communicates to us his grace and strength.
Thus, the path to true fellowship with God is the path of repentance, submission to the will of God, desire for his glory and delight in him.
Obedience is vital. It is as we walk in the light that we have fellowship with one another. Our Lord told us, ‘If anyone loves me, he will keep my Word; and my Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him’, John 14:23.
‘Intimate fellowship with God in all the exercises and ordinances of religion’ means that in private prayer and public worship we are looking to please God, delight in him and meet with him.
This is more than merely going through the motions — our hearts must be engaged. When we worship, our focus is on him, and the end of all Christian instruction is that we might know how we ‘ought to walk and to please God’, 1 Thessalonians 4:1.
‘Intimate fellowship with God in all our dealings with the world’ means that we do not forget God in our day-to-day lives, but put his will first, seek to please him in all things, and depend on his promises of strength, guidance and grace in every situation.
In difficult decisions we are to pray ‘your will be done’ and look for his guidance. In temptations we are to look for his promised way of escape. In trials we must depend on his promise that his grace is sufficient for us. And through it all, we are to look for the Lord’s smile, and the reality of his presence.
When it comes to deepening our fellowship with God, much of the work we need to do is heart work: maintaining a clear conscience, and fostering a burning desire for his glory and his presence.
If we have no desire to be with our husband or wife, or to please them, our love for them must be burning low. How strongly does the flame of our love to God burn if we can rest satisfied without submission to his will, a sense of his presence, and the assurance of his love?
As Williams said, ‘I have now, in my affliction, seen that I fall very short of this peaceful fellowship, which is like heaven on earth; and I have had reasons for believing that there are multitudes of professors, eminent in the world’s esteem, who make hardly any effort to attain this heavenly element, sad to say’.
Mark Thomas is pastor of Borras Park Evangelical Church, Wrexham, and General Secretary of the Evangelical Movement of Wales.