17 May 2021
All that God has for us in His Son Jesus is condensed in this apparently simple statement: To become a Christian means to have fellowship with Christ in all that He has accomplished for us. This is what Apostle Paul prayed will be ours in his Trinitarian benediction: “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ”
From one perspective, this grace is the fulfillment of everything to which the Old Testament pointed in its patterns, promises, types, and history. “The law was given through Moses,” Apostle John explained, but “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17) It is not that the old covenant was devoid of grace. But, indeed, true, real, full embodied grace came only in the One whom the old covenant anticipated.
Owen, however, presents us with an important additional emphasis: Grace is, ultimately, personal. Grace is Jesus Christ: Jesus Christ is God’s grace. For grace is not substantial in the sense of being a quality or entity that can be abstracted from the person of the Saviour. Grace was viewed by medieval theology as a commodity to be dispensed by the church through its priests and sacraments. It might be resourced in Christ, but in itself was something impersonal, a commodity. For Owen, grace is personal – grace is the loving, caring, sacrificing, keeping, gracious Saviour Himself. To be a Christian means: Through the work of the Holy Spirit, the heavenly Father gives you to Jesus and gives Jesus to you. You have Him. Everything you can ever lack is found in Him; all you will ever need is given to you in Him. “From His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (John 1:16) For the Father has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 1:3) It is as true for the newest, weakest Christian as for the more mature believer, from the first moment of faith, we are fully, finally justified in Christ.
To explore fellowship with Christ, then, means that we need to explore both “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” with whom we have fellowship, and how it is that we have “fellowship” with Him in His grace. For Owen, Christ’s grace is multidimensional. It consists in His personal graciousness and attractiveness as the Mediator and Saviour, in His favour and love toward us as sinners, and in His transforming us through the gift of His Spirit. Thus, to appreciate what it means to have fellowship with Him involves coming to understand how and why it is that He is able to save us. Here, Owen leads us to the very fountainhead of grace in the person of Christ. Christ is able to save us because He has united our human nature to His own divine nature in His one divine person as the Son of God.
Unless Christ were truly and fully God and truly and fully man, He could not have been fitted or equipped to save us. This truth Owns saw embedded in the teaching of the New Testament, particularly in the letter to the Hebrews. It was only as the God-man that the Lord Jesus “had room enough in his breast to receive, and power enough in his spirit to bear all the wrath that was prepared for us. Since all the fullness of God dwells in Him and He received the Spirit without measure, His bearing the judgement of God on the cross could not exhaust and destroy Him. Because He is so perfectly suited to our needs, therefore, Christ endears Himself to believers. He is just what we need, and He is all that we need.
From beginning to end, communion with Christ is all about Christ. Jesus has a fitness to save, having pity and ability, tenderness and power, to carry on the work, entrusted to Him by the Father, to the uttermost; and a fullness to save, of redemption and sanctification, or righteousness and the Spirit; and a suitableness to the wants of all our souls.
The New Testament often describes the believer as a person “in Christ”. Through the ministry of the Spirit and by faith, we become united in Christ, “one” with Christ – this picture, already present in the Old Testament (Isa. 54:5; 61:10), comes to fulfillment in the New Testament in the relationship between Christ and His church. Christ rejoiced in this prospect in eternity, and He has made it a reality in time, enduring the humiliation, pain, and anguish of the cross. Christ, in all HIs saving grace and personal attractiveness, is offered to us in the gospel.
Being a Christian involves a deep affection for Christ. He is a person to be known, admired, and loved. Fellowship with Christ, therefore, involves a “mutual resignation” or self-giving between ourselves and HIm. There is “endless, bottomless, boundless grace and compassion” in Christ, a “fullness of grace in the human nature of Christ” of such proportions that shall be sufficient for the world of sin which is in every one of us because it flows from an infinite, bottomless fountain of grace and love.