God created us in His image so that we might know Him and enjoy Him; but we broke away from Him and we’ve lived with the isolation ever since. Mercifully, the story doesn’t end here. The Son of God has drawn near to us in the incarnation. He came so close as to experience life in a fallen world, bear our sin and shame, and taste death for us. He was bruised, that we might be healed; humiliated, that we might be exalted; condemned, that we might be justified. At that moment of utter darkness and forsakenness upon the cross, He purchased the enjoyment of God for us. In Christ, we return to Him. We enjoy communion with God.
“You are near, O LORD” (Ps. 119:151). The psalmist isn’t speaking here of God’s presence of essence – that is, He isn’t suggesting that God is in some places more than He is in others. The apostle Paul affirms that God is “in” and “through” all things (Eph. 4:6). This means He’s present in all places at all times. “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” (Ps. 139:7–8). So, what does the psalmist mean when he says, “You are near, O LORD.” He’s referring to God’s gracious presence. It’s a privilege that belongs to His people.
We enjoy this nearness to God because of our union with Christ – that is to say, communion is impossible without union. In Scripture, this positional communion is called koinonia (fellowship or partnership or participation). “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor 1:9).
We’re in fellowship (partnership/communion) with Christ’s person. “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Cor 10:16). Here Paul is talking about the Lord’s Supper. We participate in the blood of Christ when we bless the cup, and we participate in the body of Christ when we break the bread. This doesn’t mean we physically drink Christ’s blood and eat Christ’s body. When Paul says that we participate in the blood and body of Christ, he means we’re one with Him by the Holy Spirit.
We’re also in fellowship (partnership/communion) with Christ’s benefits. “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). We’re one with Christ in His death and resurrection; therefore, we commune with Him in the fruits and benefits of His mediatorial work. This means, for example, that we have fellowship with His obedience (Rom. 8:1), His Spirit (Rom 8:9–11), His Sonship (Rom. 8:14–16), His glory (Rom 8:17), His suffering (Rom. 8:17), and His intercession (Rom. 8:34).
This is a great privilege and a tremendous encouragement. Positional communion speaks of our identity in Christ. It reminds us that we possess all things in Him. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich (2 Cor. 8:9).
“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (Jas. 4:8). As established above, God is always near to His people in Christ. This is positional communion – God’s gracious presence with us. James doesn’t deny that reality, but points us here to our experience of it. We must actively draw near to God, whereby He draws near to us. There are times when we feel/sense God’s presence. It occurs when He awakens those graces (faith, hope, love, joy, etc.) which He implanted in us at regeneration. By means of His Word and Spirit, He stirs these graces so that we know experientially that He is near. This is actual communion. The Puritan John Flavel describes it as follows: “God lets forth influences upon our souls, and we, by the assistance of His Spirit, make returns to Him.”
Here are a few examples of what this looks like.
God “lets forth influences” (His greatness) upon us, and we “make returns” to Him (humility). “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Ps. 8:3–4). We’re humbled (our “returns”) in response to God’s greatness (His “influences”). In response to our humbling, God lifts us up: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (Jas. 4:10).
God “lets forth influences” (His holiness) upon us, and we “make returns” to Him (repentance). “And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!’ And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips …” (Isa. 6:3–5). We repent (our “returns”) in response to God’s holiness (His “influences”). In response to our repentance, God imparts peace: “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the lord,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin” (Ps. 32:5).
God “lets forth influences” (His goodness) upon us, and we “make returns” to Him (love). “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Tim. 1:15–16). We love (our “returns”) in response to God’s goodness (His “influences”). In response to our love, God imparts love. In response, God imparts love: “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him” (Jn. 14:21).
God “lets forth influences” (His faithfulness) upon us, and we “make returns” to Him (faith). “‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” (Heb. 13:5–6). We trust (our “returns”) in response to God’s faithfulness (His “influences”). In response to our trust, God imparts comfort: “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? … Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident” (Ps. 27:1, 3).
In each of the above instances, God communicates Himself to our souls (by means of His Word) so that we make “returns” to Him. These returns include the stirring of our affections: love, desire, delight, fear, sorrow, trust, and hope. When these affections are directed toward God, we draw near to Him and He draw nears to us. And this is actual communion with God.
“One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple. … Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me! You have said, ‘Seek my face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face, LORD, do I seek.’ Hide not your face from me” (Ps. 27:4, 7–8).