Restoring Fellowship with God

It’s Monday Grace!

Some churches have a hard time staying consistent with their own doctrine. The more they assert one thing, the more they have to fix something else. Twisting the Scriptures and changing the basic message of the gospel are often consequences of this need to have everything fit together.

Take a church that says strongly that once a person is saved that person stays saved forever. That’s a doctrine with a lot of discussion, but there is good Scripture support for it.

But what happens when a person sins? What happens when a believer is exposed for doing something most everyone agrees is sin? What happens when a believer makes the rest of us look bad?

Well, that same church might suggest that the person is either not saved or is “out of fellowship” with the Lord. If they say the person can’t really be saved, even if they accepted that person as saved before, they risk suggesting that salvation is based on continuing to do good works. That means good works after salvation are the way of maintaining salvation. (Already I feel my feet sinking into the mud!) If good works are the criteria after salvation, then what did Jesus really accomplish?

So, they might go back to this idea that a believer can be “out of fellowship” with the Lord. I am never quite sure what that is supposed to mean. Does it mean that the person has lost his or her salvation? Does it mean that God is angry and will punish that person, even though Jesus has washed his or her sins away? You are just supposed to know. Nothing more needs definition.

When two people are in fellowship, it means that they are together. You have a certain fellowship at work because you share responsibilities and goals. There is a certain fellowship in a family that shares life together. It suggests movement or progress in the same direction with the same values. In a church, the people share fellowship because they come together to serve and enjoy their Lord.

If someone leaves a church, particularly in anger or serious disagreement, we might say that person is out of fellowship with the rest of the people. We understand how one person can break fellowship with another.

But how does a Christian become out of fellowship with the Lord? The only way that idea works is to forget what it means to be a Christian. No one is saved by deciding to go to church or think about Jesus. We are not saved by our own decision at all. We are saved when the blood of Jesus is applied to our lives, when we die on that cross with Him and rise from the dead in and with Him. While He does not save us apart from our will, His work is what saves us, not our choice. And, when He saves us, His life becomes ours. The only life in us, the only righteousness in us, the only power in us—is Him.

Now, I understand that this is some challenging theology and that there are people who can and will argue some of these points. That’s okay. As long as we understand that we cannot be separated from the Lord just because we have done something wrong. Christians do things that the Lord calls sin. We know that. We also know that we are not cut off from Him when we do. Why? Because He is our Life.

If we died with Him on the cross and rose with Him in the resurrection, how could we ever lose fellowship with Him? That oneness we share is our life. There is nothing else for us.

So, what happens when we sin after salvation? He might draw our attention to it by speaking to us in our spirits. He might allow us to suffer earthly consequences for our foolish decisions. He might have others come to us to help us realize the pain we are causing ourselves and others. But He does not push us away. We are still one with Him.

It helps me to think of my Christian life as a walk with the Lord. When I walk with Him, I am safe and happy. When I wander from His path, slip off on my own, I often find trouble. But He is right there waiting for us. Sometimes He even comes to get me. Never does He push me away.

2 Comments

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2 responses to “Restoring Fellowship with God

  1. Scripture also tells us that on judgement day some will say Lord, Lord, and He will say, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” Our having accepted someone as a believer because they appeared to be one is no criteria, either. Only God knows whether He is in them or not. All we have is observation, what some call “fruit inspection.” Does that person exhibit the fruit of the Spirit in their life? Some people can fool others for a time by appearing to do that. And then there are others, a life-long sex addict, for example, and the narcissists we talk about here, who may claim repeatedly to be believers but they can’t even fake the fruit of the Spirit. It’s not that they sin, it’s that they never grow and continue to violate clear scripture around certain behaviors. I believe what you said is true, “when He saves us, His life becomes ours. The only life in us, the only righteousness in us, the only power in us—is Him.” What we cannot determine, though, is whether Christ is actually indwelling someone else. The one caveat I have to that is the sweet fellowship that many believers have one with another, something that cannot be duplicated outside of Christ. I come to trust people with whom I have that kind of fellowship to be true believers.

  2. Mark

    I think the crux of the issue is when it conflicts with authoritarianism. The church wants to claim the “keys of the kingdom” – meaning that when they excommunicate someone they are somehow, in the Holy Spirit, declaring them outside the kingdom.

    However, as often happens in Evangelicalism, they miss the flip side of the equation, that when they declared the person to be a member and baptized them, they were also claiming that was done by the authority of the Holy Spirit.

    If I recall the history of this doctrine, the church initially affirmed this, and salvation by grace, through faith, but then the early Popes decided that people were not “pious enough” and that the comfort of election/grace did not bring about the desire for righteousness. So, they decided that works needed to be added – salvation was faith + works. I’m sure the equation also included the judgment of the church as to whether the works were good enough… Suddenly the church became financially and politically powerful. A misbehaving king could have his entire country excommunicated, and thus delivered directly to Hell upon death.

    The Reformation brought the doctrine back as a comfort rather than burden, but as we see, authoritarianism has quickly turned it back into something to fret and worry about. People who love Jesus will not be turned away! I think the diabolical nature of authoritarianism is that the church itself and its leadership are teaching the name of Jesus, but the worship of the church leadership.

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