Living with Christ in Union and Communion
Donald K. McKim
Who are we as Christian people?
This is a question we ask ourselves as thoughtful Christians. We have heard the voice of Jesus Christ saying: “Follow me” (Mark 1:17). In the silence and stillness of our own hearts, we have said, “Yes. Yes, Lord Jesus. I will follow you.” We have become disciples of Jesus Christ. We confess Christ as our Lord and Savior. We dedicate our lives—in all their dimensions—to
But what then? How do we now understand ourselves? Who do we understand ourselves to be?
The great Puritan theologian William Ames (1576-1633) gives us good directions here. His discussions of Christian theology have very practical—and helpful—dimensions. Ames helps us understand who we are as those who have received salvation and redemption in Jesus Christ by faith; and who seek to be his disciples through all our days; and in all our ways.
Here are important dimensions of what Ames tells us.
We are Called into the Church
When we think of our decision to follow Jesus, when we said, “Yes” to his command to “Follow me,” we realize that while we said, “Yes”—God’s Holy Spirit was also involved. We could never—and would never—say, “Yes” to Jesus on our own. We are happy and content to go on our own ways through life, living life, “my way.” So why “follow Jesus”? Why give Jesus our
hearts and lives and actions when we could follow our own desires and goals for our lives?
We respond to Jesus’ call because the Holy Spirit has worked in our lives. The Spirit gives us the gift of faith. Faith is the means by which we decide to follow Jesus. Faith enables us to trust Jesus with our lives and for our futures. Faith moves us out of our comfort zones and into lives where we seek God’s will for us. We now want to follow the ways Jesus Christ wants us to live in serving him and serving others. By God’s grace, the Holy Spirit brings us the gift of faith. So we, like Jesus’ first disciples, “got up and followed him” (Matthew 9:9; Mark 2:14).
To recognize the work of the Holy Spirit in our becoming followers of Jesus is to realize we are called. “Calling” is a New Testament term. Ames said Calling means the “gathering” of people “together in Christ so that they may be united with him.” 1 God calls people to be united with God in Jesus Christ by faith and be joined together with each other in the “body of Christ,”
(1 Cor. 12:27). We are called to be united with others in faith. Paul urged the Ephesians to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Eph. 4:1). Those who are called, said Paul, are “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12).
As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called into the church, to be joined in faith with all others who are called—who are, as Ames and the New Testament says, “the elect of God.” 2 Ames maintained that “the church is indeed the company of [those] who are called (1 Cor. 1:24 and 10:32).” 3 Our calling is as individuals. But we are called into “the catholic [universal] church” as “a society of believers.” 4 To believe in Jesus Christ is to be a member of the church, all believers in Christ throughout the world. The church is not an “option” for Christian believers; the church is our identity as believers in Christ.
Union with Christ and Communion with Christ
We are called into the church and we are united by faith with other Christian believers. By faith we are united to Jesus Christ himself. This union we share in the church brings with it communion with Christ. So Ames wrote that “the church can be defined at once as a company of believers, a company of those who are in Christ, and a company of those who have communion with him.”
This is who we are as disciples of Jesus Christ. We are members of the church who live in Union with Christ and in Communion with Christ.
Union with Christ. Ames wrote that “by our true calling we have union with Christ the fountaine of all grace.” 6 In this union, which is ours by faith, we have a “spiritual relation” to Christ so that we partake of “the benefits that flow from this union.” 7 Our righteousness, for example, is “found in him” (Christ)—not in ourselves but righteousness that “comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith” (Philippians 3:9). 8 Our union with Jesus Christ by faith gives all the benefits Christ brings. Our primary identity as a Christian is that we are “in Christ” (Romans 8; 2 Cor. 5:17 etc.).
Communion with Christ. Our union with Christ brings our communion with Christ in which, said Ames, we have “the apprehension and sense of the love of God shining forth in Christ, in the communion of believers with him (Rom. 5:5).” This leads to “a certain friendship between God, Christ, and the faithful (John 15:15).” 9 Our communion with Christ then leads to
“undoubting hope and expectation of the enjoyment of all those good things which God has prepared for his own (Rom. 5:2)….For this reason we are free to come to God with trust (Eph. 2:18 and 3:12; Heb. 10:22).” 10
We cannot imagine a more blessed and wonderful identity and understanding of who we are as disciples of Jesus Christ! We are called by God into church. We live by faith as members of the church. We live in union with Christ and in communion with Christ. We receive all the benefits Christ brings while we enjoy our loving relationship of trust with God in Jesus Christ. Even more, we anticipate all the good things God has prepared for those God has called!
Thanks be to God!
Dr. Donald K. McKim is an Honorably Retired minister of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and lives with his wife, LindaJo, in Germantown, Tennessee. Some of his publications include: (with Jim West), Heinrich Bullinger: An Introduction to His Life and Theology (Wipf & Stock, 2022); Everyday Prayer with the Puritans (P&R, 2021); Everyday Prayer with the Reformers
(P&R, 2020); Everyday Prayer with John Calvin (P&R, 2019). Several of his other articles can also be found at The Presbyterian Outlook https://pres-outlook.org/
1 William Ames, The Marrow of Theology, trans. John Dykstra Eusden (Boston: Pilgrim Press,1968), 157.
2 Ames wrote that “calling and election are often taken in the Scriptures in the same sense,” citing 1 Cor. 1:26-28: “your own call…” (v. 26); “God chose…” (vv. 27-28). Ames said that “election, redemption, vocation, justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification properly pertain to the same subject, i.e., to the individual [persons] who make up the church. John 17:9-20; Rom. 8:29, 30,” Marrow, 175.
3 Ames, Marrow, 175.
4 Ames, Marrow, 179.
5 Ames, Marrow, 175-176.
6 William Ames, An Analyticall Exposition of Both the Epistles of the Apostle Peter, Illustrated by Doctrines Out of Every Text (London, 1641), 7.
7 Ames, Marrow, 157.
8 Ames, Marrow, 157.
9 Ames, Marrow, 172.
10 Ames, Marrow, 172.