Let’s be honest- that’s not the most gripping title in the world (those who have listened to me enough will know that titles are not my strong point…). However, I do think understanding the difference between these two things and how they work together is helpful in understanding  and living the Christian life. I’ve been increasingly convinced about that following a few conversations over the past few weeks. Let me explain.

A few weeks back I preached two or three sermons in a row about our union with Christ- from Romans 6 and John 15. Both Paul’s letters and John’s Gospel use the language of mutual indwelling. I am in Christ and Christ is in me. That is objectively true and is foundational to the whole of Christian living. During the sermon on John 15 I made a provocative point- that I was tired of Christians talking about our need to get closer to Jesus. The point is that we are already as close to Jesus as we possibly could be (he is in us)- the call is simply to remain in him. I am still convinced that is right: it is the truth about our current standing with Christ.

One or two people followed this up with me very helpfully. “I know the Bible says I am as close to Jesus as I could be but it doesn’t always feel like that…”. “I know I’m close to Jesus but part of me longs for a closer/deeper relationship with Him…” How do you respond to this? I think there is something helpful about these comments. After all the Bible itself will tell New Testament believers to draw near to God (Hebrews 10:22, James 4:8). In our hearts and minds we are to come to God in adoration, enjoyment and prayer. Failure to do that will lead to a subjective experience of feeling distant from God. If we are genuine believers our objective standing before God and the indwelling of the Lord Jesus by His Spirit will not have changed. But it may not feel like that. It is possible to be as close to Jesus as we could possibly be and yet feel distant from Him.

What do you do with this? I think it is vitally important that we hold on to both of these realities. It is possible to believe the objective truth about Jesus in me and yet not turn that into a joyful sense of communion with Him. My suspicion is that it is more the case these days that we obsess about our subjective experience with Jesus (and are often depressed about it) and miss the vital encouragement of the truth that we are united with Him.

I loved the way that one of my conversations ended. I was asking a student in the church what I could pray for him. He commented that he wanted me to pray that he would have a closer relationship with Jesus but was wary of that after the comments in my sermon. So he suggested an alternative- that I should pray he would be able to hold on to the truth that he is united with Jesus and that this would lead him to pursue a deeper appreciation and enjoyment of his relationship with Jesus. OK-it’s a mouthful but it is biblically precise and, because of that, it is pastorally helpful. It is the idea that is there in Colossians 2-3- those who realize they have fullness in Christ (an objective reality) are those who (in their subjective experience) set their hearts and minds on things above where Christ is.

The above may sound like a theological debate- but I am absolutely convinced that being clear on this would help many of us in our Christian lives.