HERE'S THE DIFFERENCE
A Study of Important Biblical Distinctions
By William MacDonald
RELATIONSHIP AND FELLOWSHIP
This study is somewhat similar to the one on position and practice. But the difference is important enough to devote a separate chapter to it.
When a person is born again a new relationship is formed; he becomes a child of God.
... to all who received him, who believed In his name, he gave power to become children of God (John 1:12 RSV).
Beloved, we are God's children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2 RSV).
Now there is something very final about a birth. Did you ever think about that? Once a birth has taken place it lasts forever. You cannot go back and undo it. A relationship is formed that cannot be altered. Let us say, for example, that a son has just been born to the Joneses. No matter what happens, the child will always be a son of Mr. and Mrs. Jones, and they will always be his parents. In later life he may dishonor his family and cause them deepest grief but the relationship still stands-Mr. Jones is still his father, and he is still the Joneses' son.
Now apply this to the believer. Through the new birth a relationship is formed with God the Father.
It is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Rom. 8:16 RSV).
So through God you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son then an heir (Gal. 4:7 RSV).
It is a relationship that cannot be broken. Once a son, always a son.
But there is another side to the truth, and that side is fellowship. Fellowship means sharing in common. If relationship is union, then fellowship is communion. And if relationship is a chain that cannot be broken, fellowship is a slender thread that is very easily broken.
Sin breaks fellowship with God. Two cannot walk together unless they are agreed (Amos 3 . :3), and God cannot walk in fellowship with His children when they sin. "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). He cannot enjoy communion with those who are hiding evil in their lives.
Fellowship remains broken as long as sin is unconfessed and unforsaken. And broken fellowship is very serious. For example, a decision could be made when a believer is out of touch with the Lord that could put a blight on the rest of his life. How many backslidden Christians have chosen an unbelieving mate and ruined their lives as far as usefulness for God is concerned! Their souls have been saved but their lives have been lost.
Broken fellowship brings the chastening of God. While a believer is free from the eternal punishment of sins, he is not free from the consequences of sin in his life. Why were some of the Corinthian saints sick? Because they were going to the communion table without first confessing their sins and straightening out (1 Cor. 11:29-32). Some of them had even died. They had been made fit for heaven through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, but they were unfit for further life and testimony here on earth.
Broken fellowship will result in loss of reward at the Judgment Seat of Christ (1 Cor. 3:15). All time spent out of fellowship with God is time wasted forever.
So while we rejoice in the truth that our relationship with God is unbreakable, we should greatly fear anything that breaks fellowship with our Father. Actually the knowledge that grace has brought us into such a wonderful relationship should be the strongest motive for maintaining continuous communion with the Lord. Grace does not encourage sin; it is the most powerful deterrent to it.
In the Old Testament, David is a classic example of a saint whose fellowship with God was broken by sin. We read of his confession and restoration to the Lord in Psalms 32 and 51.
In the New Testament, the prodigal son may be taken as an illustration of a returning backslider (Luke 15:11-24) (though the story is usually interpreted as the conversion of a sinner). Fellowship was broken through the son's waywardness and rebellion. But he was still a son, even in the far country. As soon as he returned and began to blurt out his confession, fellowship was restored. The father ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.
In 1 John 2:1 we read, "My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin, but if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (RSV). This is written to children, to those who have been born into the family of God. God's ideal is that His children should not sin. But we do sin, and God has made provision: " . . . if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father." Notice this-"we have an advocate with the Father." He is still our Father, even when we sin. How can that be? Because relationship is a tie that can never be broken. What happens when we sin? "We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." He immediately goes to work in our lives, bringing us to the place where we are willing to confess and forsake our sins, thus enjoying the Father's fellowship once more.
When I see the difference between relationship and fellowship it helps me understand these Scriptures. It also makes me appreciate the eternal security I have in Christ and motivates me to live in fellowship with my Father who loves me so.
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