What Is the Difference between Union and Communion with Christ?

Sam Storms:

An important distinction that a lot of Christians misunderstand is between the eternal union we have with God and the experiential communion that we have on a daily basis. By eternal union, I mean the fact that we are in Christ and nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8). Scripture gives us all these potential threats. We think Well, if I don’t respond well to this or if I don’t say the right thing in this current context, I’m going to be cut off from Christ eternally. No. Once we are in Jesus by faith, we are in an eternal bond, union, covenant relationship that cannot be broken, cannot be undermined, cannot be shattered—even in the midst of our sin.

But, on the other hand, we have what I call experiential communion. The word experiential is to be contrasted with eternal. Eternal happens all the time. It’s unchangeable, unbreakable. Experiential is what is going on day in and day out in my walk with the Lord. It involves not my union with Christ but my communion with him. In other words, it’s my ability to feel his affection, the capacity of the human heart to enjoy being adopted as one of God’s children.

Our unrepentant sin can disrupt that. It can cloud our capacity to see God and his grace, beauty, and love for what it really is. What happens is that in our experiential communion, our sin and unrepentant defiance of the Lord—however frequent or infrequent—make it difficult for us to walk in the fullness of freedom, peace, delight, and joy.

Sometimes we mistake the experiential communion with the eternal union. We say I’m struggling so much now to find joy in my relationship with God. I’m crippled by fear and doubts about my salvation. It must mean that my eternal union is in jeopardy. The answer to that is No, it’s not.

Our eternal union with God through faith in Christ is unbreakable, unchangeable, and kept secure and safe in love by God. Our experiential, daily, moment-by-moment walk with God and sense of his affection for us can oftentimes be disrupted by sin. When we understand the distinction between the two, we’ll go a long way toward finding the capacity to enjoy the relationship we have with God through Jesus.

Sam Storms is the author of A Dozen Things God Did with Your Sin (And Three Things He’ll Never Do.

Peter serves as a pastor-teacher, at home and abroad, resourcing gospel-centred communities.