#02 In Christ

Today is the first day of 2019, a new beginning!  I wish everyone a blessed new year.  May you walk daily with the Lord and rejoice in Him always.   From the beginning of the year until the end of the year, may you live in the abundant grace of God!

You crown the year with your bounty,
    and your carts overflow with abundance.
 The grasslands of the wilderness overflow;
    the hills are clothed with gladness.
The meadows are covered with flocks
    and the valleys are mantled with grain;
    they shout for joy and sing.   (Psalm 65:11-13)

Our church theme this year is Koinonia.  This is a Greek word that comes from the Bible.  It means “common being”, a word that depicts “a group of believers sharing life together in Christ”.  Based on this theme, I will send out a devotional five days a week from Monday to Friday until January 31st, for a total of 24 devotionals.  I would like to especially thank Mrs. Amanda Hsiao for proofreading the articles, and sister I-Shen Lai for the English translations.  My hope is that these articles will be beneficial to my brothers and sisters in Christ.  You are welcome to share them with others.

Koinonia:  Life Together in Christ

The basic definition of Koinonia is “common being”:  the many joined together as one body, connected to the head, that is Christ, and from him the whole body is joined and held together by every supporting ligament (Eph 4:15-16), having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind (Php 2:2), striving together as one for the faith of the gospel (Php 1:27).  There are two necessary conditions for koinonia: the first is to be “in Christ”, and the second is to have “life together”.  Without Christ, even a group of people living under the same roof may, on the surface, seem to share life together, when in reality, they walk separate ways, are not like-minded, and are not connected to Christ the head.  This is not koinonia.  On the flip side, a group of people may be in Christ, even belong to the same church and greet each other every Sunday, yet never have real interactions nor truly know or care about one another.  There is no life together.  This is also not koinonia.  In order for koinonia to happen, both of the criteria, “in Christ” and “life together”, must be present.

Koinonia is the work of God.  It is the best cure for a broken humanity, and the best testimony to a dark world.  It has love as its content, and the gospel (sharing Christ) as its purpose.  Those who live in koinonia accept each other, affirm each other, and walk together as one.  It has amazing healing powers, allowing broken hearts to be mended, weary hearts to be rested, and lonely hearts to be comforted.  Everyone yearns for love, meaning, acceptance, affirmation, and friendship, and when such rare and precious qualities are found in a group of people, others will be amazed and desire to be part of that community.  And so koinonia becomes the most effective testimony, drawing others towards Christ.

In Christ

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Cor 5:17)

The starting point of koinonia is “in Christ”.  Those who are in Christ are new creations.  New creations in Christ can live life together with each other.  Thanks be to God, because being “in Christ” is only possible by the grace of God.  We ourselves are unable to be in Christ, but it is God who has given us his righteousness, “through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Rom 3:22), so that we may “share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light”, rescuing us from the dominion of darkness and bringing us into the “kingdom of the Son he loves” (Col 1:12-13).

Praise God for his grace, a person is in Christ the moment he admits he is a sinner, repents of his sin, and believes and trusts in the lordship of Christ.  On the other hand, if someone has never repented of his sin and has not trusted in Christ, even if he says “I believe in Christianity”, he is not in Christ.  Being “in Christ” and being “in Christianity” are very different:  those who are in Christ believe in Christ and have received salvation from Jesus; those who are in Christianity believe in a religion and have not received salvation from Jesus.  One has a relationship with the eternal true God, and the other has a relationship with a human religion.  God can save people, religion cannot.  Those who believe in Jesus have been brought by God into the kingdom of the Son he loves, but those who believe in religion still dwell in the dominion of darkness.

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Col 1:13-14)

If people are living in different kingdoms (one in the kingdom of God, the other in the dominion of darkness), there can be no koinonia.  For example, there may be many people who attend a fellowship meeting, of whom there are believers and seekers, as well as those who claim to be Christians but have not believed in Christ.  The believers have koinonia among themselves, but those who are not believers do not, because they are not in Christ.  Although they sing the same hymns and study from the same Bible, and it seems that everyone is part of the fellowship, but the real koinonia happens only among the believers, and those who are not believers can have no part of it.  Those who are seekers and later come to Christ will then join in the koinonia, because once they believe in Christ, they are brought by God into the kingdom of the Son he loves.  But for those who believe in religion but not in Christ, those who only want religious Christian living but do not want the Christ who gives life, no matter how seasoned they are in religious language and actions, they will always be outsiders of koinonia.

Brothers and sisters, the issue here is not about rules, but about life.  God did not set a rule in stone that said “Only those who are in Christ are permitted koinonia”, rather, the truth is “only those who are in Christ can have a life of koinonia”.  Koinonia is the “fellowship of renewed lives”.  Those in Christ have repented of their sins, are aware of their limited lives on earth, and have a hope and hunger for eternal life.  They have trusted and submitted to the lordship of Christ, their bodies bear the marks of Jesus (Gal 6:17), and before their very eyes Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified (Gal 3:1).  They are now alike in their purpose in life, and in their perspectives about life.  They are like-minded in their common obedience to Christ, and like-minded in their shared reverence and hunger for God’s word.  These people have adopted a common value system, a common outlook on life, and a common worldview, not by coercion or persuasion, but by a recalibration that is a result of a focus on Christ.  In their life together, they may find that they still need to adapt and adjust to each other in some minor aspects of life, but there is no longer a need for a complete overturn of intrinsic values and worldviews.  For example, some believers may be at the stage where they can “consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things” (Php 3:8), while others, even though they may not have reached this stage, can wholeheartedly agree that Christ should be their most precious treasure, and that Christ far surpasses what the world has to offer.  Those who are not born again are unable to identify with this new worldview—their minds are still worldly, and their hearts continue to pursue fame, fortune, and health.  Those who are in Christ and those who are not have vastly different ways of thinking, different ways of speaking, and different ways of doing things.  It is impossible for koinonia to happen in such situations.

The main reason that koinonia is not in the church is intermingling.  Many so-called “Christians” are merely people who believe in a religion.  They know this of themselves, but others who feel ill-at-ease to call them out on it, continue to treat them as one of their own.  The result of this is an intermingling of Christ-believers and Christianity-adherents.  Believers and unbelievers are yoked together, righteousness and wickedness are in partnership, and light and darkness have fellowship (2 Cor 6:14).  God’s truth is mixed with secular worldviews.  What can be done?  First, do not be affected by the presence of intermingling.  True believers should still maintain koinonia, and have life together in Christ.  Secondly, preach the true and correct gospel, looking to God’s grace to convert those who were merely religious into true believers of Christ.  Do not push them away, but hope that one day they may also enter into Christ.

Dear brothers and sisters, may the Lord bless you, that you may experience the goodness of koinonia in the new year!  Be in Christ:  If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  Put on the new self:  Since we have “heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus”, so we must put off our old self, with regard to our former way of life, and put on the new self, to be made new in the attitude of our minds.  This new self is created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph 4:21-24).