I know many people that claim to have encounters with God through the miraculous spiritual gifts such as speaking in tongues. But what if you do not speak in tongues? How do you feel close to God? How do you have encounters with Him? I have never experienced the gift of tongues so I would have to go a different route. The primary way I feel close to God is through obedience to the Lord’s commandments.
Communion with Christ
The doctrine most relevant to feeling close to God is the doctrine of communion with Christ. Communion with Christ is the fellowship a Christian has with Christ. This is something that can have to a greater or lesser degree. You can actually have deeper fellowship with Christ depending on the work of God and the effort you make. I certainly desire to have a closer and deeper fellowship with Christ. So I pray God will give it to me gracefully and that I will do something to obtain it.
Union and Communion
This is related to but not exactly like our union with Christ. A Christian’s union with Christ cannot change. You cannot be more or less in union with Christ no matter what you do. You are either one with Christ, or you are not. In The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung, he illustrates the distinction:
It’s like marriage: you can’t be more or less married (union) but you can have a stronger or weaker marriage (communion). -p.124
So if you love and trust Christ, your union with Christ is a done deal (like a marriage should be). But what about communion?
Abide in the Father
I want a stronger communion with Christ and I accomplish this through obedience. You can get this from the apostle John in his gospel and epistle.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. (John 15:9-10)
Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. (1 John 2:6)
No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. (1 John 3:6)
Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us. (1 John 3:24)
We abide (have communion) when we obey the commandments of God. When you flee from sin, pray earnestly, give thanks to God, study the word of God, evangelize, fellowship with believers, love others, and worship God in all circumstances… you are abiding in Christ and communion with Christ is increasing. This is true in scripture and it certainly feels true to me personally. My relationship with God seems strongest when I am obedient to Him.
I Know Therefore I Feel
It’s important that I explain why that may be. The key is that I allow my feelings to be informed by scripture. We should always interpret our feelings through the lens of scripture. The beautiful truths I learned from scripture set me up to feel the way I feel about my communion with Christ. Let me count the truths:
- I know God’s holy character
- I know God loves me and chooses me
- I know God requires and desires me to be holy
- I know I need atonement for my sins
- I know I am redeemed by the blood of Jesus
- I know God adopted me and counts me holy in Christ
- I know I am one with Christ (union)
- I know the commandments of God and desire obedience
- I know the Holy Spirit comforts me and works in me
- I know all of this is a work of God and a result of God’s abundant grace
Because of all of these truths, obedience and abiding in Christ is possible and real to me. I could never be obedient on my own power. I would never know how to be obedient without revelation from God. But we have the Holy Spirit and we have scripture. My Spirit-empowered obedience brings me closer to who I am in Christ and closer to the Father who is holy. So I think it’s biblical to say that when I am obedient, I feel close to God. When I am disobedient, I feel far from God.
The beauty of communion with Christ is that all Christians can abide in Christ through obedience, with or without extraordinary spiritual experiences. If you ever feel far from God, I would say to dig into God’s word and pray. Meditate on how obedience is even possible for a fallen people and then go out and obey the Lord’s commandments. Take notice of how your growth in holiness brings you closer to a holy God. Praise God that we can all be obedient and encounter God together!