Koinonia and the Cross Featured Article

Koinonia and the Cross

Deep reflections on the mystery of human sin and divine communion.

Paradox is a Christian word. That is, God is larger than logic, which means God, by His nature, is paradoxical. His grace that forgives us through the cross of Christ allows relationship with Him, contradicting how we should be treated for our sins. When we are brought into new life with Him, we begin to experience this paradox, and that can create tension. Nowhere is this dynamic more poignant than with the two realities of sin and koinonia.

 

Poignant paradox

These realities are presented in Scripture as antithetical. Koinonia is the New Testament word for communion, the intimate relationship with God we enjoy every day but celebrate every year at Lord’s Supper. Think of the significance of this. In the Old Testament, koinonia was not possible between a mortal and the divine. Humans could at best become God’s servants, but they could never have partnership with Him in koinonia. Sin destroyed the relationship between God and His image bearers, causing Adam to hide from God in the garden. And sin is the reason He had “hidden his face from you,” Isaiah said to Israel (59:2). In the Old Testament, intimate communion with God was limited because Israel and the whole world was in sin.

But this all changed in the New Testament. Suddenly, koinonia with God was not only a possibility but also a reality. John wrote, “Truly our [koinonia] is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). This is a paradox — a logical impossibility. How could sinful humanity and a holy God be in fellowship? What changed to make genuine relationship with God a position for mere mortals?

 

Two realities

John answers this contradiction with another in 1 John 1:1-3. There he puts forward the first reality of Jesus as divine and human as an axiom we must accept by faith. Jesus is what “was from the beginning . . . the word of life” and is “what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands . . .” (v. 1). There is no logical explanation for Jesus’ nature. But John is clear that the paradox of Jesus being God and human makes possible another reality: fellowship with God. He writes, “Truly our [koinonia] is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (v. 3). This second reality is possible only by the primary paradox of God the Son’s incarnation.

These realities change who we are. “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all,” John says (v. 5). Since we have been told that we have koinonia with God, there is no darkness in us, because we are in Him. The light of God has rendered impotent the darkness that clung to humanity since the Fall. Those who have faith in the first paradox of God the Son incarnated as Messiah are brought into koinonia with God as light.

But this second reality quickly turns into a second paradox when John adds this point in verse 8: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” Again, John posits no reasoning for the reality that we have sin. But just like Jesus’ humanity, this truth we have observed and cannot deny: Even those who have fellowship with God have sin — a paradox because there is no darkness in Him.

It is hard to live in reality. Most elect not to. When someone sins, they say, “My koinonia with God has been forfeited. I need to get clean.” Although this is logical, the text says the opposite. We certainly have communion with God, and we absolutely have sin. These are our two realities. The tension that this paradox places upon our limited selves forces us to have faith in the God who is unlimited. He holds together the paradox of Jesus’ nature, and He holds together the paradox of our sin and koinonia. We hold His hand.

What does living in this paradox look like for the Christian? Since it combines two realities (truths), it is doing the truth and speaking the truth.

 

Doing the truth

God’s truth of Jesus’ divine-human nature and our fellowship with Him as sinners is paradox. For a finite person, doing this truth is not just hard; it is impossible. Yet the only other option is to avoid our reality of sin and koinonia, which normally means to mouth truths without applying them. John acknowledges this: “If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true” (v. 6). For the original nomadic Hebrews, walking was life, so they understood the metaphor. Walking in darkness is defining your life by what is not God. When we just use our lips to acknowledge the paradox, but we don’t put forth our whole life into our relationship with God, we “do not do what is true.” This is not to say that our koinonia with God isn’t a reality, but that it is a truth we are not living in.

But how can we live in sin and koinonia? John explains: “If we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (v. 7). In other words, we strive to line up with the paradoxical position we have in Christ by aiming our whole selves at walking in the light. Even though we do this, we still sin. But for those who have placed their faith in the paradox of God’s grace, sin doesn’t hinder their walking in the light. It is scrubbed away as they put their faith in Him, still walking in the light despite their sin.

 

Speaking the truth

The preceding dynamic is manifest in the Christian’s life through confession — speaking the truth to God: “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (v. 9). Confession is coming to Jesus as the one who binds you to God and telling Him all the reasons you should not have koinonia with Him. It might sound something like this: “Jesus, I have sin. I was just talking to Your daughter, and my sister in You, and I felt hatred. Jesus, how can I be united to You if I have this kind of reaction?”

We are not big enough for such a paradox, but our God is. And when we express the reality of our sin, He brings us into the reality of all darkness and all unrighteousness being scrubbed out of our lives.

Sin is something to be grateful for, even while we despise it. It pushes us to speak the truth to God. This helps us properly understand that our koinonia with God is based solely on who Jesus is and what He did on the cross. Our sin cannot remove us from this reality. But when we properly express it in confession, sin can bring us to God as the poor beggars we are.

If, instead, we deny the paradox of sin and koinonia in our lives; if we stumble as we walk and quickly play it off as if we didn’t almost fall; if we are too scared to come to our God in contrition when the heart overflows into a cacophony of vanities, then we will miss the paradox and walk devoid of God’s fellowship: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (v. 8). Sin is not what has removed us from the truth; our lie has. Our lie is denying the contradiction of our sin and our koinonia with God. And the greatest lie of all is that we have not sinned in the past in such a way as to affect our present. When we so completely reject God’s paradoxical truth, we deny the Living Word, and He does not abide in us (v. 10).

 

Acknowledge the paradox

John tells us all these stark realities in order that we may not sin (2:1). We have to know the first paradox of God initiated and the second paradox created by us being in Him. Knowing and acknowledging these will be the first step in our not sinning.

Therefore, I encourage you to do something unthinkable and paradoxical as you read this. Be grateful to God for your last sin. We rightly despise our sin, but we must acknowledge it and let it push us to God, who is bigger than everything. Treat your sin like a child’s skinned knee: It brings you to your Father’s arms. If not for our sin, we would be more like the Pharisee who prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people.” He was thankful for his own righteousness. The tax collector, however, wouldn’t even look up to the sky but fixed his eyes downward and cried out, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” He was asking God for a paradox. Your sin makes you cry out in confession. “I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other” (Luke 18:9-14).

In this way, we live into the paradox, which God holds together, of our sin and koinonia. In this way, we may not sin. But if we do, “we have an advocate before the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous one” (1 John 2:1). You speak against yourself in confession. He will speak for you. As you sin, He will cleanse you. Have faith in Him and express it by knowing God works all things for the good of those who love Him and are called for His purposes. Praise God, this includes sin.

Jonathon Hicks and his wife, Danielle, serve the Lodi, CA congregation. Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version.

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