Theology Thursday: Communion of the Saints

By Mark Olmos

A man reading the Holy Bible

When you first hear the phrase, “communion of the saints” in the Apostles’ Creed, it sounds like a very exclusive club reserved for biblical characters that have done miraculous deeds and achieved a level of heroic holiness. Certainly, this does not include the average everyday Christian, still struggling to overcome sin, establish decent spiritual disciplines and find time to serve in their church. Yet this fundamental truth, believed by millions of Christians throughout the ages, brings much more hope and encouragement than expected to the average Christian because it is not about an exclusive club – it is about them.

Living Christians Are Called “Saints” in the Bible

In the New Testament, the word “saint” refers to one who is “sanctified in Jesus Christ” by God’s grace and called to faith in Christ’s saving work on the cross (Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 1:7). In other words, a saint is any true Christian. It is used sixty times in the New Testament to refer to both gentile and Jewish Christians, all living.

However, it follows that our brothers and sisters in Christ who have gone to heaven before us would bear that title as well. So, when we trust Christ, we are a holy but imperfect work in progress that God promises to complete when Jesus returns (Philippians 1:6). In Christ, we are living saints.

Christianity Is a Team Sport

This spiritual journey, while initiated by individual faith, is meant in every way to be a team or community experience. Communion is a word that essentially means “mutual participation or involvement” and is the word used for “fellowship” in the New Testament. It implies a deep connection, shared growth and unity with other believers.

This unity is based on a mutual faith in Jesus Christ that places us in God’s family forever. The Apostle Paul asserts that we are “called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours” (1 Corinthians 1:32, ESV). As a result, we are intimately connected with all believers everywhere and can call them brother or sister in all earnestness. And we are also called to grow together with them in a special community called the church.

Imagine a person with amazing baseball skills (hitting, fielding, throwing and running) who has never played on a team. That person would not know the wonderful beauty, depth or breadth of the game. In the same way, even a person who has established sincere faith and amazing Christian growth habits will fall short of all that God wants to build into their lives if they don’t participate in a healthy church family.

Communion of the Saints in Practice

Much of New Testament’s instruction is about relational love, unity, growth and fellowship:

  • According to Jesus, the greatest commandment is to love God and love people.
  • Jesus’ disciples are identified by our love for and unity with one another (John 13, 17).
  • The first believers devoted themselves to “fellowship” and exemplified full participation in each other’s lives through meals, worship and sharing resources (Acts 2:42-47).
  • There are fifty-nine “one another’s” listed in the NT, teaching us how to relate to one another in mutual support as we grow, serve and carry out Jesus’ mission together.
  • Paul exhorts believers to stand unified “firm in one spirit, with one mind” (Philippians 1:27).

So, the New Testament strongly affirms the team aspect of spiritual growth. Christians must grow together and play their part on a healthy team called the church. The communion of the saints refers to the unity and mutual interdependence that all Christians share in their spiritual journey. It is an essential truth to embrace and practice.

Therefore, in God’s eyes, because of Jesus, you are a saint and always will be. Regardless of how worthless the enemy tries to make you feel when you slip up or drift off course, this truth will stand forever (1 John 1:9, Jude 24). Also, you need other believers for optimal spiritual growth. In doing so you will experience encouragement, compassion, mutual accountability, support, wisdom and Christian love.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University.

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