We have been discussing experiencing God but we need to discuss a fundamental thing today because without this, you can’t
1 John. 4:9, “God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.” Sounds a lot like John 3:16 which believers and nonbelievers probably know, but notice the end of the verse, “so that we might live through him.” LIVE! On the surface, it seems to say that we will live through him, you know, eternal live. But I believe there is more there. Yes, this passage tells us that God sent his Son out of love for us so that we might have life, eternal life forever in heaven with God, AND, and, also live life abundantly on this earth. Live life abundantly.
Yet it concerns me that people, particularly followers of Jesus, are struggling to experience the full, abundant, fruitful, life of God. Why aren’t people becoming more loving, having more joy, becoming more kind, more forgiving? How can over 70-80% of a community fail to be in a worship gathering on any given Sunday morning? This concerns me because we were created to worship God and give him our devotion and love and be in fellowship with one another.
Why is the rate of divorce among Christians almost equal to “others”? Why is it when we often are around Christians, we don’t feel love? Why is it that often when we are around Christians, they seem to not really care for, want to help, or assist the poor and needy. No we often turn our back ignoring the phrase, WWJD.
I can explain why people who are not yet Christians don’t experience this life because the Bible tells us they have not received Jesus and the life he offers. Those that haven’t surrendered to Jesus don’t have the Spirit of God living in them and therefore they don’t have the power of God to change. The ways of God seem foolish to them.
But what about those who say they are followers of Jesus, who have the Spirit of God, yet while having the access to all the power and resources of God in their life, haven’t tapped into those resources. It comes back to one thing, our relationship with God. The reason we don’t see any changes in our life is because we may have a Christian belief system but we aren’t necessarily in a close relationship with God, experiencing God in a personal way in our life.
A belief system means there are certain things I believe to be true. I believe God exists, I believe God sent his Son, Jesus, who died and took my sins to the cross so I can be forgiven and live forever in heaven, that I have been “saved” by God’s grace. Perhaps we could almost recite the Apostles Creed by heart, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven in earth; And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord…”. That is having the right beliefs. Here’s the thing, having the right beliefs or belief system alone, doesn’t change a person’s life and cause them to live differently or experience God.
Even practicing certain disciplines like prayer and reading Scripture, or attending church services doesn’t bring any change if we do them mechanically, in other words if we are just going through the motions because our Christian belief system tells us we should. What changes us is our personal relationship with God, and experiencing him living through us in a real and personal way.
Here is what Henry Blackaby writes in Experiencing God, (Tuesday night)
“Everything in your Christian life, everything about knowing Him, and experiencing Him, everything about knowing His will, depends on the quality of your love relationship to God.” John 3:16 is the core of our belief system, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Out of love God sent his Son to save us from what? Our sins, hell. Right, we know that.
What did God save us for, this says God saved us for eternal life. But let’s look at what Jesus said eternal life is: John 17:3 says, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” Eternal life is knowing God the Father and Jesus Christ his Son, it is being in relationship with God now and forever. This is not knowing about God, but knowing him in a personal way. Eternal life is something we are meant to participate in now and forever, the only thing which changes is our address (from earth to heaven when we die).
The first and primary characteristic of a relationship with God is love. There is a reason Jesus said the greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength (Mark 12:30).’” If we miss the fact that God saved us for a love relationship with Him, we miss the entire point. Blackaby writes again of a conversation he had with one of the members of his church who was always having difficulty in his personal life, his family, at work, and in the church:
“One day I went to him and asked, “Can you describe your relationship with God by sincerely saying, ‘I love You with all my heart?” The strangest look came over his face. He said, “Nobody has ever asked me that. No, I could not describe my relationship with God that way. I could say I obey Him, I serve Him, I worship Him, and I fear Him. But I cannot say that I love Him.”
If we love God and walk in close relationship with Him, we will desire to spend time with God. If we love God and walk in close relationship with Him, we will desire to worship him and be with his family (brothers and sisters in Christ).
If we love God and walk in close relationship with him we will try to discern what he wants us to do and how we should live our lives. If we love God, we will obey him when he reveals his plan, his commands, or what he wants us to do. That’s why Jesus said, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him (John 14:21).”
If we don’t love God with all our heart and have a close relationship with him the opposite is true. We won’t desire to spend time with God, we won’t truly desire to worship God, we won’t truly care about his family (or only the ones we like), we won’t listen to God or discern his plan for us. Therefore we won’t obey because we either don’t understand his plan or perhaps we won’t choose to follow it. By not following God we don’t experience God working in our life.
We’ll continue to struggle with anger, we won’t be able to get along with others including family members, perhaps even our spouse, which can lead to separation and divorce, we don’t desire to serve God, we can’t seem to beat addictions, we don’t have more love, joy, and peace, we don’t experience any miracles because we never step out in faith doing what only God can do through us. In other words, our life looks just like everyone else’s…well except we have different beliefs and that “”system.”.
But that’s not what Jesus came to earth for, it’s not what he saved us for. He saved us for a personal, life transforming relationship with God. It all comes back to the quality of our personal love relationship with God.
Paul got what we need to get: Philippians 3:8-12 NLT
Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the priceless gain of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I may have Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own goodness or my ability to obey God’s law, but I trust Christ to save me. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. As a result, I can really know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I can learn what it means to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that, somehow, I can experience the resurrection from the dead! I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection! But I keep working toward that day when I will finally be all that Christ Jesus saved me for and wants me to be.
Paul understood that nothing is as important as knowing Christ, not his job, his heritage, his religious convictions, his good works for God, nothing. As a result of knowing Christ, we can experience the same power that raised him from the dead at work in our life. I realize some guys tune out or get a little nervous when I use the words “love relationship with God,” because we get the image of some sort of heart pattering, emotion driven, feely feely, kumbaya, let’s hug each other kind of relationship with God. There’s not one example of that kind of love relationship between God and his people in the Bible, even in the NT.
Love is a choice, it is an unselfish, caring for the other person. Love means caring about their welfare, caring about what they think. The key elements in a relationship with God is that it was real. In the Bible God made himself known in real and personal way. In the Bible, people always knew they had been with God, from the beginning when he walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, to walking as Jesus with his disciples. Even after Jesus went back to heaven, his followers still knew his very real presence, they knew when God had spoken to them. Through God’s Spirit he can be just as real to us today as he was walking with his disciples as Jesus 2000 years ago. God’s personal relationship was and is practical. He took care of their needs, he guided, instructed, he comforted, he healed. He can do the same for us. Our Bible promises that he wants to and will.
The Bible presents several images of what it means to know God and have a personal relationship with him. The first image is of the servant to the King. Obviously this is not a chummy, buddy-buddy kind of a relationship, but it is a relationship nonetheless. Think of Joseph or Daniel in the OT being second in command to the king.
They were able to have access to the king and enter the king’s throne room, to have his ear, yet as second in command they had the authority of the king, therefore having access to everything under the king’s control. God is our King and we are his servants. We have access to God whenever we desire, we can enter his throne room, he gives us access to everything under his control. Our loving King promises to care and provide for us, his subjects, and we promise to serve the King and do what he asks of us.
A second image is the sheep to their shepherd. We are the sheep and God or Jesus is the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd goes out in front of the sheep, the sheep follow him because they hear and know his voice (John 10:3-4). We might not think of sheep and a shepherd as much of a relationship, but the point here is that the sheep know the shepherd and recognize his voice. Those who have a relationship with Christ will hear and recognize his voice. They will know the still small voice of God, see him at work around us, and follow him.
Jesus gave us a new image of our relationship to God, that of a child to a parent. John 1:12 “Yet to all who received him [Jesus/Word], to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” We aren’t just servants and sheep, through believing in Jesus, we are children of our heavenly Father. We are adopted into God’s family. Romans 8:15 For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” Abba is a personal name for father, like daddy or papa. We can relate to God as we would to a father or mother. In a loving nurturing way.
The last and most intimate image is of the bride to her husband. In the OT book of Hosea is the story of a prophet of God who married a prostitute and loved her, even though she kept running away from the love relationship and returning to her old lifestyle. God uses this illustration to demonstrate his love relationship to his people Israel who kept wandering away prostituting themselves to their old sinful lifestyle. We can always change and go back. In the NT this image is further flushed out by Paul who says we are the bride of Christ. That’s intimate!
The Bible uses these images to help us understand that we are meant to be more than just casual acquaintances of God and just believe in the system, through Jesus we can have a close relationship with God, that is real, personal, and practical. Whether it is like a sheep to a shepherd, servant to a king, a child to a parent, or a bride to her husband.
If you’re wondering why you don’t seem to be experiencing God working in your life, the first question is what is the condition of your personal love relationship with God? Because everything else in your life depends upon that relationship. This is the good news, no matter what place we are at, God is already taking the initiative to seek us and know us. If your heart is touched today it means God has already spoken to you. If you don’t have a personal relationship with God at all, Jesus is there waiting. Rev. 3:20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.