If you have been to pretty much any church, Christian concert, Spiritual rally, Bible study or para-church meeting in the last fifteen years, then you have probably heard that Jesus Christ wants to have a relationship with you. The twenty first century Church has thrown away religion with the mantra of relationship.
I am no longer a Christian, I follow Jesus.
Don’t label me.
What exactly does this mean, however? What does a relationship with Jesus look like? How do I start a relationship with Jesus?
First of all, we must understand that while Jesus does desire to have a relationship with us, there is a barrier in between us. Every human being who has ever lived is by nature a sinner. The Bible teaches us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3.23). And every single sin, no matter the scope, deserves the present punishment of death and the eternal punishment of damnation (Rom 6.23). So we, as sinners, have an impending judgment (Heb 9.27), and the verdict has been warned in advance. But not only that, we are incapable of having a relationship with Jesus now because that sin is an offense against Him and has put a barrier between us (James 4.4). As long as we love the world, continue to sin, and are guilty, we cannot enter into God’s presence, we cannot have a relationship with Him, and we are bound for an eternity of suffering in Hell.
But since God loves us, He sent His only son – Jesus – to live a perfect life on Earth without sin, and then died on the cross taking the punishment that you and I deserve. Since Jesus never sinned, He did not deserve to die. But He died in my place, and He died in your place (John 3.16, John 15.13). The good news is that God loves us so much that even though we are wicked, guilty, and deserving of death and damnation, Jesus paid our penalty so that we would not have to. In essence, if we receive the free gift of salvation, our verdict from the Heavenly court will read “Time Served” or “Paid in Full”.
But the most beautiful part of the exchange is that when Jesus assumed our guilt, He covered us in His blood and we became righteous. Holy. Acceptable before God. We cannot rid ourselves of sin on our own and be acceptable before God, but by confessing our sin and asking Jesus to forgive us, and turning away from that sin, Jesus’ blood covers us and we are now not only forgiven, but righteous.
“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
– 2 Cor 5.21
When we come to this moment, we have now been forgiven we have now been made acceptable before God, and we can now begin that relationship. We cannot start a relationship with God until we have gone through that experience.
So, I ask again, what is that relationship?
Consider any relationship. How do you get to know someone? You talk to them! There are a variety of ways that we talk in today’s age: face-to-face, over the phone, emails, letters, etc. We tell them about ourselves and we listen and learn about them. We as Christians are really good at telling God about ourselves in prayer, but we do quite poorly listening to Him. God created the world and has been at work in His people throughout all of history. He Himself had scribes write down everything that He felt it necessary for us to know about Himself and His plan for redemption, salvation and the future. It is all contained in a single book: the Bible.
“Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.”
– 2 Peter 1.2-3
Imagine if your new boyfriend or girlfriend wrote you a letter and you only skimmed a bit of it. Imagine if you kept writing letters to him or her, and never read what your significant other had said to you. Imagine your embarrassment if you were asking questions that had already been answered in the letters you had! This would be a one-way relationship that would not last long, because you would be going to get your needs met and not caring about the other person. Both people need to hear and be heard. Both people need to love and be loved. Both people need to be engaged in the relationship, giving and taking.
God is only different in the fact that He does not need us. But He wants us. He will not, however, entertain one-sided relationships. We cannot ask Him to forgive you and then just keep living as though He does not exist. We must abide in Him, get to know Him, enjoy Him, read His book to us, trust His promises, apply those promises. We must also talk to Him, confide in Him, tell Him what we are thinking and feeling. Imagine our embarrassment if we get to Heaven and do not know the things He revealed about himself to us in His word! Imagine trying to walk through a difficult situation with Him, when He has told us how to handle it in His word, and yet we have not read it yet! What must God think when we enter into a trial and we pray out, “God I don’t know what to do!” and He has given us clear instructions in the Bible?
And as we get to know Him, through His revealed Word and enjoying His presence, we will learn the majestic reality that Jesus Christ, while He calls us friend, is also King, and Priest and prophet (Heb 7). Yes, He grants to us to become part of His family, part of His body, and we can approach God in great confidence and crawl up in His lap and call Him “Daddy” (Rom 8.15). But He is still holy, He is still God, He is still King, and He is still our Lord. Lord, while an outdated term, is still easily understandable as the one who has final say. He is in charge and He expects us to do what He says. If God has defined pride as sin, He expects us to die to our pride and quit sinning. If God has defined getting drunk and living with someone who is not our spouse as sin, He expects us to stop getting drunk and move out or get married. If God has defined worldliness as sin, then we need to quit looking and acting like the world and acting like people who love and know God! He is our Lord, and He expects us to act like it. That is a facet of the relationship that we hold with Him.
He is also our priest. This is one of the most difficult realities to grasp, but it is ultimately one of the most comforting. When we understand the punishment for sin and when we grasp the price Jesus paid to ensure our eternity, the Spirit will convict us greatly when we do sin. The role of the priest is to stand before God and make a sacrifice to pay for our sins. He is the one who appeases God’s wrath. He is the one who intercedes for us. The doctrine of justification teaches us that Jesus’ death on the cross covered all of our sins in completion, but the ongoing relationship we hold necessitates that Jesus stands before God and acts as our advocate as Satan stands before God as our accuser. Every time we sin, the accuser says to God, “Did you see that?” and Jesus holds up his hands and says, “It has already been punished”.
“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”
– 1 John 2.1-2
“Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.”
– Heb 7.25
And lastly, He is our prophet. He has promised us salvation in the end, and He has even given us a foreshadowing of the coming events.
There are many ways that we need to relate to God: through Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit. We cannot enter into a relationship with God until we take care of our sin problem by confession and repentance. We cannot get to know God unless we spend time with Him both speaking to Him and listening to Him. He has given us everything that He desires us to know about Himself in the Bible – and He has even promised that He will not give any new revelation of Himself until He returns to take us home (Rev 22.19). We must read His Word and we must spend time in prayer. We also see that God has created us to serve, love and worship Him. So we will, as believers, spend time praising Him. Singing of the wonderful things that He has done in history, in salvation, and in our lives today.
Get to know Him. Read His letter. Let Him change you. Spend time with Him. And Praise Him. Let Him know what you are thinking and feeling. And when you need direction, turn to Scripture. This is a relationship with Jesus.