Follow-up: A Personal Relationship with Jesus
Ok, so I think that it’s time for a follow up to my entry A Personal Relationship with Jesus. Now that I’m not writing out of frustration and have had a chance to collect my thoughts a little bit better and talk through this with some people (not to mention all the helpful and interesting comments to the post) I think I could now write a more coherent blog on my thoughts. So, here it goes…
First, allow me to say upfront that I do believe it is POSSIBLE to have an intimate/personal relationship with God/Jesus. It is clear throughout scripture (Old and New Testament) that God did have very intimate and personal relationships with His creation. I also believe that through Christ’s action on the cross “the curtain was torn” (as Rita graciously pointed out) – we CAN enter God’s presence. We CAN have the type of intimate relationship with him where we can ask anything of him and tell him anything. We CAN have full confidence to enter His throne room and know that we are forgiven and loved. Also through Christ’s redeeming actions we have now been given the gift of the Holy Spirit – God comes and makes His home with us and lives among us – we CAN personally talk with and walk with God through the Holy Spirit.
Second, I do believe that God desires for us to have a personal/intimate relationship with Him. In the beginning Adam and Eve “walked with God” in what seems to be a very intimate way so it seems that God’s original intention was for that sort of open, naked and unashamed type of relationship. God also has continually reached out to His creation calling them to Himself and ultimately making the way clear for them to come to Him through Jesus.
But, here’s where I was/am struggling… I think that it’s true that we can have a personal relationship with God (what good, good news!) and it’s true that God desires to have a personal relationship with us (even better news!), but I get frustrated when people (especially people in the church) tell others that they HAVE to have a personal relationship with God and it HAS to begin right now and it HAS to look a certain way, otherwise they aren’t “saved” (read: going to heaven). That bothers me.
First, I do believe that God desires relationship with us and calls us into relationship with Him, but I also believe that He does that incredibly graciously, He doesn’t force or push, in fact it seems to me from my personal experience, He knows and allows me to even pull away at times and He still works through that. In fact I think some of those times when I haven’t felt as “intimate” with God have been some of the most formative in my relationship with Him – He has used them to stretch me more into the person that He desires me to be and to reveal new truths about himself to me.
Second, I’m not sure that having a “personal relationship” with Jesus is really the mark of “being a Christian” or “being saved” or “going to heaven” – I think that someone who has a personal relationship with Jesus is probably a Christian and “saved” and “going to heaven” (whatever that means), but I think (at least right now at this stage in my journey) that there are many people who maybe don’t have what we would consider a “personal relationship” with Jesus but who God is still saving and who are “Christians”. And I don’t think that I have the right to say that they aren’t just because their relationship with God is more distant or more ritualistic instead of “personal”. So, it bothers me when people make having a “personal relationship” with Jesus the tell all sign of whether or not someone is saved – when they make it the end all be all – because personally I don’t think it is.
The third reason I struggle with this is that it seems to me when people say that we need to have a personal relationship with God they have a very clear picture of what that means and anything outside of their picture isn’t having a personal relationship with God. Basically they often seem to be saying that if you don’t read your Bible every day and don’t go to church every week then you must not have a personal relationship with Jesus – and personally I think that’s Bull****! (Please excuse my language, but I feel strongly about that) There are many ways to relate to God and many ways God chooses to speak to us. Yes, we have been given a great gift in having before us the very Word of God and we should cherish it and dive into it and allow God to speak to us through it, but it is not the only way to relate to God and my reading it or not reading it daily is not the only tell tale sign that I do or do not have a personal relationship with God. Same with church – we should meet with God’s people and we DEFINITELY need community to grow but I don’t believe that has to look like going to “church” in a church building every week and I don’t believe that if someone doesn’t do that they don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus.
It seems to me that God has many children whom he graciously allows to relate to Him in more distant ways (maybe just for a time or maybe for their whole lives), but they genuinely believe him and submit themselves to His Lordship and reign in their lives and genuinely seek to follow Him. And who am I to say that just because their relationship with God doesn’t fit my definition of “personal” (or even really isn’t personal but genuinely is more distant) who am I to say that they aren’t “saved” or to say that they have to change and start relating to God this other way and have this one type (i.e. personal) of relationship with God. Who am I do devalue God’s slow and gracious work in their lives?
I guess my problem isn’t so much with whether or not having a personal relationship with God is good – I think it is good and I would say that my own relationship with God has often been very personal and intimate. My problem is with saying that having a personal relationship (especially one that has to look a certain way) is necessary. My problem is with arrogance and not leaving room for people to be and relate to God in the way that works for them at that stage in their lives. It seems that God leaves a lot of space or us so why can’t we leave a lot of space for each other?
Rejoicing in the journey - Beth Stedman