Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.
I grew up in a Christian culture that talked all the time about having a personal relationship with God. Or, more often, we would speak of our personal relationship with Christ, through whom we also had relationship with the triune God. The greatest thing about being a Christian, we believed, was having a personal relationship with Christ. Because of this, we could talk to God freely. We could love God and receive God’s love. We could be assured of God’s forgiveness. Jesus was our friend, our teacher, and our loyal companion. All of this was part of our personal relationship with God.
One day, I was talking with an older Christian I’ll call Dave, a man for whom I had the greatest respect. When I said something about having a personal relationship with God, Dave looked at me intensely and said, “You know, Mark, the Bible never talks about having a personal relationship with God. Nowhere in Scripture can you find that language.” I was taken aback. I tried to think of a counter-example, but couldn’t come up with one. I knew Dave was right. Nowhere in Scripture does it say in so many words that we can have a personal relationship with God or Christ. I was deeply troubled by what Dave had pointed out to me. I wondered: Can I actually have a personal relationship with God?
I think I know why Dave challenged me on this point. He was concerned that Christians all too often define their relationship with God according to their preferences and biases. We make up the notion of “having a personal relationship with God” and fill it with whatever we’d like, rather than understanding our relationship with God in light of biblical truth. For many Christians, having a personal relationship with Christ means having a buddy or best friend. We love hanging out with Jesus. But we neglect the fact that our “pal” is also King of kings and Lord of lords. Jesus becomes more like our pet and less like the sovereign of the universe. We emphasize his love and grace; yet minimize his holiness and justice. We acknowledge his power, especially when it helps us get what we need, like good grades or a parking space.
If Dave were to say to me today what he once said, I would agree with him. But I would add that the Bible gives us every reason to believe we can in fact have a “personal relationship with God,” even though it doesn’t use those exact words. However, the Bible is also clear that our relationship with God is not something we make up according to our own preferences. Rather, it is God who established the terms of our covenant relationship with him. It is God who determines the nature of our relationship. It is God who chooses to be our God and make us his people (Revelation 21:7). It is God who makes himself known as our Heavenly Father and adopts us to be his children. The more we let Scripture teach us about God, the more our personal relationship with God will reflect the truth of who God is, who we are, and how he has chosen to be in relationship with us.
Can you have a personal relationship with God? Yes, indeed, on God’s terms, because of God’s grace, and for God’s eternal purposes.
Something to Think About:
When you think of having a personal relationship with God, what comes to mind?
How do you experience God in a personal way? What helps you to know God deeply and truly?
Gracious God, how thankful we are that you have chosen to have relationship with us. Thank you for reaching out to us in grace, for drawing us into loving relationship with yourself through Christ.
Help us, Lord, not to trivialize our relationship with you. May we know you and relate to you in ways consistent with the terms you have established. May we let your Word teach us who you are and how we can be in relationship with you.
All praise be to you, O God, for your amazing grace and matchless love. Amen.