August 31, 2018 • Life for Leaders
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.
This post was originally published on April 22, 2016.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentary:
Relationships (Genesis 1:27; 2:18, 21-25)
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.
There are many things about the Bible that aren’t clear. As I was telling my sister last night, it’s pitiful that thousands of years after the Bible was written intelligent scholars still can’t agree on so many of the fine points. I just hope they have the way to salvation correctly defined because I have believed in my heart that God has raised Jesus from the dead, and that the blood of Christ was shed for me, and that baptism doesn’t save anyone but is a testimony to their dedication to walk with Christ. About the personal relationship with God though, doesn’t the Bible say somewhere that I will be their God and they will be my people? And somewhere else it says now we are the sons of God. I find the bible to be very confusing even for me who grew up with it. I rely on devotionals like yours to keep me reading the Word. If it were up to me, I would get so lost in the minutiae I would give up and read Psalms and Philippians.
Thanks, Jane, for your comment. I think a lot of people feel as you do. Blessings to you!