“Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”(John 17:3 NIV)
If there is one sound truth which should ring in every ear, etch into every conscience, brand onto every heart, it would be the truth about the need for intimacy with Jesus.
The Church in America is in urgent need of coming back to this simple truth which seems to be muffled in light of “greater gospel truths”. However, having an intimate, personal relationship with Jesus is not only the foundation to our faith, it is the very life breath of our faith. Without intimacy with Jesus, we are dead religionists who go through the forms of godliness with no real power in our lives. The Apostle Paul warned that in the last days the church would “have a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof:”. 2 Tim. 3:5
John Wesley once said that “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” I agree but would add that the vehicle which drives most of the souls to Hell is “good religion”. I would dare to say that a good majority of the damned will be faithful church members who knew all about Jesus but never knew Jesus.
I believe the greatest evil spirit to damn the souls of men is the “religious spirit”. Hell’s most powerful strategy against the Church is to woo her away from a love relationship with God into this dead formalism. It is to strip her of her “first love” and substitute it with merely outward forms of obedience.
Deception has a friend named “slow transition”. The Church (as a whole) has been seduced little by little and dead religion fills our sanctuaries. Love has been replaced with legalism, good works with dead works, joy for entertainment, peace for compromise, holiness for hollowness, truth for lies and a relationship with a Resurrected Messiah for graveside “religion”.
I know of a parrot that can speak fluent English. Yet no matter how well he articulates the human vocabulary, one certain fact remains… he is still just a bird! Likewise, there are so many people who can speak the Christian lingo- “Praise God”, “Hallelujah”- who talk about God and His Word but do not have a personal walk with Him. Yet the truth is, no matter how educated in Christian principles or how many scriptures they can quote, the sad fact remains… They are only hypocrites, needing a relationship with God.
As one writer once said, “the church is filled with empty people.” Today, we have a dead Christianity without a living Christ, a profession of faith without possession of fellowship, a religion of words without a relationship of wonder. To many churchgoers the phrase- “knowing Jesus” is understood merely as a term to describe a time when they made a public consent to the Christian religion. Let me ask you a few probing questions, dear reader; Is Jesus a beautiful friend to you or just a system of beliefs? Is the Father a shadowy figure in your head or a very real person in your life? Are you caught up in theories and theology or are you caught up in a love affair with God? Is the Holy Spirit just a goosebump, chill, tongue or doctrine or is He a wonderful comforter, convictor and friend in your life?
Jesus made a very sobering statement which should be pondered very carefully; “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of Heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” Matthew 7:21-23 Notice a few thought provoking points to this passage;
1) Not just a few but many will be deceived into believing that profession of Christ was enough. “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord” -“Why call me your Lord and do not the things that I say?” Luke 6:46
2) The “many” is not only referring to churchgoers who just warm a pew but also preachers and teachers who have exercised “spiritual gifts” in the Church. “…have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?”
3) Jesus condemns them to Hell because they did not have a relationship with Him. “I never knew you” (which can be translated, “I never had a personal acquaintance with you.) Again I ask you, dear reader, do you have a personal relationship with Jesus or do you just go to church?
A personal relationship with Jesus is the heartbeat of our faith and life. We are most assuredly deceived in thinking that our “Christian experience” is real if we settle for anything less. No matter how faithful a person is to attend church or to conform to outward “holiness” and “truth”, if he does not know the Lord as a daily companion and friend then he is either a false convert or backslidden. It is impossible to love the Lord without knowing Him.
Now I have assumed that you, dear reader, are probably a good Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal or (whatever you happen to be) but do you know God? Do you spend time alone with the living Saviour? Do you hear His voice? Do you find yourself yearning to be in His presence? Do you find joy in reading the Word of God- the love letter from Heaven to you?
I am not asking whether you can quote scripture or sing in the choir. I am not asking whether you go to church faithfully, tithe or pass out tracts. I am not even asking you if you have been to the altar or baptized! But I am asking, do you really know Jesus intimately?
There is a saying which says, “Many people will miss Heaven by eighteen inches” (the distance between your head to your heart). Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for their “Bible school training” without having a personal relationship with God. “Ye search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.” John 5:39,40 As professing Christians let us not be deceived, “Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” 2Tim. 3:7
If we have religion without a true relationship with Christ then what we call;
1) Our “righteousness” is self-righteousness.
Our “good deeds” are done for reputation and not for His glory. Such “righteousness” breeds pride and self-achievement. We become confident in our knowledge and abilities. We become like the pharisees, blind to the truth and superficial in our devotion to God. When confronted with true religion we think it is of the devil and truly we are close to a dangerous blasphemy of the Spirit.
Oh, we must never think that doing outward religious deeds can take the place of a relationship with God! “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” Ho.6:6
Righteousness just means “being right with God” and if we are not intimately cultivating a relationship with Jesus then we are not truly righteous.
2) Our holiness is hollowness.
We may appear “holy” but inwardly we are void of true sanctification. I know many men and women who pride themselves as being “holiness people” when in fact they are only hollow legalists “having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof” 2Tim.3:5 They attribute “holiness” as merely a dress code or man made standard. But in truth, holiness is a heart condition. Holiness is having Christlike attitudes, desires, thoughts and actions. Holiness is being like God who is holy. Therefore we must get to know the Lord in order to know how to be like Him. As we grow in our relationship with God, we grow in a deeper holiness.
3) Our faith is fake.
We profess to believe God can move on our behalf but in truth we doubt Him. We doubt him because we do not seek to know Him. If we knew the Lord intimately, we would trust Him and never doubt Him or His Word.
4) Our prayers are just lip exercises.
We might as well be praying to Mickey Mouse as to pray with no heart or soul. If we have no heart to know the Lord why should we expect God to reveal Himself to us. “He is a rewarder to those who diligently seek Him.” Hebrews 11:6 To those who are perverse, He shows Himself perverse. If we treat God as a dead wooden idol why should He show Himself to us to be anything more than that? What if you were to communicate with your wife or husband by learned phrases and not in true sincerity? How long do you think your marriage would last?
Prayer is a powerful opportunity to link yourself with the Creator Of The Universe- who holds the answers to your questions, the wisdom to your ignorance, the power to your weakness, the supply to your need and the miracles to your impossibilities! There is no excuse that we should pray like dead men to a dead God!
5) Our Bible study is nothing but book reading.
Since we do not fellowship with the living Spirit, the Word remains a “dusty” book and a “dead letter”. Without a true relationship with Jesus, reading the Bible is just an education in Hebrew history but it won’t be the powerful influence it is designed to be.
6) Our praise is just noise, no matter how it sounds.
God is deaf to even the greatest voice if it is not accompanied by a sincere devotion. There are many talented singers in the church but very few anointed ones. Singing is meant to be prayer in music form. It’s true purpose is to be melody expressions from a spiritual heart. But if we sing without a true relationship with Jesus then we are only hypocrites. Our songs may grace earthly ears but do they grace the ears of the Divine Friend?
7) Our Christian witness is unauthentic and discredited.
How can we witness to others about a God we do not seek to know? When you share the Lord with someone, is it out of duty or devotion, from education or revelation, with phrases and cliches or in “demonstration of power and in the Spirit?” The unsaved surely can discern whether you are religious or whether you truly possess the “real thing”. They can sense whether you are truly concerned and burdened for their souls or whether you are on some “witnessing program”.
I am convinced that a personal relationship with Jesus is the “missing link” to revival in the Church today. Many of the churches today have are only religious institutions that lack the power and presence of God because the people “draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men” Isaiah 29:13
I believe that many ministers don’t emphasize an intimate walk with Jesus because they don’t have one themselves. Through Jeremiah, the Lord spoke against these kind of church leaders. “I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in my counsel and had caused my people to hear my words, then they should have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings”. Jeremiah 23:21-22
Notice a couple points in this verse:
1) These prophets did not know the Lord and were not seeking His counsel-“if they had stood in my counsel”. The sad fact of the matter is that many pastors and preachers are not men of prayer or men of the Word. They are professional talkers on religion. They “speak a vision from their own hearts”. Jer. 23 They do not have a true intimate walk with God nor do they press their congregations to seek a real relationship with Jesus. Tell me, when was the last time you heard a sincere and passionate sermon spurring you to seek a personal relationship with the Living Christ?
2) You can discern a true prophet or preacher by his message of holiness. Jer. 23:9 1Thes. 4:7 Psm 93:5, Isa. 35:8 1Peter 1:15 He will be one who ministers the truth without candy coating it or watering it down. He will be one who urges his people to seek the Lord for themselves.
The whole “Christian experience”, from initial salvation to our eternal bliss could be summed up as a love relationship with Jesus. Tell me Christian, why did you repent? Why did you make a total commitment to follow Jesus? Why are you told to “Have faith in God”? Why are you commanded to pray and study the Word of God? Why do you have a hope of Heaven? Is not the purpose of these things to draw you into a love relationship with the Lord Jesus? “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;” Phil.3:10
“That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God;” Col. 1:10
True Christianity was never intended to be “another religion”. It was not God’s purpose to send His Son to establish dead ritualism. No, the whole reason of Jesus’s life and death on the Cross was to take away our sins, reconciling us to God and making a way for us to have a relationship with Him.
The ultimate purpose in His sacrificial act was so that man could once again have fellowship with God. 1Cor.1:9 “God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.”
The greatest and most wonderful truth is that anybody can have an intimate relationship with God! Yes, the young and the old, the rich and the poor, the highly intelligent and the simple folks can know God personally! It matters not to God about your rank or status quo. “Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord.” Jer. 9:23-24
A true relationship with God can only be obtained when our hearts are pure before the Lord. We can not see the Lord to know him with a heart and life full of sin. “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” Matt. 5:8 “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” Heb. 12:14
God will not even hear our prayers if we regard sin in our lives. “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” Ps.66:18
“But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that He will not hear.” Is.59:2
My friend, this is not some fairy tale or myth. God is not a mystical being who wishes to hide himself from man’s awareness. He wishes more than we could ever imagine to have a relationship with us. Yes! God wants to fellowship with you! “That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us.” Acts.17:27 “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye doubleminded.” James 4:8
Let me tell you how simple it is to pursue a relationship with Jesus. First, let me ask; How do you pursue a relationship with people? Answer: You spend time with them. You talk with them. You listen to them. You desire to be with them. My friend, it is the same way with God. You must seek Him in prayer and in the reading of His Word. You must set aside time daily to get alone with God for fellowship. You must be sincere in your devotion to God.
As you begin to encounter the presence of Jesus, amazing transformations will occur in your character and personality. Just as a husband and wife begin to take on each other’s traits through constant influence so you will begin to take on the traits of Christ.
1) His Presence will replace your pretense.
Where an odor of hypocrisy was once so strong, now only a fragrance of His sweet reality will saturate your life. “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumph- as trophies of Christ’s victory and through us spreads and makes evident the fragrance of the knowledge of God everywhere.” 2Cor. 2:14 (Amplified Version)
2) His Peace will replace your anxiety and discontent.
You will no longer be weighed down with the “cares of this life” but instead you will be at rest in your soul. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Phillipians 4:6
3) His victory will replace your failure and defeat.
Sin will lose it’s attraction and it’s grip upon your soul. You will no longer be enslaved to the “beggarly elements” of sin but you will find that you have strength to resist sin. “But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?” Galatians 4:9 “But now being made free from sin and become servants of God, ye have your fruit unto holiness and the end everlasting life.” Romans 6:22
The strength to resist sin is only in proportion to how close we are to the Lord. The secret to our strength lies in our intimate relationship with the Strengthgiver, Jesus Christ.
4) His discernment will replace your deception.
You can not be deceived by a “false Christ” if you know the true Christ. If you are so familiar with the genuine you will in no way fall for the counterfeits! Jesus protects His elects! Be sincerely committed in your devotion to God and you will discern truth from error. “We are of God: He that knoweth God heareth us; He that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” 1John 4:6
5) His divine love will replace your self-centeredness.
As you “become partakers of His divine nature”, you will begin to die to “I” and live to give. The supreme motive of your life will be for Christ’s glory and for the souls of others.
There are so many other benefits which you will experience when you pursue a relationship with God. Seek Him and find out what they are. He is waiting and willing to reveal himself to you. Check out this awesome promise from Jesus- “He that hath My commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me; And he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him and will manifest myself to him.” John 14:21 So seek him and you will find him, guaranteed!
Now in closing, let me say this-
Friend, even this knowledge is only “religious theory” in your head until it is put to the test and found to be true. Knowledge is not a sign of spirituality. Anybody can read a book, tract or newsletter and ascertain to the truth of it and even quote from it, thinking they have been made a better Christian because of the knowledge they have obtained. But until Jesus reveals himself to you, you are only knowledge without a “knowing”, a revelation without a “revealing” and a religionist without a relationship.
Just as I could try to describe to you the taste of cherries, giving you much knowledge on the details of it’s flavor, until you actually taste it for yourself you are no more a cherry lover than before. Don’t deceive yourself. “Be a doer of the Word”. Seek the Lord to know Him. If you realize that you have been a dead religionist, repent and seek the Lord for true devotion. He will forgive you and do a awesome work in you. Then you will be able to confess to God like Job, saying, “Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things to wonderful for me, which I did not know…I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eyes sees thee.” Job 42:3,5
Perhaps you are certain of your relationship with God and know that “life eternal” abides in you, but you realize you have been “neglecting this great salvation.” Press on to know the Lord, dear Christian, with even greater energy and anticipation. God will draw near to you. “Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord: his going forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth.” Hos.6:3
By Heath Christopher Goodman