I used to think that being a believer meant regular church attendance, remembering and reciting Bible verses, and obedience to the Law. I tried my best to do all of those things, and indeed I felt “religious”, I felt like I was part of “the club”, but inside I was still just as empty, just as hurting and just as dead as I was before… only now there was a layer of religiosity covering the vacuum on the inside of me like a bandage.
Since then, there has been a Christian slogan going around that has become rather popular: Christianity is not a religion, it is a relationship. You may have heard that slogan before – it is catchy, and it is absolutely true; no question about it. But do we really understand it? I know that I didn’t when I first heard it. Sure, I acknowledged that Christianity was a relationship; it was a clever thing to say, but deep down nothing really changed – I was still completely dominated by traditions, still bound by rules and religion and letting those be a poor substitute for a genuine relationship with God… and I was still just as empty, just as hurt and just as dead as before.
In my time talking with people in the ministry, I have come to recognize this same mentality in others… people who exchange a genuine relationship with Jesus, for mere service. Thinking that all of the time which they spend serving in church, or learning Bible facts and trivia are equal to the personal relationship… and they are just as empty as I was all of those years ago.
1st John 4:19 says, that we love, because He first loved us. No one has ever loved, without first receiving the love of God for them first. However once you receive the love of God and you live in that place of love and are baptized in His Spirit of love and are filled to overflowing with His love, then His love will pour out of you effortlessly and your life will be a shining example of Him, because God is love (1st John 4:8).
Sadly there are many people who have never known the love of God. There are countless people serving in church buildings all across the world, and many behind pulpits preaching who have yet to encounter the love of God for them personally. And they are living empty lives and preaching dry messages that are very religious and very man-oriented and very sin-conscious, but devoid of all power and missing the Spirit of God.
The reason why we are studying the personal relationship and the love of God today is because I don’t want you to fall into this very deep trap. I have seen countless people spend their entire lives in this pit of emptiness, wandering in the wilderness for 70 and 80 years, being deceived, thinking that they have a relationship when all they have is religion. I don’t want you to fall into the trap of trying to serve Jesus, and work yourself all the way to condemnation and death, wondering whether you are serving enough to be accepted when there already is One who served perfectly and always pleased the Father, and in Whom the Father is well pleased; and you are supposed to live through Jesus not live for Him.
That may shock you, that may surprise you, that may even put you off and offend you, but it is the absolute truth of the Gospel. There are a lot of people who are sin-conscious, performance-driven, works-minded, and they attend church services, conferences, read books, and profess to have a relationship with Christ, but God who sees every heart and mind knows that they are feeling condemned on the inside of them and they have not really been set free because they really have never received the truth that Jesus did not sacrifice Himself to make bad people good, He came to make dead people live! And He accomplished that by giving you His life, through His shed blood which removes your sin, and His broken, bruised, marred and beaten flesh to heal you of every sickness and every effect of the curse and you receive His life, and the fullness of what that means and you shine for Him as an ambassador on the earth to a dead population.
We need to get out of this mentality that God saved us simply because He was short-handed and that He needs extra workers. Take a look at John 15:15:
“From now on I call you not servants; for the servant knows not what his lord does: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known to you.”
Jesus Himself here does not call us servants, but friends. We’ve heard this verse many times before… but we have lost the meaning! You are not a servant! Do you understand the difference between a servant and a friend? A servant serves the Master and does all kind of laborious effort, and occasionally gets to eat after the king is through and occasionally has the King brush passed you every once in a while and you get to rub elbows with Him every now and then when fortune favors you… No! You are a friend! And even more-so we have been given the Spirit of Son-ship! (Romans 8:15) Christ is in you, and He is the confident assurance of your glory! (Colossians 1:27)
We don’t get it; we’ve missed the truth; we’ve been deceived, many of us, because we think that our Christian life revolves around our service rather than our relationship with Him. The Biblical reality is that we actually start at the finish line, on the cross where He said that it was finished, and the way is open and now we have unbroken fellowship with Him, and we enjoy Him and His presence and the benefits of intimate personal relationship with Him. And from that everything flows, effortlessly and naturally. That’s why all of the things that we generally think of as “our good works” are actually listed as “fruit of the Spirit” in the Bible – do you see it? We’ve turned this whole thing inside-out and backwards and made it all about us and our service, and our efforts and our knowledge, and we get all puffed-up and prideful and performance-minded, and “oh, I’m getting this reward, and this crown” and “you better watch out brother, you just lost a jewel from your crown with that sin!”
Come on! Go all the way back to Genesis 15:1, God says to Abram, I am your shield and exceedingly great reward! Your reward is Him! And if you don’t open your eyes, you will miss everything because you are too busy spending all of your time trying to serve, and learn this Bible fact or that Bible trivia, and do this and do that and run here and run there and you will one day open your eyes to look into the face of Jesus and you will realize that you believed all the wrong things and you missed the point of it all.
The only reason that you are alive is to be loved by Him, and the beautiful thing is that His love is so grand and so very vast, and He fills you to such a degree that you can’t help but to have it flow out of you when you receive it; because He gives it exceedingly, abundantly, far above all you could ever ask or imagine! (Ephesians 3:20)
We need to stop living way below our means and our value. The true value of a thing is whatever someone is willing to pay for it, and take a look at Matthew 13:45-46:
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like to a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls:
Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.”
We tend to think of this parable as saying that the Kingdom of God is the Pearl and we are the merchant man selling all that we have to gain the prize of Heaven. However that is not what Jesus is actually saying.
Notice that the Kingdom of Heaven is the merchant man, and that the merchant man buys the pearl that he finds. Only Jesus has the power to buy and redeem. He is the merchant, we are the pearl of great price. He is the hero, He is the redeemer and we are the redeemed.
This is your value to God, He sold everything to buy you, He gave His one and only begotten Son. That’s your value. So don’t you dare let the factors of life and feelings speak louder than the truth of God’s word! Don’t you dare let things and circumstances cause you to set up a barometer for the love of God and start thinking things like “how could God ever love me?, or thinking that you need to earn His acceptance through your current behavior of the moment.
The Bible says in Romans 8:38-39, that nothing not death or life, height, depth, angels, principalities, powers, things present, nor things to come, not height, not depth, nor any other creature (which includes you!) none of it can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We judge our value and our worthiness based on outward factors and the way that seems right to us as man (which leads to death according to Proverbs 14:12), but God looks on the inside (1st Samuel 16:7), He knows your heart, He knows your thoughts and He knows your real created value because your real created value is wrapped-up in Himself and His image and His likeness. So God is saying to you that He sees you as so valuable, and desirable and dear to Him, that He gave everything to restore you to Himself! To give you His life, and now you live through the eternal and perfect life of Jesus. Jesus Christ suffered and died for you, and believe me He loves you – He has to love you because He died for you! Him dying for you is the very evidence and demonstration of His perfect love according to Romans 5:8:
“But God commends his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
Today we question His love when things don’t go our way or when we don’t “feel His presence” strong enough. Feelings are great, and when we can feel God it is a fantastic experience; I love it every time I feel Him… but don’t get into a trap of using your feelings and experiences as a litmus test for the love and acceptance of God. If so then your feelings are your idol and you are letting them speak louder than the truth of God. The scripture is clear. The demonstration of God’s love for you is completely sealed in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and that is the place you are to live from – and believe me, it’s enough.
Jesus said in John 15:13, that the greatest love that can ever be had is when a Man gives His life for His friends. Did Jesus do that? Imagine if we would start believing what the Bible says, rather than the way we feel from moment to moment, and be subject to every whim that passes through our mind. We are not called to live by feelings, circumstances, thoughts or experiences, we are called to live by faith. Romans 12:2:
“And be not conformed to this world: but be you transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
We have been conformed to this world and the wisdom of this world and the way that seems right; and it has trained our mind in all of the wrong ways and backwards ideas – but through His truth that makes us free, our mind is renewed; you see this is not about performance or works, but it is about restoring our thinking back to the truth of what Jesus has done on the cross and who we are in Him. The perfect will of God according to Hebrews 10:6-10, was for Jesus to be the perfect sacrifice that would finally restore us to Himself. This He did, because He loves you.
Today we have turned this into all about works, and doing, and the effort and strength of man, and we’ve totally missed the point.
We want to do all of these things… He wants us to just spend time with Him.
We want to learn all of these “deep truths”… He wants us to just receive His love.
We want to be involved with all of these ministries… He wants us to be filled with His Spirit.
We want to be used in all of these ways… Just receive, enjoy and let yourself receive His love!
This is why Jesus came. This is your relationship. If we have everything else, but do not have His love; we have nothing! (1st Corinthians 13) It doesn’t say that we have a little thing here and there, it says without love we have nothing. Full stop.
So receive His love, this is why you were created; and it’s possible through Jesus Christ and His completed work for you.