Today I want to share with you one of my most passionate areas in Christianity, being intimate with God. I believe intimacy is the most important lesson for any Christian and I also believe it is the most neglected teaching in the Church today. It has saddened me during my years of Christian ministry to see how many people whom I consider to be good Christians, having such a lack of intimacy with God in their daily walk. I want to begin by sharing two stories:
During a meeting with my Pastor I shared how God was directing me and speaking to me about the next move in my ministry. As I observed my Pastor, I quickly noticed he was very uncomfortable with what I was speaking about. I asked him if there was anything wrong? He began to share in a very irritated tone how God does not speak to him in this way and he was not hearing the voice of God. This obviously shocked me and at the same time saddened me to think that here is a man who is in a position to be leading people to a personal relationship with Christ and he does not hear God’s voice for himself. I have since found that this is not an isolated case.
I was filling in as a group leader for a Holy Spirit Class at a Bible College. In this class, one of the questions in the study was; “How many hear the voice of the Holy Spirit directing their lives?” Once again to my amazement, and this time with a class of third year bible college students studying for ministry, over 75% confessed they did not hear the voice of God directing their lives!
Let’s Start From the Beginning
The first thing that needs to be cleared up is that Christianity is NOT A RELIGION! Believers and non-believers alike make this mistake by saying; Christianity is a major religion in the world. You may be thinking; “Dennis you are splitting hairs here! “You are just playing a word game!” I am not playing a word game nor am I splitting hairs. By the very definition of the word “religion” I can clear this up. I looked up the word on an online dictionary and here is what I found:
Religion: 1) a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
2) a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects.
Let me dissect one word (believe or belief) from this passage to show you want I mean:
Believe (v): to have confidence in the truth, the existence, or the reliability of something, although without absolute proof that one is right in doing so.
Here is where the problem lies and where many Christians get stuck. If we go with what the world’s thoughts are and what the world thinks, then God cannot be proven. God is somewhere in the cosmos and we can only have a belief in Him. The world tells you that there is no proof that God exists, so the best we can do is have a belief system and hope that He exists. However, the Bible makes two things clear regarding this, first for His existence and then second, we are to have a personal, one on one relationship with our Lord.
Romans 1:20 (NLT) For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.
The Bible makes it clear that we can see God first through His Creation. I know that for a fact. While I was an unbeliever I would always be amazed at how perfect this created world was. Everything in nature, except for natural disasters (created by sin curse), is perfect. The seasons and their timing and the oxygen we need to breathe is perfect. It always amazed me, and I knew without a doubt this world could not be this perfect and be created by some accidental big bang explosion.
My second point is found in John 17:3 And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.
Let’s look at this verse closely. And this is life eternal ; this is the setup for the definition of eternal life. For most people, when eternal life is mentioned, they reference eternal life to when a person dies and goes into the next world. Let us continue on in this verse; John gives us exactly what is meant by eternal life. Eternal life is knowing God and Jesus Christ. I want to point out this word know, is not the word for head knowledge or familiarity with. The word know as used by John means much more than this. It has as its meaning the same as when used in Genesis when it states;
Genesis 4:1 And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain.
Adam knew Eve and had a son. The Holy Spirit explains that eternal life is knowing God and Jesus Christ. Are you now getting the picture of how much God wants to be with you? He used a word that describes the most intimate feelings a human can have. This was no mistake by God. Throughout scriptures God describes His unconditional love for mankind and His desire to be with you. God did not become man and then die a horrific death on the cross by bearing your punishment just to start another world religion. He died because He loves you and He wants to have a personal relationship here and now with you and for all eternity.
Now do you see what I shared about Christianity not being a religion? Remember the definition; a set of beliefs concerning…… usually involving devotional and ritual observances……containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs. Real Christianity is an intimate relationship with God. So much so that Jesus calls us “His Bride” in several verses in scripture. We are called “the bride of Christ” and we are just that. This picture (of being His bride) is painted throughout the New Testament. But before I get into that further, I want to show you where we went astray in the Christian Church and then I want to paint a new picture for you next week in our next article.
Where the Problem Lies
I personally believe the problem starts from the very beginning when we lead a person to Christ. Instead of introducing Jesus as a Person, we begin by sharing what He has done for us and what He has to offer us. We share the fact that Jesus died on the cross for our sins and if we are on a roll we might even add He did it because He loves us. (John 3:16) Then we share how we benefit because we accepted Him: He will forgive all your sins and when you die you get to go to heaven and not burn in Hell. This sounded like a great deal to me, so I accepted the offer.
Preceding this however, I was given my work schedule! First find a church, then start going regularly according to that denomination’s tradition. For me, it was Bible study before Sunday Service (and remember it was twice on Sunday, morning and night), then there was the Wednesday night Prayer meeting. After this I was told to get my first Bible (King James only, this is the only one Jesus and the Apostles used. LOL) I was then told to read the Gospel of John followed by the other Gospels and the book of Acts. Several months later, after they saw I had a true conversion, I was told to make an appointment for baptism. Now I was to read my Bible and learn the doctrines of the church and get more involved – e.g. ushering, cleaning up etc. Now you can see the problem, these things they said were all good and great practices, but they never lead me to an intimate relationship with Jesus, instead they lead me to: a set of beliefs concerning…… usually involving devotional and ritual observances……containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs, in other words – RELIGION!
This is the exact opposite of what Jesus desires, along with most of us who truly seek God. But this is how it has been done for hundreds of years. When we are new to Christianity, we do not know the difference. As a new believer, I believed if I did these things they would lead me into this intimate personal relationship (a carrot dangling in front of a horse), but instead they just set me up to work harder and harder to find that intimate relationship I desired to have with God. However, just being religious will never bring you to this place. Only following scripture can do that.
Do We See This In Scripture?
Yes! When we read the New Testament we see something very odd. The very people who were supposed to be leading Israel in worship and dedication to God, are the very people who rejected Jesus. These men were trained in the scriptures and had a lot of head knowledge in the coming of the Messiah. In scripture they were called Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes, today we call them pastors, priests, and bishops depending on your denomination.
What happened? I believe that like the church of today, they fell into a 300 year old rut. For hundreds of years, God did not speak a word to man; so these learned men began practicing religion. They began to govern and rule over people. They began making new rules and adding to God’s Word what was never intended. Jesus called these rules; “traditions and doctrines of man”.
Mark 7:6-8 …….”This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men, —the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do.”
So not having a fresh heart towards God, they developed a certain practice of worship and set up rules and regulations for how to worship God. This, their very own devised system, drove them along with the very people who they were supposed to be ministering to away from God! If you read scripture closely, you will note that most of the common people feared or loathed the Old Testament ministers and therefore had little to do with God or His worship, except for what they were commanded to do by law! Reading the New Testament we notice that when Jesus did show up on the scene, these ministers were so rooted in their traditions and way of life that they rejected Jesus, who was God in the flesh. This deep religious rut they were in made them so callous towards God, that when Jesus healed or raised a man from the grave they did not take notice other than to fear that Jesus might replace them along with their prestigious religious positions.
Let me sum this up. When we replace intimacy with God, even with great things like going to church, reading your bible and living the Christian life according to your traditions, it still hardens our hearts just like the men of Jesus’ day. The question today is;
Does this condition in the New Testament, exist today in America?
The answer is YES! I see signs of it everywhere. Many times when you ask a person why they believe in God they give you a doctrinal answer from the Bible rather than sharing (witnessing) how God is real and how He made a great change in their life. Another example is when I asked those Bible college students if they were hearing God and most answered no. These are just two examples! Today there is definitely a problem with and within our church system!
Most unbelievers today want nothing to do with Church. So many I see and talk to either fear the judgement of Christians or simply do not like us. We can see the same attitude in Christians today as in the Pharisees of the Old Testament. For example, we can look at how Christians deal with the homosexual question in America. So many in the church are so condemning, as if this was the unpardonable sin.
I see so many today acting like another group in the New Testament, those that were called Zealots. They believed in keeping Israel pure and preserving the nation at all cost. In America we might call this group, “Conservative Right-wing Republicans.” Many today are more interested in preserving the Union and the Constitution than they are carrying out the Great Commission.
So what does this have to do with us? When we lose or never obtain that close intimacy with God the father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, we become like the religious men in the gospels and perhaps even worse. We do not reflect the love nor the image of God to a dark and lost world in which we the Church are called to reach. It is either intimacy with God or the road of religion. Next week I will share with you my journey to intimacy with God.
Written by Dennis Stauffer
Edited by Gary Green (Omega House)
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