Christians today are living on substitutes, and by default are missing the joy and power of knowing God Himself.
The essence of Christianity is personal fellowship with Jesus Christ. It’s just that simple. Yet today Christians so easily neglect this. They can become so active in things, so enamored of procedures, so enslaved to methodology, that they forget their Source and allow substitutes to crowd out communion with the living God Himself.
When this happens, they soon become critical of Christian institutions, critical of their methods, critical of Christians themselves, expecting from them what they cannot give.
In theological circles some are saying that God is dead. The reason many people think God is dead is because they have never known Him. They have never experienced the touch of His Spirit upon their spirit.
But I think that something like this can happen among Christians, too, when they get away from God Himself. For when we lose vital fellowship with the living Christ, it isn’t too long before, in the reality of our own experience, “God is dead.” He may stay alive in our theology and philosophy long after He has died in our experience.
Our priority, then, must be to know Jesus Christ Himself. We find the basis of this 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.” Eternal life is knowing God as revealed in Jesus Christ.
The word here for “know” is greatly expanded upon by Paul in all of his epistles and becomes a word that means “knowledge gained by experience.” Paul says, “I know whom I have believed,” – 2 Tim. 1:12. If we take the literal meaning, he is really saying, “I have come over a long period of time to know Him whom I have believed, and I have come to a complete persuasion concerning Him that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him.”
This is no sudden thing, no single experience. This is an accumulative knowledge that comes out of one’s own encounter and fellowship with Jesus Christ over a period of time.
How well do you know Him? Are you growing in the knowledge of Christ? Do you know Him better today than you did a year ago? The knowledge of Christ is inexhaustible. In Him are hid all the riches of wisdom and knowledge – Col. 2:3. But He chooses to reveal Himself to those who believe Him and who are taking time to bask in the light of His holy presence. He wants to be known, but the climate for this is quietness and reverence. God does not reveal Himself to those who are antagonistic and rebellious, not to those who spend no time with Him.
The late A.W.Tozer wrote a well-known book called The Pursuit of God. Its title implies that knowing God is not simply a one-time encounter. God is so great, God is so wondrous, that He always has us pursuing Him. We are always followers (that is the root meaning of the word “disciple”). We are not in the lead; we have a Leader. We do not initiate; He initiates. We are not the cause; He is the Cause. He acts; we are to react. He moves first; we are to respond.
John 17 underscores our Lord’s initiative in His relationship to man: “I have manifested Thy name unto the men Thou gavest Me…” (Jn. 17:6). “I have given unto them the words which Thou gavest Me…” (Jn. 17:8). “I pray for them…” (Jn. 17:9). “…I kept them in Thy name…” (Jn. 17:12).
The Holy Son, in communion with the Holy Father, is concerned about these men – that they know Him, and in knowing Him know the Father. The whole issue is centered in the personal knowledge of Jesus Christ Himself. He is the meeting place between God and man. God comes to men through the Man Christ Jesus. Men come to God through the Man Christ Jesus. That makes of Him the Mediator, the only mediator. There is none other. Therefore, all of our doctrines must root themselves in Him. All roads of revelation of truth must eventually flow into Him. And the realization of the Bible’s message in heart and mind and life stems from consistent fellowship with Him.
We find this developed in Ephesians. “We have been chosen in Him before the foundation of the world” – Eph. 1:14. In this epistle we are also told we are crucified together with Him, buried with Him, quickened with Him, raised with Him, seated with Him. We are fellow laborers with Him, fellow sufferers with Him, heirs together with Him, and we shall be glorified with Him.
If the language here teaches us anything, it grips us with the truth that everything God talks about is ours by virtue of a relationship with Him.
In fact, this is the very essence of worship itself. Worship is not something we can produce by a quiet atmosphere or stained glass windows or the burning of candles. Quietness can aid worship, but in that quietness men can also resolve their tax problems, ponder their marital problems or rest all the machinery and do nothing. Real worship occurs when the whole intelligent personality is caught up in the vision of Jesus Christ Himself, using all of its powers to contemplate God.
And just about the time we think we’ve arrived on a plateau of Christian maturity, God is suddenly out there in front of us saying, “Now we’ve got the next lesson.” He keeps us coming. The Holy Spirit ever lures us on. There is more in Christ than we have yet seen, more in fellowship with Him than we have yet experienced, or have yet understood about His plans and His purposes.
All of this underscores the importance of Bible study. Oh, yes, perhaps we’ve organized our biblical knowledge, systematized it, put titles on it. But are we receiving something from Jesus Christ Himself?
The knowledge of God is a matter of His constantly giving and our constantly receiving. Our Lord says, “I have given” and then He adds, “They have kept…”“They have received…”“they have known…”“they have believed”.
What if He gives and we do not respond? Then there is no fellowship. What if He commands and we do not obey? There is no learning experience. What if He disciplines and we rebel? Then we have aborted the fellowship.
Bible study involves much more than being able to outline a passage or pass an examination or take a correspondence course. What is it that puts vitality into the study? It is Jesus Christ Himself. When I open the Bible and take a moment to pause and renew my conscious fellowship with the living Lord Himself, and then start to read as though He were speaking to me – which He is – the Book suddenly comes alive. I may find myself rebuked and corrected by Him, but always in a climate of love, acceptance, and understanding. Bible study comes alive because it becomes a fellowship rather than a rugged duty of compiling information. The latter is not totally without value, of course, but some place along the road it has got to come alive.
Now the Christian who seeks to ground all his activities in a vital fellowship with God Himself must face the counteracting pull of what John 17 describes as “the world”. Over 15 times in this chapter, our Lord makes reference to His disciples’ relation to the world.
The word “world” in the biblical sense describes a system of thought and action which is independent from what God has said. Worldliness is not essentially adultery, or murder, or the way we dress or comb our hair. It is attempting to do anything without a conscious dependence upon God. If Satan can succeed in getting us to think apart from the Bible, or to act independently of the Holy Spirit, or to get us so wrapped up in activities that we have no time for Jesus Christ Himself, he can kill our Christian life at its Source.
Activism can drain all our powers. I think that the greatest disillusionments in the Christian experience can come from relying upon substitutes. When we meet new Christian people, for instance, there’s a stimulus, and we are inclined to focus our confidence upon them. When we attend a Bible conference or an inspiring meeting, we are tempted to think that here is the source of our fellowship. Or we may look to the church or to Christian institutions as a source of our strength. Or we may rely upon good Christian books. All of these are wonderful. But as good as they are, we will miss the real Source if we neglect Jesus Christ Himself.
There’s only One who can love us like we need to be loved, understand us as we need to be understood, help us as we need to be helped – and He is Jesus Christ.
Only as we resource ourselves in Jesus Christ Himself do we really have something to share with others. And only when we cultivate the art of fellowship with the living Lord can we turn to our Christian colleagues and to the non-Christian world with something to say. Only then can we move out to minister with love and authority and power.
Malcolm Cronk, Moody Monthly