Relationship with God

Relationship with God

Jesus taught his disciples, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” It is only when Jesus works in a person’s life through the Holy Spirit, that this person is able to bear spiritual fruit. Once this truth becomes clear to us, our heart will be driven to Jesus, the Lord – to the one who can turn a life from ruin to glory. On the day of our conversion the Holy Spirit lays a desire for Jesus in our hearts. The desire to know him better, to be closer to him and to live with him. And the more we know Jesus, the more we will realize that apart from him, we can do nothing. In this study we want to learn more about cultivating a closer relationship with him.
Part I:
Establishing a relationship with God
The Foundation
The gospel proclaims the coming of Jesus as God’s final act of salvation. Jesus carried the sin of the world. He died for all. He has been appointed as Lord over all. In Jesus, God “was reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor 5:19). In Jesus, God has prepared salvation for everyone because he “wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4). So we, like many others, are invited to catch hold of this final act of salvation in faith. “Be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:20). “To be reconciled” means to stop being enemies and become friends. Whoever accepts that invitation is born again, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor 5:17).
The Bible promises that the one who has been redeemed by Christ becomes a child of God. This shows how close Jesus has brought us to our Creator. “Because you are children, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father’” (Gal 4:6). Salvation, which comes through Jesus, brings us as children into the closest possible relationship with God. We used to be his enemies but now we have become his own children through faith. The only reason for this relationship is that Jesus saved us; no man could have made this relationship possible. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jo 14:6). God becomes our Father because of what Jesus has done. "For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens ... (Eph 2:18-19).
Living as a child of God (see also BBT 6)
Faith in Christ results in forgiveness of all our sins and deliverance from guilt and fear. We do not have to be afraid of God’s punishment anymore. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death” (Ro 8:1-2). Forgiven people are justified people. Justification means that God does not find fault with us anymore because he looks at us through his Son, Jesus Christ. In Christ Jesus we are justified once and for all. This goes hand in hand with our assurance of salvation. The Holy Spirit reveals to us that we have been accepted by God in his beloved Son, Jesus Christ.
Justified people are eager to please the Lord and lead lives that honour their Heavenly Father. The process of learning to walk day by day in the light of the Lord is called sanctification. Sanctification is an ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in our lives (1 Thess 5:23-24).
As Christians we realize very quickly that there is a battle going on in our hearts and minds. It is the battle between what the Holy Spirit would desire us to do and what our human nature (our flesh-KJV) would want us to do. They are in conflict with each other (Gal 5:17). Day by day the question is, “Who is in control of my life, the Holy Spirit or my own ego and my own natural way of life?” We cannot thank God enough for his help in trials and temptations. Paul shows us the way to a victorious Christian life, “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (Gal 5:16). Only by letting the Holy Spirit control our lives are we able to overcome all temptations, to mature and bear much spiritual fruit.
God has provided two special ways of keeping in touch with him:
–    Through his word God talks to us, gives us guidance and reveals his will to us.
–    In prayer we can talk to him, share our sorrows with him and worship him. Every Christian is called to communicate with God. And Jesus is at work in those who have fellowship with him in this way, so that their life will bear spiritual fruit.
Duty or Love?
It has to be stated very clearly: All we need to do for our salvation is to accept in faith what Jesus has done for us. The free gift of salvation cannot be earned in any way. We should be careful not to turn God’s gifts – his word and praying – into a law for ourselves or for others by establishing Bible-reading and prayer as a burdensome “must” for us Christians. Why do we pray and read the Bible? Are we afraid that God will frown on us or that he might even punish us if we don’t show enough devotion? Do we think that God’s blessing depends on how eagerly and how long we pray and study his word? No! God’s grace and blessing towards us are based on Christ alone, and not on what we do. Nevertheless, we are called to read the Bible (Mt 4:4) and pray at all times (Lk 18:1) because this is food for our soul. As we experience the love of Jesus, our wonderful Saviour, in our lives, we will be keen on seeking fellowship with him too. We do this not primarily because it is our duty but because we respond to his love.
Part II:
Cultivating our relationship with God
THE BIBLE – GOD'S WORD (see also BBT 4)
The Authority of the Bible
The Bible is the source of our knowledge about God who documented the way of salvation for us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. God continues to reveal himself through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, opening up divine truth in the pages of the Bible for us today.
We have no other way to figure out the truth about God and ourselves except through the Bible, which is a trustworthy source. The Bible says about itself, “All Scripture is God-breathed” (2?Tim 3:16, see also 2?Pt 1:21). Whoever listens to these words with a faithful heart will hear the message of grace and salvation. It provides the most important nutrition for our spiritual life.
The benefit of Scripture
Not only new converts need to hear and study the gospel. All Christians experience that the Holy Spirit and the natural desires of their human nature are at war with each other as long as they live on this earth (Gal 5:17-18). For this reason they will regularly need to be nurtured by the truth of the Bible to survive and grow spiritually.
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2?Tim 3:16-17). Studying God’s word and walking daily on the path of sanctification goes hand in hand. His word throws light into dark areas of our hearts and minds, showing us the right way to lead a holy and godly life. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Ro 12:2). Our mind must be renewed constantly in the battle against evil; and this happens when we face the truth in God’s own word and put it into practice.
Scripture also enables Christians to test and know God’s will. The Bible helps us to distinguish between the truth and a lie. There are many heresies and many false prophets on the religious scene today. Only the knowledge of God’s word will prevent the church from listening to and being misled by wrong gospels.
In the Bible text quoted earlier (2 Tim 3:16-17, Ro 12:2) the apostle Paul is addressing every Christian. This means, anyone can benefit from Scripture, not only those who are trained in theology. Unfortunately many Christians don’t read the Bible at home or pray for themselves. They think that it is sufficient if their pastor offers powerful prayers and reads and interprets the word of God for them. However, pastors can only show us the way to spiritual growth. We must then take and eat spiritual food and drink from the living water ourselves in order to grow.
Suggestions for a successful Bible Study
Martin Luther (1483 – 1546) was one of the greatest Bible teachers of all times. His work has been a blessing for many people. He was a man of prayer and his love for the Bible was very big.Luther recommends the three principles for studying God's word as stated by King David in Psalm 119:
Oratio – Prayer. There is no book except the Bible, which teaches us about eternal life. The Bible exceeds all human wisdom. Therefore we will never be in a position to understand God’s word by our own intelligence. Let us kneel down and ask the Lord humbly and earnestly to reveal his word to us through the Holy Spirit and to give us wisdom and understanding. In Psalm 119 David prayed, “Lord, teach me, instruct me, guide me, show me?…, open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law” (Ps 119:18). Although David was familiar with the law, he wanted to consult the Lord, the best teacher, when reading God’s word.
Meditatio – Devotion. Luther said, “You should meditate, that is, not only in your heart, but also externally, by actually repeating and comparing oral speech and literal words of the book, reading and rereading them with diligent attention and reflection, so that you may see what the Holy Spirit means by them.” King David underlined this principle again and again in Psalm 119. He talked, meditated, spoke, sang, heard and read nothing but God’s word and commandments, day and night and always.
Tentatio – Temptation provides a measuring stick, by which we can measure our understanding and knowledge of God’s word while we go about our daily business. It also enables us to experience how right, how true, how lovely, how mighty, how comforting God’s word is, wisdom beyond all wisdom. That is why David was so irritated in Psalm 119 by all those enemies, arrogant princes or tyrants, false spirits and factions, whom he had to tolerate while meditating and occupying himself with God’s word. It is Satan’s desire to annoy and distract us when God’s word takes root and grows in us. But through these temptations we experience the power of the Word, and learn to seek and love God’s word in every situation.
PRAYER – ESSENTIAL FOR HEALTHY CHRISTIAN LIFE
No limit, no restrictions
Jesus often retreated to be alone with his Heavenly Father. We are also encouraged to pray always, calling upon him as our Father. We should thank God for his act of salvation and worship him for his eternal love for us. The invitation to prayer is not restricted to certain people, certain topics or to a specific time. We can ask God for anything at all times. And likewise, God’s answers have no limit. See also Mt 7:7 and Mk 11:24.
How to pray (Mt 6:9-13)
The Lord’s Prayer is the beautiful example of what our prayers should be like. It is much more than just a prayer to be repeated – it gives instructions about how to pray. It starts with “Our Father” expressing the wonderful and unique relationship we as children have with God. It goes on with “who is in heaven”. Do we acknowledge the sovereignty and magnitude of God when we come to him in prayer? He is above all, infinitely. Notice the desire, which is stated subsequently, that God’s name may be glorified, that his kingdom may come and that his will may be done. As we concentrate on God in prayer, he becomes everything and we become insignificant with our own worries and petitions. Prayer means being absorbed by God’s love and responding to him in true worship with the desire to do his will. Only after this expression of devotion does the person in prayer ask for daily bread, something he needs in his earthly life. Yet, even now he says “give us”, not “give me”. This helps us to remember not to abuse prayer for the selfish dreams of our own hearts. In the following requests the Lord taught us to pray with great humility for the forgiveness of our sins, for protection from temptations and deliverance from evil, which precede the completion of the kingdom of God. That reminds us to fully depend on the power of Jesus, apart from whom we can do nothing.
God answers our prayers
As we make the glorification of God’s name and the desire for the coming of his kingdom a priority, we acknowledge that God’s will and his desire is more important than our own. Every prayer that is brought up before God in this manner will be answered. But nobody can influence the way God answers our prayers. Sometimes he answers quickly according to our pleas but at other times his answers are not what we expected and are hard to understand. In any case he always gives us more, not less than we expected. If we pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt 6:10) then we express our willingness to accept God’s answers, whether we understand them or not. The bottom line of answered prayer is always the fulfilment of God’s will, which has been revealed once for all on the cross, “God wants all men to be saved” (1?Tim 2:4).
There is the possibility that our prayer may not be answered:
–    When our prayer is not earnest, just babbling.
–    When we want God’s answers to serve our own selfish purposes.
–    If we lack the willingness to forgive our brothers and sisters according to the Lord’s Prayer.
–    If we are unconcerned about the affliction of others (Mic 6,6-8; Mt 22,40; Jas 2,1-9).
But are there not also prayers, which do not get answered although they are spoken with devotedness to God? E.g., the apostle Paul was suffering from “a thorn in his flesh” (2?Cor 12:7). Even more dramatic is the plea of Jesus in Gethsemane, “Take this cup from me” (Lk 22:42). At first sight it looks like these prayers were not answered. But look at the outcome. God gave Paul and Jesus more than they were asking for: In Paul’s case the power of Christ was revealed in his suffering: “But he (God) said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (2?Cor 12:7). And in Jesus’ case God completed his plan of salvation through the death of Christ on the cross and appointed him as the Lord. Ever since, people who put their faith in Christ have benefited from so-called unanswered prayers, prayers, which have been answered in a better way than expected.
Sometimes we feel weak and upset and we don’t really know how to put our feelings, anxieties and worries into words. In such times of crisis the Lord has promised not to forsake us nor to let us down. “He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will” (see Rom 8:26-27).
Standing on such promises there is no reason whatsoever to despair. God, his Son, Jesus Christ, and his Holy Spirit are on our side to lead us lovingly and patiently through this present life to a bright future in his heavenly kingdom.Michael Büschlen