Intimacy with the Godhead

by Bob Bradley

Texts: Psalm 1: 6; Psalm 135: 4; Psalm 146:8, Rev. 3:21; John 14: 20-23, Ephesians 3: 16-19

Can you remember how the gospel was presented to you before you gave your heart to the Lord? There are several strong themes that have been popular in the presentation of the gospel over the past fifty or sixty years. Let me attempt to give you the gist of a few of these themes:

  1. You are a hell-bound sinner, but God wants to have mercy on you, and take you to heaven. You must take Jesus as your personal savior in order to miss hell and make heaven.
  2. You must publicly confess Christ, so that at the judgment God will confess your name before the angels of God.
  3. God wants to give you eternal life, and to obtain it you must believe that Jesus died for your sins.
  4. God loves you, and has a wonderful plan for your life. Here are the four spiritual laws that you need to understand and believe.
  5. Jesus has purchased many things for you: forgiveness, deliverance from judgment, everlasting life, health, success, prosperity, and happiness. Just come to Him to find true fulfillment.

Now there is some truth in each of the above statements. But if I were giving you a multiple-choice test and asked, Which of the above is an adequate Biblical summary of the gospel? — the answer would have to be, None of the above. What is signally lacking in each is a statement about repentance.

Thank God that although the truth is often presented in such inadequate ways, the Holy Spirit still calls us to yield our hearts to the Lord and be truly converted. Remember in Philippians chapter one Paul says that some of his enemies were preaching the gospel with the motive of making trouble for Him. However, rather than being upset, Paul rejoiced because he knew the Holy Spirit would bear witness to the truth in spite of the wrong motivation and the poor presentation.

Most of you know that my favorite 20th–century devotional writer is A.W. Tozer. One of Tozerís themes is that the wonderful reality of fellowship with the living God has been replaced with a Christianity that consists almost exclusively of believing in correct doctrines. Letís let Tozer speak for himself:

At the heart of the Christian message is God Himself waiting for His redeemed children to push in to conscious awareness of His Presence. That type of Christianity which happens now to be the vogue knows this Presence only in theory. It fails to stress the Christianís privilege of present realization. According to its teachings we are in the Presence of God positionally, and nothing is said about the need to experience the Presence actually. Ignoble contentment takes the place of burning zealÖ.The world is perishing for lack of the knowledge of God and the church is famishing for want of His Presence. The instant cure for most of our religious ills would be to enter the Presence in spiritual experience, to become suddenly aware that we are in God and that God is in us (A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God, Copyright 1948 by Christian Publications, Inc., pp.37, 38).

The Old Testament is a record of Godís dealing with men, and of menís response to God. The Old Testament does not spell out much doctrine. Rather, the doctrine is illustrated in the true stories that expound the gracious way God deals with men. Such passages as Isaiah 40 and Psalm 139 teach us about Godís infinitude, omnipotence, and omnipresence (in other words, God is limitless, all-powerful, and everywhere). It is interesting to note, however, that these truths are presented, not as abstractions, but as wonderful examples of Godís commitment to His people. So even where the Old Testament gets a bit theological, it does so in the context of Godís interactions with men. When Isaiah 40 talks about Godís omnipotence (infinite power) and omniscience (infinite knowledge), it is to comfort the hearts of Godís insecure and doubting people (Isaiah 40: 25-30).

The Old Testament is not about an angry, vengeful God who is just itching to get His hands on those who have offended Him. Those who have such a picture of God from the Old Testament have focused on a few passages that detail His judgments, and overlook the incredible patience of God that led up to the incidents of judgment. Not only that, but literally hundreds of Scriptures that deal with His longsuffering, mercies, and blessings are overlooked. The message of the Old Testament is rather that of a God Who grieves over the alienation that sin has caused, and Who is constantly dealing with rebellious men in order to bring them back to Himself. The book of Hosea contains Godís plea to the backslidden tribe of Ephraim, which is about to experience the consequences of its own rebellion, and is one of the most tender, poignant passages in all of world literature. How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel?ÖMy heart churns within Me; My sympathy is stirred. I will not execute the fierceness of my anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim (Hosea 11: 3-9; see especially verses 8 and 9).

A constant theme of the Old Testament is that God is seeking to restore men to intimate fellowship with Himself. This fellowship sometimes includes awesome manifestations of His presence, such as Godís face-to-face communication with Moses, and the visible glory of Godís presence that attended the dedication of Solomonís temple. But these manifestations are the exception. Communion with God is promised to all who will seek Him in sincerity (Psalm145: 18). The lives of the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) are filled with incidents of God revealing Himself to them, speaking to them and working in their lives.

In all its simplicity, Psalm 1 has an amazing thing to say: The Lord knows the way of the righteous. The Hebrew verb to know really means is intimately acquainted with. In other words, The Lord is intimately acquainted with the way of the righteous. And Psalm 146 is even more explicit: The Lord loves the righteous. And this is a good place to note what the Old Testament means by designating a person as righteous. From the very first chapters of the Bible, righteousness is equated with believing God. And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness (Genesis 15: 6). In Romans chapter 4, Paul uses the belief of Abraham as a primal example of salvation by faith. Clearly, Abraham did not live a perfect, sinless life. He stumbled and sinned with some degree of regularity. But the focus of his heart was to believe in the Lord, that is, to trust in the Person of the Living God. In the Old Testament, belief and trust are virtually synonymous. Belief is never presented as an intellectual conviction alone. Belief is active trust in the character and faithfulness of a Person. In fact, the word believe occurs only 30 times in the Old Testament, while the word trust occurs 107 times.

Thus we can say with certitude that the term righteous in the Old Testament has nothing to do with legalism and self-righteousness, but rather with those who, following in the steps of Abraham, trust in the forgiving mercies of the Living God. The fact that Old Testament believers had only a partial understanding of Messiah and His atoning work does not detract from the reality of their saving relationship with God. They repented of their sin, and trusted in the mercies of a forgiving God. This is nowhere more apparent than in Psalm 32, one of the two great penitential Psalms. Paul uses Psalm 32: 1, 2 as an example of imputed (attributed) righteousness, based on repentance and faith (Romans 4: 6-8). And, I must add, these Old Testament believers had sweet fellowship with God--the Psalms give striking testimony to this communion with their Redeemer. It is interesting to note how many pious authors of Scripture recognized the inadequacy of the sacrificial system, while at the same time continuing to observe the sacrificial rituals (Psalm 40, Psalm 50, and Micah 6).

What then is the essence of the gospel? It is that God created man for the most intimate imaginable relationship with Himself, but sin interfered and destroyed that capacity for relationship. In the incarnation and atonement, God took the initiative and became a man, in order that He might make reconciliation possible. In reconciling us to God, Jesus not only delivers us from spiritual death (hell), He not only forgives our sin and cleanses our hearts, but He makes possible a fellowship with God that is beyond human capacity to fully understand. And as Tozer pointed out earlier, this fellowship is not just theoretical or positional. It is a real communion that becomes ever more sweet as we progress in our relationship with God.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus picked one man out of the twelve disciples to be His closest friend? Part of the answer would seem to be that having a best friend is part of the human condition, and that Jesus was simply being perfectly human. But I think the answer goes deeper than this. After all, Peter was the recognized leader, and yet Peter did not get the nod as the disciple whom Jesus loved. We understand this to mean that although Jesus loved all his disciples deeply, there was something very special about his love for John.

Have you ever felt slightly envious of John? I know that I used to feel this way. But a few years ago I began to understand how important it was that Jesus had a best friend, someone who knew His heart better than anyone else. I believe it has little to do with the fact that Jesus, in His humanity, needed a friend like John. I think it has everything to do with the fact that every single believer is called to the same intimacy with Jesus that John experienced. In the days of his sojourn with us, it was only possible for Jesus to have one best friend. But now, exalted to the throne of God, He has reassumed all the powers of the Godhead, which He lay aside when He was conceived in Maryís womb. Our exalted Lord has reassumed His infinite powers! He is now willing to reveal Himself to each believing heart to the extent that He has hundreds of millions of best friends. John was in a sense the ice-breaker of the New Testament age, the pioneer. He established the fact that God incarnate can have a best friend. Now through his writings, and by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, John beckons us to join him in the inner circle of Jesusí friendship!

There is an interesting fact of mathematics that throws some light on this marvelous truth of our invitation to stand among the most intimate of Jesusí friends. The Bible clearly declares that God is infinite. Thus our limited understanding of the meaning of infinity is rooted in the very nature of God. A little over a hundred years ago, in the late 1800ís, mathematicians began the study of infinite quantities. Using mathematical logic, they discovered some amazing facts. For example, any line has an infinite number of points, if a point is defined as being infinitely small, thus having no spatial extension. Any line, which by definition has an infinite number of points, can be subdivided as many times as you wish, and each subdivision of the line will still have an infinite number of points! This fact flies in the face of ordinary logic, but makes perfect sense in the mathematics of infinity.

The above illustration helps us understand the fact that an infinite God can give all of Himself to each person who knows Him, without diluting His presence or His power. In Revelation 3: 21, Jesus invites every believer to open the door so that He might come in to sup with us, and we with Him. Thus our Lord Jesus, seated on His Fatherís throne, invites any number of believers into the closest possible fellowship with Himself, without as it were thinning the soup or skimping on the bread.

There is another wonderful fact about our infinite God. A number of Scriptures teach that God transcends time. None is more dramatic than Jesusí statement in John 8:58, Truly, truly, I say unto you, before Abraham was, I am. In other words, Jesus in His humanity claimed to have the timeless existence of God. Thus we are driven to conclude that not only can our exalted Lord have an unlimited number of best friends, but He can also fellowship with each of them at exactly the same time, as we compute time! If a hundred million believers cry out to the Lord in the same instant, Jesus doesnít have to sort the requests, or delay His response to some while He works on others. There is no divine triage process. Each request is dealt with as if it were the only request He received in all of eternity.

The truths we have been considering above are dramatically expounded by Jesus in John 14: 9-23. Jesus begins by declaring His absolute unity with the Father: Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father, so how can you say, ĎShow us the Father?í Jesus went on to make a promise of great intimacy with those who obey Him:

"At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is He who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love Him, and manifest Myself to him." Judas (not Iscariot) responded, "Lord, how is it that you will manifest Yourself to us and not to the world?" Jesus replied, "If anyone Loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and we will come to Him, and make Our abode with him."

Jesusí promise to manifest Himself to His disciples, followed by His promise that He and the Father would make their abode with them, is to be taken in the most literal manner. Again we need to note that Jesus is not talking about a ďpositionalĒ or ďtheoreticalĒ place of intimacy with Him and the Father. He is talking about tangible, living fellowship which is experienced in the deep reaches of manís spiritual being. This intimate fellowship overflows into manís emotional life and into his behavior —For the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peaceÖ(Galatians 5: 23).

Isnít it interesting that these amazing promises, which are obviously made to every believer, come to us through the apostle John? At first glance, it would seem that he got all the intimacy, all the favor of Jesusí special friendship, with only the crumbs left over for the rest of us. But on reflection, we see that this is not the case at all. Rather, Johnís special relationship is open to each of us, if we will embrace it. Of course there is a price to pay--we must be willing to abandon those things which compete with His supremacy in our lives. John repeats his wonderful theme in I John 1: 3 — That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. John is simply saying, We who touched Him, heard Him, walked with Him, and loved Him — we invite you into the same fellowship, the fellowship we have with Him and with one another.

The apostle Paul, in Ephesians 3: 16-19, affirms that we may know the love of Christ which passes knowledge, and that we may be filled with all the fullness of God. This is Paulís way of describing the intimacy of personal revelation into which we have been invited by John. In II Cor.3: 18, Paul also speaks of the glory of this progressive unveiling of Jesus to the heart of the believer.

I for one want to experience all of Himself that God has for me, knowing that the portion of the Lordís presence given to the apostle John, to John Wesley, to A.W. Tozer, or to Billy Graham does not in any way diminish the portion of Himself that God wants to give me. I earnestly hope that you, too, will not settle for less than God intends for you, but will rather press into the inner circle of those with whom Jesus dines on a daily basis.

In His love,

Pastor Bob
 
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