Can You Have an Intimate Relationship with God?
“The intimacy with Jehovah belongs to those fearful of him, also his covenant, to cause them to know it.”—Ps. 25:14.
1. What relationship does God have with all people?
GOD, as Creator, has a certain relationship with all people. The apostle Paul said to a group of philosophers in Athens: “He himself gives to all persons life and breath and all things.” (Acts 17:25) But those who are persistently wicked cannot enjoy intimacy with him. (Prov. 3:32) Nevertheless, he allows them to have children, to enjoy the good things of the earth, and to have opportunity to repent, if they are so inclined.—Acts 14:16, 17.
2. What is required in order to receive God’s favor, and can this requirement be met by humans?
2 However, a closer relationship than being a mere creature of God is necessary to receive his favor and to have him as a friend and close companion. Harmony with him and his purposes is essential if one hopes to gain everlasting life. The marvelous thing is that everyone can have this relationship if he really desires it after having the opportunity opened to him, for the apostle Paul told the Athenians that God has also provided for men “to seek God, if they might grope for him and really find him, although, in fact, he is not far off from each one of us.”—Acts 17:27.
3. What barrier must all persons who hope to approach God recognize as existing between God and themselves?
3 What is involved in seeking God? And what action does he take toward the sincere seeker? The hindrance to our approaching God is human sinfulness. Our sins can block off communication just like a heavy cloud mass. (Compare Lamentations 3:44.) They may keep us from even wanting to appeal to God; they may make us feel unclean and unworthy of approaching him. Nevertheless, if we do not recognize that we are all sinners, doing things that even our own consciences condemn each day, we are not in a position to approach God, and God will not hear the prayers of those who do not recognize this fact that applies universally to all humans.—1 Pet. 3:12.
CHRIST’S DEATH AND RESURRECTION THE FOUNDATION
4. How did God make the first move toward removing the barrier to communication and intimacy with him?
4 Actually, God himself has made the first move toward a relationship with him by making an arrangement to remove this barrier to communication and intimacy. What is this arrangement? The apostle Paul answers: “God recommends his own love to us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8) Christ was a perfect, sinless man when on earth, but he took on himself the punishment of all sinners just as though he were the sinner. Though innocent, he suffered the complete penalty for mankind’s sins. The apostle Peter tells us: “He himself bore our sins in his own body upon the stake . . . And ‘by his stripes you were healed.’” (1 Pet. 2:24) This was purposed by God centuries earlier, as the prophet Isaiah foretold: “He was being pierced for our transgression; he was being crushed for our errors.” (Isa. 53:5) Jesus Christ’s action in substituting for mankind counterbalanced all demands of justice for sins committed and laid the foundation for removing condemnation from all who acknowledge their own sins and exercise faith in God’s arrangement.—Rom. 8:1.
5. Why was not only the death of Jesus, but also his resurrection, essential to us?
5 Additionally, the fact that Christ did not remain dead, but was resurrected and now lives, guarantees his ever-present help, so that a person can enjoy a close relationship with God. The Scriptures assure us: “He was delivered up [to suffering and death] for the sake of our trespasses and was raised up for the sake of declaring us righteous.” (Rom. 4:25) He appeared in God’s presence to present the value of his sacrifice. Today he is the glorified Jesus whom John saw in vision in the midst of seven golden lampstands, representing the Christian congregation, and with seven stars, or the body of anointed overseers, in his right hand. (Rev. 1:12-16) Of him as our living High Priest, it is written: “He is able also to save completely those who are approaching God through him, because he is always alive to plead for them.”—Heb. 7:25.
6, 7. How is it that Christ died “with reference to sin” but lives “with reference to God”?
6 Therefore, the person putting faith in Christ can live not as one spiritually dead because of his sins, blocked from communication with God, but as one alive, serving God, in a positive, upbuilding way, actively obeying God’s commands, upbuilding others. About this, the apostle says to the “holy ones” in Rome: “For we know that Christ, now that he has been raised up from the dead, dies no more; death is master over him no more. For the death that he died, he died with reference to sin once for all time; but the life that he lives, he lives with reference to God. Likewise also you: reckon yourselves to be dead indeed with reference to sin but living with reference to God by Christ Jesus.”—Rom. 1:7; 6:9-11.
7 Here the apostle points out that Christ came to earth for the specific purpose of dealing with that unclean, detestable thing—sin—a thing hated, yes, loathed by both God and Christ. (Heb. 1:9) Though Christ always took delight in doing his Father’s will, sin is an enemy, and, in doing away with sin, Jesus had to undergo many distasteful and disagreeable experiences. Just before he died, he said: “It has been accomplished!” (John 19:30) So he suffered and died with reference to sin—to do away with sin. But now “he lives with reference to God.” He is glorified in heaven, forever, in association with God, for his sacrifice does not need to be repeated. This being accomplished he could enter on an upbuilding work, to bring people into close intimacy with God again, and to bring about God’s will toward all who want life.—Heb. 7:25; 8:1; 9:28.
GOD DRAWS MEN TOWARD CHRIST
8, 9. How does God draw persons to Christ?
8 Jehovah God expressed great love and undeserved kindness toward humans by making this arrangement. And even more than that, God is working in connection with his purpose. It is God who draws right-hearted persons to Christ. Jesus said: “No man can come to me unless the Father, who sent me, draws him.” He spoke of his apostles as being given, to him from the Father.—John 6:37, 39, 44.
9 How does God do the drawing? Certainly it is not done arbitrarily, partially, or by forcibly compelling the person. The will of the stubborn, sinful human does not naturally, of itself, incline to submit to God. But God can effect a change in the person’s will. He knows what is deepest in a person’s heart. He can then not only cause him to hear about Christ and the way of salvation, but also give understanding of the arrangement. He can open blind eyes. God’s drawing of men and women to put faith in Christ during this system of things, though they would never of themselves have done so, is the getting into their hearts a knowledge of the fineness of Christ, the wonderful advantage of being united with him.
10. What effect does God’s drawing have on the sincere individual?
10 Then, on the part of the individual, he desires from the heart to follow Christ and unite with him, just as people, when they really see and realize the goodness of a good person, desire to approach him and become his friend. An example of God’s action in drawing hearts is found in the people of ancient Israel in the days of David the son of Jesse. God had promised David the kingdom. When it came time for God to give David the kingdom, he drew the hearts of the people to David, to serve willingly under him. (2 Sam. 2:4; 3:36; 5:1-3) So God draws the hearts of men to Christ.
INDIVIDUAL WILL MUST BE EXERCISED
11. What part does the will of the individual play in coming to Christ, and how is the will of the uninformed one changed?
11 It is not that the will of the individual has nothing to do with the matter. Though he may not initially have a will actively to come to Christ, that will can change when he learns—when the ‘eyes of his heart’ are opened. (Eph. 1:18) Jesus quoted from the prophecy of Isaiah concerning those who become the children of Jehovah’s heavenly woman, Zion, during this system of things, saying: “It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by Jehovah.’ Everyone that has heard from the Father and has learned comes to me.” (John 6:45; Isa. 54:1, 13) The person, seeing and understanding, changes his will. If he does not want to do so, he is not compelled to change. Understanding brings faith, and the individual’s faith moves God and his Son to accept that one, just as Jesus later told his followers: “He that has my commandments and observes them, that one is he who loves me. In turn he that loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and will plainly show myself to him. . . . If anyone loves me, he will observe my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our abode with him.”—John 14:21-23.
12. How does Christ, in turn, bring the person closer to God?
12 Since the Father has always been invisible to humans, he reveals himself through Christ, for Jesus, when on earth, revealed the fine personality of God, so that he could say: “He that has seen me has seen the Father also.” (John 14:9) Coming to Christ, those exercising faith come to know the Father more and more closely as Christ opens up to their hearts the depth and fineness of God’s qualities.
13. What view must a person have of himself, in order to be able to make an acceptable approach to God?
13 On the part of the individual, then, what are the steps to be taken to achieve approach and intimacy with God? A person must have a sense of need, a feeling that not everything is fully satisfactory in his life. He must see himself as imperfect, not self-sufficient, recognizing that he is a sinner, and realizing the futility of his situation. If anyone does not have a full appreciation of his needy situation, a consideration of the Law given by God through Moses to Israel will convince him that he is thoroughly a sinner. The Law’s purpose was to show that no man is righteous and also to direct the honest-hearted, searching one to see the need of a redeemer.—Gal. 3:19, 24.
14. What further steps are required on the part of the individual who wants to have a relationship with God?
14 Feeling this need, the right-minded person will look in sincerity and earnestness into the Bible and learn of God’s way through Christ. When he comes to realize his total lack of relationship with God, he also is convinced of the real badness of sin and what it has done to him. He sees that he is actually an enemy of God. Then he wants to change. (Rom. 5:10) Accordingly, he repents and asks for forgiveness. All along he must recognize that it is not his own superior insight or goodness, but God who is drawing him. The individual has found that he can get this forgiveness on the basis of Christ’s atonement sacrifice. Having come to know and appreciate God’s purpose, he expresses the desire and decision to become a fully dedicated servant of God, and demonstrates this faith and decision before others by requesting water baptism.
A NEW STATUS WITH GOD
15. What is the “good conscience” for which one being baptized makes request?
15 By this baptism, the person is making request to God for a good conscience. (1 Pet. 3:21) A “good conscience” means that the feeling of guilt for past sins no longer weighs on his conscience. It means, in addition, that he has a new relationship with God and Christ as his friends. (John 15:14, 15) This is for the reason that his faith in Christ’s sacrifice gains for him pardon from his past sins and also even more than that.
16. What good standing does such a person now have with God, and how can he maintain that standing?
16 To use an example: A pardon from a worldly authority wipes out a criminal’s past crimes. But the criminal is then only back where he started. He has no comfort or assurance that he will receive future help, or that the wrongs that he may commit in the future will not be charged against him. But the one exercising faith in Christ is accepted by God as a friend, one with whom God continues to deal as an intimate, now and in the future, until that one finally is made perfect. (1 Pet. 5:10) As long as he maintains that same faith and faithfulness, he can pray for forgiveness of his day-to-day sins and preserve that intimate relationship. Of course, he should not “accept the undeserved kindness of God and miss its purpose.” (2 Cor. 6:1) He cannot rightly think that he may presume on that intimacy and continue to hold his good standing with God.
ENTRUSTED TO CHRIST’S CARE
17. When God has drawn a person to Christ, what does Christ then do for the person?
17 When God has drawn a person to Jesus Christ, what is his (or her) situation? Jesus acknowledged that all persons belong to the Father and that those whom Jehovah draws are given to Jesus, turned over to him for their care and Christian growth. (John 17:9, 10) God had promised through the prophet Isaiah about Christ: “Because of the trouble of his soul he will see, he will be satisfied.” (Isa. 53:11) Jesus Christ therefore looked to God to cause his work and sacrifice to bear fruit. Jesus said also that God had given him authority over all flesh. (John 17:2) By exercising this authority he can protect those whom God draws to him, safeguarding them from wicked, vicious opposers of the truth. Of the given ones, Jesus said: “I give them everlasting life, and they will by no means ever be destroyed, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is something greater than all other things, and no one can snatch them out of the hand of the Father.” (John 10:28, 29) Accordingly, no persecution, sickness, hardships, opposition, or anything else, even death, should be feared by the Christian.—Rom. 8:38, 39.
18. What is the final result to the person who follows the Fine Shepherd faithfully?
18 Under Jesus Christ the Fine Shepherd, those who follow him faithfully are assured of everlasting life. Jesus said: “For God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life.”—John 3:16.
19, 20. What, then, is the value of having an intimate relationship with God?
19 Everlasting life! Even though a person may die, his hope is not dimmed. For Jesus expressed the permanency and unbreakableness of the fine relationship of the Son with those the Father brings to him as members of the “little flock” of his sheep when he said: “Everything the Father gives me will come to me, and the one that comes to me I will by no means drive away.”—Luke 12:31, 32; John 6:37.
20 Consequently, under the care of the Fine Shepherd those who come to him can expect aid and guidance in every avenue of life, with hope of everlasting life ahead. What could be better, then, than establishing a fine relationship with God and his Son? But, in the day-to-day affairs of life, how does that fine relationship prove to be a reality—a close, warm, secure relationship?