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Intimacy With God and Eternal Life
Two of my favorite verses are John 3:36 and 5:24. The reason I like them is because they describe a present reality in God. Let me quote them and show you what I mean.
This is John 3:36. "And he who believes in the Son has (as his present possession) eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will never experience life and Godís wrath will remain on him continually." The key to understanding this verse is found in the word translated "believes" above. It is, of course, the verb pistueo that I talk about so much in my articles Ė a word that is used over and over to illustrate not mental assent or agreement, but an experiential relationship. Here, the verb is a present participle in the original Greek, meaning it describes continuous or repeated action - it has a starting point, but no ending point. In other words, the one who "believes in the Son" is the one who has an on-going relationship with the Son that is defined by his experiences with Him. And, as I have pointed out so many times before, a true relationship is always defined by what you experience with someone, not by what you have learned about him.
I also inserted in my translation of this verse the parenthetical "as his present possession" to simply emphasize the point of Jesusí statement that the one who is in a current relationship with Him has at that very point in time, as a result of that relationship, eternal life. And I canít pass on the opportunity to stress again that this is yet another verse that clearly illustrates the fact that Godís promises are not unconditional as many like to suppose, but are strictly conditional. According to John 3:36, you cannot possess eternal life outside of an active, on-going relationship with the Son. That is the condition or requirement that God establishes.
Now, letís look at John 5:24, then we can get on to what I really want to talk about, intimacy with God. "Iím telling you the truth, the one who hears and is open to My message and believes in the One Who sent Me has (as his present possession) eternal life, and will not come into judgment; but has passed over from death into life." Like the previous verse, the verbs "hears" and "believes" are both present participles illustrating active, on-going and current activity. Only here, there are two conditions described. The first has to do with the continual acceptance and participation in Jesusí message. And what was His message? Read the Gospels and hear Jesus saying again and again that He came into the world to show us the way to the Father and to eternal life. And, that "way" was to follow His example, to become like Him, to imitate Him (later, in Paulís Gospel, the message was that the Father wanted us to be conformed to the image of His Son Ė same thing). And what is the exact example that Jesus gave us? It was an intimate relationship with the Father that was characterized by His unwavering submission and committed obedience to the Fatherís plan and purpose.
The second condition described simply brings more emphasis to the first condition. What I mean is that Jesus was never hesitant to point out that God was His Father, or that He was the Son Ė "whoever does not honor the Son, does not honor the Father" (John 5:23), "I and the Father are One" (John 10:30), "if youíve seen Me, youíve seen the Father" (John 14:9) and so on. In John 3:36 eternal life is conditioned on whether or not we have a relationship with the Son. In John 5:24 Jesus expands the thought to remind us that to have a relationship with Him necessarily includes a relationship with the Father as well. The two are inseparable. Therefore, if my reasoning is correct, having the present possession of eternal life is conditioned on the reality of an active, on-going relationship with the Father and the Son.
And before we move on, letís define "eternal life". To properly understand what eternal life is, we should understand what it is not. Eternal life is not simply living forever; everyone will live forever. Those who reject Jesus will live forever in the everlasting punishment of hell. Eternal life is not living forever in heaven after we die. The Scriptures make it clear that all believers will return to the earth with Jesus following the Tribulation period (Revelation 19:11-14) and continue here with Him during His Millennial reign (Revelation 20:4-6) and on into the Eternal State, as the Father makes His abode with men in the New Jerusalem that comes down to earth from heaven (Revelation 21:1-3).
So then, what is eternal life? In the two verses above from John, the word translated "eternal" ("everlasting" in the KJV) is aionios and means, endless or eternal. The word for "life" is zoe. This is life in the absolute sense. It is the life that God has and the life that He gives to those who follow Him (John 10:27-28). And as Iíve said before, itís important to know that specific words have specific meanings. In this case the word "follow" found in the aforementioned John 10:27 is akoloutheo. This word is used no less than 77 times in the Gospels to instruct us to "follow the example" that Jesus shows us (for instance, John 12:26a should read something like, "Whoever intends to serve Me must follow My example"). This is not the life described by the word bios, life that has limitations and boundaries related to time. Therefore, eternal life is the very life of God. It is the abundant life of John 10:10 that overflows seamlessly from time into eternity, uninterrupted.
OK, Iím ready to talk about intimacy with God. If you remember the title of this article, "Intimacy With God and Eternal Life", then you may be thinking thereís a connection between the two. Actually, if you look at the words of Jesus, youíll see that intimacy with God is eternal life. This is John 17:3. "Now this is eternal life: to know you, the only real God, and Jesus the Christ, Whom You have sent." Jesus defines eternal life as knowing God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. The word translated "to know" is ginosko, a word that makes a distinction between mere intellectual knowledge or understanding and intimacy in relationship. In the N.T. ginosko is frequently used to indicate a close intimate relationship between the person knowing and the person known.
For instance, there is a clear example of ginosko being used in this way in John 10:14-15. "I am the Good Shepherd: I know My own and they know Me Ė just like the Father knows Me and I know the Father." Here, Jesus contrasts the relationship He has with those who are following Him with the kind of relationship He has with the Father. Both the context and content of this passage is obvious - a close, personal relationship of intimacy is in view. Another example is found in Matthew 7:21-23, where ginosko is used by Jesus to indicate the absence of an intimate relationship with those who only involved themselves in public, religious activity. This is verse 23 from my own paraphrase. "Then Iíll tell them, and this will be the first time they have ever really heard My voice, you have to leave now, I donít know you (we were never intimate). All those things you did that youíre so anxious to talk about had nothing to do with Me. You were just using My name to make yourselves look good."
Letís make sure we understand. Intimacy is defined as: a close, personal relationship, a warm or affectionate friendship or a private or closely personal relation. Intimacy is not something you experience in a crowd. It is not the kind of thing you can experience in a Sunday School class or a church service. You will never have intimacy with God in a Bible study group or even sitting in your easy chair reading the latest, greatest book from the Christian bookstore.
Isnít it strange the way religion wants to redefine things? You can have a relationship with God by going to church and listening to someone else talk about God. Yet, if you have a relationship with another person, that relationship is not defined by what youíve heard others say, but by the experiences you have had with that person. It is that mutual, direct involvement with each other over time that places you in relationship with the other person. Yet, in religion, many think they have a relationship with God that is based only on their impersonal and indirect involvement with Him in church-related activities.
The same thing happens when the issue of intimacy is discussed. In religion intimacy with God is something people "feel" when they participate in the activities, ceremonies and rituals of their church. They confuse (because religion teaches them to do it) real intimacy with emotion. If they get emotional during a prayer time or experience an ecstatic sense in a so-called "worship" time, they want to think theyíve had a close encounter with the presence of God and call it intimacy. And yet they would never define intimacy with another person as something they feel when theyíre participating in a public, group activity. Most people would never think they experienced intimacy with someone at a crowded grocery store or a baseball game. If another person is involved, they understand intimacy is private and personal. Yet, when God is involved, itís somehow different.
But, intimacy with God is just like intimacy with another person. It is individual, personal and private. You have intimacy when youíre alone with God, when youíre affected by His presence. What do I mean by that? Iíll try to explain. I have an intimate relationship with my wife. Our intimacy is, of course, individual. I donít invite others to participate in our times of intimacy. If I did, by definition it would no longer be intimate. Our intimacy is personal and private, only between the two of us when weíre alone together. And, Iíve always been affected by the intimacy I have with her. That is, our intimate relationship has continually given me the desire to be a better man, a good husband and father. Iím happy when I know she approves of me and disappointed in myself when she disapproves.
Itís pretty much the same thing I experience when I get alone with God. Only with Him itís more intense, more profound. Iím more deeply affected by those times. They make me want to be more like Him and less like me. I want to please Him. I want Him to approve of me. My flesh shrinks and shrivels away and my spirit expands and takes control. My soul stands at attention and fearlessly awaits His word, "what do You think, what do You want?" He points at my weaknesses and faults and I readily admit them. He tests me and I find myself in difficult and unpleasant circumstances, determined to pass the test and be obedient regardless of the cost. When Iím alone with God, I find myself wanting only what He wants.
Now, lest you get the wrong idea here, let me tell you my flesh is still alive and well. It may retreat at times, but still makes itself obviously and painfully known at other times. It may be weaker than it used to be, but itís not dead. And, as Iíve noted before, your flesh will not get depressed or discouraged and commit suicide. The difference is that as a result of my intimate times with the Father and the Son, Iím not as likely to excuse or justify the actions of my flesh. Instead, Iím more prone to condemn and forsake them.
I guess what Iím trying to express here is that anytime I get alone with God, it is His will and purpose that takes center stage in my life. What He wants to do in my life becomes important, what I want is unimportant. And when I understand that His purpose is to conform me to the image of His Son, then, I become focused on that. And with that focus I am able to apply what He says to me, what He shows me, how He tests me, what I learn about myself and about Him to that purpose and understand what He wants to change in Me so I can be more like Him. And that is the affect intimacy with God has on my life. He is able to accomplish His purpose through that intimacy.
Jesus knew how to maintain His intimacy with the Father. "But when you talk to the Father, go to your most private place, and when youíre alone, talk to Him in secret; and your Father Who sees in secret will respond to you in ways that will become evident to you." (Matthew 6:6) "But Jesus often withdrew Himself from the crowds that gathered around Him and went into the desert where He could talk to the Father alone." (Luke 5:16) "Now, during that time, Jesus went out to a mountainside to talk to His Father and spent the whole night there with Him." (Luke 6:12)
And the affect that intimacy had on Jesusí life was demonstrated in what He said. "Iím telling you the truth when I say the Son is able to do nothing on his own; He is able to do only what He sees the Father doing, whatever the Father does is what the Son does also." (John 5:19) "I can do nothing by Myself. I make my decisions according to what I hear (from My Father); and my decision is always right, because I never seek My Own purpose, only the purpose of the One Who sent Me." (John 5:30) "And Jesus answered them this way, My message is not My own, but comes from the One Who sent Me." (John 7:16) "Iím only telling you what I have learned in the Fatherís presence." (John 8:38) "Even though you donít know Him, I do know Him intimately. If I said I did not know Him, I would be a liar like you; but I do know Him, so I obey what He says to Me." (John 8:55)
See what I mean? Jesus spent time alone with the Father. He had an intimate relationship with the Father. The result of that intimacy was that He only wanted to see the will and purpose of the Father accomplished in His life. And now would be the perfect time to remind us of the deep importance of that intimacy. It was His relationship with the Father and His fierce determination to carry out the will of the Father that gave Jesus the stubborn endurance He demonstrated in His willingness to go the cross to bear our sins and suffer the judgment due us all. As Isaiah says of Jesus, "I have set my face like a flint, and know I will not be put to shame." (Isaiah 50:7) Why did He do it and where did that confidence come from? It came from His intimacy with the Father.
Now, let me try to tie all of this together and make my point. If you remember, I started by showing you some verses (John 3:36, 5:24) that tell us if we meet certain conditions (having an active, on-going relationship with the Father and the Son) we have as our present possession, eternal life. Then I explained that this eternal life is the same endless life that God has. Then I used John 17:3 to illustrate the fact that eternal life and intimacy with God is the same thing and that intimacy with God is what Jesus demonstrated; it is, in fact, the example He gave us to follow.
All right, sit up straight and pay attention, this is important. If youíre familiar with my writing, you should recognize that from the length of this paragraph. Godís message of reconciliation was always meant to show us the way to come back into harmony with Him through a relationship of intimacy that fosters a desire in us to live moment to moment in that harmony Ė determined to be like Him even while living in an evil world. This message is not now or was it ever something that could be disregarded and replaced with worthless tradition and meaningless ritual, robbing us of any true reality in Him. It was never intended to simply be the fire escape from hell, allowing us to relax, giving us license to do as we please. It was never to be twisted and perverted into a phony prosperity message teaching us how to get only what we want from God, feeding our flesh and driving us farther and farther from Him and from His purpose. It was never to be ignored and substituted with politically correct nonsense, human philosophy, vain deceit, divisive harangues or the psychobabble-inspired, self-help messages all of which give us the devilish ability to accept what is wrong and reject what is right. It was never to be an experiment in mass media entertainment, a supposed "new wave" movement, or the exciting search for more effective methods of attracting a crowd, all becoming a sort of social narcotic that dulls our spiritual sense. And it was never supposed to be a seen as a business opportunity, a networking nirvana or a good place to put your pseudo-spiritual one-upmanship on display. If you read what Jesus says, salvation was never a confirmation class, a religious seminar, a three or four step formula, a sinnerís prayer, a public profession, a willingness to get either wet from head to toe or simply sprinkled on the forehead, nor was the evidence of it the ability to make noises no one else can understand or dance on one leg through a loud and lively two-hour song service.
The vibrant, first century church both understood and lived in this intimate relationship with the Father and His Son. Their message proclaimed Jesus as the only way to obtain this intimacy and that priceless, present possession of eternal life (John 14:6). Without modern technology and huge amounts of money they did what the present-day religious institutions could not do Ė they turned their world upside down with this simple truth (Acts 17:6).
Today the so-called church has some limited success spreading its various perversions to certain areas of the world where people are desperate for answers and eager to embrace empty, Western promises of God-given prosperity. And the time will come when He will reward their treachery. But the truth is that the religious community has had no real, positive impact on the world, because it has never had a clue what its message should be. On the other hand, sadly, there are millions upon millions of people in the world that are all too happy to embrace whatever version of religious fantasy that appeals to them.
But, as is usual, the words of Jesus seal the deal. His message is so clear. This is what He says: "Then Jesus shouted, when anyone truly learns to trust in Me, he doesnít simply trust in Me, but also in the One Who sent Me. And anyone that recognizes Me for Who I really am recognizes Him Who sent Me. I have come as a light into the world, so that anyone who learns to trust in Me will not continue to live in darkness. If anyone hears My message, but disregards it, I do not judge him. I did not come to judge the world; I came to save it. However, there is a judge for those who reject Me, refusing to accept my word; the very message that I spoke will condemn them at the last day. The reason is that I never spoke on My own authority, but the Father Who sent Me told Me what to say and how to say it. And I am certain that His instruction leads to eternal life. So everything I say is exactly what the Father has told Me to say." (John 12:44-50)
Iíve said it before and Iím quite sure Iíll say it again (look out, here comes another one of those lengthy paragraphs). The purpose of God is to conform us to the image of His Son to bring us into harmony and unity with Him and His plan has always been to accomplish this through a relationship of intimacy. I hope Iíve established that for you in this article. I know there are people all over the world that are fed up with religion. They tried it and it didnít work. That was my own personal experience. They suspect something might be missing, but most of them donít know what it is. They may sense an emptiness that is never quite satisfied (I did). Theyíve gone from one thing to another, that teaching to the next; they followed this man, got disappointed and looked for another. Or, they werenít happy with the way things were done, stayed where they were and tried to bring about change, then got kicked out of the church for being rebellious troublemakers. Theyíve tried institutional, denominational religions with their rituals and traditions; contemporary, big screen religions with their loud sound systems and coffee bars; fundamental, hell-fire and brimstone religions with their uptight attitudes and rules for everything; and then finally the "radical" house church where the only things different were the size of the group (small) and where they met (not in a church building). Or, maybe it was one of those open minded groups that invite everyone to voice their opinion, where everyoneís opinion is important, yet different (they call it diverse, that makes it OK) and they all sit around and revel in their blind acceptance of each otherís arrogance and ignorance. Most will wander that vast wasteland of religion from now until the day they die and never find what theyíre looking for. Some may even find it, and then reject it, because itís not what they wanted. Decide for yourself whether anything is missing or not. If you think there is, look wherever you want to look, try whatever you want to try, accept whatever opinion appeals to you, listen to whoever you want to listen to, then just this once listen to Jesus. This is what He says in Matthew 11:27-30. This is my paraphrase. Iíve broken it down from the original language, considered the context and meditated on it over time. You may not recognize it if you compare it to other translations, but Iím confident that itís both accurate and complete. Read it carefully and consider it fully.
"All of these things that I have to tell you and the things I have to do have been entrusted to Me by My Father and theyíve come to Me out of the intimacy He has with Me and I with Him, and Iím willing to share that intimacy with anyone who is interested. Are you weary? Are you burdened down with all this religious garbage? Come with Me, Iíll show you how to get some relief. Walk with Me and learn, see how I do it. When youíre intimate with the Father, you wonít resist His purpose and youíll be determined to please Him, no matter what. Try it; it really works. Your soul will be satisfied, the emptiness gone. Stay with Me and youíll learn that living the way I do (in an intimate relationship with the Father) frees you from all the restrictions and burdens others try to put on you."
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