Promises and Secrets
A website for those not afraid to examine their beliefs, compare them to the real world, and make sure they fit.
We are told by well-meaning pastors and fellow Christians that all we need to be saved is a "personal relationship with Jesus." Do you know that this is not even mentioned in the Bible?
God has a relationship with his people.
To be able to receive the salvation offered by Jesus, we must have a personal relationship with Him.
See Levi on the Response page for my response to Levi.
Did you know that the Bible never mentions 'a personal relationship with Jesus'? We are never told that we need to have a better one, a special one, or need one at all. Paul never mentions it, the apostles don't push it, none of the Prophets preach about it, and Jesus never says it.
Yet, one of the first things you hear when going to church or hearing a conversation where someone is speaking to a potential Christian is that all they need is a "personal relationship with Jesus". Where did this come from? When did it start? Who started it?
Yes, there are statements that can be interpretated in our modern language and culture as meaning the same thing. However, these same statements can be interpreted to mean something else. People seem to think that as long as we can make something sound loving, it is OK to be dogmatic about its meaning. In fact, there are statements made by Jesus that sound more like an admonition to be more like a slave than to be a friend. That is not a bad thing, just very different than the average "nice guy" Christian wants to think. Let's see what we are talking about here.
Definitions, definitions, definitions
First, we need to make sure we are all on the same page. Let's define the term "relationship":
The Oxford dictionary defines it this way:
1 The way in which two or more people or things are connected, or the state of being connected.
'the study will assess the relationship between unemployment and political attitudes'
1.1 The state of being connected by blood or marriage.
'they trace their relationship to a common ancestor'
1.2 The way in which two or more people or groups regard and behave towards each other.
'the landlord - tenant relationship'
'she was proud of her good relationship with the staff'
1.3 An emotional and sexual association between two people.
'she has a daughter from a previous relationship'
A handy tool of mine is a four-volume version of the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, published in 1939 and revised in 1956, that defines "relationships" with regard to the Bible in association with "family":
I. Consanguinity (blood relations)
1. In General
2. Parents and Children
3. Brothers and Sisters
4. Uncles, Aunts, Cousins, Kinsmen
II. Affinity (covenant relations)
1. Husband and Wife
2. Father-In-Law, etc.
3. Brother-In-Law, etc.
III. Other Domestic Relations
2. Master and Servants
3. Host and Guest
4. The Dependent Stranger
In three pages of extremely small print, the only time Jesus' name was mentioned is when they referred to his mother. Nothing about a necessary "relationship with Jesus".
What's the point, here?
Let's get specific. Several passages are often tagged as representative of the concept "personal relationship with Jesus" (Sorry that the list is so long, but you will see why there are so many). The first site (Christian Living) in a search listed these:
John 14:23-26 - "23 Jesus replied, "Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. 25 "All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you."
Now, look at the statement and determine what it actually says. Essentially, it says, "Obey My teaching and that of My Father, and anything you do not understand about this will be explained by the Holy Spirit." This sounds like a master/servant relationship to me.
Rev 3:20 - "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me."
Let's have dinner...and a room, and some storage...
Some say that eating a meal with a person is a definition of a relationship. Recently, my wife met a man on the street who claimed to be a Christian minister who lived like Elijah with no home and only the clothes on his back. He knew many Bible passages and had a good message about the love of Christ. She invited him in to dinner and we ate a meal together (he with us and us with him). Now, without knowing anything else about this event, would you say that we had a relationship? The common understanding and the general meaning that people take from this passage (Rev 3:20), does not say what many people think they understand. There is some meaning added by some mythical, spiritual aura downloaded with the words.
It turns out that this minister was genuinely a minister of the word of God, though his understanding of the Bible was shallow and limited, but he also came with a price. His concept of his mission was that, since he preached the gospel, we should let him have a free room, feed him, wash his clothes, and allow him to go around spreading the gospel to those he met around town. Also, we were expected to allow him to retrieve his drumset from a city on the coast and store them here where he could practice.
We are to reach out to those who need help. However, where does it say that we need to meet the demands of a self-appointed, self-educated "minister" who pushes us to do the "Christian" thing and share our life, property, and money so that he can share a gospel that does not appear in the Bible? If we give in to what others think we should do, are we doing it out of our hearts, or just to avoid some guilt trip?
John 1:12 - "Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God--"
That makes me His brother...
O.K. Better. This one seems to say that if you believe in Jesus, you will become a child of God. This would make you a Family member, which is one of the definitions above (1.1). However, when a new believer is told to develop "a personal relationship with Jesus", how does hearing this guide him in how to do that? Where are we told that we need this relationship to be part of the Family? I thought you became a member of God's Family by doing His will and following His commands.
Eph 3:17-19 - "17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord's holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God."
Again, while the need to recognize and emulate the love of Christ is clear, how is this passage stating that we need a "relationship" with Him? Maybe the wrong idea is getting through to me. A relationship is to establish a means of relating to another. I am a servant of Jesus. His commands tell me how to have a relationship to my neighbor and to my God. I don't chat with Him, although I do talk to Him. I share my pain by describing it to Him, and while I understand a small amount of the pain He went through, I don't commiserate with Him about it. No matter how you slice it, there is no sharing here. When I relate to a friend, we share feelings, anger, shame, hate, love, and all the other human traits. While I know that Jesus understands my pain, I do not feel that I am sharing a relationship with Him.
James 2:23 - And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend.
This is the closest link to the concept that many claim as a relationship. What did it take for this to happen? Abraham believed God and surrendered everything to Him. Though never asked to sacrifice my son on an altar, I would surely give whatever it takes to obey the commands of God as a demonstration of my faith. If that is what makes a friend to God, then I am His friend. Again, that is a relationship of God to believer, Master to slave, Savior to saved. Somehow, this is not what people seem to mean when they suggest having a relationship with Jesus.
Rom 8:38-39 - "38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Here we are again. This passage describes the power of the love of God and Christ Jesus, but it is not a declaration that we must develop a "personal relationship with Jesus". Once He loves us, nothing can take us from Him. But, we cannot force, or persuade, or con, or blackmail Him into loving us. Our only input to the "relationship" is to do as He asks.
Matt 7:23 - "Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'"
Remember, half of the virgins...
We can talk all day long about having a relationship with Him, but if we hear this at the last day (think of the parable of the ten virgins), then we will know that we did not listen to Him - no matter what we thought we were doing. Listening to Him means that He is our teacher, the only thing we do in that relationship is to learn. If we do not learn, then He cannot know the part of us that needs Him because we think we know better.
Matt 22:37 - "Jesus replied: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind."
While this command is easy to understand, is it the definition of a relationship?
John 15:15 - "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you."
I wasn't there...
This is the only one that comes close to a positive statement about a relationship with Jesus. However, this is not an admonition to do something, it is recognition for service the Apostles rendered. Can we claim this same "relationship"? It is how He views those who follow His commands and demonstrate His love to others. I want to be considered His friend, so I will do to others for Him. Is that a relationship?
The list goes on, and this is from only one site.
(NAS) 1 Cor 3:16 - "Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?"
1 John 16-17 - "16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever - 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you."
John 14:6 - "6 Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
John 14:23 - "23 Jesus replied, "Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them."
John 10:27-30 - "27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. 30 I and the Father are one."
Sorry to be so obstinate...
The common theme here is that we are told in these passages what to do in order to follow Him, but I don't see how this is a "relationship" with Jesus. I know, I am not the sort of Christian that many think I should be. I just don't think that fooling myself into thinking that I am the perfect feeling, loving human being and sharing every feeling I have with Him in prayer is what He asked us to do.
This is not meant to be irreverent, but let me give you a real-world example of what I mean. If a woman is married to a man who only speaks to her when he wants a meal, wants the house cleaned, or needs his clothes made ready, is that a relationship? She tries to talk to him when he comes home from work but he doesn't answer any of her questions or even seem to listen, in fact, doesn't speak to her at all except to outline his needs and expectations. Would you say that this couple has a personal, fulfilling relationship?
Think about it - this is master-slave or at the very least boss-worker. Come on, now, this is not being mean. People don't ever seem to look at it this way. If this woman's friends listened to her story over tea, what would they say? "Leave him!" or "Get out of there!" or even, "Don't hang around that bum!".
A different way to see it
A monthly periodical called Sapphires presented a story in the January 2019 issue about an Israeli tour guide that puts this whole idea into perspective:
The Shepherd or the Butcher
An Israeli tour guide was telling his group that in the Middle East, shepherds don't drive their sheep from behind, they lead them. To their amusement, one of the first sites (sic) they saw was a flock of sheep, but the man was in back driving them forward. The guide made it his business to inquire of the shepherd. He asked, "How is it that you are driving the sheep when shepherds lead their sheep?" The man replied, "You are quite right, sir, but I'm not the shepherd, I'm the butcher. The shepherd leads, but the butcher drives." So the question is, which word best describes your life - led or driven? Do you find yourself being led through your day to day life, or driven? Are you listening to the voice of the Shepherd, or the voice of the butcher who drives you through fear, anxiety, doubt, and resignation? Stop fearing and start living a led life. The Lord is your Shepherd. He won't drive you, He'll lead you. Just follow Him and you will be led, and you'll find that He will lead you beside still waters.
Who are you following?
Relationship? Yes, but make it a real one
This is the danger of pushing this idea of needing a relationship with Jesus to most people who think of relationships in human terms. They try to build that relationship the way they understand and need relationships and forget to follow His instructions. Once they run into the one-way "brick wall" of "silence" from Jesus, they begin to doubt the strength of their faith.
Many don't seem to know that they can better understand Him if they read His love letter to us - not listen to someone tell them once a week some modified version of what they think it says. Those who understand that the relationship is defined in His way, and follow those instructions, can get close to Him. Putting it in a different light, it seems that He expects us to say "Yes, Lord.", with all that includes, not "Hey, buddy!", and expect Him to improve our bowling score.
Having looked closely at many of these passages above, the obvious fact is that none of them directly mention the phrase "personal relationship with Jesus". Some of them can be interpreted as "meaning" the same thing, but they can also be interpreted to mean something very different.
Lord, this is what I thought you meant...
When I stand before the Lord and by some chance He asks me "Why do you not have a relationship with me?", I will have to confess that I thought I did have one. He is my Lord. He is my Savior. He is my God. I have no input to that (those) one (three?) relationship(s) other than how I treat others and whether I follow His commands. But I do have a relationship with those around me that I can affect by my faith, prayer, thought, and actions. That is what will show my recognition of the the relationship I have with Him.
The bottom line here is that Jesus tells us in the first passage above that we have an obligation to do what He says in order to obtain salvation. That gives us the basis for the "relationship" right there - Savior to saved. Many want to make more of it. They want to be able to pray and get what they want, ask to have the problems of the world solved, save the lives of all who are in the way of disaster, or whatever seems to be the news item of the day - whether or not it falls within God's will. They seem to want to feel safe to disobey as long as they can claim to love Him - but their definition of "love" is modified by their own concept of leniency, not His.
Referring to subjects mentioned on other pages of this site, many keep "holidays" that are forbidden by the word of God, many do not respect those things that God said we must respect (parents, widows, children, the Sabbath, and other things) in order to show that we "believe" in Him and know that His word to us is for our own good.
That, again, makes the relationship with Jesus as Lord to servant, Savior to saved, Commander to obedient one, and Master to subservient one. Friend comes later.
Disagree? Find an error? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and give us your view.
Relationship Discussions ::
I agree with your viewpoint on a relationship with Jesus Christ and how it pertains to a personal relationship with Him. I do, however, believe that a personal relationship with Him is highly beneficial, and if not, essential to the Christian life after salvation - that is, essential to sanctification.
I see that it is indeed very true that a personal relationship with Christ does not grant eternal life; the thief on the cross arguably did not have any such relationship with Jesus. Even if he did, it was not that, but his repentance and faith that brought him Christ's salvation. Perhaps some well-meaning Christians get carried away with the idea of a relationship, and they depict the Christian life the way they're used to seeing it in their own life believing that a relationship is what saves them.
Before I go any farther, I will state that I agree (I believe) with your given definitions of "relationship" as well as the several different kinds.
Just as good works are not essential to salvation but are instead a byproduct of it (Ephesians 2:8-10), a relationship with Jesus is - as I believe - the same way. To properly present and defend this idea, allow me to back up: The Holy Spirit is also another of these "byproducts" to salvation, and He also much more directly so.
Since Pentecost, the Holy Spirit is given unconditionally to every believer at the time of salvation (John 14:15-16, I Corinthians 6:19-20, Chapter 12, II Corinthians 13:14, Ephesians 4:30, Acts 10:44-48, 11:16-18, 19:1-6, Titus 3:5*These passages may support but not necessarily prove the ideas presented*). Though being "filled with the Holy Spirit" (as seen throughout the book of Acts and in many other places in the Bible) does not necessarily happen to us 24/7 since we sometimes may not yield to Him or we "grieve him" (Acts 5:3, Acts 4:31 Ephesians 4:30), the Holy Spirit is vital to the Christian life: following Christ, receiving and using spiritual gifts (I Corinthians 12), being sanctified (Romans 15:13-16, Galatians 5:16-26), spreading the Gospel (Mark 16:15-18), etc.
While I understand that a lot of this argument is inductive reasoning, the Holy Spirit is clearly important to this discussion because He is the Comforter. The one Jesus sent to Comfort us while He is away. You may see where I am going with this, and true: this idea of the Holy Spirit being the Comforter probably meant the most to the first Twelve Apostles, but I believe that the Holy Spirit is our Comforter as well. He was a Comforter to the Churches throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria mentioned in Acts 9:31. Some of these people had probably seen Jesus before he was taken up to Heaven. Some probably had not. Likely, a very small percentage of them had had a personal relationship with Him or had got to speak with Him at all before he left.
Either way, many believers other than the first twelve disciples were comforted by the Holy Spirit in those days, many of whom are hardly different from us today. We have never seen Jesus (at least most of us would say that). We have never spoken directly to Him in conversation. We have never touched Him or heard Him. That is why God gave us the Holy Spirit just as He did to the early believers.
Now I agree that we have a relationship to God as slave-to-master. But I believe that by God's grace, He, in addition, treats us as so much more.
I could bring up the argument that God loves us and wants us to be our "friend". From what you said - or at least as I understood it - the problem with that argument is that such ideas presented in John 15:10-15 where Jesus says that we "are [His] friends, if we do whatsoever [He] command[s] [us]” and the passage about Abraham, is that this is God's (or Jesus') relationship with us, not vice-versa. It is a personal relationship but from the other way around.
I could bring up the fact that God wants us to love Him with all our heart, soul, and mind, (Matthew 22:37). The problem with that is that, again, it also sounds like a slave-to-master relationship - or a disciple-to-teacher - not to mention that this is a command, not necessarily an invitation.
Instead, what we need is a personal relationship that invites us. We need an invitation from God if this idea of a personal relationship is to be proven true. Secondly, we need a relationship that isn't one-sided, for lack of a better word; we need God to be our friend as well as we being His, in order for it to be a personal relationship.
Those, from what I can see, are our two issues.
I confess that anything we could come up with to remedy this would certainly be different from the sort of everyday relationship with friends that we are used to: especially since we have defined a personal relationship as "the way in which two or more people or groups regard and behave towards each other."
And even if I could prove that we are called and invited to be sons of God by His love and grace as it says in I John 3:1-2, we have the free will even then to be a good son or a bad son.
Or do we?
I John goes on to say that "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin, for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot, sin because he is born of God" (see verse 9).
This is a hard concept to grasp for me, but my main argument is in Romans 8. Here is verse 14: "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are sons of God." That's very straightforward. But is it a personal sort of relationship? Is it both-sided? Those were the two issues stated above.
But Paul goes on. "For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together."
Beautiful passage. Again, this relationship is different because our mediator, so to speak, is the Holy Spirit, and He is indeed essential to it all. But it is still a relationship. An indirect, yet personal one.
It's like we are writing to a distant King for comfort. A king who has ransomed us, and his representative is delivering our letters to him - even speaking for us when we don't know what to say (see verse 26). The beauty of it is that this representative is also God Himself, just as much as Jesus was God as the Son. This Son will return one day to receive His Father's Kingdom and "we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body."
Finally, the chapter ends with the ending (that I hope) we all know well. "Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
That is an amazing kind of love. If God loves us like that and gives us the Holy Spirit; and if we have the sort of relationship that allows us to cry "Abba Father," than that is a relationship that is both personal and both-sided.
All we need is the touch of the loving and sanctifying Holy Sprit of God.