One Christmas I made a custom bicycle for my boy. The bike that he had described as the one he wanted hadn't been invented yet! So I worked for hours in secret, out in the garage, doing the best that I could to make this special gift for him. But all the work and planning I put into the project would have been of no value to him if he had refused to accept it on Christmas morning. In fact, if he had not accepted it, not only would the bicycle have done him no good, but his refusal would have been a slap in my face, as well. Regardless of how good or how inferior a gift may be (and I've made some things that definitely were inferior, and I didn't blame my family for rejecting them!) the gift is of no benefit unless it is accepted. Even if the gift is perfect—the greatest gift that could ever be given—and includes life itself, if it's rejected, not only is it valueless to the one for whom it was intended, but its rejection means a slap in the face of the Giver, as well. As beautiful as is the truth of justification by faith and Jesus' sacrifice on the cross, it's of no benefit to anybody unless it is accepted.
Justification is mankind being put right with God through what Jesus has done. It is a provision in heaven for the redemption of the whole human race, and has as its foundation the spotless righteousness of Jesus. Justification, however, is useless to any sinner until it is accepted by him. The Bible does not teach that salvation is by grace alone—-it is always by grace through faith. Faith on the part of the sinner is essential.
However, faith involves more than simple mental assent, or belief. The devils believe and tremble, according to James 2:19, but they do not have saving faith. Saving faith insists on trust. And trust immediately involves two parties, one trusting the other. When the sinner trusts Jesus for salvation, then there comes into existence a saving relationship. When the sinner accepts salvation by faith there is more than a legal declaration in heaven. There is the beginning of a relationship with God, followed by ethical results and expectations.
As we pursue what Jesus had to say about this relationship, notice first of all John 17:3. Here Jesus goes immediately to the basis of eternal life as far as our reception of it is concerned. "And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." While it is true that the basis of our eternal life is Jesus and His sacrifice in our behalf, we still have a part to play. We must accept His gift. When we first accept His mighty grace, this relationship of knowing Him is begun; as we continue to accept His grace on a daily basis, the relationship continues. I've often enjoyed asking various congregations and audiences to vote on the question Which is more important—getting married or staying married? In the end the greatest vote comes when I ask how many think it is a stupid question! Obviously, both getting married and staying married are important. Coming to Jesus is important, and staying with Jesus is important. It is important for the broken connection between God and man to be restored, but it is equally important that the restored communion be continued. It means one thing if my boy rides his special custom bike on Christmas morning and never touches it again. It means another thing entirely to be able to see him riding it every day, all year long.
Jesus said that eternal life, as far as we are concerned, is a matter of knowing Him. He repeated this teaching several times. In Matthew 25 He tells the story of the ten young ladies in the wedding party. Ultimately, the basis of the host's refusal to admit the five foolish girls was because he did not know them (verse 12). Their problem was that they did not have a personal relationship with God. In Mat thew 7:23, Jesus describes those who will find themselves at last on the outside. In spite of their many good works, the Lord says to them, "I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity."
There are really only two classes of people in the world today—those who know God and those who don't. Those who know God have accepted His justifying grace and continue to accept it in a restored relationship with Him. Those who don't know God are not accepting His grace or perhaps have never accepted it. Each of us is in one group or the other.
When we consider the questions of faith and relationship, we are talking about the same thing, in a sense. There is no saving faith without this relationship, and there is no relationship without faith. I'd like to suggest that the greatest definition of saving faith is "trust." It is impossible to trust someone, no matter how trustworthy he may be, unless we know him and are acquainted with him personally.
We become acquainted with anyone by the basic methods of communication. We talk to him; we listen to him; we go places and do things with him. Likewise, when we consider the matter of a relationship with, and trust in, God, we discover that the essence of the whole matter is our fellowship, our communion, with Him. The Bible premise is that faith is a gift (Rom. 12:3), and a gift is not something that one works for. Faith is given to us as we come into relationship with the Giver; it comes as a spontaneous result of knowing God. And we have saving faith no longer than we know God as our personal friend, on a one-to-one basis.
The problem of sin in the first place was broken trust, a lost relationship. The originator of sin decided that he no longer needed to trust God, that he could go his own way. The issue in sin is not simply doing bad things; it is a broken relation ship. When a person has lost his relation ship with God he has lost his righteousness, as well, as far as God is concerned.
When I am living apart from God, I have no righteousness. The only genuine righteousness there is comes through a restored relationship with God. Jesus said in John 16:8,9 that when the Holy Ghost comes "he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they believe [or trust] not on me." At its lowest common denominator, sin is living life separated from the Lord Jesus Christ. Only through a life of union and communion with Him, made possible by His gift of justification through faith, is the sin problem effectively dealt with and the separation ended.
Jesus repeatedly invites us to come. "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden" (Matt. 11:28). "Come, take up the cross, and follow me" (Mark 10:21). "If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink" (John 7:37). But simply coming to Jesus isn't enough. That is the beginning, but it is only the beginning. Jesus also had another favorite invitation— abide. "Abide in me, and I in you. . . . He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit" (chap. 15:4, 5). "To day I must abide at thy house" (Luke 19:5). Abiding in Him is what the faith relationship is all about.
In John 6:53-56 we find some difficult words of Jesus: "Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him."
The people to whom Jesus spoke these words pretended to be confused, but they understood more clearly than they were willing to admit what He was referring to. They had the scrolls and had read Jeremiah 15:16, "Thy words were found, and I did eat them." They understood that He was offering them a relationship with Himself, but they turned Him down because they were seeking a temporal kingdom. What food is to the body, Christ must be to the soul. Food cannot benefit us unless we eat it and it becomes a part of our being. Christ is of no value to us if we do not know Him as a personal Saviour; Eating is a very person matter; no one else can eat or drink for you. You must do it for yourself. And no one else can eat spiritually for you, either. You must seek Christ for yourself.
Jesus went to a Samaritan village. He met a woman by the well. She went to the people of the village and told them, "Come, see" (John 4:29). They came. But after meeting Jesus they said, "Now we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world" (verse 42).
If you depend upon someone else to do your eating, and breathing, and exercising for you, you will die. In the spiritual life, if you depend upon another to do your Bible study, your prayer, and your sharing and outreach, you will die spiritually. Jesus said it in Matthew 4:4: "Man shall not live bybread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." He said it inJohn 6:63: "The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life." He said it inMatthew 26:41: "Watch and pray"; and in Mark 8:35: "Whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it." It is through the tangible ingredients of relationship—Bible study, prayer, and Christian witness—that we enter into relationship with Him and that we continue to abide in Him, as well. What will be the result? We will experience so close a relationship with Him that Jesus describes it as dwelling in Him, and He in us (see John 17:20-23).
It is essential, then, for us to remember that our relationship with God is not based on behavior, but on communication. Anyone who thinks that his behavior is the basis of his relationship will soon give up the relationship. And anyone who gets discouraged in his relationship with Christ because of his behavior is a legalist.
There's a difference between being discouraged over our behavior and being disappointedabout our behavior. I am disappointed in my behavior many times, but I am not discouraged with my relationship with Christ! Why? Because Jesus had a kind way about Him of going straight ahead with His disciples even when they failed and sinned again and again. Read about one instance in Luke 9:52-56. The disciples had wanted to call down fire on the Samaritans and destroy them. Jesus rebuked them, and He may rebuke you and me, too. But He kept walking with them. They went on to another village, together.
So we can take courage when we realize that Jesus continues to walk with us as long as we continue to seek fellowship with Him. And sooner or later His power, which is greater than our failures, will complete the work that has been started in our lives. He will once again invite us to come, when He says, "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matt. 25:34). There we will abide with Him forever