Written by: Charles DeVane
The modern church chooses to use inadequate words about God. Words reflect opinions and attitudes. So if our words are not biblical, our opinions and attitudes about God may not be biblical, either.
A catch phrase of our time is “personal relationship.” Now I know some of you mean well when you say you have a “personal relationship” with the Lord. If this means that you have personally repented of your sin and put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ as Lord, that you spend time with Him personally each day reading His Word and seeking His face and doing His will, then you are doing well, very well.
But let me tell you what “personal relationship” has come to mean to most modern church members: I have a “personal relationship” with Jesus Christ since I asked Him into my heart to be my personal Savior. I personally decide whether I will attend Sunday worship, or not, and usually I’m too busy to go. I personally decide which of God’s commandments I will keep and the ones I won’t. I personally determine whether I will live like the people of this present world, or act like some of those outdated people in the Bible, and since I live in this world I’ve personally chosen just to go with the flow. In the end it will all work out, because Jesus is my personal Savior and I have a personal relationship with God. Is such a person personally saved? Will this kind of a “personal relationship” take you to Heaven? Can you sense the danger of having this kind of “personal relationship” with God?
Jeremiah certainly could. He lived among a people who thought they had a personal relationship with God, simply because they were Jews living in Israel. They came to the Temple to worship sporadically and superficially. They ignored God’s Word and refused to listen to God’s prophets. Their lifestyles were not remarkably different from the people around them, people who claimed no relationship with God at all. Jeremiah told them, in so many words, that what they needed was not a relationship, but a new covenant. Read Jeremiah 31:31-34.
The term “relationship” does not even appear once in Holy Scripture. The word “covenant” does, about 300 times. There is a danger in having a mere “personal relationship” with God. However, there is salvation and security in enjoying a new “covenant” with Him.
God’s new covenant is much better than a relationship.
It’s even better than the old covenant. That’s because Israel had treated the old covenant like a personal relationship. Eventually it had failed like a bad marriage.
Relationships are all too often based on personal emotion and enrichment. We jump in when we feel something for someone. We jump in when we feel like we are getting something from someone. Then when these feelings fade, we jump out. There goes the relationship.
Old Testament Jews all too often treated the old covenant like a modern relationship. They were attracted by the promise that, if they would keep God’s commandments, they would be personally enriched. They soon discovered, however, that many could get rich without God. The ease and pleasure of things they could see began to seem much better than walking the straight and narrow with a God they could not see.
New Testament Christians, or at least many professing Christians, treat the Lord in the same way. They hear the gospel, fear Hell, and want the benefits of a place called Heaven. Sooner than later, though, the call of the wild and the lures of the world seem better than Bibles, hymn books, and stuffy old church. They maintain their “personal relationship,” but in reality there is only a broken covenant.
God offers something better than a relationship based on emotion and temporary enrichment. He has made a new covenant based on sacrifice and total commitment. (Ref. Romans 8:3; John 3:16) He is offering an everlasting covenant. It is based on the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ. It required total commitment to give, and it requires total commitment to receive. But if you accept God’s covenant on God’s terms, you have something infinitely better than a mere relationship.
So how do you know if you have this new covenant?
God’s new covenant is much stronger than a relationship.
Relationships are bound by two human wills. They can be strong, and they can be severed. It’s really up to us.
That’s why people who claim a “personal relationship” with Jesus sometimes make it and sometimes don’t. Sometimes they are genuinely sincere. Often the emotion fades, the disciplines and attention to worship wear off, and the seed proves to have fallen on bad soil. A “personal relationship” that does not continually seek corporate worship, accountable discipleship, ministry to others, and holiness of life is not very strong, is it?
God’s salvation covenant is infinitely stronger. That is because it does not depend upon our will, but God’s will. Notice how many times God says “I will” in this text (Ref. vs. 31, 33, 33, 33, 33, 34, 34). God will because man will not. (Ref. Romans 3:10-12)
We are not capable of initiating and maintaining a relationship with God, so God has reached out to us and offered a better, stronger covenant. It is based on the person and work of His Son, and applied by the person and work of His Spirit. In salvation, God comes to man and stops him in his sinful tracks, brings the gospel message to him, and transplants a new heart within him written with God’s love and God’s laws. You can know you have God’s love if you love God’s laws (Ref. John 14:15).
This is why the gospel should be ministered without manipulation and accepted without reservation. It proves the covenant to be stronger than any mere relationship. When superficial methods make a person profess faith in Christ, a struggle ensues to get them to stay in church and stay in line. But when God saves someone with His new covenant, you don’t have to tell them or beg them or trick them to worship the Lord and obey the Bible. For this is written in their hearts. They need teaching and discipleship to grow, but no one has to teach them to love, worship, and obey the Lord. They do so, supernaturally.
This is because God’s covenant of grace is better and God’s covenant of love is stronger than any personal relationship on earth. And there’s one other thing, too.
God’s new covenant is more valuable than a relationship.
God’s new covenant is not only better, not only stronger, but it is much more valuable than any relationship. It is bought by the Son, brought by the Spirit, and honored by God the Father. Just look at this text and see what God gives to those who accept His new covenant.
In the new covenant, God gives something no amount of pleasure is worth and no amount of money can buy. Maybe money can buy some happiness. Maybe money can maintain some relationships. Maybe money can buy some kinds of love, usually the wrong kind. But money cannot buy covenant love, because money cannot buy forgiveness.
I dare say that forgiveness is that pearl of great price (ref. Matthew 13:46). It is the one thing you do not want to leave earth without. It was pictured throughout the Old Testament by the shedding of the blood of animals, and it was accomplished in the New Testament by the shedding of the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. By the way, another word or New Testament is New Covenant.
You can have a relationship with the preacher or the Pope and still go to Hell. But if you have a real relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, what you really have is a new covenant. And what you have is more valuable than anything else in heaven or earth.
And, it is not merely personal. God’s promise in Jeremiah 31:31-34 is to people, plural. When you truly are saved by God’s new covenant, it makes you a member of God’s redeemed community. It makes you want to gather with them, sing with them, learn with them, and love them.
So please do not be offended by the dangers of a mere personal relationship. Realize that God the Father has planned, God the Son has sacrificed, and God the Spirit is at work to give you something better. So don’t settle for a word that is not even in the Bible.
Rather apply the concept of covenant to your important friendship. Apply the principle of covenant to your marriage. But most importantly, don’t stake your soul on an emotional relationship, but rather embrace the new covenant of God’s salvation today.
© Charles DeVane, 2006
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