A per­sonal re­la­tion­ship with Je­sus or fel­low­ship with God?

Westside Eagle-Observer - - OPINION - By Randy Moll

We hear much talk these days about hav­ing a per­sonal re­la­tion­ship with Je­sus Christ and, while the con­cept is not nec­es­sar­ily bad, it’s not ex­actly Bib­li­cal. Fel­low­ship, on the other hand, is a Bib­li­cal con­cept and some­thing which be­liev­ers have with God the Fa­ther through faith in the Son, Je­sus Christ.

Why would I say this? Well, look for the word “re­la­tion­ship” in a good Bi­ble con­cor­dance. It’s not in the King James Ver­sion, the New King James Ver­sion, Young’s Lit­eral Trans­la­tion, the Amer­i­can Stan­dard Ver­sion or the English Stan­dard Ver­sion. It is used once in ref­er­ence to a sex­ual re­la­tion­ship in the New Amer­i­can Stan­dard Ver­sion and sev­eral times in the New In­ter­na­tional Ver­sion but not in ref­er­ence to our per­sonal re­la­tion­ship with Je­sus Christ. On the other hand, look up the word “fel­low­ship” and you will find abun­dant us­age.

What’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween these two words? And, why are so many talk­ing of hav­ing a per­sonal re­la­tion­ship with Je­sus when the Scrip­tures re­ally don’t specif­i­cally speak of such a re­la­tion­ship?

If you look at what is said about hav­ing a “re­la­tion­ship” or “per­sonal re­la­tion­ship” with Je­sus Christ, the fo­cus is on us and what we do; and that’s ap­peal­ing to peo­ple be­cause most think of their faith as some­thing

they choose or do. And, how do we establish this re­la­tion­ship? The usual an­swer is by spend­ing time in Bi­ble study and prayer, at­tend­ing up­lift­ing and emo­tion­ally-mov­ing church ser­vices, lis­ten­ing to Chris­tian mu­sic and im­mers­ing our­selves in ev­ery­thing “Chris­tian.”

While these things are not bad, there’s a prob­lem. I am and you are, by na­ture, a sin­ner and spir­i­tu­ally blind, dead and an en­emy of God (cf. Eph­e­sians 2:1ff.) and we can­not by any choice we make or any­thing we do make our­selves ac­cept­able to God or establish a per­sonal re­la­tion­ship with Him.

Fel­low­ship, on the other hand, is a Bib­li­cal con­cept in which we sin­ners who are out of fel­low­ship with God and un­der His wrath and con­dem­na­tion for break­ing His com­mand­ments are brought into fel­low­ship with God the Fa­ther through faith in His Son and His aton­ing sac­ri­fice on the cross for the sins of the en­tire world.

St. Paul wrote to the be­liev­ers at Colosse: “And you, that were some­time alien­ated and en­e­mies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he [Je­sus Christ] rec­on­ciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and un­blame­able and un­re­prove­able in his sight: if ye con­tinue in the faith grounded and set­tled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every crea­ture which is un­der heaven” (Colos­sians 1:21-23).

John writes of this fel­low­ship in his first epis­tle (1 John 1:3; 1:6 - 2:2): “That which we have seen and heard de­clare we unto you, that ye also may have fel­low­ship with us: and truly our fel­low­ship is with the Fa­ther, and with his Son Je­sus Christ … If we say that we have fel­low­ship with him, and walk in dark­ness, we lie, and do not the truth: but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fel­low­ship one with an­other, and the blood of Je­sus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we de­ceive our­selves, and the truth is not in us. If we con­fess our sins, he is faith­ful and just to for­give us our sins, and to cleanse us from all un­righ­teous­ness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My lit­tle chil­dren, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an ad­vo­cate with the Fa­ther, Je­sus Christ the right­eous: and he is the pro­pi­ti­a­tion for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”

God de­sires that we have fel­low­ship (koinonia) with Him, but the only way we sin­ners can have fel­low­ship with the just and holy God is by ac­knowl­edg­ing and con­fess­ing our sins against His holy law and look­ing to Christ Je­sus the right­eous and His pro­pi­ti­at­ing or aton­ing sac­ri­fice on the cross for our sins and the sins of the whole world (cf. John 1:29; 3:1415; 14:6). When we are brought to faith in Christ Je­sus through the hear­ing of God’s Word and con­tinue in that faith by the Spirit’s work­ing through the Word and sacra­ments of Bap­tism and the Lord’s Sup­per (Ro­mans 10:17; John 6:44,63; Ti­tus 3:4-7; 1 Corinthi­ans 11:23ff.; Acts 2:42), we are in God­wrought fel­low­ship with God the Fa­ther and His only-be­got­ten Son, Je­sus Christ, and also with all other true be­liev­ers in Christ Je­sus.

I can’t establish and main­tain a re­la­tion­ship with Je­sus Christ or with God be­cause of my sin­ful­ness. Even my best ef­forts to establish a re­la­tion­ship with Je­sus come far short of mak­ing me ac­cept­able to God, and I am only fool­ing my­self if I think my ef­forts are, of them­selves, pleas­ing to Him.

But God has made it pos­si­ble for me, a sin­ner, to have fel­low­ship with Him. He did that by send­ing His Son into the world a true man to re­deem me from sin and make me ac­cept­able in His eyes through faith in Christ Je­sus (cf. Gala­tians 4:4-5; Colos­sians 1:19-23). And, work­ing through the preach­ing of the Gospel, He has brought me to faith in Christ, washed away my sins in Holy Bap­tism and as­sured me of par­don and forgiveness in the Lord’s Sup­per. God brought me into fel­low­ship with Him through faith in my Sav­ior and His blood shed for me upon the cross; and God keeps me in that fel­low­ship by pre­serv­ing me in the faith through the hear­ing of His Word and through the prom­ises of Bap­tism and the Lord’s Sup­per (cf. Philip­pi­ans 1:6).

Can I establish a per­sonal re­la­tion­ship with Je­sus Christ by my de­ci­sions and choices, by my life and works? No! But God has gra­ciously cho­sen and called me to trust in His Son. He has brought me to know and trust in Christ Je­sus. And, He has brought me into fel­low­ship with Him and His Holy Chris­tian Church made up of all be­liev­ers in Christ of all time!

With that said, all who trust in Christ Je­sus are in a re­la­tion­ship with Him. He is their Head and Sav­ior; they are mem­bers of His Church and His bride. Cf. Eph­e­sians 5:22-33; 1 Peter 2:1-10; Rev­e­la­tion 21:1ff. But the prob­lem with most of the re­la­tion­ship talk these days is con­nected with erring views about who es­tab­lishes the re­la­tion­ship and how. We don’t establish the re­la­tion­ship by our piety and de­vo­tion, God brings us into fel­low­ship and makes us His chil­dren by God-wrought faith in Christ Je­sus (Gala­tians 3:26-27; Colos­sians 2:12; John 6:44,63).

Randy Moll is the man­ag­ing edi­tor of the West­side Ea­gle Ob­server and also the pas­tor at Good Shep­herd Evan­gel­i­cal Lutheran Church in Rogers. He may be con­tacted with ques­tions by email at rmoll@ nwadg.com. Opin­ions ex­pressed are those of the au­thor.

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