I've heard people share their life stories about coming to know God many times. They usually make the distinction between knowing about God and personally knowing Him.
I recently heard a young woman from Switzerland share this during a class I taught in a DTS course with YWAM-Jax. I was so encouraged as she told her story with such freshness and sincerity.
So, what is the difference between knowing about God and knowing Him in a personal way?
Reading through the Gospel of Matthew again during my morning devotions, I came across the story of Jesus being baptized by John (Matt 3:13-17). John the Baptizer was preaching in the wilderness area east of Jerusalem by the Jordan River, telling people to "Repent!" because the Kingdom of Heaven was near.
As people came out to hear John, he challenged them to confess their sins and be baptized in the Jordan River. His message was strong and confrontational. He also told people that he (John) was the messenger for the coming Messiah (Matt 3:1-12).
When Jesus came out to be baptized, John realized who Jesus was (John 1:29-34) and thought that he should be baptized by Jesus. But Jesus insisted, so John proceeded to baptize Him in the waters of the Jordan River.
A voice from heaven
As Jesus came up out of the water, John saw the heavens open, the Holy Spirit come down as a dove and stay on Jesus, and heard a voice from heaven.
Then a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love—my Son with whom I am pleased.” (Matthew 3:17 GW)
I had the privilege of baptizing my dad in the Jordan River many years ago. I also gave a short message before the baptism based on this same text. The primary theme of that message spoke to my own heart.
I've shared this message with many people at various times in different settings over the past 30 years. But it also helped me see the concept of repentance in a clearer light.
Repentance is an attitude
What do you think of when you hear the term repentance? I've often heard people explain it as, "turning 180 degrees in the other direction" from where our life was headed. This may be true but there's more to it than that. Actually, there's less to it than that.
I spoke about this before in a post in one of my posts in Applied Truth. Repentance is a heart attitude, not a one-time act.
The typical focus about repentance is on turning away from our sinful life to follow God. I came to realize it was more about turning to God, which will naturally pull us away from our former way of life as we follow Jesus.
A better way
When we focus on turning away from our former life, we can easily get stuck on the treadmill of a performance-based relationship with God. In other words, as long as we aren't walking in the old ways and trying to do good, we think we're okay with God.
This way of thinking and living is a trap. One we can never get out of because we're dependent on our own efforts rather than the grace of God.
There is a better way, a way that brings freedom. What the Father says at the baptism of Jesus provides some simple insight into this better way.
3 basic elements of a relationship with God
Going back to what John heard from that voice from heaven (the Father)—
“This is my Son, whom I love—my Son with whom I am pleased.” (Matthew 3:17 GW)
I see three basic elements to having a personal relationship with God.
When we put our trust in Jesus as our Savior and Lord, we become a child of God (Gal 4:6-7). As obvious as this may seem, it is more of a theological concept for many people than a personal reality.
What the Father says about Jesus becomes true for us as Christian believers—"This is my son...." This isn't a gender restriction, it's a statement of adoption and legitimacy (Rom 8:15-17).
It describes a new and different relationship with God than what was known under the Old Covenant (Jer 31:31-34). It is a personal relationship with the Father just as Jesus modeled for us when He was on earth (John 17:20-23).
An essential part of this personal relationship with God is that it's based on God's acceptance of us, not our own efforts or goodness—His grace—His kindness and favor.
As the apostle Paul stated it—
...To the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace... (Eph 1:6-7 NKJV)
God's acceptance of us by His grace is in response to our turning to Him in repentance (2 Cor 7:10). And so, the Father says the same about us that He did about Jesus—"...whom I love."
God's favor and blessing upon us and our life as His children is always based on His mercy and grace, never on the basis of our own goodness.
Just as a newborn child is loved by his or her parents, we love the Lord because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). A newborn only responds based on the love shown to them. This is us as believers, and the Father says about us what He said about Jesus—"...with whom I am pleased."
We respond with love to the Lord because of His gracious acceptance and approval of us as His children, as we put our complete trust in Him.
Our dilemma with self-esteem
Self-esteem—the valuing of our self-worth— was a big emphasis in American culture during the 80's. It is still an important human value.
However, it often morphs into a concept of self-love as a means of self-acceptance to overcome shame, abuse, guilt, and other issues.
A sense of self-worth is typically based on our relationships with parents and significant others. But, at some point, we all get let down by others and we let others down.
Basing our self-worth on our own redefining or reframing of our lives through self-affirmations is a fickle and feeble foundation for a sense of self-worth.
If we want a reliable, trustworthy basis for self-worth it needs to have a firm foundation. Nothing and no one is more trustworthy than God.
Originally, humans were created in the image of God—imago dei (Gen 1:26-27). We are not mere animals or just bodies with personalities, emotions, and intellect, we are living souls (Gen 2:7 KJV).
Humans were created for relationship with God.
This is the purpose of Christ's redemptive death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. This is why Jesus—the Son of God—was sent as the Son of man (1 Cor 15:45, 49)—to restore things back to what God originally intended.
Our highest value as a person is found in a personal relationship with God—Our Creator and Redeemer.
God calls each person to Himself through His love shown by sending His Son.
Have you heard God's words of acceptance and approval personally (Rom 8:16)?
If not, He's waiting for you to respond to His love.