A PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD
by Bob Wheeler
If you were a pastor, what would you desire for your congregation? Paul had spent two years at the city of Ephesus in Asia Minor. The believers there were dear to his heart. What did he want for them? He tells us in a prayer he has for them in Eph. 3:14-19. It is basically that they would have a meaningful relationship with God. But what does that entail?
The passage begins like this: “For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man” (v. 16; NKJV). Paul will go on to elaborate on this in Chapter 6. Suffice it to say here that we are engaged in a spiritual war, that ‘we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (6:12), and therefore we are to “be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (6:10). This strength comes from “His Spirit in the inner man” (3:16). It is the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of us that gives us the strength to live the Christian life. Our own natural ability is not enough.
But then Paul goes on: “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith’ (v. 17). Christ, of course, is already in our hearts through faith if we are genuinely Christians. But here Paul seems to be talking about the full influence of Christ in our hearts. By “hearts” he means our whole inner being, not just our emotions. And as we walk by faith, as we trust and obey, we grow closer to Him and His influence is increasingly felt in our lives.
But Paul goes on. He says that we are to be “rooted and grounded in love” (v. 17). And then he goes on to elaborate further: that we “may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge . . .” (vv. 18,19). In short, we as finite, mortal human beings are confronted with the infinite, eternal glory of God Himself, and we stagger at the prospect. He is beyond our comprehension.
And if we could but faintly glimpse the love that Christ has for us guilty, undeserving sinners, a love that led Him to give up His very life for us, how differently would we treat others around us! How patient, how understanding, how merciful we would be! That is what it means to be “rooted and grounded in love.”
But then Paul goes on. He prays that “you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (v. 19). This is a bit like trying to fit the ocean in a teacup. How can “all the fullness of God” fit into us? And yet Paul says “that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” – that He would completely fill us, that He would fill us to overflowing, that He would fill us with all of His goodness, love, justice and mercy. At that point we truly become the image of God in man.
But how does it all work out in actual practice? The answer is the presence of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the believer. “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom. 5:5). Part of the fruit of the Spirit, of course, is “love, joy, peace’ (Gal. 5:22). If we have the Holy Spirit, if we are walking according to the Spirit, these qualities will fill our hearts.
But more to the point, the Holy Spirit gives us an assurance of God’s love towards us individually. “For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. 8:15,16). This is sometimes referred to as “the inner testimony of the Spirit,” and people experience it in various degrees. But according to the testimony of those who have experience it, it is truly “heaven on earth.”
It will be noted, once again, that this is a prayer: “For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened . . .” (vv. 14,16). A close, personal relationship with God, the experience of His love, is a privilege that must be bestowed by Him. He must grant it; we must ask for it. It is not something that we work up ourselves.
At the heart of the Christian life is a relationship with God. Mere church attendance is not enough. Not even doctrinal orthodoxy or financial giving are enough. What God wants is our hearts. Nothing less will do.