Doctrine is only one portion of authentic Christianity. It is important, to be sure — it is essential that the church teach right doctrines — but it is only part of what we must include in our worship of our Creator, Savior and Sanctifier. No matter how much we know, Paul says, it doesn’t do us any good if we don’t have love (1 Corinthians 13:2).
Jesus said the most important command in the Scriptures was to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). When we focus on the Word of God, we often focus on doctrines. That is because the Holy Spirit leads us to bring our minds and thoughts into conformity with God’s will. But the Spirit does not stop there. Knowledge of God’s purpose and will must be put to use, or it is worthless.
As the 16th-century reformers said, we are saved by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone. The Holy Spirit leads us to combine right belief with right action. Faith in Jesus leads the believer to obedience to the will of God. We do not want to have a dead orthodoxy, being correct in beliefs, but ineffective in life. Right doctrine, if held in true faith, will necessarily affect our behavior.
Let’s get emotional
Likewise, right doctrine affects our emotions. It is not possible for us to love God with all our heart without getting emotional about it! When we understand the doctrine that God showed his love for us by sending his only Son to die for us, then it will have an effect on our emotions toward God. We love him because he first loved us.
Our relationship with God is characterized by love. Love is more than emotion, but it includes emotion — a powerful affection and attraction. When we love him, we will adore him, seek him, yearn to spend time with him, desire to be like him and seek to please him in everything we do.
The Psalms are very expressive emotionally. Psalm 69, for example, shows how David poured out his emotions to God. Psalm 63 is an example of David’s yearning for God: “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” Psalm 42 gives a similar thought: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.”
The Holy Spirit leads believers to feel this way when they love the Lord with all their heart. After all, we are the “fiancee” of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 11:2). We are going to live with him forever and ever. The Spirit provides believers with true love, a love that transforms everything we do throughout the day. We can be, in effect, walking on cloud nine. We can be happy and hopeful. We can have the peace that surpasses understanding. We can have a song on our heart. These are poetic ways of describing the love that surpasses our ability to describe in literal terms. We do not have words to describe how good we feel. That’s how it is between us and our Savior.
It is often said that Christianity is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. “Relationship” has many meanings. We must ask what kind of relationship we have. Some people ignore Jesus. Some are afraid, and some are angry. These are defective relationships.
The Bible describes a good relationship with God in several ways. In a simple analogy, he is the Lord and Master, and we are his slaves. This analogy is correct — we should honor, reverence, and obey our perfect and good Lord — but it is not the complete picture. Jesus said we could have even more: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15).
Is Jesus your friend? I hope so, but some people are not comfortable with that phrase. Some men are not comfortable expressing love for Jesus Christ. They may or may not be able to say that they love their dad and love their children, but they are not comfortable saying, “I love Jesus.” They find themselves embarrassed to express love for their Savior.
Some people prefer more abstract titles, such as the Eternal, the Creator, the Almighty, the Messiah, the Christ. Those titles are good, and true, but alone they can make God seem aloof and far away. The name Jesus reminds us that the Word became flesh and lived among us as a human being.
Jesus Christ came to show us the Father. He showed us a personal being. He stressed that God is our Father, and the name Father shows a desire for love and companionship. Our Father in heaven wants to spend eternity with us, and he wants our relationship with him to be characterized by an emotion — love. He loves us, and he wants us to love him with intensity, with passion. He wants worship, but he also wants friendship. In this we follow in the footsteps of Abraham, our father in the faith, who walked with God and was called a friend of God (James 2:23).
Faith is central to Christianity, and faith is a relationship term. We must have faith in Jesus Christ. This means that we believe that he is all he says he is, and he will do what he has promised. It means that we trust him.
When we have faith in Jesus, it means more than simply believing that he exists, more than believing that he is the Son of God, more than believing that he died for our sins. Those are true, and they are essential, but faith also means trusting him day by day, walking with him, knowing that the love he has for us will never fail.
Jesus gave us this promise: “This is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:39-40). We can have confidence in him.
Paul described salvation as reconciliation between God and his people. Reconciliation is also a relationship word. Before we were called, we were hostile toward God, but we were reconciled through the death of Jesus Christ (Romans 5:10). This means that we are his friends rather than his enemies.
This personal reconciliation is important. It is part of the message we have been called to proclaim: “He has committed to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19). We implore people on Christ’s behalf that they be reconciled to God (verse 20). We urge them to accept the gift of friendship that has been made possible by the death of Jesus on the cross (Colossians 1:20).
By becoming friends of God, we also become friends of each other. Since we will each live with God eternally, we will also live with one another eternally, in a relationship characterized by love. We are reconciled not only with God, but also with each other. Paul described the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles:
In Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ…. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross…. You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household. (Ephesians 2:13-19)
We have citizenship rights in heaven — but not just citizenship — we are also part of the royal family. We are heirs of eternal life, heirs of a never-ending life with a Father who loves each of us individually and personally. He wants us to be with him, to enjoy him forever.
To help convey some of this spiritual reality, let’s imagine for a minute a metaphorical throne room in heaven, larger than any we have ever seen, full of splendor and beauty. God the Father reigns supreme. Jesus is at his right hand. The Holy Spirit fills the room with tremendous brilliance. Do we come before his throne with fear and trembling only, or also with joy and affection?
By his grace, through faith in Jesus, we can come to God with tremendous respect and awe, with never-ending worship. But also through Jesus we can come to God with joy, thanksgiving and confidence, with full assurance, knowing that the blood of Christ cleanses us from every sin (Hebrews 4:14-16). There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). We come before God spotless and pure, clothed in the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ.
We have an eager longing to enter the throne room of heaven, knowing that we are welcome. God wants us to be there. He loves us so much that he sent his only Son to die for us. We are his children, and we can enter his gates with praise. He wants us to come in, to feel the splendor, to experience the love and kindness, to know that the power is always used to help us.
Did you know that we are already in the heavenly throne room? Paul says:
Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up [past tense] with Christ and seated us [past tense] with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7)
Spiritually, we are already in heaven! God wants us to be in his presence. He wants us to be with him, to love him, to be friends of his Son — and even more than friends: to be brothers and sisters. We can come boldly before his throne, knowing that he wants us to be there.
We can ask ourselves, how is my friendship with the Lord? Am I comfortable in his presence? Do I welcome him in my life and heart? Is the gospel, grace and forgiveness making a difference in my life? The new covenant, sealed with the blood of our Savior, gives us forgiveness. It gives us reconciliation and confidence. It gives us personal friendship and brotherhood with Jesus Christ.
A good relationship with Jesus goes a long way in times of trial, in times of doctrinal uncertainty, and in times of blessing. It is a joy to know the Lord — not just know about him, but to know him, to have a person-to-person friendship. It is a tremendous comfort to know that he values us, that he is like a father who gets up and runs toward us whenever we come back to him (Luke 15:20). He welcomes us as a beloved child, not as a servant (verses 22-23). He wants us to live in his house forever.
Jesus Christ says you can have the joy of salvation. Faith and hope in him will transform your life. Do you need a better relationship with our Lord and Master? Yes, we all do. So how can we have it? Let me suggest three things: prayer, study and fellowship.
- Pray. Ask God to give you the joy of salvation. Ask him to help you know his love for you in the sacrifice and resurrection of his Son. Ask him to help you adore him, to know and feel his love for you. Ask him for faith in Jesus, and for his power to walk in his love.
- Study. In this case, I suggest studying the four Gospels. Sometimes we study for doctrine and for commands regarding what we should do. This time, I suggest that we study simply to see what Jesus is like as a person. Get a feel for his love and compassion, his desire for friendship, his zeal for his Father’s glory. Walk with him in the mountains, across the lake, into the city of his death. Meditate on it. Feel with him. Our life is hidden with Jesus Christ (Colossians 3:3) — discover what his life is like.
- Fellowship. Our love for the Lord is expressed in part by our love for one another. Share with others the joy that you have in the Lord. Let it shine. In Christ, we will live forever with one another, with ever-growing love for one another. Let’s express his love in us now! Encourage others, as often as we meet them (Hebrews 10:24-25). Treat others with the courtesy that Jesus would give them. Forgive them as he would forgive them, and as he has forgiven you.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com
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This article was written by Joseph Tkach in 1996 and updated in 2014. Copyright Grace Communion International. All rights reserved. If you'd like to learn more about the Bible, check out Grace Communion Seminary. It's accredited, affordable, and all online. www.gcs.edu.
Christianity is a way of life, changing our thoughts, our actions, and our emotions. It is Christ in us who makes it possible. May he live in us all.