I often hear various riffs on the expression “relationship with Jesus.” It comes in different forms- such as “Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship”- but the one I want to focus on is “I have a personal relationship with Jesus.” This is a fairly common phrase used in modern evangelical christendom and it is often used as a distinguishing and divisive label. It is said that a man or woman who believes that Jesus died for their sins has a personal relationships with Jesus, and all the pagans, heathens, atheists, agnostics and purveyor of other false religions have no such relationship. Its a drastic separation that draws a line down in the sand of who is in with Jesus and who isn’t. The goal of evangelism has become, therefore, almost like a blind date where you want to “set people up” with Jesus. The idea is to try to introduce people to Jesus with the hopes that they’ll start a personal relationship with him, and where they once did not know each other, now they do. For many people, the act of being born again is what creates the relationship- it is what sets it all in motion. The measure of salvation determines whether a person will have a personal relationship with Jesus or not.
That’s not the way I look at it at all. The way I see it, the way the biblical texts read, is that every man woman and child has a personal relationship with Jesus. They just do. All from birth and into their teen years and adult life. The militant Atheist has a personal relationship with Jesus. The Sunni Muslim has a personal relationship with Jesus. The jack-Mormon has a personal relationship with Jesus. The New- Age Wiccan has a personal relationship with Jesus. The nice neighbourly guy who lives down the street has a personal relationship with Jesus. But here’s the thing- some personal relationships are characterized by friendship with God, and other personal relationships are characterized by hostility, anger and judgement towards and from God. If you have not been born again you have a personal relationship with Jesus alright- Jesus personally considers you his enemy!
That’s what the bible says. Every person has a personal relationship with Jesus- the only question is whether or the personal relationship is that of friendship, or enmity. God, in his holy perfection, regards unsaved people as his enemies. They are personally his foe. They are personally his enemy. One type of personal relationship is characterized by adopting you because of what Christ has done on your behalf because of his grace. The other type has God being very, very mad at you because of your hatred and rebellion towards him, which you’ve been doing for months, years, decades. One type- the promise of justification, sanctification, glorification and joy in him, and the other personal relationship with Jesus results in Jesus storing up wrath against you, which he will unleash on the day of his righteous judgement if you don’t change the nature of your personal relationship.
Its an inconvenient truth that many Christians just don’t want to face- If you pointed to some guy on the street and asked a typical believer “If that guys is not born again, is he an enemy of God that God is storing up wrath against?” I’ll bet you they’ll say no. They’ll probably say something like “I think God is a God of love and loves everybody. He’s not mad at you- he’s mad about you.” It’ll be something like that or very close. And yet as we have seen, such a perspective is ignorant and straddles the line between unbiblical and sub-biblical. Its about the exact opposite of what the scriptures say, and unfortunately I would wager it is the viewpoint of most unlearned Christians today.
You don’t need to meet God- he already knows who you are, and he hates the insults and sins and slaps in his face that you’ve been giving him. You don’t need to introduce yourself and give him a good impression; you need to reconcile yourself to him for the years of abuse you’ve handed him over the course of your personal relationship. And how do you become reconciled to God? Through the belief, faith and trust in the purpose of the death of his Son, given to you by the grace of God alone. That is what will transform your personal relationship into one that leads to life. That is what will heal the fractured and troubled personal relationship into one of health and vibrancy and joy.
Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. [Romans 5:9-10]