There is both strength and weakness in knowledge, familiarity and routine; especially when it comes to relationships. As relationships grow and progress there is often times a place of comfort or a place of contentment and satisfaction with the relationship for one or more of the people within the relationship. This place of comfort can lead to greater intimacy and openness within the relationship or it can lead to a plateau within the relationship. This happens in families, marriages, friendships, professional relationships and even in our relationship with God.
In this message I want to deal specifically on how this place of comfort and contentment can affect our relationship with God.
Our relationship with Christ should intensify, deepen and encompass more and more of our lives as we grow older. The Apostle Paul compares our relationship with the Lord Jesus here on the earth to an engagement period prior to marriage (2 Corinthians 11:2). For those of you who are married I am sure you can recall the buildup of emotion, knowledge, passion and anticipation that led up to your wedding. When you proposed or accepted a proposal for marriage your life began to change. The same thing happens to each of us when we place our faith in Christ. We enter into a covenant relationship that will be consummated at a future date. We receive forgiveness of our sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit as Jesus’ down payment on our covenant.
And now you Gentiles have also heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago. The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him. (Ephesians 1:13-14)
Our present relationship with God is foretaste of eternity. We have been reconciled to Him through the blood of His Son Jesus so that we may spend eternity with Him.
For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit.
So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:1-8)
Our relationship with God through Christ in the present world is the engagement period of our relationship with Him. We live, love, worship and believe so that when this present life ends we may know Him in the same way that He knows us.
Now we see things imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. (1 Corinthians 13:12)
For those of you whose relationship with God continues to deepen and become more intense I say, “Amen”. There are many of our brothers and sisters in Christ who do not have this testimony and I ask that you would pray for them, encourage them and even correct them when necessary.
Our relationship with God must not fall into routine or regular. There may be regular and routine activities like prayer, bible study, worship and ministry but God Himself is infinite and can never fall into routine. We will never exhaust Him. We will never be able to fully comprehend Him. We will never be able to come to the place where there is nothing more to know, learn or experience.
For our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:29)
As Christians, most of us have heard messages like this one. We all have been taught that Christianity is a relationship with the living God and not a mere religion of rules and ritual. Our faith is alive because Jesus is alive. Our relationship with God is not dependent upon what we say and do in order to be “righteous” enough to qualify. Our relationship with God is dependent upon our faith in His Son who has already redeemed us.
We all know this and yet we all know brothers and sisters who have walked away from the faith. We all know this and yet we all know brothers and sister who have become complacent in the walk with the Lord. We all know this and yet we all know brothers and sisters who no longer do the things they used to (and the things they used to do were good, gospel things).
We all have seen brothers and sisters who were once walking with the Lord backslide into lifestyles of sin, departing from their faith and relationship with Jesus that they once had. Thankfully because of the grace of God and the prayers of those who love them we have also seen many of these backslidden brothers and sisters return to their faith, repent of their backsliding and once again follow Jesus with all of their hearts. Some of us reading may have gone through this and know the depth of the love, mercy and grace of God.
Normally we associate backsliding with a moral failure or overtly non-biblical behavior or relationship. Many of the scandals that we have seen involving well known ministers who have backslidden involved sins like adultery, fornication, homosexuality, and larceny (stealing money from the church). Backsliding may involve a radical departure from what we know to be right and true but it almost always involves a halt in forward progress in our relationship with God. Backsliding always involves a departure from prayer, bible study, worship and ministry.
I am writing this message to provoke you to keep your relationship with God real. If you have left the faith I am calling you to return. If you have reached a plateau and have become complacent, routine and religious I am calling you to return.
When you write these statements down or say them out loud they can seem a little hard to grasp or believe but this is what we are truly saying when we backslide:
- “My relationship with God has grown stale. The passion just isn’t what it used to be. The awe is gone. The wonder is gone. We’ve kind of just fallen into a routine.”
- “I have decided to stop following Jesus. I have found something else or someone else to take His place that is more important to me and brings me greater joy, pleasure and/or satisfaction.”
- “I am going to keep coming to church but the ministry work that I was doing is just taking too much time away from more important things in my life.”
- “I know that Jesus gave the Great Commission to me too but I have done enough already; let someone else do it for now.”
- “Just because I don’t talk to Him everyday doesn’t mean that I don’t love Him; He knows how I feel.”
- “I’ve got the basics of the Bible down; I really don’t need to study that much more. After all, isn’t that why I go to church? Isn’t that my pastor’s job?”
- “God and I don’t agree about a certain subject so I am going to move forward with what I believe.”
I know these statements are a little over the top but yet it is these type of statements and decisions that we make when we choose to stop following the Lord.
Here is a scripture that Paul wrote at the end of His life that constantly provokes me to move forward in my faith:
As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:6-8)
I have received God’s down payment of the Holy Spirit and I am very much looking forward to receiving the fullness of redemption.
That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
Have you ever met someone who broke off an engagement to be married? Perhaps you have been through this. For whatever reason one or both of the people in the relationship reached a point where they no longer wanted to move forward; they realized that they did not want to spend the rest of their life with the other person as husband or wife. Backsliding away from the faith is like breaking your engagement, only it is eternal. We need to make it all the way to the altar. We need to finish the race.
There may be days you are sprinting forward and there may be days when you need help from a brother or sister to keep going but the race is worth finishing.
Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
Keep your relationship with God real. Don’t over-spiritualize it. Don’t make it religious or routine; keep it real. When that which was once precious to you becomes ordinary you will soon replace it. Your relationship with God is not for the approval of others, it is not a show; it is your connection to your Creator.
Keep your relationship with God real and make it personal.
If you would move me with your preaching, or with your praying, or with your singing, first be moved yourself. (Alexander Whyte)
Wherever you are in your walk with Christ I am writing this message to encourage you to finish what you have begun. Keep your relationship with God real. Don’t allow your relationship to degenerate into a religious exercise. Stay connected to the one who gave His life so that you may know Him.