Intimacy with God

We were born into this world at enmity with God due to inherent sin. There can be no resolution of the conflict and no intimacy without reconciliation. There can be no reconciliation without repentance. Scott Peck observed that “the central defect of evil is not the sin but the refusal to acknowledge it.”[1]

Repentance must not be a one-time event. The purpose is deeper. A spirit of repentance insures a perpetual capacity for growth and change the means God uses to prevent our becoming developmentally stuck. When the disciples, in grand style, were arguing over the right to sit on either side of the Throne, Jesus quietly took a child and said, “I can guarantee this truth: Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3 GWT). Repentance is the gateway to conversion, and conversion means change. Without repentance, we have eliminated our capacity for change, and according to Jesus, we will “never enter the kingdom.” And there is more. It is not merely a matter of entering, but advancing within the kingdom. “Anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 18:4 NLT).

Conversion, out of repentance, offers the capacity to change. We are placed at the gateway of the transformational dimension, but humility determines how far one advances. The primary hindrances to intimacy come down to resistance and stubbornness, the unwillingness to break before God. In short, resistance to repentance. C. S. Lewis believed,

The essential vice, the utmost evil, is pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that are mere flea-bites in comparison: it was through pride that the devil became the devil; pride leads to every other vice; it is the complete anti-God state of mind.[2]

The ground on which prayer occurs is humility. To pray and remain proud is possible only as a delusion. Humility is the one character trait upon which we must act.

Jesus urged that if we brought our gift to the altar, but had ought against our brother, we should leave the altar and be reconciled with the brother (Mt. 5:23-24). The consummation of divine forgiveness is found in and with the act of forgiving another. It is the essence of the trespass offering of the Old Testament, a partner to the sin offering and it demanded restitution (Lev. 5:16). The vertical and the horizontal are bound together. Reconciliation with God demands conciliation with others. We are to be ministers of reconciliation (II Cor. 5:18). The climatic offering at the Old Testament altar was the peace offering, signaling triumph over the separation caused by sin and trespass (Lev. 3).

Paul was deeply disturbed about the lack of unity in the Corinthian church, “It hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions …” (I Cor. 1:11). The word eris means a quarrel, wrangling, contention, debate, strife, or variance. “Is Christ divided?”The answer is “No!” And yet, the Corinthians were divided. Paul declares, “I partly believe it. For there must be also heresies …” Paul’s postulate is that the companion of division is heresy, which we classically define as a theological error. There is more. Paul suggests that the heresies reveal those “which are approved” that they “may be made manifest among you …” (I Cor. 11:19) Heresy is theological error, incongruent truth, but Paul adds another dimension, suggesting that it also reveals error or trueness in relationships!

Heresy, the impure doctrine, is only the excuse that justifies the division. “We are right, they are wrong!” It often begins as “narrowed preferences” rooted in selfishness and rationalized as theology! Self-determined doctrinal-theological preferences, manifest as a preferred interpretation, an opinion, a personal choice or desire, a slice of truth or even a preference for a given style, are justified by proof-texts, when the real problem is a refusal to listen, to receive counsel, to be moderated by another, to live in balance, to submit to the larger body. Having begun in Christ, personal preferences and interpretations are then exalted above all and create division in the body. Such division is truth, both out of focus and without love. It is a result of centering on some idea other than Christ! Christ unifies.

Here is the process.

  1. First, there is the self-willed opinion, the exalted idea, “I think. In my opinion. I believe. I prefer …”
  2. Second, there is sectarianism. A small group forms around the idea. It becomes all important. “We believe. We prefer …”
  3. Next, the isolation and exaltation of the particular truth now defines the group. The slice of truth, now distorted and exalted must be defended. Pride demands it. At this point, it is difficult to discern the greater error – the lack of precision in theology or pride.
  4. Finally, there is full-blown division. A splinter group forms a church. The self-determined preference that began as “opinion”, the slice of truth, is now enshrined as the central identifying truth of the new movement – and it is more compelling to them than Christ.

When “a truth” is worshiped and enshrined as a group’s identifying mark, faith has degenerated to idolatry and a journey of self-deception has begun! How we respond to diversity in the context of truth – reveals us! Doctrinal errors and flawed ethics are traced back to an imperfect and ignoble concept of God.[3] God is love – we are to love one another. God is forgiving – we are to be forgiving. God is holy – we are to be holy. God is truth – we are to be true. God is trinity, three-in-one, a unified whole – we are to be one that the world might be believe.

“The gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at any given time may say or do, but what he in is deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God.”[4]

This is an excerpt from the Praying Church Handbook, Volume II, ‘Intimacy with God.’ The entire four volume set can be ordered at alivepublications.org.

 

[1] Payne, p. 227.

[2] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco: Harper, San Francisco, 2001), 121-122.

[3] Ibid, p. 121-122.

[4] A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, p. 9.