For a long time, when I first became a Christian, I could not believe that God loves me. I believed that I was not good enough for that. This made me extremely unhappy. I could affirm that God loved the world (John 3:16), but that was a general thing that did not apply to me. Although I repented of that foolish thinking, I still believed that, although God does love me, it was a kind of obligation because God is love. He has to love me, but that does not mean that he has to like me. If I did not like me then why would God like me? This is a rather messed up theology and rather limits relationship with God.
I doubt that I am alone in thinking these kinds of things. I am quite sure that many of you keep God at arm’s length because you really don’t believe that he would want to spend time with you. No doubt we all pray and go to church etc, but that is not necessarily the same thing as having a close relationship with our Father in heaven. But I am equally sure that our heavenly Father desires intimacy with you. It is his primary goal in bringing redemption to the world. God called you out of darkness so that he could be your Father and so that he can love you and know you and be in the most intimate relationship with you. So what I am going to speak about today is intimacy with God. This message has several parts. Firstly, it explains the desire of God to be intimate with you and with me. Second I consider several reasons why we avoid intimacy with God and how these are overcome. Finally, I discuss what that intimacy looks like.
Intimacy in the Trinity
The reason that you run away from intimacy with God is because you believe false things about yourself and false things about God. I want to dispel some of these lies today and free you to experience intimacy with our Father in Heaven. I will begin with God. Before there was a universe there was God, the God we know as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This triune God is complete as a communion of persons. The Father loves the Son in the Spirit and the Son returns that love to the Father in the Spirit. Father and Son have a beautiful relationship of intense love and intimacy. Jesus described this relationship when he said, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (John 14:10). Jesus could not be closer or more intimate with the Father. This relationship of course existed before the creation of the world. Because of this incredibly intimate love relationship, the Father chose to create the world so that there would be more sons and daughters to enjoy that intimate relationship of love mediated by the Holy Spirit. What this means is that God did not create humanity because he felt lonely or because he felt some obligation to do so. He did not even create humanity because he desired someone to worship him. He created human beings because he wanted them to enjoy the same relationship of intimate love and fellowship that he has with the eternal Son of God.
God’s Desire for a People who Will Love Him
Throughout the Bible there are indications that God desires deep relationship with his creatures. “I will also walk among you and be your God, and you shall be my people” (Lev 26:12). “I will take as my own people, and I will be your God” (Exo 6:7). “Obey me and do everything I command you, and you will be my people, and I will be your God” (Jer 11:4). “So you will be my people, and I will be your God” (Jer 30:22). Although the people of Israel did not obey their God, and hence failed to enter into intimacy with him, there is a wonderful promise of a new covenant.
Jeremiah 31:33-34 promises, “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
The stubborn rebelliousness of Israel kept them from having that intimate fellowship with the Father which he desired to have with them. However, he promised that a change would come about. Instead of humans being opposed to their creator, rebellion would be taken away and replaced with a heart which desires obedience to God. People would receive the Holy Spirit and as a result everyone would know the LORD. This is exactly what being a Christian is all about. We have been given the Holy Spirit and now we know the God who made us for relationship with him.
Paul says as much in Ephesians 1:3-6, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will–to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.”
This sums up what I have been saying so far. We have been chosen to be the sons and daughters of God because God the Father loves his Son, Jesus, and wants others to share in that intimate relationship of love. This was “in accordance with his pleasure and will”. In other words, choosing you and me to be in intimate relationship with him is something which pleases God greatly. It is the reason that you and I exist at all. We exist because God’s desire is to experience an intensely intimate relationship of love with us.
Our Sinful Avoidance of Intimacy with God
However, despite the fact that we have been saved under the incredibly amazing new covenant, I am quite confident that many of you, if not all of you, frequently avoid the intimacy with God that you have been created for. Sometimes this is an unconscious avoidance and sometimes it is an active avoidance. But either way you and I must choose to seek intimacy with God our Father instead of running from it. God is not fooled by what we do and he knows how clever we are at avoiding him while trying to look like we are doing the opposite. Some of the more devious ways of avoiding God include:
1) Christian ministry – doing lots of things in an effort to look like we are serving God, but actually this can keep you from actually spending time with him;
2) going to church – at church there are a lot of religious things to do which look good on the outside and can simply serve to hide your avoidance;
3) praying long and wordy prayers or shopping lists, instead of letting yourself be honest with God.
It is not these things which are the problem. Christian service and public worship are good things which we should all engage in. The problem is that we can sometimes use these to avoid God and fool ourselves (certainly God is not fooled) into believing that this is what having a relationship with God is. The problem is that so often we approach church or prayer or Bible reading or Christian service as a religious obligation rather than what it is intended to be. What we do as the people of God is meant to draw us in to closer intimacy with God as Father, rather than provide a way of hiding from him.
Why We Avoid Intimacy with God
Sin and shame
There are several reasons why we avoid intimacy with God. These have to do with how we see ourselves and how we see God. To understand why we avoid God let us begin at the beginning. In the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Gen 3:8-11 records,
“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?””
In the midst of the place where the first humans were to have communion with their creator, that is, “in the garden in the cool of the day”, “they hid from the LORD God”. Even after the people had sinned God sought them out. Why did they hide from intimacy with their creator? They hid, because sin produced in them guilt and shame. Just like Adam and Eve, you and I so often let guilt and shame produce fear in us and we hide from God. Guilt and shame cause us to run and hide from the God who desires us to come close and to be intimate with him. Yet, there is no reason to continue in guilt and shame. Hasn’t Jesus taken all our guilt and shame on the cross?
There is no need to walk in guilt and shame because Jesus offers us freedom from shame and forgiveness of sin. Let me just quote a few verses and offer a few for you to look up later. “For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame”” (1 Pet 2:6; also Rom 10:11). Heb 2:11 tells us that Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers and Heb 11:16 declares that God is not ashamed to be the God of those who have faith in him. Forgiveness is a core aspect of the new covenant (Heb 8:12; 10:17). This is because of the shed blood of Jesus (Eph 1:7), who became sin for us (2 Cor 5:21) so that we might be righteous, that is people who have a right relationship with our heavenly Father.
Jesus tells us in John 3:19-20: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” If as a Christian you do not want to bring your deeds to the light then you have forgotten what Jesus has done for you in living a holy life and dying an atoning death. Instead of living as if you can keep your sins from God, bring them into the light and experience forgiveness. Repent of the wrong you know that you are doing and ask your heavenly Father for deliverance from those habitual sins so that you may live a life which is pleasing to him. It is the desire of God to wash you clean from your sins and to make you new, because he has already done everything necessary for this to happen. This is the purpose of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
False ideas about God
The second reason that we avoid intimacy with God is that we have a false understanding of who God is. We sometimes avoid intimacy with God because we project our experience of earthly fathers onto our heavenly Father. Some fathers are good but some are downright abusive. It is difficult not to see God as like the father you have on earth. Since my own father never seemed to be proud of anything that I ever achieved, I have always been the sort of person who needs to achieve more and more. I want to have a father who is proud of me, and subconsciously I think of achievement as necessary to my relationship with God. My dad was always so very proper, but this is a far cry from intimacy. Our Father in heaven is not staid and proper, but yearning for intimacy with us.
I know that my heavenly Father is not like my earthly father. He is not abusive but incredibly loving and gracious towards us. The clearest way we know this is that he has given up his own Son for our sake. Rom 8:32 declares, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” He gave up what was most precious to him so that he might be reconciled with us who were his enemies. This is the opposite of abusive. God our Father is accepting. He is proud of us in the same way as he is proud of his Son Jesus. When he looks at me he sees me in the say way as he sees Jesus. I don’t need to prove anything to him. He is already proud.
I know that I have had some distorted views of our Father in heaven. I believed that God is a hard man. This came home to me about 18 months ago when I was doing some weeding and God said to me, “I want you to enjoy me.” My first thought was to ask him, “What do you want me to do?” (The response of doing is in itself a way of avoiding intimacy with him.) It was while I was praying about how to enjoy God that I realised something else about myself and my distorted view of God. In Luke 19:11-27 there is a parable about a king who went away for a time and left his servants with some money, hoping for a return on his money when he came back. Two servants used the money and made more money. These were rewarded for it. But one of the servants hid the money because he was afraid. He said, “I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow” (v 21). I realised that I have spent many years acting like the man who was afraid. I thought of God as a hard man. I am sure that I am not alone in thinking of God as a hard man, a man easily angered by my failures. This false view of God will keep us from the intimacy which we can experience with him.
Sinful desire for autonomy
The third reason that we avoid intimacy with God our Father is that we want to live our lives without the intervention of God. We do not want him to tell us what to do with our lives. This is very much a product of our culture. Australians really don’t like authority. We are all, consciously or unconsciously, wanting to do our own thing without interference from anyone, including from God himself. How does this manifest in our Christian walk? Well, as Christians we want at least to appear to be spiritual people concerned about what is right and wrong. But instead of walking in the Spirit we sometimes seek out the opinion of others to justify what we want to do. Instead of praying about the decisions of our lives or about the mundane events of our existence, we bypass intimacy with God and simply decide for ourselves what seems good to us, justifying decisions to ourselves because we are afraid to ask God about these things. We live by the philosophy that it is better to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission.
Yet we all know that this is not a Christian way to live. The apostle Paul exhorts us, “And he [Jesus] died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Corinthians 5:15). It is time for you and me to lay down our autonomy on the altar and to commit our lives again to him who died for us, to Jesus who has every right to run our lives. He is Lord. When we have made the choice to put to death our ‘right’ to do what we want, then we will be free to enter into intimacy with the Father in heaven.
What does intimacy look like?
Now we can turn to what it means to have intimacy with the Father. What does intimacy with God look like? To answer this we must look at the person of Jesus. In John 14:15-23 Jesus said,
“If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever– the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?” Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”
In verse 10 Jesus said that he is in the Father and the Father is in him. Instead of understanding this as only a statement that Jesus is divine, we must understand this as a statement of relationship. Jesus and the Father are in one another, that is, their relationship is so intimate that if you know one of them you know them both. That is why Jesus could say to Philip, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (v 9). We do not have a problem thinking that Jesus has an intimate relationship with the Father. So it is not difficult to read Jesus saying, “I am in my Father and my Father is in me.” Yet Jesus uses that same language about us: “I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you” (v 20). When we become believers, the same intimacy of relationship between Jesus and the Father extends to us. We have intimacy with Jesus and hence with the Father.
Jesus promised that he would not leave us as orphans, but would come to us and make his home with us. When I was a child my parents were divorced and I would visit my father every second weekend. I did not live with him and he did not live in my home. The relationship was a distant one, both geographically and emotionally. But Jesus promised us the exact opposite. He promised a relationship with our heavenly Father that is not distant but incredibly, intimately close, because he makes his home with us. If you are not experiencing intimacy with God it is not because God does not desire intimacy with you. It is because you are trying to avoid intimacy with him.
What would it be like for you if you allowed God to be intimate with you? Since our Father is tender and gentle there is no reason for fear. He is actually pleased to have you come to him in prayer. You can come and speak to him about all of the things in your life. I have been practising praying about everything: I pray before I go anywhere, pray when shopping or about the ordinary course of the day. I pray about things which bother me and things which are good and I want to be thankful for. I pray about family and country and wider things in the world. But intimacy with God also involves listening. Sometimes the Father has something to say to us. Sometimes this is through the Word and sometimes this is through the Spirit. This is transformative.
We can all have intimacy with God and boldly approach the throne of grace (Heb 4:16), because as Heb 4:14 tells us, “we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus Christ the Son of God.” God has given us his Holy Spirit, causing us to cry out “Abba, Father,” a cry of intimacy with our God. So please pray with me in repentance for avoiding intimacy with God and ask our Father in Heaven to take us deeper into knowledge of him.