Intimacy with God

1. Initial Impressions

What first comes into a person’s mind when they hear the expression, “Intimacy with God?

Subjectivity usually predominates. Outside of very biblically informed believers, and perhaps some “marketplace Christianity groups”, we would expect an experiential / pietistic answer.

The contemporary spirituality of wider Western culture is very comfortable with the idea of an inward relationship with God, but rejects the distinguishing features of biblical religion[1].

2. Friends of the King

Whilst it is not illegitimate to speak of intimacy with God[2], the fact that “intimacy” is not a biblical word[3] cautions us not to begin with assumptions based on this term but to seek appropriate biblical terminology. In preparing this study two terms came to the fore, friendship and knowledge.

Classically, the mission of Christ has been summarised in terms of his three roles of prophet, priest and king[4]. Throughout the Bible these three offices are central to theocratic government. In 1 Kings 4:5 and 1 Chronicles 27:33, for example, we encounter a position titled, “friend of the king”, this person was a confidential advisor with whom the monarch shared his mind and heart concerning all the matters of the kingdom. Such a close acquaintance prefigures the manner in which Jesus related to his inner circle of disciples.

“No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15). Jesus has held nothing back of all that the Father has shared with him about the rule of God through his life. In other words, the disciples are confidantes of the King in relation to the kingdom of God. The process of “making known” is vital to friendship, and is no mere intellectual matter. The following scripture is one of the highest Christological statements in the Synoptic[5] Gospels.

“At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things[6] from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” (Matt 11:25-27)

The Father and Son know each other’s identity by a mutually interpenetrating innermost trust, insight and understanding of character. The emphasis is on Father-Son mutual knowledge, not something that precedes it[7]. The Son knows the Father not in some subjective or mystical sense, but in the midst of/through the array of “all things” that have been “handed over” to him[8] by the Father. This “handing over” involves the rule of God. Likewise, where God takes sovereign initiative in revelation, showing the things he shared with Christ to his people, this contains within it a share in his sovereign rule over everything.

The all encompassing language of “knowing” find expression at many levels, e.g. as a definition of eternal life, “you (Father) have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:2-3)[9]

Part of the mystery of the gospel, which is an essential aspect of the larger context of Jesus’ discourse, is that “all things” are ultimately handed over to him by his being “delivered over” to death e.g. Matt 20:18; 26:2; 27:2.

3. The Divine Council

Returning to the Old Testament imagery, a friend of the king is part of his council. This was a privilege that the prophets shared in their relationship with God. True prophets stand in “the divine council” (Jer 23:22)[10]. This is presented in an exhaustive way, ““For the Lord God does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets.” (Amos 3:7). Through Jesus, this inestimable privilege has been raised to a higher level and fulfilled in the relationship between the Lord and Christians[11].

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph 1:3), this blessing is not some mere state of feeling, blessing relates to dominion, “And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over” (Gen 1:28). The goal of the entire rule that God shares with us is the “plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him (Christ), things in heaven and things on earth.” (Eph 1:10[12])

Similarly, the exalted state of the believer, “and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:6) relates to ruling. As seated with Christ, who is at the right hand of God, we have fellowship with him in his kingly rule. This is intimately related to the Great Commission “All authority in heaven and earth…go therefore….” (Matt 28:18 ff.)

“Intimacy” therefore means the participation believers have with God in the decisions he is making and enacting from heaven with respect to his kingdom coming on earth (Matt 6:9-10).

4. Entering into this

Communion with the King in the matters of the kingdom can only come by revelation knowledge. Jesus said, “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.” (John 7:17). The “knowing” of which Jesus speaks is “to know” by acquaintance[13]. It is to “know” that the Son has been given authority to speak (= to work) from the Father. It is to actually know (even if in part) what Jesus knows. It is to have insight into the immeasurably excellence of the Father-Son relationship in the Spirit, and that we are given a part in it! This is to be overwhelmed by the wisdom of God (cf. Matt 11:25)[14].

The following principle applies, “A revelation of the wisdom of God in the works of God will always lead to a willingness to work with God.” This is simply an outworking of Paul’s command, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12:2). Wherever God’s will is “seen” to be “good and acceptable and perfect” men and women will delight in being a part of it. This will necessarily draw them into a form of spirituality that mirrors that of the incarnate Lord.

Since God is wholly present in his willing[15], the awareness of a distance between ourselves and God indicates resistance to his will. The divine indwelling intensifies as we increasingly submit to the will of the Father[16].

A testimony: my own transition from a “successful” ministry to a “prayerful” ministry, from “effectiveness” to “depth”. The command of the Lord was to pray constantly in all things[17]. “It is the life which prays” (Andrew Murray)

This involves adopting something similar to what various marketplace ministries call the “Daniel lifestyle”. Not a technique/method but a way of life that breaks Babylonian (worldly/demonic) powers through intentional fasting and prayer three times a day (Dan 1:8-11; 6:10)

5. Why is this not our usual experience?

If the essence of “intimacy with God” involves rule, so does the resistance to entering into this state, people hate “being ruled”[18], Australians perhaps more so than anyone.

Generally, human beings resist the overtures of the Holy Spirit because they want to maintain control of their own lives[19]. There is in the human heart a deeply held fear of losing, not the kingdom of God, but one’s own kingdom.

Living in communion with God displaces such fears[20], because it brings a revelation of inheritance. There is no kingdom to be gained, only one to be received. “Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” 26 And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free.” (Matt 17:25-26)

The kingdom belongs to the sons of the King and we have been planted in the world[21]to receive it, “The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom.” (Matt 13:38). The “sons of the kingdom” are insiders at every possible level of God’s action in the universe; we are given insight into his plan, participation in the exercise of his will and the fruit of the inheritance of his rule[22]. That God (the Father) is someone who totally shares[23] everything with his sons is the witness of the Spirit[24].

Such a revelation however is deeply resisted, because the inheritance only comes through the way of the cross, “if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (Rom 8:17). This is the foundational reason why “intimacy with God”, as expounded in this paper, is so rare.

6. Summary and Application

a. Intimacy is not limited to what some would call “spiritual realities”, but concerns “all things”.

b. It involves listening to God in everything, not simply about everything.

c. This requires centring/awareness to the presence of Christ in everything. This involves submission to the Lordship of Jesus within the three conversations that are continuously going on – my own thoughts, the thoughts/words of others, and the witness of the Holy Spirit.

d. Discipline in the above demands a consistent prayerful/Daniel lifestyle.

e. This requires obeying the Lord, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt 6:33).

[1] In particular the notion of the kingdom of God as a rule to which we must submit.

[2] It is difficult, for example, to discuss the marriage image used of the relationship between Israel and Yahweh, and Christ and the Church, without employing this term (Isa 54:5; Hos 2:9ff; 2 Cor 11:2; Eph 5:32; Rev 19:1-10).

[3] It is derived from Latin intimus = inward.

[4] An approach pioneered by John Calvin.

[5] A term used for the first three Gospels to indicate they have much in common.

[6] The meaning of his works.

[7] Such as deity “considered in itself” i.e. God as trinity is constituted relationally.

[8] The same pattern appears in John 17:2-3 and 13:1, 3, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end…. 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God”

[9] Compare the opposite, ““Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matt 7:21-23)

[10] See also 1 Kings 22:19-22; Job 1:6-12; 2:1-7; Ps 82:1.

[11] The whole of the book of Revelation is a participation in the divine council, now centred upon the Lamb. See especially chapters 4-5.

[12] Compare Ephesians 4:10, “He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.”

[13] As in “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain” (Gen 4:1) or ““You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” (Am 3:2).

[14] Compare, “the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will” (Eph 1:7-9)

[15] Technically, this is known as the divine indivisibility or simplicity.

[16] The prayer “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Eph 3:17), refers to such an intensified indwelling.

[17] “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess Eph 6:18; Ph 4:6; Col 1:9; 4:2; 1 Thess 3:10; 2 Ti 1:3).

[18] e.g. Jesus parable of the minas, “11 As they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. 12 He said therefore, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return. 13 Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Engage in business until I come.’ 14 But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’ 15 When he returned, having received the kingdom, he ordered these servants to whom he had given the money to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by doing business. 16 The first came before him, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made ten minas more.’ 17 And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’ 18 And the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made five minas.’ 19 And he said to him, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’ 20 Then another came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief; 21 for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ 22 He said to him, ‘I will condemn you with your own words, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Why then did you not put my money in the bank, and at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’ 24 And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’ 25 And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten minas!’ 26 ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 27 But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.’”” (Luke 19:11-27)

[19] Often called “autonomy” = self rule.

[20]““Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” ( Luke 12:32-34)

[21] Not the church.

[22] This is the structure of Ephesians 1:3-14, which moves through the heavenly blessing of the Father, election, adoption, predestination, redemption, the will and plan of God for all things, the gift of the Holy Spirit and inheritance.

[23] Cf. “3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” (2 Pet 1:3-4)

[24] E.g. “So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” (1 Cor 3:21-23) and Rom 8:14-16; Gal 4:4-6.

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