“A personal relationship with God.” I have heard the phrase so many times; both people in favor of it and people against it (which sounds really strange). I’ve read books and heard sermons that say things like, “The Bible never mentions having a personal relationship with God.” Then I’ve read other books and heard other sermons which have said, “All you need is a personal relationship with God.” So what’s the deal?
A Personal Relationship:
I suppose we need to ask what is meant by “personal relationship.” If a personal relationship means that you love God and He loves you back, then certainly this is a biblical idea. If it means communication with God, then a personal relationship is absolutely essential. If it means truly getting to “know” God, then Hosea and Jesus are both clear that we need this desperately (Hosea 2:19-20; 4:1, 6; 5:4; John 17:3, etc.). If a personal relationship with God is a relationship of love, communication, and fellowship, then yes, we need all the personal relationship we can get.
I have a personal relationship with my wife because we know each other, care, love, respect, and communicate with each other. I can trust her to be faithful to me and I will be faithful to her. These are essential parts of a close relationship and they are essential parts of our relationship with God. However, our relationship with God is not merely an individual thing. If by “personal relationship with God” we mean an individual relationship as opposed to a communal relationship, then they have left behind a very important Bible teaching.
A Communal Relationship:
Our relationship with God was never meant to be an individual thing that we have on our own. From the earliest days of Christianity, the followers of God have had a communal relationship. They shared their money, enjoyed common and spiritual meals, and they worshipped together (Acts 2:41-47). There are reasons why the Hebrews writer is emphatic in his call to “exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13). And again he calls Christians to, “consider how to stir one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another” (Hebrews 10:24-25). John writes, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
By virtue of becoming a Christian, we have entered into a fellowship, a community with every other Christian. We are to encourage other Christians. We need to continually meet with other Christians for worship and the Lord’s Supper. We are not Christians on our own. I have had far too many conversations with people who belong to no body of believers, who never attend worship, serve other Christians, or share in the Lord’s Supper, but they have hope in their “personal relationship” with Jesus. They pray, read, and do all the individual things, while neglecting their God-given communal responsibilities.
God calls us to be part of a body, a movement, a group, an assembly, a church. The bride of Christ in Ephesians 5 is the church as a whole (Ephesians 5:23, 25-27), not just the individual Christian. When you are baptized, God actually adds you to His number, His church (Acts 2:41, 47). So much of what the Christian is called to do is about others, not just about “me and God.” There is no substitute for being part of a body of believers. Certainly our relationship with God needs to be personal, communicative, and heartfelt. But it also involves service, fellowship, worship, and unity with a community of believers.