The Biblical Basis for a Speaking God, Part 2
The belief that God speaks to His people is grounded in the truth that we have intimate friendship with Him. Far from being a modern fabrication, as some among us have claimed, the idea of a personal relationship with God is at the very heart of the biblical message.
This theme appears in the Hebrew Bible in God’s intention to “dwell among the sons of Israel and…be their God” (Exodus 29:43-46). We see it in His custom of speaking to Moses “face to face” (Exodus 33:11), His designation of Abraham as “My friend” (2 Chronicles 20:7; Isaiah 41:8), and the loving protection, abundant provision, and personal guidance David received, just as a sheep was led and cared for by its shepherd (Psalm 23).
Maybe you’ve been in churches that left the impression that Christianity is simply about discerning correct doctrine and executing precision obedience—that God’s relationship with us is basically one of law-giver and law-keeper. He makes the rules, we decipher and obey them, and that’s the extent of it.
There’s no question that God expects obedience, but such an insipid, uninspiring arrangement as I just described is specifically rejected by Jesus in favor of a personal friendship with open communication: “You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you” (John 15:14-15).
Unfortunately, in the American Restoration Movement this biblical understanding was glossed over and God came to be viewed more as a subject to be studied.1 By giving us a book He made Himself accessible to our intellect. So we “know” God by analyzing the Bible and discovering facts. Man’s spiritual quest, then, was not a search for intimate friendship with God, but a research project—applying our minds to the propositions of scripture to determine what truths can be known about God.
Yes, God made us as rational beings, and sound reasoning is important. Jesus taught us to love God with our minds, among other things (Matthew 22:37), and the Bible itself encourages the careful study of scripture (Acts 17:11; 2 Timothy 2:15). But when the accumulation of religious facts is understood as the goal and Christianity is reduced to an intellectual exercise, scripture has been seriously misused (cf. John 5:39-40). The Bible is meant to point us to a Person.
“I am the good shepherd,” Jesus says, “and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father…” (John 10:14-15). Jesus and the Father know each other personally, intimately—and that’s the same knowing, the same relationship, He says, that should obtain between Jesus and us (see also Galaians 4:4-7; Philippians 3:7-11; Hebrews 13:5-6; etc.).
By virtue of the Spirit’s presence we experience a mutual indwelling: we are in the Spirit and the Spirit is in us (Romans 8:9-11); we are in Jesus and Jesus is in us (John 14:20). This, as Michael Gorman says, “is deeply personal language, revealing an intimate union….”2 The same could be said of other terms describing our relationship with the Lord: putting Him on like clothing (Galatians 3:27; Romans 13:14), and having “fellowship” or intimate communion with Him (1 Corinthians 1:9; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Philippians 2:1).
Relationship with God, then, is central to Christianity. Becoming a Christian means not merely accepting certain propositions as true or even committing oneself to live by a particular set of rules, but entering into a personal, dynamic relationship with the Trinity. God doesn’t simply want us to study Him. He wants us to experience Him—His love, His grace, His presence, His power. He is a personal and relational God, and His goal for us is to enjoy a close, personal relationship with Him.
In light of this truth, “We might well ask, ‘How could there be a personal relationship, a personal walk with God—or with anyone else—without individualized communication?’”3
1 For an enlightening discussion of the historical reasons, see C. Leonard Allen and Danny Gray Swick, Participating in God’s Life: Two Crossroads for Churches of Christ (Orange CA: New Leaf Books, 2001).
2 Michael J. Gorman, Becoming the Gospel: Paul, Participation, and Mission (Grand Rapids MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015), p. 29.
3 Dallas Willard, Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God (Downers Grove IL: IVP Books, 2012), p. 26.