I had the privilege of sharing with a group of college students at the University of Cape Town, South Africa recently. Many of them were from other countries and only a few of them were believers in Jesus Christ. I shared with them how near the kingdom of heaven is to us - just on the other side of the veil of what we can see and touch. They were encouraged that God, the Father, has made a way for them to enter into a relationship with Him in heaven now while they are on the earth through Jesus Christ. One of the young men, Theo, asked me, "How does one start a relationship with the Father?" I couldn't think of a better question that could have been asked at that point in the evening.
Focus on relationship
Before answering Theo, I wondered, "Should I focus on getting saved or on relationship?" As I considered how Jesus might have answered, I realized the focus should be on relationship. Perhaps you might be surprised to discover that Jesus' use of the various forms of the word save (save, saves, salvation) only occurred eight different times in the four gospels. Obviously, salvation is important, but to Jesus, salvation is a by-product of relationship - knowing God, the Father, and His Son. In His prayer to His Father, Jesus commented, "This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent" (John 17:3).
My observation is that the church many times puts the focus on salvation rather than relationship. There are a couple of serious consequences with emphasizing "getting saved" over relationship. First, people tend to evaluate salvation by something they did, such as praying the "sinner's prayer" or "accepting Jesus as their savior." This can be a serious problem because the person's confidence in their so-called salvation may be in something they did rather than God. The Apostle Paul would have been appalled! He wrote to the Corinthians, "And my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God" (1 Corinthians 2:4-4). Paul wanted those who were saved to know it was the power of God that saved them and not that they had responded logically to a persuasive presentation of God's love. Second, people would miss the importance of relationship. He wanted their confidence to rest in their relationship with God, and he told them what he meant when he referred to "the power of God," "For to us God revealed them [the things which the natural eye, ear, and heart cannot understand] through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God" (1 Cor. 2:10). This is a serious problem also because one's salvation may easily be reduced to self-made religion and a continued series of "decisions" of self-denial, self-abasement, and observances of traditions and commandments of men of which the Apostle Paul warned the Colossian church (Col. 2:16-23). As I read the Gospels and the Letters of the Apostles, it is clear that they were confident in God's power to reveal Himself and thus save those who are His.
I wonder if your observation has been the same as mine. I have met many people who say they are saved, but obviously don't know God or His Son - they don't have an on-going relationship with God. They live like the world, think like the world, love self like the world, and have a form of religion that denies the power of God. In contrast, everyone I've known who has a vibrant relationship with God through Jesus Christ, has obviously been saved from their old self with its evil practices. They also talk about the power of God in their lives and the reality of their relationship with Him.
For these reasons above, I decided to answer Theo's question by putting the focus on relationship rather than salvation. A powerful truth about relationship is easily understood by most people, so this is how I answered Theo.
Revelation is the currency of relationship
How does one begin any relationship? Since I was speaking to college students, I thought a relationship between a guy and a girl might be something to which they could all relate and then make the transfer to relationship with God. Here's what I shared with them.
When a guy sees a girl that interests him, he starts off with the simplest form of revelation - he hangs out around her. He becomes obvious. Perhaps he intentionally walks near her, or casually bumps into her, or if he's fairly confident, he simply walks up and introduces himself. Without realizing what he's doing, he's revealing his desire for relationship. As he takes those initial steps of revelation, what is he hoping for? He's hoping she will express her interest in a relationship with him by revealing herself (which might be through a smile, a look, unsolicited information about herself, etc.). Everyone knows that if someone doesn't want a relationship, they act disinterested, ignore the person, or only give brief, uninformative responses. Why is this? Because it is a self-evident truth that if a person wants relationship, they progressively reveal themselves.
Of course, Theo and the rest of the group easily connected with that explanation. I could tell some of them were already walking down the road of developing relationship by exchanging the currency of revelation. Now they were ready to understand my answer to Theo's question.
God has already begun the relationship
According to the Bible, God has revealed Himself in creation. "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse" (Romans 1:20). As the Psalmist wrote, "O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth, who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens!" (Ps. 8:1). All creation is God's way of "hanging out" with us, making His presence obvious. He awaits our acknowledgement of Him. That's what the writer was doing in Ps. 8, revealing what he thought about God's revelation.
God, the Father, has also revealed Himself to mankind through the nation of Israel. As one reads the Old Testament, the truth that progressive revelation is the currency of relationship is quite clear. It wasn't that Abraham was sought after God or was better than any other person alive at his time in history. God merely chose to reveal Himself to Abraham because He wanted a relationship with him and the rest of mankind. He did it because He purposed to give His greatest revelation to mankind in the person and work of His Son, Jesus Christ.
The Father continues to reveal Himself and His desire for relationship with people as He reveals Himself through the church, the body of Jesus Christ. There is no other explanation for them than that they have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, their head. Their testimony by word and example are evidences of God's revelation. When God brings a believer into the life of an unbeliever, the Father is taking initial steps of relationship.
Additionally, the Father reveals Himself through the circumstances of life. I told Theo and the group that God is at work in the affairs of their lives. He brings blessings and storms to give them opportunity to respond to Him. The Father has initiated the relationship like a boy does with a girl - obviously and progressively. The question is...
How are you responding to God's revelation?
Many, like the disinterested girl, ignore God's revelation. Sometimes a girl might ignore a boy because of lies that she has heard about the boy from others. He may not be like she thinks at all, but if the only thing she has heard about him is negative, slanderous, or blasphemous, then unless she wants to find out for herself, she will ignore him and even perhaps be offended at his advances. For the same reasons, people reject or misinterpret God's revelation of Himself to them. For instance, she may have had a bad experience with one of his friends and therefore she associates him with that bad experience. People who say they are saved, yet act like everyone else and hurt others out of their selfishness usually hinder others from receiving God's revelation. My guess is you've met people who have no interest in God because of a bad experience with a so-called Christian.
Others ignore God's revelation because they aren't looking for God as He is but have some romantic idea of who and what God is. Like the girl who has imagined her Prince Charming to be tall, dark, and handsome, any guy that doesn't fit that description isn't going to get the time of day from her. She rejects the short, red-headed guy because he isn't what she's looking for. How many people do you think miss God's initial revelations of Himself and don't know that He wants a relationship with them because their idea of God isn't like what is revealed in creation, the Bible, Jesus Christ, and believers?
Theo and the group had been listening for about 40 minutes to how God has revealed Himself in creation, the Bible, Jesus Christ, and believers. I encouraged them all that the ball was in their court, so to speak. From their point of view, the way they begin a relationship with the Father is by responding to the revelation God has given them. They should relate to Him as they would anyone else, by talking with Him as if He is there in the room with them. Just as the girl who wants a relationship with a guy who has taken initial steps to introduce himself, they should reveal themselves back to God-not that He doesn't know them fully already, but that they want to express in some way that they want to know God better. They might reveal their fears, interests, desires, hopes, and problems just like two people would who were interested in developing a deeper relationship.
Revelation is the currency of relationship
I wanted Theo to know that if he responded to God's revelation by expressing himself to God, God would reveal more of Himself. That's the way a person is and God too but one who can be known, loved, trusted, and enjoyed like no one else. What excites me now is that I know that if God wants a relationship with Theo and the other college students, He will reveal Himself to them in powerful ways that they cannot resist which will draw them to Jesus Christ. Jesus said, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘AND THEY SHALL ALL BE TAUGHT OF GOD.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me" (John 6:44-45). When the Father does reveal Himself through Jesus Christ, then they will know without a shadow of a doubt that they are saved from their sins and cannot help but be transformed by the power of God. Their faith will not rest on the wisdom of man or an evangelistic presentation they heard on the University of Cape Town campus, but on the power of God who revealed Himself to them when they were slaves of sin, trapped in darkness.
Are you revealing yourself...
...to God? to your wife? to your children? We respond or relate to people to the degree that we value the relationship. The same is true in our relationship with God. How much value are you communicating to God about your relationship with Him? A "quiet time" with God is about knowing the Father and the Son and valuing your relationship. Do you speak with God? Do you share your challenges, trials, confessions, worries, and joys with Him? Please do! He longs for the exchange and interaction.
I also want to encourage you to take time with your wife and children to communicate that you value a relationship with them. Sit with them. Listen to them. Share with them - undistracted. Share with them what excites you, challenges you, and is worthy of the treasures of your time, energy, and wealth. When you let them know you, you are inviting them to do the same - to exchange the currency of relationship - revelation about who they are. Because men are forerunners for relationship with God, the Father, through His sons (that's you!), you should be the initiator in the closest relationships in your life.
"Father in heaven, please continue to reveal Yourself to Theo and his friends who attended the meeting that night. Show us, who are Your ambassadors, how we may lead others to see how You have revealed Yourself through Your creation, Your Word, Your Son, and Your church. Work powerfully through us as we live in relationship with You through Your Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen."