Wednesday, August 4, 2021

He Calls You His Friend..

Dear Friends,

We read in last week’s AMEN Corner about having a “personal relationship with Jesus” and, depending on your church tradition, you may have found yourself confused or doubtful about a “personal relationship” and perhaps even distressed or offended by my narrative of what took place at that Lutheran memorial service. (Why I was the one who had to do a memorial service for a Lutheran in a Lutheran congregation is a long sad story.) If you attend a mainline Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopal or Lutheran church, having a close, personal relationship with the Lord is not the orthodox doctrine (teaching) of your denomination and you might have heard this denigrated as heretical doctrine.

Many years ago after recounting the memorial service experience to an ELCA (Lutheran) pastor, who at the time was a close friend, he told me that Lutherans do not have a personal relationship with Jesus and their relationship with Him can only take place through their church. He explained that we can only become a Christian by baptism into the church and it’s through the liturgical church services that we are then relationally connected with God. A Lutheran theologian addresses this personal relationship “heresy” and explains mainline Christian doctrine: “(God’s) people are washed together into a body by baptism and we are shaped by Him into a community of believers. Here’s the thing: Christianity is not about a personal relationship with Jesus. The phrase is never found in the Bible. Christianity is about a church relationship with Jesus.”

In the past few decades we’ve seen mainline churches wither and die while Evangelical churches have experienced healthy growth. While there are many reasons for the diminishment of mainline churches, most of those who left have joined an Evangelical church in their search to find a vibrant relationship with God through Jesus Christ. In the Evangelical tradition, the emphasis is not on liturgical rituals but on a personal relationship with our God who transforms us into becoming more like Jesus and less like us. This concept of a personal relationship with our Lord is even expressed in Evangelical contemporary praise songs as we sing to God and declare our worship of Him. (Church hymns were written to teach us about God). An Evangelical theologian writes: “I believe the phrase ‘personal relationship with Jesus’ correctly expresses the biblical idea of an ongoing life of discipleship that includes the gradual transformation into the image of Christ.”

Like the Evangelical church, the Catholic church teaches that our faith is more than just attending church. From a Catholic theologian at the St. Paul Center of Biblical Theology: “Those of us who have heard and accepted our Lord’s summons to follow Him are invited to an intimate, personal relationship with Him. Unfortunately, some Catholics may be put off by this “personal relationship” terminology. Yet, Christianity is not a mere moral code, ethnic club, or cultural phenomenon; rather, at its very core is the acceptance of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as our personal Lord and Savior. At the heart of the Gospel is the clarion call to follow Jesus, to become His disciples.” 

My Lutheran pastor friend also told me that the phrase  “personal relationship with Jesus” is not mentioned in the Bible and my response to him was that the word “Trinity” or the accepted historical doctrine of the Trinity is not specifically stated in the Bible either. But the doctrinal concept of the Trinity is embedded throughout the New Testament as is the concept of having a personal relationship with our Lord. In fact our entire Bible shows our Creator as One who desires to abide (dwell) within and with us. Our Heavenly Father desires a close, loving relationship with us in spite of our messy sinful lives, and a significant aspect of our salvation is having that personal relationship restored through Jesus Christ on the cross.

Would you describe your relationship with the Lord as “personal” or “distant”? Let’s see which one Jesus would choose to have with you. He said, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” John 14:23 “..he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest (show) Myself to him.” John 14:21 “ received God's Spirit when He adopted you as His own children. Now we call Him, "Abba, Father.” Romans 8:15 NLT “So now Jesus and the ones He makes holy have the same Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them His brothers and sisters.” Hebrews 2:11 NLT 

Can you really have a personal relationship with Jesus? That’s the only kind of relationship with our Lord that’s described in our Bible. Don’t get me wrong. I love the church. But the church was created by Jesus to teach and encourage our personal relationship with Him and, several centuries later, the Church and clericalism imposed itself between us and our Lord. Look up Psalm 23 and reread this beautiful Psalm that describes, not a relationship through a church, but a close personal relationship with the Good Shepherd who is ever tending to those for whom He deeply cares and loves. That’s why Jesus calls His followers (both then and now) His “friends.” John 15:15

If you believe the words of Jesus and would like to experience an intimate relationship with Him, then just open up your heart and tell Him that you desire a close personal relationship with Him. You don’t even have to join an Evangelical church! When you fully give yourself to Him, He will reach out and enfold you in His arms right where you’re at!


  1. Thank you Pastor John. This is wonderful! And I do have a very personal relationship with my Savior. He is my Good Shepherd.

  2. Wow! I think that as Christians, we many times complicate the Word of God rather than simplify it. I also think complicating the Word suggests works and not grace. As we all know works are from the law which is a curse. Bottom line, if we all would approach the Word as a child, we'd gleen so much more from it. Keep it simple because God's Word is meant for the simple minded as well as the deepest thinker. Paul said, we are to be imitators of Christ. If you recall, Christ had a intimate relationship with God. In fact, it was His constant fellowship with the Father that gave Him his power while dwelling in the flesh here on earth. He did that to set an example for anyone embarked on this Christian journey. This further proven on the cross when God withdrew His presence from Christ.