Sunday, August 10, 2014

Personally speaking

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on the Eighth Sunday after Trinity 

Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?

That’s a question that seems to be bandied about a lot these days, mainly by Christians of an Evangelical nature. It seems a perfectly good question to ask, but what are we really being asked?

Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?

There are a lot of different relationships we could have. We have our family – mums, dads, brothers, sisters; our extended family – grandpas, grandmas, uncles, aunts, cousins; we have our best friends, our worst enemies, our lovers, our social group, the people we work with, the bloke we nod to as we pass on the street. There are lots of ways in which we can relate to each other. Which ones are personal? Surely they all are! So what does it mean to have a personal relationship with Our Lord?

It seems such a strange thing to say. Do we want Jesus to become a friend? A family member? He already knows us better than we know ourselves. On the other hand, we don’t even know what He looks like. It’s clear that He loves us and that we should love Him in return: perhaps that is what is meant. If that is true, how can we understand it when Our Lord says, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” Indeed, He clarifies this,

“Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” Doing someone’s will doesn’t sound like “having a personal relationship” does it? It sounds very much like an attempt to treat Our Lord as an equal. That’s probably not what’s meant at all, but we do tend to have personal relationships with people who are at least near our level. If we do that then we can miss the Divine Authority of Our Lord. If we seek that personal relationship where we regard the Lord as a personal friend then doing His will becomes very similar to “doing God a favour” by prophesying in His name, casting out devils and doing other wonderful works.

So how are we to have a relationship with God?

God does know us personally, we only know Him by what He reveals to us, so clearly there is a big imbalance in that relationship. Secondly, St Paul reminds us: “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.”

It is the Holy Ghost that brings us into God’s presence, but not alone. We are not saved as individuals but as the Body of Christ, the Church. We have received the Holy Ghost and the Holy Ghost helps us to cry out to God, “Abba” which means “Father”. We are the children of God through His grace and not through our own efforts. It seems that we already have that personal relationship with God whether we want it or not. Is this really right? Do we have no choice as to whether we are saved or not?


Of course we have a choice. “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” We have to do the will of God. The will of God is that we love Him and our neighbour, because God is love. If God wants us to love Him then we must be free to choose whether to love Him or not. We know that God is sovereign and king but the Incarnation shows that He limits His own sovereignty to give us the freedom to choose. He has given us the Spirit of adoption, but we can choose to reject it or ignore it and go about things our way.

The trouble is, doing things our way cannot bring us to God. We have to accept His sovereignty over our lives and listen to Him. We need to recognise that our personal viewpoints are flawed and require the grace of God in order to recognise Him before we can love Him.


Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus? Yes you do. It is the relationship of the Saviour with His Church of which you are a part. He loves us and we are beginning to love Him. You are being saved, working out your salvation like St Paul with fear and trembling. The process is only complete when you stand before God at the last.

What will you say to Him, then?

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