But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.
God is not simply good, He is goodness. If we take our concept of goodness and stretch it to the extremes of our imagination, even then, we would not grasp the full extent of God’s goodness. God is perfectly, infinitely good. If He was anything less, He would not be God.[i]
Psalm 16:5-6 (NLT)
Lord, you alone are my inheritance, my cup of blessing.
You guard all that is mine.
The land you have given me is a pleasant land.
What a wonderful inheritance!
Goodness is always expressed in giving. Because God’s nature is one of unlimited goodness, He must give without any limit and offer us everything He can as gift of His love. And He does exactly that. For in this passage, we find that not only did the Father give us His Son and every single blessing in Christ Jesus, but He also gave us the ultimate gift: Himself![ii] The Lord God is our inheritance, and if we have Him, we have everything.
In the last chapter, we saw that while we receive every spiritual blessing in Christ, it takes time to experience these different blessings in our lives. It is the same for our inheritance in God. There are so many different dimensions of relationship we can have with Him, and each one takes time to experience. We can come to know God as our Lord, Savior, King, Father, Mother, Brother, Teacher, Provider, Judge, Protector, Counselor, Comforter, Shepherd, Healer, Master, Friend, Helper, and many more.[iii] Each of these relationships reveals a different color of God’s love that changes us in a different way.
Jesus as a Friend
All relationships are two-way, living connections that grow with time and mutual investment. There is always a process to building relationships, and every relationship that we can have with God requires something of us. For example, it is every believer’s inheritance to know Jesus as a friend. Those who experience this relationship find that Jesus is the ultimate friend. He is always there for us. We can share anything with Him and as our friend, Jesus never condemns us. He always seeks our best, calls us higher, and loves us enough to speak the truth. As a friend, Jesus enjoys just spending time with us and sharing His heart with us.
Sadly, many believers do not personally experience the friendship of Christ. Many of us enjoy relating to Jesus as our savior and receiving the blessings of His forgiveness, and yet hesitate when He offers His friendship. But why would anyone refuse the gift of friendship with Jesus?
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”
Because relationships involve our participation, it is natural for us to focus on those relationships that feel safe and require little of us. Some of us avoid getting to know Jesus as a friend because it involves a higher level of intimacy, self-sacrifice and obedience than it does to know Him as our savior.[iv] Others avoid it because knowing Jesus as our friend requires us to become a friend to Him. This may be challenging for people who have been raised to only relate to Jesus as a master or king. For if we are to relate to Jesus as a friend, we need to let go of all our religious formalities and learn to talk to Jesus honestly from our heart. We need to learn to be comfortable being casual, real, and even emotional with Jesus, knowing that nothing can ever shake His love for us.
While this may seem hard at first, our barriers to friendship are no problem for God. He has given us His Spirit to lead us step by step on our journey into love. And the Spirit wants to help us get to know Jesus as our friend. He simply waits until we are willing.
Knowing the Father
In First Love, I shared how God brought me to know Jesus as my provider. The Holy Spirit led me to spend some time meditating on Psalm 23:1, imagining Jesus as my shepherd who would supply all my needs. As I meditated on the word, the Spirit burned His promise of provision into my heart. Ever since then, He has provided everything I have ever needed and more. However, at that early stage in my journey, even though I knew God as my provider, I was still far from knowing Him as my Father. Though I called Him Father and could quote many verses about love, my heart was unable to receive the Father’s love. It simply was not real for me.
In the parable of the prodigal son, Jesus reveals what is required of us if we are going to get to know God as our Father. Through the two sons, we learn that the only way to know God as our Father is to stop striving for His acceptance and simply surrender to His love. For me, this proved far more difficult than it sounds. My instinct to earn approval was fierce. It took me a long time to realize that as long as I kept striving to earn God’s love and affection, I could never experience Him as my Father. Why? Because the Father’s love and affection are gifts that can never be earned. They are simply not for sale. Because of the priceless nature of the Father’s love, there exists an unbreakable spiritual law: good works flow from love, never to it.
It was a law I tried to break every day. I truly wanted to please God, so I would constantly try to be a good Christian. I hoped the things I did would inspire God to share His love with me. But even though the Father longed for me to know His love, my striving prevented Him from sharing His love with me. As a result, the two of us missed out on the intimacy that we were both so desperately seeking.[v] I only started getting to know God as my Father when I stopped trying to earn His love.
This highlights the difference between inheritance and possession in our relationship with God. God is our Father and we are all His children, so we all have an inheritance in relating to Him as our Father. But the theory of inheritance is entirely different from the reality of possession. As spiritual infants, we can call God our Father without actually experiencing Him as our infinitely loving, generous, merciful, gracious and affectionate Father. If we want to truly know God as our Father, then we need to die to our own efforts and accept that our Father loves us. He truly, deeply, passionately loves us.
Jesus as our Bridegroom
There are people who teach that because Jesus came to restore us to the Father, once we know God as our Father, the work of Jesus is done and we no longer need to relate to the Son. However, if we stop at knowing God as our Father, then we miss the reason for our creation. The Father created us for Jesus. To be sure, God wants us to know Him as our Father, but He also wants us to share His love for Jesus and see us become one with Christ. This is His ultimate goal.
Every relationship we can have with God contributes to this goal in a unique way. The love we find in our friendship with Jesus changes us in a different way to the love we receive from the Father. And the unity we share as children of God is different to the unity we experience as His servants.
In our natural lives, the greatest level of love and unity is reserved for marriage. This is also true spiritually. Because the Father wants us to experience the greatest possible love and unity with Jesus, He calls us to know Jesus as our bridegroom.
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
“You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.”
John the Baptist spoke of Jesus coming in two key roles: The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and the bridegroom who has the bride. Jesus comes as the first to enable the second. He is the lamb of God who takes away our sin so that He can become one with us in covenant love. Love is the goal of salvation.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
For your Maker is your husband,
the Lord of hosts is his name;
and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
the God of the whole earth he is called.
Scripture speaks of knowing God in a relational way because God is relational. He calls Himself our Father because like the perfect father, God is loving, encouraging, nurturing, uncompromising, empowering, strong, and tender. He is not afraid to correct and discipline us, and He never gives up on us. As our heavenly Father, God is only ever good to us and His heart is always to see us grow to maturity.
In the same way, Scripture speaks of Jesus as a husband, because like the perfect husband, Jesus loves us, cherishes us, and delights in us. He protects and empowers us. He lavishes us with His extreme goodness and brings out the very best in us. He talks with us and shares the affections of His heart and soul with us. He faithfully leads us and provides for us in all humility, purity and adoring love.
It is important to note that knowing Jesus as our husband has nothing to do with our sexuality at all. Just as God does not intend for women to feel like they need to become masculine to know the blessings of being a “son of God,” neither does He want men to think that we need to become feminine in any way to become the bride of Christ.[vi] It is simply used as a metaphor because marriage represents the highest level of love, devotion and intimacy available in our human relationships.
Because knowing Jesus as our husband is about coming into a new realm of unity with Jesus, it is no threat to masculinity. In fact, the qualities that we would think of as masculine such as honor, strength, courage, loyalty, the instinct to protect and provide, the desire to equip others and so on; all these qualities find their source and perfection in Jesus. Therefore, knowing Jesus as our husband brings men into a unity that enhances rather than reduces masculinity. Through this relationship, Jesus perfects the strength of men by taking us on a journey into dependency. He increases our sense of honor by sharing His humility with us. He uses intimacy to add to our integrity. He perfects our power by making us dependent on Him. And He affirms our sense of loyalty by calling us into the covenant of the bride—a commitment to a new life with Him. In every way, becoming the bride of Christ empowers men to be truly men.
Likewise, women find the qualities of their own unique personalities all enhanced in union with Jesus. He completes the femininity of women and the masculinity of men, and He does it through a spiritual marriage. As we become one with Christ, we become more ourselves than ever before.
Father, please show me which relationship you would like to take me into next and how I can participate. Please remove every fear and every barrier that keeps me from knowing you.
This post is taken from the sxith chapter of Bride Arise. Get your free copy.
[i] God is not only loving, He is love. He is not only good, but He is goodness itself. The very maximal expression of every good quality is found in God. Because His love and goodness are both perfect and infinite, we will never be able to imagine just how loving and good God truly is. This gives us permission to engage our imagination and to go to the limits. We can feel safe in the knowledge that whatever we imagine the ultimate extreme of love and goodness to be, we will still not be able to capture their true fullness in God.
[ii] See John 3:16, 1 John 4:7-12, 2 John 1:9, Ephesians 1:3
[iii] Lord (John 13:13), Savior (Philippians 3:20), King (1 Timothy 6:13-16), Father (Romans 8:15), Mother (Luke 13:34), Brother (Matthew 12:46-50), Master (Matthew 23:8-12), Savior (1 Timothy 4:10), Judge, (2 Timothy 4:1-2), Teacher (John 13:13), Counselor (Isaiah 9:6), Shepherd (John 10:16), Helper (John 14:26), Protector (2 Samuel 22:3), Provider (Matthew 6:25-34), Friend (John 15:13-15).
All of these relationships are like the different facets of a diamond. As the light of Christ shines through the diamond, we discover a glorious array of colors through the different facets of each relationship; each one expressing a different light of His radiant love, and each one bringing its own glory and blessing to our lives. If we focus only on one relationship, we deny ourselves the amazing beauty of God that is revealed through the other relationships. Let us continue to press on and know our God in all these depths!
[iv] Note that the greatest love we can have is to lay down our life for Christ. This does not only mean that we need to be prepared to physically die for Jesus. Our present life is made up of time, relationships, and possessions. If we want to know Jesus as a friend, we need to continually lay these down before Him as an offering to be used for His love and glory.
[vi] See Galatians 3:26, 4:6, Romans 8:14-19, Hebrews 12:7.