When God created man, He had a deeper purpose in mind than merely to create a world and then someone to rule over it on His behalf. God’s purpose in the creation of man was fellowship: fellowship with Himself. This was in His heart from the very beginning.
This purpose has never changed. Although Adam sinned and plunged himself and his descendants into a state of alienation from their Creator, God graciously provided for the redemption of man – to open for man a way back to Himself. God’s purpose was to restore the lost fellowship.
…Christ also suffered once for sins… to bring you to God… (1 Pet. 3:18)
…God… reconciled us to Himself through Christ… (2 Cor. 5:18)
Now this is eternal life: that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent. (John 17:3)
The fellowship that was God’s original intent in creating and then redeeming man, is a real fellowship – an actual experience of fellowship. Just as Adam walked and talked with God in the Garden in the cool of the day, so those who have been graciously restored to a state of peace with God should not be content merely to discuss the Christian life and to theorize about it, but should be satisfied with nothing less than actually experiencing what Jesus died to make possible: a genuine communion and fellowship with the eternal triune God.
It is true of all of us that our knowledge exceeds our experience. To some extent in each of our lives, the things we know about God – His power, His holiness, His love, His being – go far beyond what we have personally experienced of Him. Many ears have heard of God, but few eyes have seen Him.
This breach between head-knowledge and heart-experience is a dissatisfying thing – or at least God wants it to be.
By offering glimpses of Himself to our mind’s comprehension, God intends to inspire us to seek after the experience of the same things that we understand – to long to experience intimate fellowship with Him as opposed to mere acquaintance. One of the reasons why God approaches our minds to give us a mental understanding in the first place is to direct our energy toward seeking. This seeking, when it is finished, will cause us to attain His desired goal for us, which is the true experiential knowledge of Himself.
God wants the discrepancy between our intellectual knowledge of Him and our heart experience of Him to frustrate us, in the sense of provoking us to dissatisfaction with a purely theoretical and academic Christianity, and prodding and goading us to seek an experiential and real Christianity.
At times, however, we have all made the mistake of receiving the knowledge – the mental comprehension – without also yielding to the divine impulse to seek. This omission is not so bad in itself, as it leaves open the future possibility of coming to a place of seeking. What is bad is when we have, for whatever reason, avoided the seeking altogether, while substituting the intellectual theory for the life-experience.
Then when we present the theory of a particular spiritual truth to others and do not ourselves yet possess the experience of that truth, we will only impart what we possess – the theory alone. If the theory has become an adequate substitute for the experience in our own lives, then that will be all we impart to others – a substitute.
This substitute is harmful and spiritually debilitating when we are satisfied with it, because we deceive ourselves, thinking that we have the genuine experience when all we really have is an intellectual comprehension of the theory about the experience. But since we mistakenly believe we already possess the experience, we find in our hearts no inspiration nor even need to seek for the reality of it. Thus enamored with our own religious ideas, we become lovers of philosophical doctrines more than lovers of God, all under the guise of “truth”.
Our knowledge, which should have been good in propelling us to seek the experience, turns on us and slays us, robbing us of the experience – robbing us and those we lead – of God!
George Whitefield declared: “I am persuaded the generality of preachers talk of an unknown and unfelt Christ. The reason why congregations have been so dead is because they had dead men preaching to them.”
This series of Leadership Letters will examine this problem, and propose some reasons for it as well as some remedies.
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