Personal Friendship with Jesus
“Yes, He is altogether lovely! This is my Beloved, and this is my Friend!” (Song of Songs 5:16)
On several sides, we are in danger of superficial and shallow conceptions of a truly pious life. One of these is that it consists in correct doctrinal beliefs, and that holding firmly and intelligently to the truths of the Gospel about Christ makes one a Christian. Another misconception is that the faithful observance of the forms of worship is the essential element in a Christian life. Still another is that conduct is all, and that Christianity is only a system of morality. Then, even among those who fully accept the doctrine of Christ’s atonement for sin, there is often an inadequate conception of the life of faith – thinking that it is a dependence for salvation upon one great past act of Christ (His death), without forming a personal relationship with Him as a present, living Savior.
In the New Testament, the Christian’s relationship with Jesus is represented as a personal acquaintance with Him, which ripens into a close and tender friendship. This was our Lord’s own ideal of discipleship. He invited people to come to Him, breaking other ties and attaching themselves personally to Him, and leaving all to go with Him. He claimed the full allegiance of people’s hearts and lives; He must be first in their affections, and first in their obedience and service. He offered Himself to men, not merely as a helper from the outside, who saves them by taking their sins and dying for them; but also as one who desires to form with them a close and indissoluble friendship. It was not merely a tie of duty or obligation or doctrine by which He sought to bind His followers to Himself, but also a tie of personal friendship.
Therefore, that which makes a person a Christian is not the acceptance of Christ’s teachings, the uniting with His Church, the adoption of His morals, or the espousing of His cause; rather, it is the receiving of Him as a personal Savior, and entering into a covenant of eternal friendship with Him. We are not saved by a creed, which gathers up in a few golden sentences the essence of the truth about Christ’s Person and work; rather, we must have Christ Himself, whom the creed holds forth in His radiant beauty and grace.
We are in the habit of saying that Christ saved us by dying for us on the cross. In an important sense, this is true. We never could have been saved if He had not died for us. But we are actually saved by our relationship with a living, loving, personal Savior – into whose hands we commit all the interests of our lives; and who becomes our friend, our helper, our keeper, our caretaker, and our all in all. Christian faith is not merely laying our sins on the Lamb of God, and trusting in His one great sacrifice; it is the laying of ourselves upon the living, loving heart of one whose friendship becomes thenceforward the sweetest joy of our lives.
The importance of this personal knowledge of Christ is seen when we think of Him as the revealer of the Father. The twelve Apostles first learned to know Christ in His disguise, with His Divine glory veiled. He led them on, talking with them, walking with them, and winning their confidence and their love; and at length, they learned that the Being who had grown so inexpressibly dear to them was the manifestation of God Himself, and that – by their relationship with Him as His friends – their poor, sinful humanity was lifted up into union with the Father. They became children of God through their personal attachment to the only-begotten Son of God.
It was as if a royal prince should leave his father’s palace for a time, and dwell in disguise among the plain people, as one of themselves – winning their love, and binding them to himself in strong personal friendship – and then, disclosing his royalty, should lead them to his palace and keep them in his presence forever afterward as his friends and brothers, sharing his rank and honors with them.
The friends whom Christ won in His lowly condescension, He did not cast off when He went back to His glory. He lifted them up with Him to share His heavenly blessedness. It is in the same way that Christ now saves people. He wins their love and trust by the manifestation of His love for them, and then He exalts them to the possession of the privileges which belong to Himself as the Son of God.
Anyone whose life is knit to Christ in love and faith is lifted up into the family of God. Someone has represented this truth in this way. A vine has been torn from the tree upon which it grew and clung, and it lies on the ground; it can never lift itself up again to its place. Then the tree bends down low until it touches the earth. The vine unclasps its tendrils which have twined around frail and unworthy weeds, and – feebly reaching upward – fixes them upon the tree’s strong, living branches. The tree, again lifting itself up, carries the vine with it to its natural and original place of beauty and fruitfulness, where it shares the tree’s glory.
This is a parable of the history of our souls. We were torn from our place, and lay perishing in our sins, clinging to the earth’s treacherous trusts. We could never lift ourselves up to God. Then God Himself stooped down in the incarnation, bending low to touch these souls of ours; and when our hearts let go of earth’s sins and its frail and false trusts, and lay hold ever so feebly – by the tendrils of faith and love – upon Christ, we are lifted up and become children and heirs of God.
But how may we form a personal acquaintance with Christ? It was easy enough for John and Mary and the others who knew Him during His earthly ministry. His eyes looked into theirs; they heard His words; they sat at His feet, and leaned upon His bosom. We cannot know Christ in this way, for He no longer dwells on earth in His bodily form; and we ask how it is possible for us to have more than a biographical acquaintance with Him. If he were a mere man, nothing more than this would be possible. It would be absurd to talk about knowing the Apostle John personally, or forming a close friendship with Paul. We may learn much of the character of these men from the fragments of their story which are preserved in the Scriptures, but we can never become personally acquainted with them until we meet them in the heavenly world.
With Christ, however, it is different! The Church did not lose Him when He ascended from Olivet. He never was more really in the world than He is now! He is as much to those who now love Him and believe on Him, as He was to His friends in Bethany. He is a present, living Savior; and we may form with Him an actual relationship of personal friendship, which will grow closer and tenderer as the years go on – deepening with each new experience, and shining more and more in our hearts; until at last, passing through the portal which we misname death, but which is really the beautiful Gate of Life, we shall see Him face to face!
Is it possible for all Christians to attain this personal, conscious friendship with Jesus? There are some who do not seem to realize it.
To them, Christ is a creed, a rule of life, an example, and a teacher – but not a friend. There are some excellent Christians who seem to know the Savior only biographically. They have no experimental knowledge of Him; to them, at best, He is an absent friend – living, faithful, and trusted; but still absent. No word of discouragement, however, should be spoken to such persons. The Old Testament usually goes before the New, in personal experience as well as in the Biblical order. Most Christians begin with the historical Christ, knowing about Him before they actually know Him. Conscious personal friendship with Him is ordinarily a later fruit of spiritual growth, yet it certainly appears from the Scriptures that such a friendship is possible to all who truly believe in Christ. Jesus Himself hungers for our friendship, and for recognition by us, and for affection from us; and if we take His gifts without Himself and His love, we surely rob ourselves of much joy and blessedness.
The way to this experimental knowledge of Christ is very plainly marked out for us by our Lord Himself. He says that if we love Him and keep His words, then He will manifest Himself unto us, and He and His Father will come and make their abode with us. It is in loving Him, and doing His will, that we learn to know Christ; and we learn to love Him by trusting Him.
Often, we learn to know our human friends by trusting them. We see no special beauty or worth in them as they move by our side in the ordinary experiences of life; but at length, we pass into circumstances of trial where we need friendship – and then the noble qualities of our friends appear as we trust them, and they come nearer to us, and they prove themselves true. Similarly, most of us truly get acquainted with Christ only in experiences of need, in which His love and faithfulness are revealed.
The value of a personal friendship with Christ is incalculable. There are men and women whom it is worth a great deal to have as friends. As our friendship with them ripens, their lives open up like sweet flowers, disclosing rich beauty to our sight, and pouring fragrance upon our spirits.
A true and great friendship is one of earth’s richest and best blessings. It is always breathing songs into our hearts, kindling aspirations and hopes, starting impulses of good, teaching holy lessons, and shedding all manner of gracious influences upon our lives. But the friendship of Christ does infinitely more than this for us! It purifies our sinful lives; it makes us brave and strong; it inspires us to the best and noblest service. Its influence, perpetually brooding over us, draws out the most winsome graces of mind and spirit. The richest, the sweetest, and the only never-failing fountain of good in this world is personal, experimental friendship with Christ.
The fact that Christ condescended thus to give to us sinful human beings His pure and Divine friendship is the greatest wonder of the world, but there is no doubt of the fact. No human friendship can ever be half so close as that which the lowliest of us may enjoy with our Savior. If we would only realize our privileges, the enriching that will come to our lives through this glorious relationship will be better than all gold and precious gems!
Please feel free to share your thoughts and reflections on this article in the Comments below! I’d love to hear them.
God bless you and your family, this day and always.
All for our King’s glory,
photo by Creative Clicks Photography | Lightstock.com
This post is another installment of Miller’s Monday Musings, a weekly series that is published every Monday on my website. The series features selected writings that have been adapted from the works of James Russell Miller (1840-1912), a much-beloved Christian author and pastor who is well-remembered for his practical thoughts on Christian home and family life. Learn more about this weekly series by clicking here.