MUST I MAINTAIN MY FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD?
by Shawn Brasseaux
It is very common to find believers who say, “I feel like God is so far away.” They have been told that they are “backslidden”—that they have unconfessed sin in their lives that they need to “confess to God or man,” that they need to “rededicate their lives to Christ,” that they need to “come back home to God and church,” that they need to “start giving faithfully again to the work of God so He can bless them.” Beloved, do we as Christians really “lose fellowship with God?” Do we have to be “restored to fellowship with God?” These are personal questions, and we need to answer them. It is tantamount to see what God’s Word rightly divided says.
A Bible commentator wrote that, after salvation unto justification, as Christians, “…we must strive to prove our love by obedience and holiness and maintain the sweet relationship with God.”
Must “we strive… and maintain the sweet relationship with God?” While a common view in Christian circles, it runs along the lines of legalism and chastisement. Due to denominationalism, there are many blood-bought children of God who believe that they have to daily confess their sins or God will give them “the cold shoulder.” They believe that they have to give money to a local church or God will not bless them financially. They believe that they have to be water baptized or God will not accept their Christian life. They believe that if they go out and “live like the world,” they have to come back to the church and stand before all to “rededicate their Christian lives to God.” They seek various and sundry emotional experiences and miraculous demonstrations hoping to get more out of the Christian life. Some believe that God will smile down upon them if they read enough Bible verses or chapters every day. They fear that if they do not please God, He will strike them with poverty, sickness, or death.
The above thoughts and practices are nothing more than bastardized forms of Judaism—making God’s people the Church the Body of Christ follow something that God told the nation Israel to do and He never told us to do. He rescinded that law covenant, that performance-based acceptance system, that system that we have to do good deeds to be accepted of Him. God Almighty thoroughly proved that nobody—no son or daughter of Adam—could ever please Him. That is what sin is. For a Christian to then ignore his sin problem and deceive himself into thinking that his performance will give him a right standing before God, is to ignore the fact that Jesus Christ’s performance is what made him righteous before God in the first place.
Let us see how God dealt with the nation Israel in time past. We will learn why there is much confusion in Christendom today about “maintaining fellowship with God.”
THE NATION ISRAEL AND THE LAW OF MOSES
We read in Exodus chapter 19: “ And Moses went up unto God, and the LORD called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel;  Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself.  Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine:  And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.”
Just after JEHOVAH God delivered Israel from Egyptian bondage, He made Israel a proposal. They could be His people only if they did everything He commanded, if they kept the Covenant of Law perfectly. “If ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people….” This “if…then” principle summarizes the Law of Moses. Someone once called this concept “the Bible’s greatest ‘if.’” If Israel is obedient to the Ten Commandments and all of the others laws of God given at Sinai (commandments scattered throughout Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), then they will be blessed of God. If Israel is obedient, then He will use them as His earthly people. This is the good news. However, there is a negative implication. If Israel breaks that Law Covenant, then He will curse her. If Israel does not listen to God, then she will not be His people.
Moses repeated that Law system to the new generation of Israelis in Deuteronomy chapter 28: “ And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the LORD thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth:….  But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee:…” (cf. Joshua 23:15-16; Joshua 24:19-21; Judges 2:20-21; et cetera).
Back at Sinai, some 40 years prior to Deuteronomy, in Exodus chapter 19, Israel agreed to that contract, that law covenant: “ And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the LORD commanded him.  And all the people answered together, and said, All that the LORD hath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the LORD.”
Ignoring the lessons of “flesh versus grace” that their father Abraham learned nearly 500 years previous, Israel entered the performance-based acceptance system of Law right there at Mount Sinai. They were not mindful that they, Abraham’s nation, were originally to be God’s nation abounding with blessings, not because the nation obeyed His laws, but simply because He would give them those blessings by grace. With Moses, Israel chose law instead of grace. Israel thus finds herself relating to JEHOVAH God on the basis of this law system throughout the “Old Testament” Scriptures. Even into Christ’s earthly ministry, some 1500 years after Moses, the Law is still operating (Galatians 4:4; cf. Matthew 5:17-18). Let us see the “benefits” Israel enjoyed under this law system they preferred over grace.
Whenever a Jew in the Old Testament sinned, his fellowship with JEHOVAH God was definitely broken. The book of Leviticus discusses the various types of animal sacrifices that were necessary for specific sins. Chapter 16 of that Bible book discusses how the high priest was to annually put animals’ blood on the Mercy Seat to make atonement for the national sins of Israel. “Atonement” was necessary every year because the nation Israel kept breaking fellowship with her holy God—she had to be made “at-one-ment” with Him every year because He was dwelling their midst in the Tabernacle (later the Temple).
Psalm 51:1-11 is a portion of Scripture written by King David, just after Nathan the prophet came to him, after David had had sexual relations with Bathsheba, another man’s wife: “ Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.  Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.  For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.  Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.  Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.  Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.  Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.  Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.  Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.  Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.  Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.”
Believers today often pattern their lives and prayers after the above verses. When they sin, they do just as David did in Psalm 51. They beg God to blot out their transgressions, to wash them throughly of their iniquity, to cleanse them of their sin. Dear reader, perhaps you follow this routine in your own Christian life (I did many years ago!). Verse 11 is especially troubling for many Christians. They wonder if God will take His Holy Spirit from them if they commit “horrible sins.” If they do commit some “horrible sin,” they wonder if they are lost again, now going to hell, now cast out of the family of God. Oh, how sad, how awfully sad, that the Adversary has confused them and deceived them using the Bible!
Notice other “Old Testament” verses that worry believers today:
- Psalm 88:14: “Lord, why castest thou off my soul? why hidest thou thy face from me?”
- Isaiah 45:15: “Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Saviour.”
- Isaiah 57:17: “For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth, and smote him: I hid me, and was wroth, and he went on frowardly in the way of his heart.”
- Isaiah 59:2: “But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.”
In my own ministry years ago, I dealt with a Christian who was experiencing a major health crisis. She had been led to believe that these verses meant that God had hidden His face from her. She assumed that she had some terrible sin in her life, and she believed that God was now punishing her. Maybe it was because she was no longer in church, maybe because she had had bad thoughts, et cetera; she tried to find out what she had done wrong to offend God. The key to understanding the above verses is to remember that Psalms is not written to or about us—it is to and about Israel. Furthermore, Isaiah did not have a ministry to Gentiles—his book deals with Israel, particularly Judah and Jerusalem (Isaiah 1:1).
Now we understand why God “hides” His face from individuals in Psalms and Isaiah—God is hiding Himself from Israel because she has been disobedient, idolatrous. He is chastising her, trying to reform her, attempting to have her turn back to Him! When she would find herself punished and scattered amongst the nations of the world (God hiding Himself from her), she was instructed to confess her national sins and God would return her to her land (Leviticus 26:38-42). (This was the national chastisement however. Remember we discussed earlier an individual’s sins had to be dealt with too in that economy.)
None of these verses are God’s attitude toward us in this the Dispensation of Grace. Now we can proceed to see what God has to say to us in His Word.
US AND THE DISPENSATION OF THE GRACE OF GOD
Denominations have church programs to run; they are often more interested in having people give toward the program, to perpetuate denominational doctrines, instead of seeking people’s spiritual good. Preachers and priests often use the previous verses as scare tactics to get their congregants to do what they want. “You better tithe or you will under God’s curse!” “You are disobedient to Jesus until you are water baptized at our church!” “If you want to really serve God, you have to ask Him to pour out His Holy Ghost on you so He can cause you to do mighty signs and wonders!” “You will not be forgiven until you come to the confessional or the altar!” “You will not see the Lord’s miracles in your life if you do not give money, fast, forgive others, pray, et cetera!” Actually, there are Bible verses to demonstrate these ideas or similar ones to be true… in Israel’s program. Unless we “rightly divide the word of truth” as 2 Timothy 2:15 states, we will confuse ourselves with Israel. We will place ourselves under a system that God is not operating today. This is why so many Christians are miserable today. They are trying to do something God is not doing. To fight against God’s will is to surely wind up defeated!
For example, precious few church members understand the difference between giving and tithing. Beloved, God’s grace is not against giving; God’s grace is against tithing. Yes, the local church has bills to pay and it takes money to do God’s work. But, we give of our resources out of gratitude to God, not to get something from God in return (the common fallacy). The tithe was the method whereby Israel proved whether or not God would bless her materially, and when Israel did not give to God, she was cursed economically (see Malachi 3:8-12, the passage the “tithing preachers” use even today to generate funds).
Today, God’s spokesman to us, the Apostle Paul, writes that we are already blessed with “all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3), and now we prove the sincerity of our love by giving to God’s work (2 Corinthians 8:8). We are not proving God’s faithfulness as Israel did; He already proved His faithfulness to us at Calvary. Anytime we say that we have to do something in order to get God’s blessings, we are ignoring that God does not owe us anything. God gives us everything through what Jesus Christ did, not because of what we did. We give to local churches and ministries in order for God’s Word to go forth and bless others as it blessed us. That is not tithing!
The serious Bible student will read and prayerfully consider the book of Galatians. After the Apostle Paul had established and left the local churches in the region of Galatia, false teachers came in and subverted these believers. These false teachers were perverting the grace of God, telling the Galatians that they had to have works to either be saved or to keep their salvation. We find ourselves facing the same doctrinal errors today in much of professing Christianity! (The “maintain fellowship with God by doing this, that, this, that, et cetera…” crowd.)
Hence, Paul wrote in Galatians chapter 3: “ O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?  This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?  Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?  Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain.  He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?  Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”
How did we receive God’s Holy Spirit? By works? No, by faith in what Jesus Christ did for us on Calvary’s cross. It would be foolish of us to think that our Christian lives would operate any differently on the daily basis. Our Christian lives will function on the basis of Jesus Christ’s crosswork, not our efforts and performance in religion. We we were never saved by works, so we will never stay saved by works. We were saved by grace (what God did for us at Calvary), and we will stay saved by grace (what God did for us at Calvary). The book of Galatians has six chapters that prove this without doubt.
Remember Colossians 2:6-7: “ As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him:  Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving.” We “received Christ Jesus the Lord” by “faith in Christ” (verse 5). Colossians says that our Christian life will operate on the same basis from day to day—“faith in Christ.” “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous” (Romans 5:19). It was Adam’s disobedience in Eden that caused us to be sinners by birth, and it was Christ’s obedience at Calvary that caused us to be saints by birth. We were not born into Adam’s family by our works and we were not born into God’s family by our works. We entered God’s family by faith in Jesus Christ, and it will always be His obedience that matters. It is His power that will equip us to be saved from sins daily because it was His power that saved us from sins eternally.
Now we can see why Paul wrote such an amazing, thrilling, joyful set of verses to such worldly, immature, carnal Christians in Corinth: “ [God] Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:8-9). Did the Corinthians—despite their host of social, spiritual, and ecclesiastical problems—have “the fellowship of [God’s] Son Jesus Christ our Lord?” Yes, and it was not because of their performance (they lacked Christian values and actions!). It was because of what Jesus Christ did, His mediatorship. Although they were misbehaving, they were still bound for heaven, still blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Jesus Christ, forever forgiven, always accepted in the Beloved. They just needed to get in the Bible and let His Word equip them to act like the people God had made them in Christ!
Certainly, you will not hear this in the average local church, but it is the simple truth of the Bible. Religion is not the answer; Jesus Christ is the answer. Our obedience (or disobedience) is not the issue; Jesus Christ’s obedience is the issue. That is how we have fellowship with God, unconditional, now and forever.
While there are precious souls who have trusted the Lord Jesus Christ exclusively as their personal Saviour, religion has robbed them of the knowledge of who they are in Christ. They understand that they were saved by grace through faith in what Jesus Christ did at Calvary—and not what they did—but when it comes to the Christian life, they believe that they have to live in order to please God. I know because I used to be one of those Christians. In short, they assume that God saved them from the condemnation of the Law to make them Christians, so He could then place them under the Law as Christians.
They have not learned that their Christian life operates on the same basis it started. Our flesh can never do enough to please God, ever (that is why God took us out of that system). At the moment of salvation, we understood that our relationship with God is not dependent upon our performance. Sadly, religion then corrupted our Christian life and made us think we now had to make ourselves accepted of God or He would not answer our prayers, give us the “cold shoulder,” strike us with difficult circumstances such as poverty and sickness, et cetera. Dear friends, it was never our performance to establish a relationship with God in the first place, so it will never be our performance to maintain that relationship with God! It is Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ, that is key to our relationship with God.
It is most certainly “Scriptural” to place yourself under a law system, a system where you are blessed of God if you work and obey. But, it is not dispensational, for God never placed you under that system of failure. The law was never meant to make anyone righteous before God, but to prove that all were unrighteous before God (Romans 3:19-20). That law system was given first to Israel, and when they failed, God replaced that system with something better! He replaced it with the Dispensation of Grace, something advantageous to the sinner because the sinner can freely receive of God what he can never merit before God. Why abandon such a wonderful system and return to the “weak and beggarly” law system? Why throw away grace and return to the miserable system of Law? It makes no sense, and to do so is to greatly harm your Christian life.
So, you still may be asking, “Why does God feel so far away at times if He really is not far away at all?” The answer is that you have not been thinking in accordance with His Word rightly divided. You have let the Adversary, the world, and the flesh sidetrack your mind. The Bible says you need to think on good things, not on the garbage that this world system has to offer. What you need to do is get into Paul’s epistles, Romans through Philemon, and learn the basics of Christian identity and living. You need to remind yourself of whom God has made you in Jesus Christ. Then, you need to let the Holy Spirit use those verses to work in you (1 Thessalonians 2:13). Unless you have a clear understanding of God’s Word to you, you will be unable to function as God intended. You will be unable to believe God’s Word to you because you will not know God’s Word to you. Friend, we are “transform [ourselves] by the renewing of [our] mind” (Romans 12:2). Get in God’s Book and God’s Book will get in you! 🙂