Then they said to Moses, “You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.” (Exodus 20:19)
This verse is challenging to every believer, because it so clearly and so boldly to our attitude towards relationship with God. It vividly reminds us of the contrast between our ‘dispensation of grace’ and the time when the law was given. We can readily sympathise with those Israelites who witnessed the power and the majesty of God before them on that mountain of lighting and storm and smoke, and in the pillars of cloud and fire. The glory and holiness of God was on display, and they drew back in fear. Yet we cannot escape the truth that these same people also constantly grumbled and murmured, questioned God, and built themselves a golden calf. How, we wonder, is this even possible in the face of the manifest power and presence of God? But human nature is human nature. None of us, the dispensation of grace notwithstanding, are really any diffent.
We are called to relationship with God, and this includes the reality of His presence, power, glory, majesty and holiness.
Sadly, too many of us step back and don’t respond. The Israelites that day made a decision that many of us repeat today, at least to some degree. They wanted the presence of God. They wanted what He had to offer. They wanted to be His people and to enjoy His blessings, guidance, and protection. But they didn’t want to meet Him face to face. They wanted their relationship with God to be relationship-by-proxy. They wanted an intermediary, one who would do it on their behalf and bring back God’s response.
Our gracious God who knows all things had already prepared for this. Throughout the Old Testament, He raised up prophets and judges to teach us a pattern of the eternal, once-and-for-all intermediary He sent in the New Testament, His Son. We thus have the privilege of coming to God through Christ, but there is one significant difference that we need to grasp if we are to have the relationship with God that He intended. Christ went before us, but He also goes with us. We no longer have any excuse to stand at the foot of the mountain and wait for another to bring us God’s Word. We can go with Jesus and in Jesus and hear it for ourselves.
Like those Old Testament Israelites, fear can play a significant role in whether or not we enjoy relationship with God, and how deep we are prepared to go. Fear is prevalent when we haven’t taken hold of the full liberating truth of the cross and all it signifies. If fear is holding us back, we haven’t learned to live in the full freedom of no condemnation in Christ. We haven’t grasped the full truth that we are covered by His blood, and that when God looks at us He sees His Son – just as, when He looked at Jesus on the cross, He saw us. We haven’t taken hold of the full meaning of the perfect and complete exchange on the cross.
The Bible does remind us that we serve a holy and a jealous God, and that nothing unholy can survive in the face of God’s holiness. This is an immutable fact and we must always approach God with fear and reverence. Relationship with God must, first and foremost, establish Him as holy, omniscient, and all-powerful, glorious, majestic, and eternal. This is the nature of God, and if we don’t first acknowledge this, we cannot have an honest relationship. But Fear of the Lord is not fear of the Lord. There is a difference. The one is worshipful and reverential. The other is self and denies the reality of Christ. One defines acceptable humility, and the other defines inherent rebellion because it makes God out to be a liar and makes the cross irrelevant.
Tragically, though, too many believers make the same relationship-by-proxy decision because it’s expedient and less effort. It’s much easier to simply learn about God through our friends, our pastor, or our group leader. We can enjoy the benefits of their relationship with God without having the challenges. We can convince ourselves and others that we’re ‘strong in the faith,’ can learn the right ‘language of the saints,’ can even believe that we’re one of God’s children and that we’re deserving of His blessings, love, and protection. But ultimately, this kind of relationship with God will fail us, because its not the real thing. It’s a relationship of separation, rather like a bride who refuses to ever remove her veil. There is no real intimacy, and without intimacy, there is no substance.
Social media platforms are a case in point. Consider how many real friends have friended us. Do we really know them? Do we know their joy, their sorrow, their likes and dislikes, or what they desire or fear the most? Do they come when we need help, or do we think of going to them? Do we even know they need help. Our society is focused on self, and social media is simply another way to elevate self by creating a false sense of relationship. It’s true that social media does help in some ways. I have friends and family overseas, and it’s a wonderful way to stay in touch very quickly and easily. But the fact remains that, if our relationship with God is as good as our relationship with most of our social media friends, we’re in trouble.
The whole reason why Jesus went to the cross was to be the way, the truth, and the light. Every single thing He achieved, including defeated the enemy and self, bringing new life, forgiving our sins, washing us clean, restoring and justifying us…everything had one particular purpose – to enable and empower us to have a personal, one-on-one relationship with God. The temple veil was torn forever. Nothing remains to separate us from God except ourselves. We no longer have an valid excuse to avoid meeting with our God face to face. The reality is that if we insist on living at a distance, we persist in living at a distance. All those things we take for granted – the blessings, the protection, the provision, the wisdom, and guidance – are all diluted in proportion to the relationship we have with Him. The further we are, the less they operate in our lives.
This doesn’t diminish God’s power or His heart for His people. It’s a simple spiritual truth: we reap what we sow. If we sow in God, we reap Him too. If we sow into self, that’s what we reap. It’s rather like believing the smallpox vaccine can prevent the disease but wanting someone else to have it for us. A half relationship with God is just that – half. And that means half of everything, including all the good things He has stored up for those who love Him.
But relationship with God is about so much more than what we can get. It’s about peace, joy, love, and fulfillment. It’s about finding our true identity, it’s about knowing ourselves and letting go of the things that hinder us. This is possibly the most important reason why so many hold back from God – they don’t want to be challenged on issues that are not the will of God. It may be little sins or large. It may be dependence on people or things. It may be ungodly desires. It may simply be a reluctance to surrender themselves. But until we throw ourselves completely into relationship with God, we will never be who we were created to be.
What stands out in today’s verse is that the Israelites saw something in Moses. They saw transformation. They saw the reflected glory of God. There is no doubt they wanted this, but they weren’t prepared to pay the price. Remember, Moses lost all. Raised as a grandson of Pharoah, he had every possible advantage but messed up when he killed an overseer and had to fleed. He herded goats in the desert for years before God called him. He had a speech impediment and a short temper, but was – by the standards of the world – the last person one would expect to be chosen for so important a task. Yet Moses determined to have a relationship with God, no matter what. It wasn’t easy, but God responded with exceedingly, abunantly, far more than he could ever ask or imagine.
Half of something can never replace a whole of something. It’s always second-hand, second-best, a substitute and a compromise. In the things of God, compromise is not acceptable. The dispensation of grace doesn’t mean we can now come to God on our own terms. It means it’s now possible for us to come to God on His terms without fear or reservation. We also can’t ‘settle’ for relationship with Jesus and ignore relationship with God. Jesus’ came to reveal the Father to us. He came to lead us to the Father. We cannot expect to go only as far as the gate and no further and still receive what God has to offer.
The image I chose for today spoke to my spirit. Relationship with God is like stepping into the light. It’s stepping into eternity. His purpose is that we spend time with Him and, like Moses, reveal His glory to the world. We cannot do this by letting the glory others have revealed ‘rub off’ on us. We need to humble ourselves and, in Christ, step through the veil and into the light. There, in the holy presence of God, is where He begins to transform us from glory to glory, so that His presence can be manifest in our lives – not half, but all.
Father God, forgive us for holding back. Give us a desire for relationship with You. Help us to live in Your Word and seek out Your presence daily. Teach us Your ways and transform us as we surrender to Your holy power and grace.