What Is A “Relationship” with God?

The Lord be with you.

It is very trendy to say I have a “relationship” with God in popular American culture, both Christian and otherwise. Sometimes this “relationship” is placed in opposition to regular corporate worship (‘I don’t’ need to attend worship services, I have a “relationship” with god.’). Sometimes this “relationship” is placed in opposition to membership in a denomination or local church (‘I don’t need to join a church, I have a “relationship” with god.’). Sometimes this “relationship” can be placed in opposition to baptism (‘I don’t need to be baptized, I have a “relationship” with god.’). Sometimes this “relationship” can be place in opposition to subscribing and believing in basic Christian and biblical truths, like those expressed in the ancient ecumenical creeds (‘I don’t need to know or believe what the creeds say and teach, I have a “relationship” with god.’). In fact, I’ve heard this “relationship” put in opposition to most everything revealed in the Bible.

All this got me to wondering how the word “relationship” is used in the Bible. My search was not surprising to me, but it might be to some.
• The English Standard Version of the Bible has no references using the word “relationship”
• The King James Version of the Bible has no references using the word “relationship”
• The New American Standard Version of the Bible has no references using the word “relationship”
• The Revised Standard Version of the Bible has no references using the word “relationship”
• The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible has no references using the word “relationship”

In fact, I found only two editions of the Bible that are commonly used in America that have the word “relationship.” They are the New International Version and the New Living Translation. The NIV has four references with the word “relationship:” Judges 18:7, 28; 1 Kings 10:1, John 1:18. The Judges references are about one group of people having no relationship with any other people; the 1 Kings passage is about King Solomon having a “relationship” with God, the John passage is about the Father’s “relationship” with the Son. The NLT, a paraphrase, has eleven references to the word “relationship”: Exodus 34:14; Leviticus 26:46; Joshua 22:28; Psalm 24:5; Luke 12:21; Romans 2:17; 4:13; 5:11, 18; Colossians 1:28; 2 John 1:9. All of these references are about our “relationship” with God.

Below is each passage from the Bible versions that has the word “relationship” and the same verse in the ESV. The ESV translation is listed first. Omitted are the two references in the NIV from Judges, as they are not referring to our “relationship” with God.

1 Kings 10:1
ESV: “Now when the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the Lord, she came to test him with hard questions.”
NIV: “When the queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon and his relationship to the Lord, she came to test Solomon with hard questions.”

John 1:18
ESV: “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”
NIV: “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.”

Exodus 34:14
ESV: “(for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God)”
NLT: “You must worship no other gods, for the Lord, whose very name is Jealous, is a God who is jealous about his relationship with you.”

Leviticus 26:46
ESV: “These are the statutes and rules and laws that the Lord made between himself and the people of Israel through Moses on Mount Sinai.”
NLT: “These are the decrees, regulations, and instructions that the Lord gave through Moses on Mount Sinai as evidence of the relationship between himself and the Israelites.”

Joshua 22:28
ESV: “And we thought, ‘If this should be said to us or to our descendants in time to come, we should say, “Behold, the copy of the altar of the Lord, which our fathers made, not for burnt offerings, nor for sacrifice, but to be a wit ness between us and you.””’
NLT: “If they say this, our descendants can reply, ‘Look at this copy of the Lord’s altar that our ancestors made. It is not for burnt offerings or sacrifices; it is a reminder of the relationship both of us have with the Lord.’”

Psalm 24:5
ESV: “He will receive blessing from the Lord
and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
NLT: “They will receive the Lord’s blessing and have a right relationship with God their savior.

Luke 12:21
ESV: “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
NLT: “Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.”

Romans 2:17
ESV: “But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God”
NLT: “You who call yourselves Jews are relying on God’s law, and you boast about your special relationship with him.”

Romans 4:13
ESV: “For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.”
NLT: “Clearly, God’s promise to give the whole earth to Abraham and his descendants was based not on his obedience to God’s law, but on a right relationship with God that comes by faith.”

Romans 5:11
ESV: “More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
NLT: “So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.”

Romans 5: 18
ESV: “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.”
NLT: “Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone.”

Colossians 1:28
ESV: “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.”
NLT: “So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ.”

2 John 1:9
ESV: “Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.”
NLT: “Anyone who wanders away from this teaching has no relationship with God. But anyone who remains in the teaching of Christ has a relationship with both the Father and the Son.”

Clearly, in the above texts, the use of the word “relationship” is a dumbing-down of the biblical text and you lose significant truths. In Psalm 24:5 the gift of our righteousness and salvation becomes a “relationship.” In Romans 4:13 our righteousness of faith becomes a “relationship.” In Romans 5:11 our reconciliation becomes a “relationship.” In Romans 5:18 our justification in Christ becomes having a “relationship,” and so on. In each case we find that the word “relationship” is inadequate as a translation.

In the same way, saying I have “a relationship with God” is inadequate. It is just too vague, even though it is true. After all, even the devil has a “relationship” with God, just not the type of relationship I want to have! Some questions that need to be asked are: What is your relationship with God? Who is the “God” that you have a “relationship” with? On who or what is the relationship founded? There are other important questions, to be sure.

Now, the Bible certainly affirms that a believer has a “relationship” with God, but it is never a warm, fuzzy, out-of-focus relationship. Some examples of our biblical relationship with God are:

•Relationship between those being justified and the One who justifies
•Relationship between those being saved and the Savior
•Relationship between those adopted as sons and the Father and our Brother, Jesus
•Relationship between those being redeemed and our Redeemer
•Relationship between those lost and the One seeking and finding them
•Relationship between those who worship and the One worshiped
•Relationship between those who are creatures and the Creator
•Relationship between those who are slaves and the Owner
•Relationship between those receiving the promise and the One who promises
•Relationship between those who are subjects and the King
•Relationship between those who are impure and the One who cleanses us
•Relationship between those who receive and the Giver
•Relationship between those who are baptized and the God who baptizes
•Relationship between those who hears God’s word and the God who speaks in the Bible

Other “relationships” could be added. The point here is that our relationship with God is founded on Jesus and received through faith in our crucified and risen Lord. Like any real relationship, it is nurtured. In the case of the real God, it is nurtured through word and sacrament, which is found in his Church. If a person’s “relationship” is not a relationship with the true, Triune God, achieved through the gift of faith in Christ Jesus, then it is a sham.

We need to be careful in adopting the patterns of speech in our culture. Let us, instead, conform our speech to the pattern of the Bible. Then we will speak of being adopted, redeemed, saved, found, baptized, etc, children of our Heavenly Father. Then we will speak of our relationship in terms that has real substance.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert