The Perfection of Fellowship with God: Preparing to Enter In

Dr. Brian Allison

When we talk about the perfection of fellowship with God, a typical response and concern is that this experience is too high an attainment; that the securing of this blessed state is beyond personal reach and grasp; that such a possibility is for the spiritual elite – those who seem to exist on a different plain. The claim is that such an experience is not for the average Christian. Well, this is not true. All believers, without exception, are called to a deeper, more intimate relationship and fellowship with the Lord Jesus. Jesus says to every believer, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with Me" (Rev. 3:20).

Now, the reason that some believers may struggle and become frustrated with this kind of teaching is because they expect immediate or instantaneous results; they want the fuller experience without delay or effort. But such an experience and blessed state does not come immediately or instantaneously. It takes time. You need to be patient. The Lord chooses the time when He will break into your spirit and lavish you with His grace so that you might see His glory. In the meantime, you must persevere in seeking Him. Wait for, and hope in, God's revelation which He will make known to you at the appointed time.

Fellowship with God requires a prepared heart

Before God will reveal Himself in new and more wonderful ways, He looks for a prepared heart. When He sees that your heart is ready, God will spiritually visit you. The period of waiting for His spiritual coming is the period of preparation for that coming – this is a principle of the kingdom. So, Isaiah 40:3-5 reads, "A voice is calling, 'Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. Let every valley be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; and let the rough ground become a plain, and the rugged terrain a broad valley; then the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all flesh will see it together; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.'"

Now, our approach to this text will not be a strictly exegetical one, that is, interpreting the text within its context. For our present purposes, we will simply extract and apply the principle from the text, supplying supportive texts for individual points. The principle of this is: Before the Lord will spiritually come to you, and have intimate fellowship with you, there must be a period of personal preparation – "Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God...thenthe glory of the LORD will be revealed..." Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), a Spanish Christian mystic, wrote a rather helpful and inspirational book called, The Interior Castle. In the book, she outlines the spiritual path which leads to the sublime union with God. She likens the soul to a castle in which there are many mansions. Accordingly, one must pass through the different mansions (or spiritual stages) while he or she progressively moves toward the central one in which God Himself resides. One mansion leads to, and prepares for, the next one (e.g. the first mansion is humility, followed by practicing prayer, meditation, etc.).

A prepared heart is pure and consecrated

Preparation, in respect to the perfection of fellowship with God, is a moral-spiritual one. As we consider Luke 3, in which this particular Isaiah passage finds its fulfilment, we discover that indeed this preparation is of this nature. Now, moral-spiritual preparation consists basically of purification and consecration. There are various examples in the Scripture that indicate that this time of moral-spiritual preparation is indeed characterized by purification and consecration. For instance, we read of Moses speaking to the Lord on Mount Sinai:

So Moses came and called the elders of the people, and set before them all these words which the Lord had commanded him. And all the people answered together and said, "All that the LORD has spoken we will do!" And Moses brought back the words of the people to the LORD. And the LORD said to Moses, "Behold, I shall come to you in a thick cloud, in order that the people may hear when I speak with you, and also believe in you forever." Then Moses told the words of the people to the LORD. The LORD also said to Moses, "Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments; and let them be ready for the third day, for on the third day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai, in the sight of all the people" (Ex. 19:7-11).

Again, concerning the building of the first temple in Jerusalem, we read, "And when the priests came forth from the holy place (for all the priests who were present had sanctifiedthemselves without regard to divisions)...and when they praised the LORD saying, 'He indeed is good for His lovingkindness is everlasting,' then the house, the house of the LORD was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of God" (2 Chron. 5:11,13,14). Now, of course, these events which are recorded in Exodus 19 and 2 Chronicles 5 are a historical fulfilment of this particular truth that moral-spiritual preparation – the purification and consecration of the soul – but this truth has a personal, experiential fulfilment as well. For example, St. John of the Cross (1542-1591), a Spanish Christian mystic, wrote The Dark Night of the Soul in which he indicates that this time of preparation is characterized by spiritual dryness, depression, and seeming abandonment by God, through which one experiences deep spiritual, and even emotional, agony; an experience which should give birth to a desire for, and wholehearted seeking after, God. For St. John of the Cross, this period of spiritual darkness is also a period of purification and consecration. Purification and consecration invite illumination, and illumination opens the way for union with God.

You may be longing to know more and more of fellowship with God, but do you have a clean heart? Do you have holy and godly behaviour? You may have the best intention; you may even have a sincere heart; but such things mean absolutely nothing when it comes to knowing the spiritual visitation of God. God is looking for a clean heart and holy behaviour, not an unclean heart and worldly behaviour. A holy life is the dwelling place of God; a righteous life is His sweet abode. His "eyes are too pure to approve evil, and [He can] not look on wickedness with favour" (Hb. 1:13a). God cannot dwell in that which is unclean because He is a holy God, and therefore He calls us to be holy. Be diligent in preparing your heart for the spiritual visitation of the holy Guest.

A prepared heart involves separation

More particularly, what is involved in this matter of purification and consecration, which is preparatory for the Lord's spiritual visitation? Purification and consecration have three basic requirements, which are separation – a refusal to do certain things; repentance – an actual turning away from doing certain things; and dedication – a commitment to do certain things.

First, then, a prepared heart involves separation – there needs to be an abandonment of, and a withdrawal from, all that is not morally or spiritually wholesome. The Lord has made that patently clear to my own heart. The other night I was sitting down to watch T.V. in order to relax. I looked in the T.V. guide and one movie seemed interesting. I turned to the channel, and I read a cautionary pre-word to the movie: "Warning: Nudity, sexuality, and coarse language. Viewer discretion advised." Well, that was the duration of my viewing, and I quickly turned the channel. Do you quickly turn the T.V. channel when such warnings are given?

Now, to be sure, living in a hedonistic and materialistic society presents the challenge to remain unaffected by such influences. We are constantly bombarded with the crude, with the sensual, and with the evil; and as a result, whether you believe it or not, there is a numbing effect that takes place. Our moral sensibilities become numbed, and thus we open ourselves up to watch and to do that which we ought not to. In a very real sense, we can be products of our age; and we must diligently fight against that. A little while ago, a Christian brother recommended a film for my wife and I to watch, and we did. There was a considerable amount of profanity in it. If we had known that, we would not have gone to see it. Later, my wife talked to this Christian brother, and said, "I thought you said that this was a good movie?" He said, "It is." But she said, "There is a considerable amount of profanity in it." He said, "Oh, is there?" Again, there is a numbing of our moral sensibilities and we begin to accept that which we would not have accepted earlier; and we justify ourselves in saying that it is a matter of Christian liberty, or that our spiritual maturity, in some way, immunizes us from such corrupting influences. Nonsense! Do not lie to yourself. "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit shall from the Spirit reap eternal life" (Ga. 6:7,8).

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to separate yourself from all that is unclean and worldly – to immediately refuse to do certain things. You thereby can prevent a possible cancer. Once an enticement gets a hold of you and it grows – and it really does grow and consume you – you will wake up in your shame and guilt, and you sit will down in utter confusion. Now, separation will require personal resolve and sacrifice, but the result will be perfection of fellowship with God. So, we read:

Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, "I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM; I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE. Therefore, COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE," says the Lord. "AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN; and I will welcome you. And I will be a father to you, and you will be sons and daughters to Me," says the Lord Almighty. Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (2 Cor. 6:14-7:1).

A prepared heart involves repentance

Second, this work of purification and consecration involves repentance – we need to turn away from, and disown, all known sinful practices and conduct, and all known unholy behaviour. There must be a conscious decision to do what is right. Now, this matter of repentance entails a number of things. First, repentance entails self-examination – you need to take a long, hard look at yourself; you need to take stock of yourself and determine where you stand before God. Some of us are afraid and reluctant to look at ourselves because we may not like what we see. Many Christians are content to live in a state of spiritual denial. But we need to examine ourselves; and we need to examine ourselves in the light of God's Word, and not according to society's standards or the standards of our peers. Second, repentance entails grieving over your sin, being convicted by your sin, feeling bad about your sin. Now, it may be that your conscience is not as sensitive as it should be, simply because (as I mentioned earlier) you are experiencing the fall-out of being a product of this age; your moral sensibilities have become numbed; and, if so, what then? Incredibly, there are Christian husbands who are not disturbed – who do not think it is a problem, who do not think it is sin – in physically abusing their wives. There are some Christians who believe that homosexual relationships are acceptable. Sad to say, the moral sensibilities of some Christians have become not only numbed, but also perverted. We need to be very conscious of that, and do something about it. We need to learn to resensitize our consciences and to keep them tender. You will not achieve this unless you regularly meditate on God's Word (particularly the New Testament) and be confronted with, and informed by, the Christian ethic. You must meditate on that Word humbly and meekly, refusing to be conformed to the ways and standards of this world. Your goal should simply be to know God's will.

Third, repentance entails confession. We all have some wrongdoing, failure, or sin to confess in our lives. Daniel Webster (1782-1852) said, "There is no refuge from confession but suicide; and suicide is confession." Recently, a film called 'Seven' was playing in the theatre. The title is a reference to the seven deadly sins. These sins are not a new idea; they have been a part of the Church's teaching since the Middle Ages. Do you know what the seven deadly sins are? First, pride. Maybe that is what you need to confess – pride of appearance, pride of status, pride of prestige. Second, anger. Are you angry with your colleague, with your wife, with your friends? Do you get mad when they do not meet your expectations? Maybe you need to confess anger. Third, lechery (i.e., sexual lust). Are you lusting after some man or woman? Maybe you need to confess lechery. Fourth, envy. Do you covet your neighbour's car, or home, or family or lifestyle? Maybe you need to confess envy. Fifth, gluttony. You would be surprised at how many Christians suffer from this sin of 'stuffing their faces.' Maybe you need to confess gluttony. Sixth, avarice (i.e., greed, especially for money). Do you have an inappropriate desire for money? Maybe you need to confess avarice. Seventh, sloth (i.e., laziness). Were you unduly idle this past week? Maybe you need to confess sloth.

Fourth, repentance entails a determination to turn away from your sin, and to turn toward God in new obedience. Now, often we know what is the right thing to do. Many of us desire to do the right thing. This may not be where the problem lies. The problem often lies in determining to do the right thing. It is your choice. Do not say, "The devil made me do it." The devil did not make you do it! He may have encouraged you; he may have tempted you, but you did it because you chose to do it; and you will stop doing it when you choose to stop doing it. In terms of Biblical psychology, the will is king, not the emotions. You choose to sin or you choose not to sin. All things being equal, there is no excuse. Is there something that you need to repent of? Maybe you have the sin of irritability; maybe the sin of criticalness; maybe the sin of laziness; maybe the sin of lying? We all need to repent of something; repentance ought to be a consistent, regular thing. When we truly repent, God is pleased to spiritually visit us. "And [if] My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray, and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin, and heal their land" (2 Chron. 7:14).

A prepared heart involves dedication

Third, the work of purification and consecration involves dedication. Again, we need to choose to be committed to do what is right. Not only must we 'put off,' but we must self-consciously 'put on.' Many people are content in simply not being bad, but the Scriptures go further than that. Do not simply be content in not being bad, but be concerned about actually being good. We read, "Therefore laying aside falsehood, SPEAK TRUTH, EACH ONE of you...Let him who steals steal no longer; but rather let him labour, performing with his own hands what is good, in order that you may have something to share with him who has need. Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification..." (Eph. 4:25ff.).

So, we are to 'put off' and 'put on.' But further, we need to self-consciously subdue and refuse to give in to fleshly passions. Many people do not know how to handle, manage, and abstain from their passions and lusts which 'war against their soul.' How you handle your passions and lusts will determine whether the battle is won or lost. When that movie comes on the T.V., in a moment of time a passion may arise; possibly weak initially, but if you do not kill it immediately, it will grow and eventually blind you to the truth. It will blind you to what is right, and you will become self-deceived. It will create a different state of mind, one that is dishonouring to God. That is why you need to kill it immediately at its first risings, or it will kill you. Be spiritually watchful. Along with being spiritually watchful, you must pray for grace in order to bear the fruit of the Spirit.

Preconditions of a prepared heart

What are the preconditions in this matter of purification and consecration, which are the precursors of perfection of fellowship with God? First, there must be a deep concern for your spiritual condition and moral state. Do you have a deep concern for your spiritual condition and moral state? If you do not, you have not even begun to move in the direction of perfection of fellowship with God. This deep concern indicates that the stirrings of the Holy Spirit are within. With this concern, you will feel guilty and ashamed of your selfish actions and self-willed behaviour. You will feel uncomfortable with your worldly lifestyle. You will say, "Something is not right. I do not think God is really pleased with me." That is a precondition for moving toward this matter of purification and consecration.

Second, there must be a recognition that God is holy and righteous, and that He requires holiness and righteousness. This understanding reveals a godly fear, which produces much spiritual fruit; and if there is not this recognition that God is holy and righteous, if there is not this godly fear, then you have not even begun to move in the direction of perfection of fellowship with God. Again, this disposition is the result of the Spirit's stirrings in the heart as God prepares your heart for His spiritual visitation.

Third, there must be a genuine desire to be more holy and righteous like God, and a genuine desire to be one with God. If you do not have these desires, you have not even begun to move in the direction of perfection of fellowship with God. Again, these desires are the stirrings of the Spirit because God is preparing your heart to receive His spiritual visitation.

So, do you have a deep concern for your spiritual condition? Do you desire to be more holy and righteous as God is, and thus desire to be one with God? Thirdly, do you recognize that God requires holiness and righteousness from you; is there godly fear in your heart? Are you prepared for His visitation? Are you becoming prepared for His visitation? Are there things that need to be dealt with in your life? Are you serious about change? Do you even care about entering in to the perfection of fellowship with God? Again, Jesus says, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he or she with Me" (Rev. 3:20).