God said and did things in the world in Jesus Christ.  Then through special witnesses (the apostles) God sent out a message to the world that consisted of
                (1) A recounting of what Jesus said and did – His miracles, His teachings, and most importantly, His death and resurrection and . . .
                (2) An explanation of what these things mean – that Jesus is not just a good teacher but the appointed king and judge of the final, the Christ;  that Jesus’ death was not merely a Roman execution, but was the appointed sacrifice for the sins of the world; and that Jesus resurrection means that He is still alive and will someday return, rid the world of the enemies of all that is right, and finalize God’s kingdom on the earth – a place and a time where what God wants will be what everyone wants.

God calls people to believe these things – and that means            
                (1)  Affirm that you believe them to be true and  
                (2)  Entrust yourself to the truth of those truths, i.e. live as though you believe they are real.

The choice to believe that way (and to continue believing and living that way) is faith.  And faith, evangelicals preach, is personal.  Neither your parents nor godparents nor your minister can believe on your behalf.  Every person, every soul, must personally make that choice to believe.

The Bible doesn’t use the personal terminology – personal faith, personal Savior, personal relationship with God.  Evangelicals added it to distinguish the saving faith of genuine individual commitment to Christ from empty lip-service to nominal religion.  And I believe that is correct.

But once the terminology of the “personal” was introduced, it seems it took on a life of its own.  People imported other aspects of the meaning of personal into their view of their relationship to God.  They started to think of their personal relationship with their personal Savior to be no different from their personal relationships with any of their personal friends.  It's personal and private -- just you and Jesus, and the cluster of experiences and interactions and feelings between you.

Since a personal relationship with friends means personal interaction with them, that, it is assumed, must be what a relationship with Jesus is.  He walks with you and talks with you along life’s narrow way.  You talk and He talks back.  You bare your heart and He bares His.  Some believe they hear Jesus’ voice responding when they pray – either in their heads or in dreams or visions – though most evangelicals I know believe it is more subtle – that Jesus talks mysteriously, almost indescribably, through your feelings, “in your heart”.  You just sort of sense in your gut that Jesus is communicating to you.  You feel good about certain thoughts or ideas that suddenly enter unbidden into your head.  You have a feeling of peace about certain ideas.  You just sort of know it’s not your imagination or your own feelings, that it’s Jesus communicating through the Holy Spirit.

You can just sense His presence -- usually described as a comfortable feeling of warm acceptance, the feeling that removes fear, that God is near, that you are not alone, that you feel loved and cared for.  You just feel that Jesus is there with you and for you in a very tangible way.  You just . . . know.  Many evangelicals talk about these feelings as being intimate with Jesus.  The more regularly you experience them, the more often you feel them, the more intimate you are with God.  Sometimes this intimacy is even spoken of in romantic or sexual terms – being held close, being hugged, being embraced.  Having this kind of intimacy is seen by many evangelicals as the pinnacle of spiritual maturity.  Having these feelings and sensations and experiences is what it means to know God.

I’m almost out of space – so let me sum up my thoughts on this.  I accept that faith is a personal choice.  But regarding a relationship to Jesus being "personal" in the sense that I've described here -- that has not been my experience, nor is it, as far as I can tell, the way Scripture characterizes a believer’s walk with God.

But more about that  next time . . .