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The Presence of God for the Christian Life

by J. Ryan Lister posted June 6, 2019

More Than Theoretical

The presence of God should have a huge impact on God’s people. If we know the presence of God as it is expressed across the pages of Christian scripture, it can and will transform the way we understand and live our Christian lives. This means that presence of God is more than theoretical; it lives. It enriches, expands, and even emends our faith at times.

The Presence of God and Our Salvation

This is important for all of us because to know salvation is to know God’s presence. God’s presence practically influences the way we live out our salvation, assemble with fellow believers, and hope in God’s future promises. 

Take the way we understand our salvation. To be saved we need atonement (the work of Christ on the cross that clears the rebel to enter into relationship with the holy God), a work that demands an understanding of the presence of God. Christ came into this world—into human history—in order to give his life as a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:45). Thus, this substitutionary death of God’s Son is inextricably tied to the divine being present with and for man.

For salvation to be real and effective God must be with us; God must be one of us. He became man in this world to reopen access to the Lord so that those exiled from Eden may draw near to God once again (Heb. 4:16; 7:19, 25; 10:1, 19, 22; 11:6). Christ’s presence in this world indicates strongly that the vicarious nature of Jesus’s work—that which leads to his becoming manifest in human history—is at the heart of the atonement and the heart of our salvation.

The Presence of God and Our Church

The presence of God also has implications for the way we understand the community of believers. The New Testament shows us that the church is the temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16–17; 2 Cor. 6:14–7:1; Eph. 2:13–2:22). The church, according to Paul, is where God dwells. The community of Christ, therefore, is—in this time of waiting for Christ’s return—the institution the Lord creates and uses to represent and perpetuate his divine presence in a lost and sinful world. 

In a lesser way, the church plays a role in bringing about God’s redemptive mission. It tells others about God’s presence to save and helps prepare believers to enter into God’s presence once and for all in the new heaven and new earth. Seeing the church this way should change our understanding of her role in the world and in our lives. Think about what would happen if the church understood herself to be the reflection of God’s presence to a lost world? How would this affect the way the body of Christ does ministry and views the other working parts of that body?

The Presence of God and the End of All Things

Finally, neglecting the presence of God impairs our thinking about eschatology. Some have been caught up in the seemingly endless debates swirling around the interpretation of Daniel, Revelation, and the other end-time prophetic passages. And though many of these discussions are important and helpful (and some not so helpful), the eschatological nature of God’s purposes has often been lost in the details of our apocalyptic flow charts and diagrams.

The discussion of the presence of God helps us see that eschatology is not merely the last chapter in our systematic theology textbooks or even the last few chapters of our Bibles. Instead, eschatology pervades the whole message of Scripture. Like our own circulatory system, eschatology helps the promises, plans, and purposes of God flow throughout the body of Scripture. 

The presence of God theme helps us see that God had Revelation 21–22 in his divine mind before breathing out Genesis 1:1, and he painted Genesis 1:1 with the same palette he used in Revelation 21–22. The beginning is rooted in the end, and vice versa. And this helps our faith. The eschatological vein running throughout Scripture reinforces our assurance in things hoped for and our conviction of things unseen (Heb. 11:1). The Lord will accomplish his purposes no matter how hard spiritual and fleshly powers work against him. All of the promises and purposes of God that fall between these bookends of redemptive history express his perfect will. 

For God, there is no “Plan B.” There are no “audibles.” God’s story works out the end from the beginning, and we are the beneficiaries because we are a part of God’s story—we are the ones who will stand eternally in the joy of God’s presence (Rev. 21:1-4).

Content adapted from The Presence of God by J. Ryan Lister. This article first appeared on Crossway.org

J. Ryan Lister

Ryan Lister is professor of theology at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. He is the author of The Presence of God and serves as director of doctrine and discipleship for Humble Beast, where he also helped start the Canvas Conference. He lives in Portland, Oregon, with his wife, Chase, and their four children.

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