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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

How Close Can We Come?

By Robert Crosby
Nov. 16, 2014

“I no longer call you servants ... ” — Jesus

“[God] can’t be used as a road. If you’re approaching Him not as the goal but as a road, not as the end but as a means, you’re not really approaching Him at all.” — C.S. Lewis

How close can a person come to Christ today? And what does it take to cultivate the kind of closeness we deeply desire to have with God?

There is a vast difference between learning more about God and truly experiencing His presence and His power in your life. The Gospels are accounts of people who not only knew about Jesus, they knew Him personally and intimately. God wants the same for you and me today. 

One of the best ways to discover how to grow closer to Jesus is to consider the lives and experiences of those who first knew Him best. In fact, the New Testament reveals at least six “circles” of relationships that formed around Jesus — the Crowds, the 5,000, the 70, the 12, the three, and the one.

For several reasons, I believe the closest disciple to Jesus was John the Beloved. One reason is, more than any other New Testament writer, John recalled and recorded the intimate words and teachings of Jesus as did none other. Such was the case of this incredible invitation Jesus extended in such a remarkable way in words only recorded by John.


Jesus frequently made it clear by word and deed just how important people were to Him, but never more profoundly than at one point near the end of His earthly ministry.

Jesus began by sharing the Passover celebration meal with His disciples (recorded in John 13-17) and modeling the priority of serving one another by washing their feet. Jesus entered into an intimate discourse in that room with the disciples. He spoke to them of many vital issues and desires He had. He shared His heart and bared His soul. He conveyed hard truths and rich graces.

Jesus spoke of personal and precious things in those moments.

He predicted His betrayal.

He prophesied Peter’s denial to his face.

He comforted His disciples. (“Do not let your hearts be troubled.”)

He described himself as “the Way” to know God.

He promised to send the Holy Spirit.

These were the last few moments Jesus had to speak into His disciples’ lives. The next day He would be crucified. These were the last few moments in which He could say what He wanted to say.

And then ...

Jesus said something that was nothing short of astounding. He promised something absolutely amazing.

Jesus suddenly sounded like a general issuing a new command:

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12, NIV).

Jesus’ command would at one and the same moment become John’s compelling passion and focus, his priority and compulsion, his preoccupation. The beloved disciple, perhaps the closest one to Jesus, would spend the rest of his long life pondering this command’s depth and significance, experiencing its potential, and mining its wealth.


Immediately after issuing the new “command,” Jesus offered a fresh illustration. Before more than a breath could separate the two sentences, He turned the new principle into a portrait, a picture of love personified.

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

Had Jesus commissioned a painting of His crucifixion, this would have certainly been the inscription He would have requested: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” This is the manner in which Jesus chose to describe His own crucifixion, His own suffering.

Jesus did not choose to portray this “greater love” in the image of a war hero, a political prisoner, a religious martyr, or even a dying family member. No, He chose to paint His suffering and crucifixion in the context of a man who “lays down his life for his friends.”

Jesus was not laying down His life primarily for His followers. He was not laying down His life for His students. He was not even primarily laying down His life for His brothers. First and foremost, the crucifixion was Jesus laying “down his life for his friends.”

The context was relationship. Better said, it was friendship. The crucifixion would not be just some theological event to satisfy part of God’s nature. It would be a personal expression from Jesus to every one of us that He wants friendship with you and with me.

Somehow, the crucifixion of Christ would bring about a change in His relationship with His followers. In His death Jesus had something to prove, not simply to God or to the world, but to those who would follow Him. The depth of His sacrifice for them spoke of a certain depth of relationship He desired with them.


Jesus next presented the most amazing invitation anyone would ever hear. Right after the verse describing the crucifixion, He extended a whole new kind or relationship; one so close that it can only be described in the word friends. Here it is:

“I no longer call you servants,
because a servant does not know
his master’s business.
for everything that I learned
from my Father I have
made known to you ... ”
(John 15:15)
“You are my friends
if you do what I command.”
(John 15:14)   

This invitation is the glorious gift and goal made possible only by the crucifixion Jesus endured for us. All that He endured was all about intimacy; knowing Him better.

If I had to guess what Jesus would have wanted to call me it would have been something quite different. Perhaps His follower, or disciple, or servant, or student. But friend? That, I never would have expected.


John the Beloved knew Jesus as his Savior, yes, but as far more. A savior is someone you need. A king is someone you admire and respect. A general is someone you follow and obey. But a friend; a friend is someone you know and love.

Walking with the Lord is not just trying to live up to the Ten Commandments. No, the beauty of the Gospel is that Jesus says in essence, “I want to fill your life and empower you so that you can live those commandments not out of constraint, but out of desire. I want you to know Me so well that you want to do the will of God, that you delight in doing the will of God.”

Oswald Chambers once said that when we become Christ-followers “we no longer look for the will of God; now we ARE the will of God.” Succeeding at the Christian life, then, is not as much about working harder as it is about coming closer.

There is a big difference between approaching God primarily as a servant or primarily as a friend. Serving is task-oriented; befriending is relationship-oriented. Serving always begins with doing something; befriending always begins with knowing someone. Servants don’t dare pry into their master’s business; friends are regularly given the “inside track.” Servants serve in order to gain their master’s approval; friends serve because they already possess it.

So, just how close can we come to Jesus? Are there any limits to that intimacy he offers? Oswald Sanders summed it up well: “We are as close to God as we choose to be.”

Perhaps the real question is not “How close can we come to Jesus?” but, rather, “How close do we want to come?”

When Jesus invites you and me to walk with Him in friendship, we are astounded with the opportunity. There are spiritual intimacies to fill our souls and spiritual trials to stretch them beyond what we ever imagined. Entering this relationship is one thing; continuing through it is quite another.

In Jesus’ mind at least, it all begins with one word: friend. Of all the relationships in life, when we say “yes” to this one we enter into an unparalleled open door and find ourselves on the adventure of a lifetime.

ROBERT CROSBY is co-founder of Teaming Life ( and a professor of practical theology at Southeastern University (Assemblies of God) in Lakeland, Fla. Adapted from The One Jesus Loves (Thomas Nelson).


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