The transformation of a life, internal or external, can only come in relationship with God. True belief in God is a relationship. In a relationship we can truly know someone else, not just know about them. The knowledge that comes in a relationship is formative. It shapes how we live. Think about your spouse or your best friend or your mom.
Your relationship with each of them, your knowledge of them, has influenced your life. You act different, are aware of new things, are offended by new things, and are passionate about things all because of them.
Each of the people I just mentioned has left an imprint on you, some greater than others. If you’re married the very pattern of your daily life is shaped by your spouse – where you live, when you get up, how your weekends are spent, what you do for a job. They shape your habits and hobbies even without trying. You live a shared life and that means everything about you is influenced by them in some way. Your mom and dad raised you and you carry their genetics.
No matter what you said as a kid you are turning into them in some ways. Your best friends speak into your life, introduce you to new experiences, and provide a rich outlet for relationship. But each of them intersects with your life in just a small way compared to God. Even your spouse. God’s connection to and intersection with your life is constant and consuming. He didn’t just create you and leave you; God is the sustainer of creation. That means that every moment you exist is a moment God is keeping you inexistence willfully and actively. But beyond mere existence (as if that is a “mere” anything) God gave you a soul, the everlasting being that makes you more than just a mammal. He made it unique and created it to be filled up with Him, with His Spirit. He made it to live forever with Him. If it gives itself to Him.
God made us to reflect Him, to honor Him, to enjoy Him. All that can only be done in relationship with Him. You may not entirely realize it. We tend to forget Him often. But He is there. And for that reason relationship with God is the defining aspect of our belief in Him. In the mid to late 1990s WWJD bracelets were all the rage, posing the question “What Would Jesus Do?” They became so popular that they reached far beyond the realm of committed Christians. They became just sort of a fashion fad, and a moralistic awareness piece. But it is only in relationship to Christ we could ever answer such a question. In the context of relationship we gain intuitions. We begin to instinctively know what actions, words, and attitudes will please Him. Just as we intuitively learn how to make our friends happy or what they like, so we do with God as we live in relationship with Him. Belief becomes less about calculating and more about new instincts. Like every relationship, this is an ongoing process, one in which we grow over time and through intentionality.
The more we know of the one we are in relationship with the more opportunity there is for trust. In relationship with other people that trust is often damaged and tested. We often damage other people’s trust in us too. We are selfish sinners. No matter how much we learn of other people’s desires we still act selfishly and hurt them. I hurt my wife and I hurt my kids, not because I don’t love them or don’t know what they feel, but because I am selfish. But God never does.
The deeper we go in relationship with Him the greater our trust grows. Paradoxically, this happens even as we see how much of Him we don’t yet understand. But trust in God stems from understanding his character, not his reasons. In relationship with Him we see daily his complete trustworthiness, goodness, power, and presence. We are never left alone or abandoned by Him. He never gives us reason to doubt Him (though sometimes we do out of our own propensity to question or do our own thing.) Relationship with God is the best apologetic in the world. We will never argue anyone into salvation. A healthy, strong relationship with God is a beacon, it’s inviting. People see it and want to know what it means what it is. A strong relationship with God is the strength a Christian needs to stand up to withering scorn or rapier arguments. You may not be able to out-argue an opponent, but you will not be shaken in your belief. Because your belief is in the one you know, not in a concept.