“Jesus is the greatest gift of all.” Those of us who grew up in the church have heard the phrase so many times we may easily dismiss it. Jesus, sent by God to save us from our sins, is our greatest blessing. But that’s not quite true, is it? Salvation isn’t enough – or at least it wasn’t meant to be. Many are holding the free gift of salvation in their hands, unwrapped, because they fail to understand the true nature of the gift.

Jesus did not unburden souls from sin in order to carry them back up to heaven to be with God. Instead, God brought His soul down to earth to be with us – in the form of Jesus Christ. The incarnational life of Christ was just as intrinsic to God’s plan as was his death and resurrection. And after Jesus returned to Heaven, the same Holy Spirit who raised Christ from the dead came back to inhabit his new Body: the global, eternal Church. (Heb 10:19-20) And now the very PRESENCE of God, formless and invisible, dwells inside of each one of His children. If Jesus is ‘Immanuel’ – “God with us” – then the Holy Spirit is “God still with us.”

God’s presence was always meant to be enough for His people. Before the Fall, God walked in complete intimacy with Adam and Eve in the Garden. Afterward, God confined His holiness and glory to physical spaces – from the tabernacle tent to the ark of the covenant, and finally the Temple. By this, God was demonstrating to His people that He was with and among them. But when Jesus’ death tore the veil of the temple, he ushered in the long-prophesied age – a new covenant in which God would pour out His spirit upon all flesh. As Paul says, “Don’t you know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor 3:16)

If the purpose of salvation was to bring us into right relationship with God, then our first priority is to abide in Him and treat everything else as secondary. Yet some will gladly receive the reward of salvation without nurturing an ongoing relationship with their Savior. They commodify salvation – into comfort, happiness or a clean conscience – instead of viewing it as the way into God’s presence. Rather than seeking God’s heart and will daily, they prefer to keep a safe distance from Him and live life on their own terms.

This is the spirit of the prodigal son, who asked for his inheritance and left his father’s house. He stayed in a faraway land until he had spent the entire sum of his sonship. When he returned home, he was prepared to become a servant – and yet his father received him back as a son. In that moment, the prodigal son realized that his true inheritance was not monetary, but relational. When we dwell in our Father’s house and abide in His presence, we can be content in every situation, for “true contentment is not circumstantial, but relational.” (Burk Parsons)

We were created to find complete contentment in God Himself – to draw near to Him with unbribed souls. We were meant to seek His kingdom, trusting Him to take care of everything else. But in order to do so, we must believe that God really is who He says He is. As in a romantic relationship, intimacy is the result of longing, and longing is awakened by deep attraction. Attraction arises from the experience of beauty: For those who truly encounter Christ’s beauty are deeply drawn to him. The more we draw near to the Lord, the more we long for him; and the greater intimacy we experience. If we’re listening, we can hear God’s gentle invitation – as He whispers to our hearts, Take delight in Me.

“Have you room for Him? Your emptiness, your nothingness, your lack of feeling, your lack of goodness, your lack of grace — all these will be but room for Him. Have you room for Him? Oh! Spirit of God, lead many to say, “Yes, my heart is ready.” Ah! Then He will come and dwell with you.” (Charles Spurgeon)