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 Following Jesus Knowing Christ

Engaging the Intimate Relational Process

Spirituality  Study                                   For a printer-friendly pdf file    click here

 

  Chapter 3    

Establishing This Deeper Relationship

 

Subsections:

 

Knowing Where Our Relationship Is Focused

Eternity Substance

Two Critical Errors of Relationship

To Journey In Eternity

The Relationship of Eternity

Counter-Relational Work

Relational Tests

 

Study Guide for chap. 3

Chap.1

Chap.2

Chap.3

Chap.4

Chap.5

Chap.6

Chap.7

Chap.8

Chap.9

Study Guide & Growth Plan

 

Table of Contents

Chapter Summaries

Scripture Index

Bibliography

 

I have made you known to them ... in order that the love

   you have for me may be in them.          

 

John 17:26

As we discussed in the preceding chapter, there is nothing mystical about making intimate relational connection with God. Although this connection demands a lot from us by requiring honesty of our heart, once we start thinking relationally, the actual relationship between God and the authentic genuine me is relatively simple to understand. This is not to say that there is no mystery here. Relationship with God involves significant mystery. Yet, because of the person Jesus and his words, mystery doesn't prevent, diminish or confuse the relational process. At the same time, there are many other issues which complicate the relational process of ongoing involvement with God by their influence or control on us. These issues are important for us to discuss as we continue to examine the life and words of the person Jesus.

Relationships are exciting not only because God created relationships in general and created us for intimate relationship with himself specifically; relationships are exciting also because of their dynamic nature. Any relationship is never static; that is, it is either growing or declining. It never merely stands still or gets suspended, though it may seem to. When we describe a relationship as "not going anywhere," we usually mean that it's not growing, or that it's starting to decline. Sometimes our relationship with God seems like it's not going anywhere. Those are times we can better understand and deal with by examining the dynamics of our relationship with him.


Growing in a relationship is. . . building together. So, God doesn't do all the work, nor do we.


To make intimate connection with God is exciting. Yet whatever connection I had with him "yesterday" does not automatically determine that I have the same connection today. Relational work is ongoing. This doesn't mean that we start from scratch with each day. Growing in a relationship is a process of building together. So, God doesn't do all the work, nor do we. And we don't always do the same amount of work with each day in the relationship. This is the dynamic relational process of give-and-take which builds on an initial intimate connection to establish ongoing deeper relationship with God.

Such a functioning relationship with any person is truly exciting. This relationship keeps unfolding, evolving if you wish. In any such relationship there is always more to learn about and to experience with the other person. When the other person is God, such a functioning relationship becomes the ultimate relational adventure. There is so much of him to know and experience, and this process of discovery can be endless.

You may wonder how much is possible or what limits there are. How much our heart can take in and experience of him is not determined by our genetic make-up or environmental factors. The potential of our heart is the very source of its created image, the heart of God. Since Jesus brought this God of heart in the flesh and made the limitless God available to us for intimate relationship, there isn't anything from God's side to put constraints on our relationship with him. He is ready to take us beyond what we can imagine (Eph 3:20).

 

 

Knowing Where Our Relationship Is Focused

Is this excitement about endless relationship and limitless relational experience real and valid? Or is it the product of "feeling-based" or "mindgame" faith? This is a fair question. We should always check our presuppositions--especially in Christian living.

If we ask ourselves "how much direct access to God do I really feel I have available to me?," we would all conclude differently about the amount--even though we know Christ opened the way to the Father. The reason our experience may not match our beliefs or theology could very well have more to do with "how we present ourselves to God" than the actual amount of access available to us. "How" we present ourselves has a lot to do with the kind of relational connection we make with God. This is as true for the quantity of connection as it is for the quality discussed in the previous chapter.


We spend so much of our time with God trying to get him to improve our life . . . relationally trying to engage God only within the context of our life. . . .


So, for example, when we Christians think about growing in this relationship, too often the focus is essentially on God helping us to do our thing--even if the intention is for his purpose. The concern becomes how we can experience his help, power, promises, even him in what we're doing. We spend so much of our time with God trying to get him to improve our life. This, in effect, is relationally trying to engage God only within the context of our life and have him involved in our ways, situations and what we're doing. But Jesus didn't bring us God in order to help us do our thing. He came to take us to his Father. Relationship with God is about him, not about me. It's about engaging God within the context of his life, not he in mine.

The difference could be very subtle and not readily apparent to us in appearance. The contrast of the relational processes, however, really shows the relationship going in opposite directions. Further examination also reveals that this involves the issues of how we define ourselves and how we then do relationships. And these issues likely express the substitutes we make in life or the "less" we settle for, instead of embracing all that Jesus makes available to us.

Jesus helps us distinguish the subtle relational dynamics in a critical interaction with those who were following him (read John 6). The scene begins with his feeding the 5000. When they saw his miraculous work and the implications of it, their excitement was too much to restrain. This was the one they'd been waiting for to make their king (6:14,15). Jesus tried to stay away from them but they persisted in following him (6:16-25). Now, what could appear better than following Jesus? Didn't Jesus want more followers?

In the interaction that followed Jesus clarifies what is better and what he wants from us. He begins by telling these followers that they are pursuing him for the wrong reasons (6:26). They, in effect, didn't really see "miraculous signs" (Gk. semeion), which are valuable not so much for what the miracles in themselves are as for what they indicate about the grace and power of the one performing them. Obviously, these followers were affected by what Jesus' miracles did for them; and that's what motivated them. Because they focused on that, these followers totally missed seeing the person Jesus, this person of God vulnerably before them in the flesh.


They missed being with God because they were focused on what he did and how they could benefit from it.


They missed being with God because they were focused on what he did and how they could benefit from it. In doing so, they only focused on secondary things (about God and their relationship) from a position of self-interest or self-concern. This is crucial for followers of Jesus to understand. In terms of the relational process, "in search of Jesus" (6:24) for them, as it can be for us, actually took their relationship in the opposite direction from the person Jesus.

Jesus redirects their life effort to his person when he challenged the substitutes they made in life and how they settled for less (6:27). They inquired further how they could bring about in their lives doing "the works God requires" (v.28). Since these followers defined themselves by what they did, they continued to focus incorrectly on secondary things because that's how they did relationships. They focused on "the works" (plural) they needed to do to define themselves worthy before God in order to receive. One way or another we've all done this in order to feel worthy relationally before God, even though our beliefs intellectually talk about grace.

Jesus countered that "the work" (singular) which God wants from us is only relational work: the relational trust of our hearts (our being), not our doing (v.29). Relational work is problematic for many followers of Christ, as it continued to be for these followers. Later in our study we will examine their further interaction and understand why it resulted in no longer following Jesus.

Relational work is problematic because it is incompatible with most approaches to life. When we define ourselves, for example, by what we do (or accomplish) or by what we have (or accumulate), then the total person (particularly as reflected by the heart) is given less and less importance. In the course of life, this creates conditions in which our attention becomes focused on secondary things about our person or the other person: things we are able to do, things we have, outward appearance, the color of our skin, the way we pray, etc.

If these are the ways we define our self, then these are the ways we define others also. How does that impact how we then do relationships? If the total person is made less important, then our actions in relationships are less critical. During the course of everyday living, that creates conditions in which the substance of relationships is substituted for, then we settle for a less substantive experience than what is available. In these conditions, doing an activity together becomes a substitute for being with each other and more directly involved; we settle for sharing the same space over sharing with each other while in that space. Work becomes more important than investing in time together. Providing things for each other is more important than making myself available to another. In fact, just having the idea of a relationship which has value for us is often sufficient these days rather than actually experiencing the relationship in function. The primacy of relationships in God's design and purpose is lost in all of this.


Sadly, the most significant consequence of doing relationships like this is the loss of intimacy--both with God and with others.


The substitutes we make for relational connection and what we settle for in place of deeper connection both create and maintain distance between persons in relationships. This effectively redefines God's design and purpose for relationships. Sadly, the most significant consequence of doing relationships like this is the loss of intimacy--both with God and with others.

From this discussion we can see how relational work is not only incompatible with this way of defining ourselves and doing relationships, it is also in conflict with them. For the followers in the above interaction with Jesus, they were confronted with the need to be freed and to change from their established ways of defining themselves and doing relationships. These are issues for all of us--issues becoming points of contention in John 6 which we will discuss later.

 

 

Eternity Substance

Jesus also challenged the people in their life work to pursue that which "endures to eternal life" (6:27), that is, that which is lasting, never ending. It's obviously difficult for any of us to put eternal life into practical perspective. Yet we can all relate to wanting something good to last, some enjoyable or satisfying experience to never end. God wants that for us also. That's why Jesus came: "which the Son of Man will give you" (v.27). But, it is important for his followers not to define this merely in spiritual terms; here again it is important for us to think relationally.

Let's look at this term "eternal life" to see if it has more immediate meaning for us than in life after death. Although we generally assume everyone wants eternal life, few of us actually have an interest in eternal life other than some insurance about the distant future. And though Christians usually make eternal life the ultimate reward of faith in Christ, there is little understanding of what that really means. It's like saying: we don't know what it is but we want it and are thankful to have it; we don't know what we have but we want others to have it also. Eternal life essentially has become some vague concept which we make assumptions about and take for granted. This is understandable, in one sense, if that's all there is to know about eternal life. But this limited perspective is unfortunate because Jesus revealed much more to us than "whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

First of all, we need to establish some groundwork from which the more immediate meaning of eternal life can emerge. The writer of Ecclesiastes provides this groundwork in his honest reflections on life. He tells us in those popular words that "God has made everything beautiful in its time" (Ecc 3:11). In the same breath he also mentions that "God has planted eternity in the human heart" (v.11, NLT). This part of the verse is actually more crucial for us and should grab our attention more than the better known part. That's because the writer's honest reflections inspired by God get us to the heart of everyday life and the underlying needs of daily living.


. . . though our mind can't comprehend or imagine his big picture plan, our heart has definite understanding of it.


How does this relate to eternity? Eternal means lasting, never ending. We know God is eternal (Gen 21:33; Jer 10:10). This eternal God has a perfect plan in which everything is made beautiful according to it. And this eternal God has transplanted a part of his eternity-substance into our human heart. Yet, even with this eternity-substance of God in us, his big picture plan is still beyond our comprehension; our minds can't even imagine all that's involved (Ecc 3:11). In God's big picture plan, all the parts of it are wonderfully put together into this perfect whole. Though humans can't fully take in or imagine this whole, we can experience and enjoy the beauty of some of its parts. We can because God has made us with the substance of this whole in us; he implanted his eternity-substance in our heart. So, though our mind can't comprehend or imagine his big picture plan, our heart has definite understanding of it.

This understanding in our heart can be a burden or a blessing. It's a burden when it just brings out dissatisfaction and frustration with our life, as it did for the writer of Ecclesiastes. But such honest reflections on our life are also a blessing when it helps us realize there is more in life to experience and enjoy. This is beyond merely an awareness; it is the deep desire of our heart for more.

This more that our heart desires is the working of his eternity-substance in us. This "eternity stuff" we've been discussing is basic to our heart's needs and desires. Our heart is never fully and permanently satisfied (though it is often fooled) with the temporary things in life we use as substitutes, nor satisfied with anything less we settle for. We were designed and made with the very stuff of eternity. That which is lasting in our life, which is a never-ending experience for us and that which is totally satisfying in us, this is what eternity is all about and what our heart needs and desires.

From this groundwork our understanding of eternal life can expand. How can we describe all this in a functional way such that it takes on more immediate meaning for us? We turn again to Jesus to complete our understanding.

On one occasion Jesus encountered an interesting, successful young guy who pursued him about eternal life (read Mk 10:17-27). That eternity-substance apparently stirred in his heart a great deal because he assertively imposed himself on Jesus (v.17). Whether he had been feeling this for awhile or whether seeing Jesus' loving treatment of little children just prior (10:13-16) triggered his feelings, he seized the opportunity to pursue more. Remember, by all standards back then or even today this guy was successful--and young.

What exactly was the more he was pursuing? You may think that since he asked "to inherit eternal life" (Mk 10:17) this was just a typical evangelistic conversation about life after death. But he wasn't merely seeking to prolong his life into eternity. So, if this wasn't about insurance for the future, why was a successful young guy pursuing more? The word he used for "life" (Gk. zoe) involves a deeper substance than another word for life (Gk. bios); and this really reflected the need and desire of his heart. This is about that eternity stuff from Ecclesiastes--not about time and quantity but about depth and quality.

This guy began the conversation by addressing Jesus as "good teacher" (10:17). From this address and his opening words we can see where this guy was focused. We can also begin to understand how he defined himself and how he did relationships. The word for "good" (Gk. agathos) means "good, profitable, useful, virtuous." What do you think he specifically meant by the word "good"? Jesus knew where his focus was. So, he immediately asked him: "Why do you call me good? No one is good--except God" (10:18).

Obviously, Jesus is God, though at the time this guy didn't realize that. Still, was he correct to call Jesus good? That depends on what he was focused on and how he used the word. If he focused on what Jesus did and implied that what Jesus did would be "profitable, useful" to him, then he was correct to call Jesus "good." But if he wasn't focused on the person Jesus (his being, not his doing) and referred to him as good (meaning to be virtuous), then he was incorrect. Jesus knew that this guy wasn't focused on him, his person, only on what he did. Consequently, he immediately tried to refocus the guy on his person in this somewhat indirect manner. If the guy hadn't been so self-absorbed, he might have asked Jesus: "do you mean that you're not good, or that you're God?"

After addressing Jesus as "good teacher," he asked "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" (10:17). What do you think is the difference between "what must I do" and "how can I inherit eternal life"? On appearance the two may seem similar to you. But there is actually a major difference. "How can I" asks for the way and/or the means to acquire eternal life. It doesn't necessarily imply any abilities or attributes of the one asking other than "how is it possible for me... ?" "What must I do," on the other hand, sends distinctly different relational messages. Consider these messages and how you may give God these same messages:
 

(1) What is the guy saying about himself? I define myself by what I do, so I can do it, or at least I have to do it. Just tell me what I have to do.

 

Note: since he is pursuing eternal life, eternal also means "life which is God's"; this has implications in the following relational message.

 

(2) So, what is he saying about God? That God defines him by what he does also. This is how God is and what he is like.

 

(3) Then, what is he saying about their relationship? That the relationship depends on what they do, so he has to fulfill doing something in order to participate in God's life.
 

Since this guy focused on doing something, he didn't have a good grasp of his own heart. Yes, he pursued the stirrings in his heart for more. But he also missed seeing the person Jesus, because when we define ourselves by what we do or have, we also define others by what they do or have. That's why he focused on what Jesus did and had also. Since he focused on secondary things instead of persons, how he did relationships also focused on doing something, not relational connection between persons. Does any of this seem to reflect our lives as well?

After trying to refocus him, Jesus brought up actions basic to God's life--the commandments (10:19). As many of us do today, this successful young guy perceived these actions from his doing (the letter of the law) rather than his being (the spirit of the law); therefore, he also failed to grasp their importance for relationships in God's design and purpose. But, then, this would be predictable from how he defined himself and did relationships. Yet, he declared to Jesus that he faithfully practiced these behaviors since his youth (10:20). Despite his devotion, something still seemed to be missing for him, so he pursued more. Now, here was a guy who was not only successful from the standpoint of social and cultural values, he was also serious and devoted to his religious faith. Based on these standards, could we describe a better candidate for eternal life?

Despite all that he was accomplishing and all he had, this serious, devoted, successful young guy wanted more in his life. I don't think his sincerity was lost on Jesus. He wasn't like the Pharisees. So, Jesus pursued his heart further and loved (agape) him (10:21). Those familiar words which came out of Jesus' mouth seem so exceptionally demanding to us that we take them as an exception rather than the rule. These gentle, loving words were so burdensome to this serious, devoted religious guy, as they seem to us, that he didn't embrace them and walked away depressed (10:22). Was Jesus too hard on him? Wasn't he, after all, serious and devoted?

It wasn't the words that were important but the person who said them. In lovingly sharing those specific words with him, Jesus redefined this guy's person and what he based himself on; and by sharing these words, Jesus also lovingly revealed what was important to God, to God's life and thus to eternal life. The emphasis in his words is not on doing something, like "go, sell everything ...," but on "follow me." Jesus tried to focus the guy on his God person, not demand more deeds from him. Jesus wanted this serious guy to be involved with him, not involved in doing things, even if they were for God. This is relational work that Jesus lovingly asked from him. That's what the guy lacked; ironically, that's also why he wanted more in his life--that more of eternity-substance. As long as he defined himself in that old way, he would continue to do relationship with God without making intimate connection. Was Jesus too hard on him, or did Jesus want more for him also?

 

 

Two Critical Errors of Relationship

 

This serious, devoted, religious and successful guy made two critical errors which are important for us to understand and examine in our own life. I will mention these two errors now but discuss them further later. This guy addressed Jesus as "good teacher." We need to understand the meaning of "teacher" (Gk. didaskolos) and the relationship implied with those who called someone teacher back in that time. It was not casual or even insignificant as it has become in U.S. culture. To have someone as your teacher meant that you were more than a student or learner. It meant you were their disciple, an adherent, which involved a deeper attachment to the teacher. Jesus defined that attachment as the intimate relationship of friends (Jn 15:15). (We'll discuss being his disciple in more detail in Chapter 6.)

This is the kind of connection that Jesus wanted to make with this guy. But this was his first critical error. He related to Jesus as his teacher but without being a disciple (Gk. mathetes). He came only as a student or learner, someone who was simply there to learn (Gk. matheo) without any attachment to the teacher. In other words, he saw Jesus as useful or profitable to advance his life. Since he defined himself by what he did and what he had, and related to Jesus in the same way, he thought Jesus had something useful to him. But Jesus gave him more than he asked for--he gave himself.


What do you bring to a relationship if it's not what you do or have?


Defining ourselves by what we do (achieve) and by what we have (accumulate) provides us with comfort zones in how we do relationships. For example, it's always easier in relationships to talk about what we're doing rather than what we're thinking or feeling. It's always easier to present our self to others with what we do or have rather than with our basic person. Consider: what do you bring to a relationship if it's not what you do or have? These secondary areas become not only comfort zones; they also become a way of life to which we become progressively comfortable, attached, maybe addicted, not to mention seduced by, but essentially locked into--or, as the Bible defines it, enslaved.

This lack of freedom from what he did and had is clearly demonstrated by our serious, successful guy as he walked away. What would define him if he stopped depending on what he did and had? How could he be comfortable in relationships, especially with God, if he didn't present himself on this basis? Jesus tried to assure him that all that wasn't necessary, it's OK, he didn't have to do it on his own, he could trust God (10:27). But, he didn't let go and trust because he was enslaved to his old ways, as we often are.

Despite how he lived and his lack of freedom, he still sought to inherit (i.e., be an heir of) eternal life. This was his second critical error. We also have to understand the significance of an inheritance in those days. Not just anybody could receive an inheritance. Where was he coming from? Since he was not free from his way of defining himself and doing relationships, he in essence pursued this inheritance of God's life from the position of a slave. Regardless of his best efforts, a slave could not qualify for an inheritance in those days, only a son would qualify. But this guy functioned only like a slave. In his serious, devoted religious practice, he wasn't really making intimate connection with God to experience being his son. He didn't belong to Christ in spite of Jesus' loving effort to establish him as his disciple in this intimate relationship.

Since he wasn't willing to turn from these critical errors, he didn't experience the more that the eternity-substance in his heart needed and desired. Christians today often have these same stirrings for more because they don't feel connected, satisfied or whole. Something is missing.

 

To Journey in Eternity

Astonished by the interaction between Jesus and the young guy, the disciples present wondered among themselves, if this serious, devoted, successful guy didn't qualify "who then can be saved?" (10:26). Now don't be too quick to pass over the word "saved" (sozo) with its familiar use and connotation today. The word also means "to make whole." This wholeness is basic to what the eternity-substance in our heart needs and desires. And wholeness is not just for the future but it also has immediate significance for us now.


This wholeness is basic to what the eternity-substance in our heart needs and desires.


But this understanding of eternity in our heart and the desire to be whole as a part of God's life and big picture plan, this eternity-substance can be a blessing or a burden. In the end it was only a burden for the young guy. Whether the old was an easier way for him or because of its seduction, he passed up the opportunity for more. The immediate significance of eternity creates either a burden or a blessing for all of us. Can we learn from the errors of this guy in order to increasingly experience more of eternal life? That's an urgent question Jesus challenges us with because that's what he came to save us from and save us to.

I don't know if you've felt like I have in the past. But there were times that I wanted more in my life, that I wasn't really satisfied with what I was experiencing--whether in what I was doing or in my relationships. After praying and doing what I could to improve things, I still was in the same condition. So, I concluded that for the most part I had to live with that condition until I got to heaven. Because I'm human and in an imperfect state I won't experience all that I desire now until I'm made perfect in heaven. Though there is some biblical truth in this, most of it comes from assumptions and extra-biblical Christian beliefs and practices as well as lies generated by Satan. As common as this thinking is among Christians it only serves to effectively keep us in a comfort zone or a place of resignation. It keeps us from letting God satisfy us deeply and ongoingly by expanding our hearts in what it can experience--especially experience about love.

Yet this is exactly what this eternity-substance is all about. We are on this actual journey not only to eternity but also in eternity--a journey with the eternal God in intimate relationship together who keeps expanding us in his life now as we journey to his life. Certainly, on the one hand of truth, this journey to eternity and to the fullness of God's life won't be complete until we come into his full presence in heaven. But, on the other hand of truth, and even more encouraging for us in the present, with the reality of this eternity-substance implanted in us we are also on a journey in eternity--this part of our journey in which we are able to partake in God's life increasingly now and to experience intimate relationship with him now.

This is what the eternal God currently keeps expanding us in more and more until it "reaches eternity." Functionally, if we don't live in this journey in eternity, then our life doesn't keep expanding. We essentially plateau (reach a ceiling or even diminish) because we live instead by the limits of our humanity (and temporal substitutes) or by our assumptions, notions and lies which put God in a box. Any of these alternatives also constrain us from being free to experience all that is available to us which Jesus brought in his person and words.

As we ask along with the disciples "who then can experience the wholeness of life which is lasting?" we need to take to heart Jesus' response that "human effort is always insufficient to experience that which by its nature is only possible through God's loving effort; so trust me" (10:27). God is the one who implanted eternity in our heart. So, he is the one who now opens us to experience eternity--i.e., not to some endless "time frame" but to his person, his life. Life together in relationship results in that wholeness which our heart needs and desires. But Christians need to take to heart that, while human effort cannot replace grace to save us, neither does human effort replace ongoing relational trust in God to experience this life together. What Jesus opens to us in his person and words cannot be experienced by anything provided in our shortsighted time frame (the temporal) and by our limited ways (the common). What we come up with are all substitutes. So we are lovingly challenged by Christ, like the serious young guy who pursued Jesus for more but sadly returned to settle for less.
 

*                        *                        *
 

Given this discussion about the young guy and combining the two variations of this interaction in Mark (10:17-27) and Matthew's (19:16-26) accounts, I would suggest a modern paraphrase which might sound like this:

Having just observed Jesus' treatment of those active little children, a successful young guy was impressed by him, sensing that there was something unique, very special about Jesus. So, he excitedly imposed himself on Jesus and begged him to be his mentor.

Guy:  Mentor, I'm not experiencing all that I want in my life. Something is missing! So, what would be useful for me to do in order to really grab onto a truly awesome, satisfying life that will last--none of this popular or trendy stuff? Show me the real thing!

 

Jesus:  Well, I don't know if you realize what you're asking but have you tried the conventional ways practiced in a church? That's the usual way."

 

Guy:  I've done it all ever since I started back in youth group. I've done everything they told me; I've been a model church member. But something doesn't seem right, something is missing because I'm not really satisfied. So, what's going on? What am I doing wrong?

 

Jesus:  My dear friend, I can feel your frustration and I know you want more. But this is what you're missing. If you want to be whole and complete in life, then you have to stop defining yourself by what you do and have. That's what the majority do, even in my church. I know you've successfully done different things and have accumulated a lot at a young age. But you have to stop trusting in what you do and have--and also let go of the illusions of your accomplishments. When you do that you'll stop depending on yourself and will trust me. Then, we'll start connecting more intimately and you will experience the quality of life you've been missing.

 

Guy:  But I've worked hard to get where I am and to get what I have. How can I just let it all go? What would I do then? What will I have left? I can't give it up. This is such a bummer--it's so depressing.

 

Jesus:  The truth is it's hard for anyone to experience more when they believe lies about their person and embrace illusions of their life. Substitutes are always easier and can be seductive.

 

The disciples couldn't believe what they were hearing.

 

Disc:  Wow, if this model guy (serious, sincere, devoted, successful) can't do it, then who can measure up, how can we become whole?

 

Jesus:  That's the very heart of the matter! You can't do it--no one can, no matter what you've accomplished--even if it's for God. You want to see yourself as better than what you truly are. But all you can come up with are temporary substitutes. You're still all basically deficient and incapable by yourself to experience the more of eternity. That's why God lovingly extends his favor to help you. If you want more, you have to respond back to him ongoingly with the relational work of trust. I'm here to establish you in that intimate relationship. Trust me!

 

 

The Relationship of Eternity

After Jesus' challenging words, Peter, speaking for the disciples, contrasts all of them with this guy: "We have left everything to follow you" (10:28). True, in contrast to one of the young guy's critical errors they were indeed Jesus' disciples. But, as we will see later in our study, the disciples, especially as represented in Peter, also lived in many ways functionally like slaves, not free from the old. That is, they still defined themselves and did relationships by the old. Yet, except for Judas, they gave Jesus the opportunity to be with them in this. So, Jesus assured them: "I tell you the truth, no one who has left [let go of] ... for me ... will fail to receive [partake of, experience] a hundred times as much in this present age [period of opportunity]" (10:29-30).


The eternal God vulnerably extended to us in the person Jesus is not about "time and quantity" but about "boundless depth and quality."


Reflect on this for yourself. This is not so much about sacrifice but about sharing in a relational life together. Jesus assured them that as they truly follow him -- that is, intimately involve themselves with him--they will be transformed to the new and be satisfied as never before (a hundredfold). His followers will be satisfied not by quantity but by the quality of eternity-substance which they will experience now, not in the future only. But he reminds them of the difference between the old and the new (10:31), implying from their interaction not to be fooled by, have illusions about nor settle for substitutes. Here Jesus clearly connects being a disciple (in a relational life together) directly to this eternity-substance and experiencing more now. We will extend the discussion on discipleship in Chapter 6.

The eternal God and his life vulnerably extended to us in the person Jesus is not about "time and quantity" but about "boundless depth and quality." Anything that limits this depth and quality constrains who God is and essentially puts him in a box. If we don't put constraints on God nor remain within our own limits, how far can all of this go? What is the potential of what we can experience and how much satisfaction we can have? When Jesus said "a hundred times as much," I don't think he quantified this potential. Though "100x" is an awesome amount, that could still be limiting. Being created as persons of heart in the image of the God of heart, the potential of how much our heart can experience is again directly determined by the heart of God. With eternity implanted in our heart, the potential of how far our heart can be expanded is all the way to eternity.

This may be difficult for us to comprehend or even imagine. That's usually when we rely solely on conventional thinking based on "time and space and quantity." When we include the heart and add thinking relationally, then we can start to better grasp "depth and quality" and move to embrace more and more of its relational significance. As we listen with our heart to Jesus tell us about eternal life, it increasingly comes into the present. As we embrace in our heart what he revealed about eternal life, we are brought "face-to-face" with God in the present as a lasting and satisfying experience of intimate relationship together.

This lasting and totally satisfying experience from eternity is what Jesus came to objectively present on our finite terms, on the one hand. But he goes beyond our finite terms to take us to the next level of his eternal terms to connect us with the intimate presence of the eternal God. In order that we are not left to incomprehension or to mystical imagination, Jesus provided clear understanding of all this in very simple, functional terms: "Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (Jn 17:3). In this closing prayer to his Father for all his followers, Jesus goes on to define knowing the Father and him not as a matter of information and intellectual beliefs but as the ongoing deep intimate relationship of love, just as the Father and Jesus experience together (17:26).

From these words of Jesus, it all comes into focus. This helps us describe this lasting and satisfying experience of eternity in functional terms as an ongoing intimate relationship of love which we can now operationalize in daily living. Intimate relationship with the Father and with Jesus is that never-ending experience of hearts being bonded together--together in the same love the Father gives Jesus without end. But, remember any relationship is not static; its dynamic nature requires relational work. So, as we willfully exercise the honesty of our whole heart in trust to be intimately involved with the heart of God, that results in the deeply satisfying experience which will last.

All else in life is not fully and permanently satisfying, though it obviously provides a temporary substitute. Such substitutes are either easier choices or seductive alternatives. That's why we are continuously challenged throughout our life not to settle for less (that which is too small), as did the successful young guy, though from the standpoint of quantity he certainly had a lot. But the eternity-substance in our heart will always be restless in its need and desire for more. God has put himself in us, so that we won't be satisfied if we settle for what won't last. He has put his heart in us with his design and purpose--that is, a heart for intimate connection and relationships. This relational outcome is the only satisfying experience that will fill the human heart. And the relationships of eternal life (Jn 17:3) are the only satisfying experiences of our heart which will never end. This relationship is total, complete, whole, final.

Our relationship with God is also the baseline for all our other relationships. It is what transforms us from old to new to live transformed relationships with others, not the common way people define themselves and do relationships. It provides us with the intimate experience of love (especially through forgiveness) in order to love others. It is the model and experience of loving intimacy which God wants for all relationships, especially in his church. Given all that is involved in eternal life for us during the present time, what can have more immediate meaning and significance to our lives?

 

Counter-Relational Work

As we extend our study about experiencing intimate relationship with God, we need to go beyond familiar thoughts and views in order to deepen our understanding of this relationship. Accordingly, the more we talk about intimate relationship with God and the deeper our heart gets involved with the heart of God, the more urgent it is for us to discuss the most vital issue complicating this ongoing relational process. Earlier I only briefly mentioned this issue, but it is critical for us to examine further the presence and work of Satan. As we do, let's prepare to go beyond the familiar in relation to Satan also.

Satan is not just a neutral observer of our relationship with God; as God's enemy he will and does take action ongoingly to try to negatively affect the relational process. Therefore, we can expect his actions not so much in overt and blatant situations but in more subtle continuous ways against the relationship. As we've seen, relational work in itself is difficult enough without having it compounded by the likes of Satan. But this is the reality which even Jesus dealt with. So, the better we understand and the more we deal with Satan's presence and work, the freer the relational process will be for us to experience intimate relationship with God.

Since the God of heart created us in his image as persons of heart to be intimately involved with him in a heart-to-heart relationship, then Satan's main objective for Christians is to get us as distant or detached from our heart as he can and, thus, interfere in this relationship. Satan can't break our relationship with God, but he certainly tries to interfere with it. In other words, Satan is also engaged in relational work; but the work he does is only counter-relational work. Nevertheless, his primary goal for Christians is to work on our relationship, not so much to get us to do wrong, bad things and sin (in a limited sense). How then does he work?

Satan does his counter-relational work more covertly than the overt ways he is usually considered and depicted doing. His covert operation especially takes place in Christian contexts where, as Paul said, he masquerades (Gk. metaschematizo: changes his outward form or appearance, but not his substance) as "an angel of light" along with his servants masquerading as "servants of righteousness" (see 2 Cor 11:13-15). Where else would this be going on the most today but in our churches? This involves only outward change which is qualitatively different than transformation of one's inner or total person (metamorphoo, e.g., in Rom 12:2).

Furthermore, Satan influences us with lies, being the father and author of lies (Jn.8:44). Lies, for example, to get us to try to be a "better Christian" by doing more Christian things rather than giving priority to our relationship with God and our persons; that make us feel we don't measure up to God's expectations, grace notwithstanding; that reduce our integrity as a total person by emphasizing our mind over our heart. Along with other various lies within church traditions, Satan's work in the church has confused us, for example, by blurring the distinction between God's grace and our works. It has entangled us in practices of our faith which focus more on doing than being, on secondary matters like activities over the primacy of relationships, on the outward appearance of faith rather than its inner experience and true substance.

Satan cultivates and promotes these lies as substitutes for our transformation (metamorphoo). As long as we concentrate on secondary matters, we will primarily be concerned with outward changes. He encourages this type of "Christian" change because that would essentially in principle get us into masquerades also. Christian practices of righteousness and light based on lies become a life of illusion. So, the distinction between inner change (metamorphoo) and outer change (metaschematizo) is crucial to how we define ourselves, do relationships and church.

When Christians, churches and Christian culture become entangled in Satan's lies, then it becomes problematic determining the roots or origins of our beliefs. Functionally, that makes it difficult to maintain substantive consistency in practicing our faith. We can't distinguish between illusion and reality. This happens because the distinction between truth and lie becomes blurred, making us highly vulnerable to compromises in our beliefs and integrity. This issue emerges in one of Satan's tests of Jesus that we will discuss shortly.


The key indicator. . . is the distance or detachment we have from our heart and the absence of intimate connection with God.


Keep clearly in mind Satan's objective in his counter-relational work: to distance or detach us from our heart and to interfere in our relationship with God. When we examine the impact of these lies on our focus on secondary matters, we can see how they effectively keep us from our heart. That in turn relationally prevents a deeper connection with God and thus reduces our opportunity to experience God intimately. This lack in the relationship also denies us the experience of knowing him as well as the truth of who/what we really are, and denies us the means to embrace God's truth instead of Satan's lies. The result of these lies is to occupy, to entangle, to enslave (control) us in patterns of living which may have the appearance of being righteous (as opposed to overtly sinful) but not the substance. This makes us vulnerable to playing a role, unintentionally acting out an identity different than our true identity, even putting on a false identity; this is the meaning of the word "hypocrisy" (Greek hypokrisis) which Jesus identified as "the yeast of the Pharisees" to avoid practicing in our lives
(Lk 12:1).

Masquerading and hypocrisy may seem like strong terms to use to describe a lot of Christian practices--especially if done sincerely or with good intentions. Yet, these biblical descriptions are not used to indict us but to help us understand when we are substituting for or settling for less than all that Jesus makes available to us. That's why it's so vital for us to examine Satan's presence and counter-relational work, especially his lies, and its direct impact on the relational work Jesus defines for us. And the key indicator of all this--the crucial issue to concentrate on--is the distance or detachment we have from our heart and the absence of intimate connection with God. However you want to describe this and whatever you want to call it, this is Satan's goal in the lives of those who have a relationship with Christ. Unfortunately--and this is our challenge--so often churches and Christian culture are unintentionally in complicity with and reinforcing of his lies. Consequently, the more he is exposed in what he does and the more lies we can reveal, the less susceptible we are to continue.

 

Relational Tests

Jesus began his formal ministry specifically dealing with Satan's testing (temptations) and lies. (I've wondered, then, if this discussion also should have taken place at the beginning of this study.) The importance of the heart and its significance in our relationship with God are strongly brought out in Jesus' tests and exactly how Satan works. So, how Jesus dealt with him is of vital importance to help us contend with Satan, even throughout the course of this study. You've probably already had to struggle with his influence in some earlier content. But after examining Satan's tests of Jesus, I suggest a rereading of the previous sections of our study will be helpful.

The temptations of Jesus (review closely Lk 4:1-13) also represent summary tests for all persons with faith in Christ and how Satan will try to interfere, even intrude, in that relationship. Understanding Satan's tests of Jesus will also help us see the subtlety of his counter-relational work and influence. The three tests are interrelated and, in Luke's order (different order in Mt.), they are progressive.

The first test, which I subdivide into two, began with Satan's challenging words "If you are... " (Lk 4:3). They were challenging not because he questioned Jesus with the truth about his person and to demonstrate (or prove) it. Satan's words challenged that truth specifically by trying to confuse the basis on which Jesus defined his person. He presents this same challenge to all Christians.

Before we further examine his challenging words, however, we need to understand the context of this situation. Jesus was hungry from forty days and nights of fasting when Satan said this (cf. Mt 4:2). From the standpoint of his humanity Jesus was vulnerable in this situation because of his obvious need from hunger. It was an opportune time for Satan to test him. But the subtlety of Satan's temptation was not about Jesus' need for food. Satan used this moment, influenced by Jesus' circumstances, to get at something deeper and more consequential. Now, remember Satan's goal to distance us from our heart and prevent intimacy with God.

Reflect on: how is Satan trying to get Jesus to see his person--is it really as the son of God? On what specifically is he focusing Jesus--is it merely the food? The answer is contained in Jesus' response: "a person does not live on bread alone" (Lk 4:4). Since we usually look at this statement apart from its context, our tendency is to interpret Jesus' words merely as the spiritual aspect of life being more important than the physical. Yet, that would be too simplistic and insufficient to meet the challenge of Satan's words.

Jesus was not dividing life or the person into different aspects, with the spiritual at the top of the list. That in fact was exactly how Satan was trying to get Jesus to see his person and focus on. Let's rephrase Jesus' words in order to show how he countered Satan: "A person is not defined by only a limited aspect of him or her." This is what Satan tried to do with Jesus and tries to do with us.

1a. Temptation:   Satan tries to get us to define ourselves as anything less than the total person God made--also died for and is transforming.

As Satan pursues his goal to distance Christians from our heart, he uses a lie connected to this test very effectively among Christians. He uses the following lie to get us to define our person with such limits which constrain our heart. Then our heart is not free, and this creates barriers to intimate relational connection. The most effective and consequential way Satan accomplishes this is with the following lie.

 

1a. Lie:    The need and importance to see ourselves and, therefore, to define our person by what we do or have.

 

When we define our self in this way, we also define others in the same way. Furthermore, the truth of God is nullified by this lie because in our Christian practice we live as if God also sees us and defines us in the same way. And then we do all of our relationships based on these criteria instead of the importance of the total person and the primacy of intimate relationships. Satan wants Christians to substitute any secondary thing for the more available from Jesus and he wants us to settle for less.

 


Satan wants Christians . . .  to settle for less.


Based on the criteria Satan gets many Christians to substitute for more, the rest of Satan's challenging words add: "if you are ... then do ... " (Lk 4:3, italics mine). Here Satan tries to get us to act according to this subtle lie. But Jesus refused Satan's lie; he lived instead in the truth of what he was, without reducing his person or without constraints on his heart. To follow Jesus' lead, however, can be problematic for many Christians and can even be in contrast to what Christians think they should do. Understandably, our perception of a similar situation may be that there is a legitimate need calling for at least some action. How do we determine what to do?

Satan would say to us: "if you are a Christian, then do something based on your situation and circumstances." Seems like sound advice that we probably follow all the time, except that here it would be hard to reconcile since it's coming from Satan. Yet, given the above criteria that's how we may be actually living. That is, not only does Satan try to reduce our total person and distance us from our heart by defining ourselves by what we do and have, but he also reduces life and living to "situations and circumstances." When he gets us to focus on situations and circumstances, he effectively takes our focus away from the primacy of relationships. For example, with the focus on doing something to address a circumstance (problem-solving) or with the concern on meeting a goal in a situation (goal-oriented), relationships are given less attention, and sensitivity to others (especially God) is diminished.

The ironic rationale for this course of behavior which Satan uses is brought out in the first clause of his challenging words "if you are ..." (v.3). Be it for the Son of God or a Christian, Satan twists around the truth of what we are in order to make substitutes in place of a better alternative, thus leaving us in the unexpected position of settling for less.

1b. Temptation:    To use our identity or position (privilege, prestige or power) for what appears to be a legitimate personal gain --no matter how seemingly positive, harmless or neutral--over a better alternative.

Think of times when we've done something in a situation because we felt "it's OK"--or that we had a right (privilege) to do so and, thus, did it. But, in further reflection, we could also have done something better, or taken someone else into further consideration (particularly God) if we hadn't done it. You may think that it wasn't really a big deal to do it, that the issue doesn't have to be overblown. Furthermore, since you can almost always find a better alternative, you don't have to labor trying to do the best all the time. You don't want to become constrained in your actions and not be free, especially in "gray areas." After all, the Christian life is not about sacrifice.

While there is some truth in this, the issue here is substitutes we make for more and how we settle for less. And the lie Satan uses to distract us from the real issue goes as follows:

 

1b. Lie:   If you are a real Christian, you are free. Don't be legalistic like a Pharisee.   In your position, you can do it if you want. It's OK!

Yes, Satan says, we are free to work in that vocation, to have that relationship, to secure those commodities. But the truth is being twisted here. The irony in this lie is that Satan confuses us by using a caution against the hypocrisy of the Pharisees to get us to do, in essence, the same. By deluding us into thinking we're not being narrow-minded like a Pharisee, Satan is in fact constraining us and taking us from a deeper alternative of living better, that is, experiencing more.
 

What is the better alternative for which we substitute? What is this more that we don't experience because we settle for less? Jesus leads us into deeper understanding with the remaining words of his response to Satan's initial test: "but on every word that comes from the mouth of God" (see account in Mt 4:4). Rather than focus on situations and circumstances and limit our person, Jesus tells us to think relationally by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3. The original OT words were given to understand (Heb. yada, to know personally) that less in life is situations and circumstances (like food) and more involves the relational meaning of "on every word . . . ." Don't reduce these words to merely truths, beliefs or propositions, nor limit them to the "spiritual" realm. These are words "that comes from the mouth of the Lord" (Dt 8:3). "Mouth" (Heb. peh) signifies direct communication from God, communication which is a relational process involving intimate connection.


The impact on our relationships (not only with God) reveals the extent of our substitutions.


If one is the Son of God or an authentic Christian, then you don't reduce life to situations and circumstances and live as anything less than your total person but by intimate relationship with God. Satan twists this truth and with a lie gets us to make substitutions. And the impact on our relationships (not only with God) reveals the extent of our substitutions.

So, consistent with Satan's goal for Christians, these temptations and lies interfere in our relationship with God, distance our hearts and distract us from intimacy with God. But, in conflict with how we relate to God with our misperceptions (e.g., that God defines us by what we do), our naive perceptions (e.g., God wants to control or constrain us) or our limited perceptions (e.g., God's main concern is for us not to sin), Jesus openly revealed God's person to us in order that his created design and purpose will be fulfilled in the experience of intimate life together with love.

This deeper life of love (agape) is not only an intimate life together with God. This exceptional relationship is also designed for us to have and to experience with all his people in loving life together as his family. This love is not the idea of love which is often displayed in various Christian cultural practices merely by substituting things. Rather, it is the substance of love made vulnerably visible by Jesus' person and words. Though agape love is sacrificial and practical, it is primarily relational and, therefore, defined by being, not doing. I will expand on this loving life together later in Chapter 8.

Satan exerts influence on us when we define ourselves in a limited way, and as our perceptions become constrained. As this happens we tend not to see beyond ourselves and the situation and circumstances. When we do appear to go beyond ourselves, it is more out of obligation or guilt rather than as a relational response of love. In either case it prevents us from being able to relate to God's big picture and diminishes our responsiveness to eternity-substance in our heart.

Through his person and words, Jesus consistently shows us that God calls us to an intimate life of love (agape). We can only experience this within the ongoing process of relationship in which we are willing to love (or sacrifice for) others. We are free indeed to love this way because--as Jesus knew during his temptation but Israel struggled to understand (cf. Deut.8:3)--we ongoingly trust God to care for us with agape and to relationally keep his promises ("every word") for our life also. To experience this with him and in relation to others is part of that eternity-substance which is truly satisfying--a satisfaction lasting beyond situation and circumstance. So, with increasing understanding we can say with Jesus in response to Satan's challenging words: "Yes indeed, there is more to life than . . . !"

*                     *                     *

Before moving on too quickly, reflect on these issues in your life with the help of the Holy Spirit. Ask him to help you to more fully understand your heart and to bring you into honest connection with the Father, your Father.

*                     *                     *

The next test for Jesus extends the process we see in the first set of temptations. As temptation progresses, so too will Jesus' response provide us with deeper understanding to deal with Satan. This is important for us to embrace because entanglement with Satan's lies blurs the distinction between truth and lie, making us highly susceptible to compromise our beliefs and integrity.

Keep in mind the criteria Satan uses in the first test as you read his second test (Lk 4:5-7). While "encouraging" us, as he did with Jesus, to see ourselves in limited ways and to keep distance from (set up barriers to) our heart, Satan dangles "carrots" in front of us--esteemed and sought-after goals and ambitions which may have even impressed Jesus. What are your specific goals and ambitions today?

2. Temptation:    To have more status, privileges, power, possessions, etc., with which to better define ourselves based on criteria Satan uses in the first test.

Scenarios for us today, which create the same situation faced by Jesus in this test, include areas of education, vocation, material security or relationships. Notice, however, the emphasis is on quantity over quality, as substitutes are made in place of more.

Now here is where our temptation may in effect be greater than Jesus' was. Satan told Jesus flat out in the open that it was all his "if you worship me" (Lk 4:7). But, the cost for us to gain these is usually not as apparent as Satan presented to Jesus. Nevertheless, the pursuit of these things based on the above criteria always comes with a cost that in some way compromises our beliefs and integrity. If the compromise is not clear, it's because Satan has an easier time fooling us than Jesus. So, he tweaks some truths with another major lie:

 

2. Lie:     To have any of these will make me a better person, or enable me to do  (e.g., even to better serve God or others), or give me the most satisfaction and fulfillment.

Here we see the genius of Satan to blur the distinction between truth and lie.

If we live by this lie, then we are compromising our beliefs and integrity. This is not God's design and purpose for our life. Jesus countered this temptation with words (see Lk 4:8) which we either take too lightly in their significance or take for granted with their familiarity. Obviously, we would worship God over Satan, but this decision is not always that clear. Of course, we would serve God instead of Satan, but this choice is not straightforward in many situations and circumstances.

But when Jesus used "worship" and "serve," he wants us to think relationally about the context and ongoing process these words provide. "Worship" is not about going to church on Sunday; and "serve" is not about doing something for God. Jesus is exercising relational work here to negate Satan's counter-relational work. These aren't empty words. True purpose and meaning, as well as ultimate fulfillment, take place only with God and find complete experience within the relational context of the ongoing process of intimate connection with God. These words are not about doing something in relation to God called worship and serving; they are about being with him and sharing intimately in his life. This is the lasting satisfaction our heart needs and desires.

Yet, Satan will continue to disrupt this relational process. He really doesn't care if Christians practice the outward forms of Christian culture, even if our rhetoric is "spiritually correct." Those only help to perpetuate his lies and keep us from experiencing God's truth. In fact, he and his servants will practice those same forms and express the same rhetoric
(2 Cor 11:14,15)-
-whatever gets us Christians to reduce our person from the image of the God of heart by distancing our heart and to interfere with our intimacy with God.

When Satan succeeds with the second temptation and lie--when we pursue those goals and ambitions in order to better define ourselves based on criteria from the first set of temptations--we compromise the truth of how God sees us, how he defines us and what we are in Christ based on his grace. And, once again, the main indicators of this compromise are:

(1) a loss of heart (e.g., more emphasis on mind over heart)

(2) a deemphasis (usually more indirect) of the primacy of relationships (e.g., when doing is the focus)

(3) the absence of intimacy with God as well as with others (e.g., doing things for God more than being with him).

When we examine these dynamics between Satan and Jesus/us and reflect on what's happening, we see how Satan's efforts are clearly counter-relational work. Our understanding of him is vital for a healthy, growing relationship with God. I don't think in relation to Christians the main tension (not the only tension) between Satan's lies and God's truth is a theological one. For the most part, I think Satan is willing to give us our theology because he's more interested in minimizing the quality of our practice. In other words, the main issue for him, as it needs to be for us, is a relational one.

Jesus understood this and from the outset prepared to live this throughout his ministry. So, this relational focus is what we see in Jesus' responses to Satan's temptation and what repeatedly emerges from his person and words. Jesus brought God's truth not merely so we could have the correct belief system properly systematized in orthodox theology. He revealed the truth of God's person so we can have the right relationship and intimate experience with God. That's why he continuously refocuses us on his God person and relationship with God. When this root of our beliefs becomes detached in our practice, when this heart of our faith is obscured in our life, then Christians are ripe for compromise.
 

To understand this relational process is to understand Satan's presence. As we examine the third temptation, we will see that the three tests are interrelated and progressive (in Luke's account) This is more than a point to note but important to realize--important indeed because it further shows the process of Satan's counter-relational work and influence which he ongoingly seeks to exert on us.

Since Satan can't completely separate a Christian from God, he is always trying to minimize our relationship with God. When he can't keep us from making our relationship primary by substituting secondary things, when he can't distract us from the best alternative of relational involvement over situations and circumstances, when he can't "encourage" us to "improve" ourselves despite the cost--just like he tried to do with Jesus in the first two tests--then he will try to intrude directly in our relationship. This is where the process of Satan's testing brings us in the third temptation (read Lk 4:9-11).


"If God really loves you, then act on . . . this promise and he will respond as you wish."


As Satan directly intrudes in the relationship, he doesn't focus only on the individual as he did previously. This time he goes further, directly bringing in God and a promise God makes to us. Don't be distracted by the dramatics of this scene; we face this situation frequently. To help us understand this, consider a promise of particular interest to you. With that promise in mind, listen to these words spoken to you: "If you are God's son/daughter and he really loves you, then act on the basis of this promise and he will respond as you wish." Not only does this seem like good spiritual guidance but it also appears to be building trust in our relationship with God. Wouldn't this be practicing what Jesus said earlier about living "on every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Mt 4:4)?

Sometimes the dynamics in relationships get complicated or confusing. As Jesus' response (Lk 4:12) not only counters Satan, it likely may also confront us: "Don't put God to the test" (GK. ekpeirazo, test to the limits, see how far it can go). We should not mistake the nature of this testing of God. This is not so much a test to see, for example, morally how much we can get away with before God will get angry and do something to us--although this kind of test should not be made of God either.

Well, if it's not a test like a child seeing what they could get away with, what is its nature? Go back to your promise. It is not wrong to ask God to fulfill this promise for you. There is nothing wrong with stepping out in faith on the basis of this promise. God wants us to do this and he wants to do this for us. So, what then is the problem here?

We have to focus deeply on our relationship with God and what Satan is trying to do to it. Since, at this stage, he hasn't been able to distance or distract Jesus/us from the relationship, he has to disrupt directly how that relationship functions. How does our relationship with God function? We know God wants to fulfill his promise to us; but what we don't always keep clearly in focus is that God does so on his terms. If Jesus, and we likewise, tried to evoke God's promise in the manner Satan suggested, then he/we would be determining the relationship on his/our terms. This is the real test Jesus refused to do and the subtle temptation Satan presents to all of us:

3. Temptation:     To test the limits of God and how much you can control the relationship on your terms, not his.

But relationship with God is about him, not us; so, it functions on his terms, not ours. Satan tries to intrude on how our relationship functions by confusing us with this lie:

3. Lie:    If God loves you, he will do what you ask; if he doesn't do it, then he must not really love you!

When God doesn't respond as requested, Satan may prompt us further to conclude: God doesn't love us because we're not good enough or even bad; and, so we revert back to the second temptation in order to make ourself a better person and more lovable to God. But God will not be manipulated or controlled no matter what we do in the relationship--however sincere we are or however good our intentions. This relationship is totally on his terms; that's why it functions by grace.

God wants our heart, our total person, all of me. For various reasons we may resist or try to bargain the terms in order to maintain a sense of security and not be too vulnerable. Yet, whenever we try to define our relationship with God or control it on our terms, we essentially go into a comfort zone and put God in a box, resulting in distance in our relationship. When this happens, Satan is pleased with his success. He has subtly entangled the relational process and disrupted intimacy with God. And when he doesn't succeed, we can count on him to ongoingly seek opportune moments to interfere, disrupt and intrude in our relationship--just as he did with Jesus (Lk 4:13).
 

This is how we need to understand Satan's presence and to deal with him. Furthermore, it is vital for Christians to deal with his counter-relational work and influence not just with a Scripture verse but from within the context of that truth, which is an ongoing relationship with God. Engaging this intimate relational process is what Jesus reveals in his person and words--whether it's interacting with Satan, his disciples or his Father. This is the relational imperative.

As we continue to examine and further understand Jesus' relational work, realize that we must also contend with Satan's counter-relational work along the way. Nothing will complicate the relational process more. If we don't deal with it, then we will likely make substitutes for the more Jesus makes available to us and settle for less. Remember Satan's goal for Christians!

*                     *                     *

This is a critical juncture in our study of the person and words of Jesus. As I mentioned earlier, now that we've discussed Satan's work and influence, it might be helpful to reread the previous sections. Beyond that it is important to work with the Spirit to identify the lies which have affected you in your life. These may be in relation to you, to God and/or your relationship together. God wants us to live in the truth of what we are as a person, and he wants us to experience the truth of relationship with him in the intimate process of love. This was Jesus' purpose in coming to us and our purpose in studying his person and words.

So, take some time now, ask the Spirit to reach deeper into your life--if necessary to assist you out of a comfort zone--and give God further opportunity to be together with you.

 

 

2003 T. Dave Matsuo

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Study Guide & Growth Plan

 

Chap. 3

Establishing This Deeper Relationship

 

Our tendency in established relationships is to live in them as though relationships are static. The thinking here is, that since the relationship is established its condition will remain constant despite any lack of effort to work directly on the relationship. While it may not be our intention, for example, to take the relational involvement for granted or to assume its condition, such a static approach to relationships contradicts the truth that functionally relationships are always dynamic. We can count on something always happening in a relationship--either positive or negative, growing or diminishing; and the fact is any relationship declines in absence of relational work, despite the homeostatic appearance, for example, of many marriage and family relationships.

 

The dynamic nature of relationships also conflicts with the additional false belief that it is sufficient for only one party in the relationship to do the bulk of this relational work. Again, even though this may not be our intention this could be how we function with God, letting him do most of it. In the opening verse of this chapter (Jn 17:26) Jesus defines the essence of his relational work, work which quantifies the Father's revelation of himself through his Son and formulates the basis for the gospel. Yet, despite the total involvement with which Jesus engaged this relational work, it is not sufficient for this verse to become an ongoing relational reality. That is, there will always be a gap--an experiential gap--in our relationship with him without our part of the relational work. The dynamic nature of relationships makes it necessary for both parties to engage in relational work in order for the relationship to grow and not diminish. Prepare to further define your part.

 

 


 

Reflect:

 

To one degree or another we all face a gap between what we believe and what we experience in our faith, particularly about our experience directly in relationship with God. John 17:26 accounts for intimate involvement with the Father and experiencing from him the same relationally intimate love Jesus himself does.  This relational experience cannot be substituted for by activities or even service for him; these represent indirect involvement with him. In the relational principle of "no substitutes and nothing less," we are talking about engaging God directly--specifically, not he engaging us in the context of our life (for example, what we're doing) but we engaging him within the context of his life.  This means involving ourselves with the Jesus of the incarnation and following him for the correct reasons, thus functionally on his terms, not ours.

 

What are you "searching" for or pursuing in your relationship with Jesus (cf. Jn.6:24)?

 

In what direction do you think this is taking the relationship?

 

 


 

Examine:

 

What are "secondary things" about your person which you focus on consistently?

 

What are "secondary things" about your relationships which occupy your involvement with others?

 

What influence do these have in how you see yourself?  How you see others?  How you do relationships?

 

Consider: what do you bring to a relationship if it's not what you do or have?

 

 


 

Anticipate:

 

It is increasingly difficult in modern times to readily discern the substitutes we make and how we settle for less. Not only are we preoccupied by the "task" but are also dominated by multi-tasking.  With a growing quantity of substitutes and an elevating dependence on virtual experiences, we are ongoingly engaging one alternative after another, in effect trying to satisfy a seemingly bottomless heart. Yet that which lasts and satisfies usually eludes us. This applies to Christian culture and the context of the church as well as to general culture and the surrounding context.

 

This process is significantly compounded when we account for Satan's counter-relational work.  The distinction between truth and lie gets very hazy in various Christian practices.  Can you identify some practices which appear as truths but in function are actually lies which distance the person from the heart and/or interfere with intimacy with God?

 

What lies have affected your own self-perception and how you do relationship with God?

 

How would you distinguish "time and quantity" and "depth and quality"?

 

Apply these to how you see God functionally and to how you actually do relationship with him.

 

Without becoming self-absorbed do you have a desire to experience more in the practice of your faith and your relationship with God?

 

What do you think needs to change in order to experience more?

 

 


 

Optional:

 

So far, how does this study affect your formulation of the incarnation and the gospel of Jesus Christ?

 

What are the implications of limiting God's self-disclosure to correct doctrine and to engaging merely the mind and what we do?

 

 

 

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