Jesus Knowing Christ
Engaging the Intimate
Engaging the Intimate Relational Process
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. . .To Uncommon Intimate Relationship
Jesus said, "Make every effort . . . ."
While Satan does everything he can to minimize our intimacy with God, the persons of God (Father, Jesus and Spirit) do everything they can for optimal intimate experience in our relationship. Yet, the pursuit of intimacy with God is not smooth, and often it does not seem straightforward, though the relational process itself is. Intimacy can be elusive.
If the issue were just between God and Satan, then the outcome for us would be obvious. But we are not an observer in our relationship with God, although there are often times we may want him to do all the work--especially when it comes to relational work. Hearts don't come together automatically, simply over the course of time, nor even naturally, though as humans we're relational beings. So, we need to accept the responsibility for our part of the relationship. That doesn't necessarily mean we have to do more but it means for us to admit and own up to where our heart is and how we make intimacy with God difficult. In other words, we're going to have to change in order to experience intimacy with God.
The God of heart created us in his image as persons of heart into which he implanted eternity-substance. Yet, even though our heart needs and desires more, God understands that our heart is not automatically prepared to receive and experience more. That's why he extended his person vulnerably to us in his mercy, grace and love in order to provide the means for our heart to change, so that we experience intimacy with God.
Redemptive change is always relationally specific to God and never remains focused only on us.
The biggest change necessary is the transformation of our heart from sin. Obviously, Christ's death on the cross is the only means for our redemption and justification. But what is obvious to us has also lost some of its immediate meaning for us, similarly to the familiar idea of "eternal life." To understand redemption only in spiritual terms and limit its application primarily to the future is not sufficient for the change we need in order to experience intimacy with God now. We need to expand redemption to include the changes our heart must (dei, necessary by nature) undergo currently if we are to intimately experience the holy heart of God. Redemptive change is always relationally specific to God and never remains focused only on us.
Let me reemphasize that not only was it important and necessary for Christ to go to the cross, it was also important and necessary for him to live his earthly life between the crèche and the cross. It was in that part of his life that Jesus clearly made objective "what we are saved from"--that is, what salvation is about and how sin operates. And even further, how he lived during that period shows us up close "what we are saved to." Saved to is just as important and necessary as saved from. That's why Jesus doesn't limit redemption to the latter. In his relational work during various interactions with those wanting to follow him, he frequently revealed the need for redemptive changes now in their life. Later, we will see a summary of this in Jesus' telling interactions with Peter.
On one occasion while Jesus made his way to Jerusalem someone asked him, "Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?" (Lk 13:23). He replied with "the narrow door" analogy, expanding on his words in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 7:13,14). This helps us understand the relational work he did in this analogy (read Lk 13:24-30).
Many will try to get in the door but "will not be able to" (Gk. ischyo, to have ability). As much as they tried (based on what they did) he didn't let them in. Why? Because he didn't know (think relationally about this word) them. But they argued that they had fellowshipped with him--eating and drinking together was culturally significant--and he had even taught them. Why, then, did he insist that he didn't know them? The difference is not understood from the activity but in the relationship.
Let's not focus here only on the future, as we usually do about salvation and eternal life. Jesus' response actually is emphasizing the present to them, not the future: "make every effort" (Gk. agonizomai, to fight, struggle, engage in strenuous endeavor, exert great effort). The Greek grammar (present tense, middle voice, imperative mood) Jesus used here shows that he wasn't making a suggestion or a request to them. Instead, Jesus was demanding (imperative mood) that they start taking direct responsibility now (present tense) and rigorously act on it.
He demands that we take responsibility for where our heart is. . .
But what are they supposed to act on? We can easily interpret this as further expectations which Jesus lays on us to do. Is he telling us how to qualify or better measure up? By his use of Greek middle voice, Jesus demands the direct involvement of the person in the action, not mechanically doing something. The middle voice further indicates that the person is seen as acting upon oneself; that is, the person is taking responsibility for oneself and acting on what is necessary about oneself. Since Jesus is engaged in relational work, he is focusing us on our part of the work. In other words, he demands that we take responsibility for where our heart is and rigorously address, for example, how we make intimacy with God difficult. All this effort involves only the relational process of developing intimate relationship with God. This is the relational imperative; and it's all about relational work.
God didn't relationally know "the many" trying to get in because they were not intimately involved with him--even though they were doing things with him. The narrow door is relationally specific, which makes relational work on our part necessary and rigorous. It's not optional. What Jesus demands here is quite a contrast to how church membership is presented today.
Our perceptions of the narrow door (gate or road) often are limited to spiritual terms, moral grounds or even pharisaic expectations. But as we understand the narrow door as relationally specific, we also need to look more closely at its broader implications. When Jesus ended his response with more familiar words (Lk 13:30), he addressed the current way persons defined themselves and their comparative position on the human totem pole. The relational work involved in the narrow door redefines the person and results in reordering the systems of inequality created by the old definitions. Yet, the presence and persistence among Christians of how we define ourselves by these criteria and thereby do our relationships, thus influencing how we do church, remains an ongoing issue about which we need to "make every effort."
Our theology defines redemption as being set free from enslavement by payment of a ransom (Christ's death). The ultimate redemption necessary to be involved with God is spiritual. But there are other areas of life in which we need to experience being set free--for example, our common, everyday social context which we take for granted or readily accept. These other areas all influence our involvement with God and can make intimate relationship difficult. So, we have to factor them into the relational equation underlying all spiritual growth. That means Christians need to realize that functionally not everything in spiritual growth and spiritual formation is spiritual. Redemptive changes are needed ongoingly in all areas of our life. In fact, God would be pleased if we not only stopped spiritualizing the Christian life but also refrained from compartmentalizing our life. To cease can't be accomplished passively but will require "exerting great effort" on our part.
It is an illusion to think that involvement with the holy God is only a spiritual and moral matter. Satan would encourage us to think this way because that would leave the other areas in our life more vulnerable to his counter-relational work and influence. But we need to understand our God as more than pure and sinless.
When Jesus brought the holy God to us, he came vulnerably with that holiness; that will forever remain a mystery of God's love. Yet, "holy" (Gk. hagios) further means to be separated from ordinary or common usage--that which is not common. So, we need to embrace the fact and truth: Jesus brought that which was uncommon and, therefore, was in constant tension and conflict with that which is common. And he came not only with the holy but also with the stuff of eternity.
Whether Christians are aware of it, the
"uncommon" is an ongoing issue we have with Jesus' life and
words. The common in life--the dominant, the majority, the
popular, the conventional--influences how Christians think,
feel, perceive things, develop mind sets, even form worldviews.
That which is common in our daily life is the most problematic
issue affecting intimacy with the holy God and our spiritual
growth. This is compounded for us by Satan who simply
emphasizes, encourages and promotes the common, the temporal--that is, that which distances us from our heart and interferes
in our relationship with God.
It will be helpful for us to see the effects of the common and ordinary in the dynamics of some other interactions Jesus had. When Jesus returned to his hometown, Nazareth, we can see the tension and conflict between the common and the uncommon (read Mk 6:1-6). At first many were amazed at his teaching (v.2). But they went from being amazed to being offended by him (considered a stumbling block, v.3). How did this happen so quickly?
Examine their line of thought as they wondered where Jesus got these amazing teachings and how he even did miracles. The questions which follow reveal the reason for their quick turnaround. "Isn't this the carpenter?" defined Jesus as a common worker; and seeing Jesus by what he did made him no better than they. This biased their perception of him against being able to be wise and powerful. "Isn't this Mary's son?" defined Jesus by his social standing in the community; he was not anyone special, just ordinary. This further biased them to reconsider their opinion. There was no way for someone with his low social standing to be given esteemed status in their midst. Since Nazareth was looked down upon in general, it's understandable to think this way. Remember, even Nathaniel said when told about Jesus: "Can anything good come from Nazareth?" (Jn 1:46).
Despite what they had heard with their ears and seen with their eyes, in their minds it was not possible for this to be valid. That's how stereotypes and other biases predispose us from reality (seeing it as it really is) and the truth. Even Jesus "was amazed at their lack of faith" (Mk.6:6) because there was no reason to distrust him, except for their biases. How does this happen for us? Think about limits we place on seeing Jesus' person and hearing his words, or barriers we have to more intimacy with God because of our perceptions.
Other interactions reflecting biases which predisposed persons to disbelieve Jesus include being predisposed: by circumstances (Jn 6:42), by Jesus' lack of formal education (Jn 7:15), by his family roots (Jn 7:27), by his social status (Jn 7:41; 8:48). All of these show their biases against Jesus and being closed to him. Of course, even when they asked Jesus for a miraculous sign (after feeding 4000, Mk 8:11; Lk 11:16) or to "tell us plainly" (meaning exactness of speech, Jn 10:24) if he is the Christ, they would explain it away with their biases (cf. Lk 16:31).
A miraculous sign (Gk. semeion) is a miracle with a spiritual end and purpose. Jesus didn't do miracles to draw attention to such action because they were not valuable in and of themselves; when Jesus did a miracle, he was doing more relational work. His miracles pointed to the person behind them and indicated the grace and power of God. So, the peoples' requests for miraculous signs frustrated or disgusted Jesus. He did not give them what they wanted and didn't let them control the relationship on their terms (Mk 8:12; Lk 11:29). Don't we make similar requests of God?
Jesus was always engaged in relational work in order to establish the relational context for us . . . .
Jesus' miraculous deeds and objective information about him are only secondarily related to the whole issue of understanding the person Jesus and the matter of knowing Christ. These were not the primary and direct areas which resulted in understanding and knowing Jesus. That's why Jesus was always engaged in relational work in order to establish the relational context for us in which relational connection is made through trust and intimacy. Biases and a closed mind prevent that connection. These are the effects of the common and ordinary.
Before you dismiss the above interactions as involving only the closed-minded, hardened-hearted Jews, we need also to examine Jesus' interactions with his disciples. Their biases also limited their connections, for example, to only a working relationship. Even an open mind, but without heart, will not yield the depth of relational connection necessary to understand and know Christ.
After feeding the 4000 and denying the Pharisees' request for a follow-up miraculous sign, Jesus continued this particular discussion with his disciples (read Mk 8:14-21). Just earlier Jesus had fed the 5000 (Mk 6:30ff), walked on water (6:45ff) and healed numerous persons--all before the disciples' eyes. As he continued, Jesus warned them of a vital issue (8:15). Since the disciples had forgotten to bring enough food, they thought (notice, only to themselves) Jesus focused on the situation of not having bread to eat (8:14,16). Given all the miraculous events which the disciples had witnessed in recent days, what was the implication of their discussion about no bread? What do you think their perceptions of Jesus were at this point?
Not surprisingly, what Jesus warned them about (8:15) was the very thing they were doing here. In warning them (using Greek indicative mood), Jesus asserted the fact of an existing reality in life about which his disciples need to take ongoing action (Greek imperfect tense). "Be careful" (Gk. horao) means to perceive with the eyes, implying not the mere act of seeing but also the actual perception of some object. "Watch out" (Gk. blepo) involves the activity of the eyes and denotes fundamentally exercising our capacity of sight. Horao ("be careful") is broader in scope than blepo ("watch out"); it involves locking in on something in our perception--not just look at it--and, consequently, to recognize the significance of something, to experience something and thus to encounter the true nature of a thing. The perception from horao, therefore, stands in contrast to misperception and misconception. To lock in and achieve this result may require contemplation, deep reflection or scrutiny.
As a related note, it is also helpful for us to understand the cultural world of biblical times. In that culture, the connection of the eyes to the heart is very significant because they were both considered to have similar function. So, they were used interchangeably. Malina describes the eyes-heart as the zone for emotion-focused thought.1
Functionally this yeast focuses on appearances and, therefore, emphasizes secondary matters. . .
Jesus was not merely engaging his disciples in a mental exercise. His warning cuts to the depths of all his disciples' heart because it involves important aspects of relational work. What, then, is this existing reality in life about which Jesus said to horao ("be careful") and blepo ("watch out")? Ostensibly it's the yeast of the Pharisees and Herod, whose behaviors and character few of us would intentionally practice. We've learned from Jesus that hypocrisy is the yeast of the Pharisees (Lk 12:1); that is, presenting a different or false identity of self than is true. The self-serving Herod was involved in political power and concerned about only his own gain and security. But, functionally this yeast focuses on appearances (e.g., how we present ourselves) and, therefore, emphasizes secondary matters (e.g., what we're doing), which Jesus just earlier explained and exposed (see Mk 7:1-23).
Now how did this yeast relate to the disciples in this situation? Did this yeast permeate their perceptions? When Jesus earlier had explained the importance of the heart and our total person, he also exposed the relational consequences of the yeast (Mk 7:6-13). To answer these questions about the disciples we have to look to their heart and how their relationship with Jesus was.
Let's look at how Jesus described them. In the previous discussion he said they were "dull" (Gk. asynetos, without insight, inability to "get it") and didn't "see" (Gk. noeo, comprehend, grasp mentally; Mk 7:18). In this discussion they still didn't "see" (noeo) or "understand" (Gk. syniemi, to perceive; Mk 8:17). Syniemi denotes putting together various individual features of an object into a whole, like putting together pieces of a puzzle. Jesus also said their hearts were "hardened" (Gk. poroo, to make hard like stone, make callous, insensitive to the touch) making it difficult for them to see and hear correctly (Mk 8:17,18, also Mk 6:52).
Was he putting his disciples in the same category as the Pharisees and others who rejected him? No, but Jesus is showing all of his disciples how we may function in a similar way that will have relational consequences on what we will experience in relationship with him. They didn't see Jesus' person and weren't making intimate relational connection with him. So, despite direct, firsthand experience with Jesus' miracles, barriers prevented them from really knowing him at this stage in their relationship. This is vital for us to understand because we may still experience similar consequences as the early disciples--in spite of the benefit of hindsight we enjoy.
Their lives and commitment didn't take place in a vacuum. . .
What prevented the disciples from the ability "to get it" and put the pieces together? What was a major barrier that prevented more intimate knowledge of Jesus? It would be too simplistic to explain the cause merely as sin; that would also be an insufficient explanation given our usually limited perspectives of sin. We cannot doubt the commitment these disciples had to follow Jesus. Yet, their lives (past and present) and commitment didn't take place in a vacuum; we need to account for the broader context of any individual in order to understand its influence on one's focus and perceptions. This is the context of the common and ordinary.
* * *
The influences of this broader context from culture, society, family or other experiences develop predispositions in us which form our biases. We all have biases--good and bad, valid or invalid. Of course, even our Christian experiences, for example, in church, help form biases. Let's briefly expand on this process.
Whatever the source of our biases and however they developed, biases provide a highly selective screen (or shield) between us and the rest of the world outside of us. This screen acts like a filter to the real world, helping us to decide how to deal with it. Similar to the lens of the eye, such a filter either sharpens or distorts, clarifies or colors our perceptions and the extent to which we'll see something. In other words, biases tell us what we should pay attention to and what we should ignore (note this for the disciples and the Pharisees). Without this screening process to help us deal with our real world, we can easily be threatened or overwhelmed. Do you see this happening for either the Pharisees or the disciples?
So, as these biases become established in our thinking, they unify into our mindsets in which we construct "our own little world" of reality, again whether valid or invalid. It is important for us to understand that this screening function also provides structure for our lives and strongly influences how we perceive things. This is how we put God "in a box." In further development, mindsets formalize into worldviews which then dominate or control our perceptions and thinking. Thomas Kuhn showed how these form paradigms to shape our perceptions; and this influence is exerted upon everyone, even on those who formulate scientific theories and models.2 That's why thinking relationally may require a paradigm shift for many Christians.
The Pharisees certainly exercised a worldview in their interactions with Jesus. But they weren't honest about the predispositions underlying their biases, so Jesus refused to engage with them in futile discussion. I don't know if the disciples expressed a worldview but they definitely exercised a certain mindset which filtered how they saw Jesus, what they paid attention to and ignored about him. But, since they were willing to be open to Jesus, even in their limited ways, he had the opportunity to work with them relationally for redemptive change.
The effect of these predispositions--which includes lies promoted by Satan--is to get us further and further from the substance (not necessarily the forms) of life and the truths (not necessarily the theology) of God revealed in the person and words of Jesus. This effect is most evident in the distance created from our heart--in its deemphasis or even denial. To put this screen on our heart (which is created in his image) and filter his eternity-substance implanted in it results in daily practice which actually hardens (makes callous, insensitive to the touch) our hearts, as Jesus discussed with his disciples (Mk 6:52; 8:17).
* * *
After carefully walking them back through their experiences with the miraculous feeding of first the 5000, then the 4000, Jesus said "Do you still not understand?" (Mk 8:19-21). Jesus was engaging them in relational work, but the disciples' biases and callousness or insensitivity at this point had a twofold effect on their relationship. First, their biases prevented them from the simple function of seeing what exists (blepo). They didn't process the two miraculous feedings, not to mention walking on water, and other miracles of healing. They didn't see these events objectively for what they were and, therefore, couldn't connect it to their situation of not having any bread. They didn't see clearly to be able to add them up together (syniemi).
But, more importantly, they did not "be careful" (horao), that is, recognize the significance of those miracles and understand who it was doing them. This led to the second effect on their relationship: the callousness or insensitivity formed in their heart (or distance or detachment from heart) prevented them from locking in (making deeper relational connection) on Jesus and thus experiencing what was happening and who made it happen. The sad result for now was a relational consequence in which the opportunity to encounter the true nature of Jesus--that is, have an intimate connection with God--was lost or squandered. Therefore, they didn't understand what was happening and, most of all, they didn't truly know Jesus.
Like the disciples, we need to understand the influences on our own perceptions. . .
Obviously, the disciples were not free from the influences which affected their perceptions--the impact from that which is common. Like the disciples, we need to understand the influences on our own perceptions because similar influences exist for us today. Despite our benefit of hindsight to view the events in Jesus' life, our perceptions of other areas of Jesus' person and words could just as easily screen out our ability "to get it" and put the pieces together, as well as filter away the experience of intimate connection with him. So, we need to learn for our life, as the disciples did for theirs, that these reflect and indicate the redemptive changes needed for relationship with God. For these Jesus came to save us from in order to save us to. In the tradition of the OT prophets, Jesus' person and words exposed the old in us to free us so that the new could be raised up.
Jesus went beyond the prophets to demand that we take responsibility for where our heart is and rigorously engage the relational process of developing intimate relationship with God (Lk 13:24). We cannot take this responsibility lightly or at our leisure because Jesus holds us responsible for the vulnerable revelation of his God person and the Father which he lovingly provided us. Therefore, we are relationally accountable for all of God's revelation of himself. We cannot plead unintentional misperceptions nor extenuating circumstances. This is seen powerfully in one interaction he had with his disciples after his resurrection.
In this familiar post-resurrection scene (read Lk 24:13-32), Jesus connected up with two of his disciples walking to Emmaus. But the disciples "were kept from recognizing him" (24:16). The verb "kept from" (Gk. krateo, to hold, restrain) is in the passive voice which is usually taken to mean the disciples were kept from recognizing (Gk. epiginosko, to know specifically) Jesus because of God's action. Yet how or why God would restrain the disciples has no good explanation in this situation; even to the contrary, why would God want to keep them from knowing specifically that this was Jesus who indeed rose from the dead?
The text seems to indicate this, although another reason might be that Jesus' post-resurrection body was slightly different, making his appearance harder to recognize from before. While this may have some basis, I would suggest a third alternative, that we see this in the same way that God hardened Pharaoh's heart. On the one hand, God is the one who hardened Pharaoh's heart (Ex 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1,20,27; 11:10; 14:4,8). On the other hand, Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Ex 7:13-14,22; 8:15,19,32; 9:7,34-35); there is reflexive action here. As a result Pharaoh wouldn't listen (Ex 7:13), despite many miraculous signs (Ex 7:3).
Did God actually do something to Pharaoh's heart to harden it, or did God allow Pharaoh to live out his own hardened heart? Along with this, did God unilaterally determine Pharaoh's whole life, or did Pharaoh have freedom of choice which God used for his purpose? In God's sovereignty he fulfills his purpose and plan regardless of our choices--sometimes in spite of our choice and sometimes in cooperation with it--but he never eliminates our ability to choose. Therefore, he always holds us accountable for the choices we make, as he held Pharaoh accountable.
Getting back on the road to Emmaus, did God actually do something to keep the disciples from recognizing Jesus or merely allow them to stay within their own limited perceptions? Did God hold them accountable in this situation? We need to examine their reflexive action.
While the disciples solemnly reflected on the tragedy on the weekend and their bewilderment with this third day, notice the transition in Jesus' interaction with them. At first Jesus engaged them as if to be ignorant of what was happening (Lk 24:19). This gave the disciples the opportunity either to discuss events and information or to focus on the person of God and relationship with him. Being predisposed as they were, they talked about the events and information about Jesus of Nazareth. So, he intensified his relational work by confronting them with where they were: "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe" (Lk 24:25). These are strong words which clearly show how the disciples were accountable for where they were.
The word "foolish" (Gk. anoetos)
also means ignorant, mindless, stupid; it emphasizes culpability
of the subject person(s) and describes one as intellectually
reckless or negligent, failing to think responsibly, having no
sense and implying that one should have known better. It doesn't
mean a lack of education or an inability to think but a failure
to concentrate and think it through. Compare this to our earlier
discussion on Jesus' words to this disciples: "be careful"
The word "slow" (Gk. bradys ) of heart stands in contrast to swift, quick in response. Therefore, slow of heart here means to be reluctant, dull, unresponsive. Their foolishness and slowness were not because of what God did to them. These were a result of what they did to themselves. Their hearts didn't respond to God's revelation of himself vulnerably presented to them in the person Jesus (Lk 24:25-27) because of their predispositions and biases. This resulted in their hearts being withdrawn from him in relational distance despite physical proximity, or insensitive to his touching presence and callous to his vulnerable person.
What appears to be a rather passive and somewhat innocent course by these two disciples was actually their willful negative choice to go in the opposite direction from Jesus--however unintentional it may have been. For the past three years Jesus openly shared his true self with them and gave them every opportunity to know him intimately. So, he indicted them for being functionally irresponsible and relationally rejecting him by their actions. Jesus held them responsible for all of God's revelation of himself and, therefore, they were relationally accountable to the God person, whether himself, the Father or soon-to-come Spirit.
But Jesus doesn't indict his disciples by exposing the old without also giving us the opportunity for the new to be raised up. After indicting them he pursued their heart further by breaking bread with them, so that in sharing together in this fellowship they would experience intimate connection with him (Lk 24:29-30). As Jesus concluded his relational work with them, their perceptions finally expanded to know specifically (Gk. epiginosko) who this person really was (v.31). Finally, after the past years and even while their hearts were burning with eternity-substance during his words to them on the road, they dropped relational distance from him to make intimate connection (v.32).
. . . too many Christians live on the road to Emmaus relationally going in the opposite direction from Jesus.
Let's reflect on this for our own life and note any similarities. The two disciples didn't see (relationally connect with) Jesus even as he was alongside them in their activity. They didn't hear (relationally understand) Jesus even as they talked to him and talked about him. They didn't know (have intimate connection with) Jesus even as they listened to his words and studied Scripture. Even when their hearts burned for more they didn't open their hearts in trust to intimately embrace him.
This is vital for us to understand about our relationship with God because too many Christians live on the road to Emmaus relationally going in the opposite direction from Jesus. We may not struggle with the resurrection in the same way that they did, but what other area of his Word do we have difficulty with due to the absence of hindsight and the lack of trust? God holds us relationally accountable for all his revelations as well as his ongoing vulnerable presence in our life, just as he did with the disciples.
In the incarnation Jesus revealed the total person of God and openly shared God's glory--his being (as God of heart), his nature (as intimately relational), his presence (as ongoingly vulnerable)--for us to experience in intimate relationship. Our common tendency, however, is in effect to de-person the incarnation and relegate God's revelations of his self to beliefs, values, ways, principles or propositions. While these positions may include truth, they become substitutes for being involved with the Truth.
Apart from whom we see in the manger and whom (if not what) we see on the cross, our predisposition is to relate to Jesus in his teachings and by what he did (especially on the cross), but not to his person in a functioning relationship. This was problematic also for his early disciples. We have to realize that this is an easier way for us to relate to someone and to be involved in a relationship. It is always more demanding to be involved directly with the person than things about a person; it takes us out of our comfort zones and makes us more vulnerable--not only to the other person but also our own person.
Since God is who he is, everything he does is done with heart, and everything he does toward us he does relationally. Therefore, to truly know this God and to experience him necessitates our being on his level, so to speak--that is, the level of the heart. And what transpires on that level can only take place within the relational context of ongoing interaction with his person, not his teachings or his deeds. But when we are predisposed to defining a person by what one does or has, then this routinely results in reducing Jesus down to his teachings and deeds. So, ironically, the study of these areas of his life can actually become a substitute for direct relational involvement with him; and serious Christians frequently settle for this knowledge instead of the deeper experience of intimate relational connection. We can collect all the information about God possible and still not know him (cf. 2 Tim 3:7)--know things about him yes, but know him, his person, his being, no. Does that make such study wrong? There is a deeper question we have to address involving how we do relationships.
Jesus' person and words are always engaged in this relational work of pursuing our heart.
Because we're created in God's image as persons of heart, Jesus obviously knew what it takes for us to involve our total person in relationship with God: the honesty of our heart, as he told the Samaritan woman at the well (Jn 4:23,24). This is the bottom line for how to do relationship with God. To know him only takes place at the heart level within the intimate relational context of God's design and purpose. To experience him only happens when our heart receives the heart of God vulnerably extended to us in Jesus and is deeply touched by our hearts coming together intimately. So, Jesus' person and words are always engaged in this relational work of pursuing our heart--a heart not often ready, often unwilling and never able by itself.
One set of his words in particular helps us to distinguish conflicting ways to do relationship with God: "These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me" (Mt 15:8). The distance our heart keeps in a relationship is the primary indicator of the quality of our involvement in that relationship.
As we've been discussing, our heart is distracted, entangled or controlled in various ways, by various things from which we need to be freed--that is, redeemed. Without these redemptive changes, our relationship with God will not grow and develop. But redemptive change is not merely a singular event or an initial moment in the relationship; and it certainly isn't something we alone have to accomplish in our heart as needed. True redemptive change involves an ongoing relational process.
Jesus told those who believed him that "the truth will set you free" (Jn 8:32). But the truth will only set us free when "you know the truth" (v.32). Yet, we will only know the Truth when "you are really my disciples," and we are only his disciples "if you hold to my teaching" (v.31). "Hold" (Gk. meno) means to remain, dwell, abide; and "teaching" (Gk. logos) involves his essence, his person, not merely teachings or principles. So, the ongoing relational process here is: when we remain involved with his person, this will develop into intimate connection together resulting in the ongoing experience of knowing the truth of God's person and thus being set free, liberated (Gk. eleutheroo).
Jesus is the one who sets us free indeed (v.36), but only within the relational context and process of our relationship with him. Perhaps there might be some confusion here in that redemptive change is needed in order to be involved with God and yet redemptive changes result from our involvement with him. But the fact that Jesus came to make the relationship possible indicates our need for God's mercy and loving favor as well as our inability to measure up or be adequate in ourselves. So, by honestly coming to him ongoingly with wherever our heart is at the time--which may mean acknowledging, admitting or confessing some uncomfortable areas--we give him the opportunity to know us, openly experience our heart and change us from the old in the process. This is relational work at its most fundamental expression of give-and-take with God. Here is where we advance from not only thinking relationally but now also acting relationally.
What's the alternative to this honest relational work? For those who received these familiar words from Jesus, the reaction was denial or an unwillingness to at least admit where their heart was: "we have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?" (v.33). Essentially, isn't this a common response we make to "the truth will set you free"; how many Christians perceive themselves to be a slave of anything? It sure is a great promise to have, but unless you're controlled by some bad practices who really takes this to heart and uses it?
Other alternatives to honest relational work that Jesus identifies are predispositions from substitutes and settling for less because of following lies (vv.43-44); for example, common lies are having to measure up for God's approval or needing to justify his love--both nullifying grace and Jesus' person. "Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say" (v.43). Why couldn't they grasp Jesus' words?--because they were predisposed. Their self-perceptions of their status and deeds qualified them in their minds to be God's children, not slaves. How could they think this way?--because they followed lies and made substitutes for more available to them, settling for less (v.44). Such lies always counter the truth, distancing us from our heart and interfering in our relationship with God (v.45)--Satan's goal.
Lies are what Satan is all about (v.44c); it's "his native language" (Gk. ek idios, out of one's own, denotes inner property). Christians are not "of the lie" but we can function as if we are--thus not live "of the truth." Functionally, that means transformation (inner change) will not take place to truly free us from this old stuff, and any changes we do make will only be the outward type (metaschematizo). Transforming redemptive change only takes place on the basis of truth. And the truth cannot emerge from a lie.
Have you honestly ever felt
enslaved? Jesus said "everyone who sins is a slave to sin"
With these expanded perceptions of sin we need to ask ourselves: Were the disciples engaged in sin on the road to Emmaus? Yes, because they didn't engage him directly in relationship, though this is a less obvious sin. Does merely studying Jesus' teachings and deeds involve sin? Yes, though with qualification, if it is a substitute for direct involvement with his person in their relationship and settling for less than the experience of intimate connection together. Remember how the successful young guy only related to Jesus as a student (Mk 10:17ff). Are other lies like having to measure up for God's approval and needing to justify the love he gives us also sin? Absolutely, even if followed with good intentions or reinforced by churches unintentionally; all such lies serve to interfere in our relationship with God in one subtle way or another because their origin can be traced back eventually to the father of lies. Do our predispositions, biases and mind sets express sin also? Unequivocally, when they diminish, distort or control our perceptions of the truth about our total person--constraining our heart--and the truth about God, thus putting God in a box and minimizing intimate relationship together.
When we consider the relational consequences . . . the impact on us is to be enslaved . . . not being free in our heart.
When we consider the relational consequences of all the above in relationship with God, we can only conclude that the impact on God is sin and the impact on us is to be enslaved--that is, not being free in our heart, all of which needs to be redeemed.
Jesus helps us understand this further by giving us two indicators of being enslaved or not being free. First, such a person "has no permanent place in God's family" (Jn 8:35). "Permanent place" (Gk. meno) is the same word as "hold" ("to my teachings") in verse 31, which means to remain, dwell, abide. Don't look at the status of permanent place but at the relational process and consequences. This person cannot remain involved and dwell in God's family (v.35) because he/she does not remain involved in relationship with the person Jesus (v.31), thus is not intimately connected to him and therefore is not liberated, changed from within (v.32). Now, Christians may believe the spiritual truth that they have a permanent place in God's family but have not experienced this reality in their hearts to support this fact. That is, many Christians may not feel that they really have a permanent place; it's more like just being an employee of the family. This is the relational consequence of not being free, which Jesus came to save us from.
The second indicator of not being free is even more critical. In contrast, Jesus said an authentic son or daughter "belongs to his family forever" (v.35). "Belong" (Gk. meno) is the same word again as "permanent place" and "hold." The relational implication is even stronger here. When we're not free, then we don't feel that we really belong in his family. Even though the fact may be there, the sense we may have is more like being a guest or even an observer. And the reason we don't feel that we really belong is because we don't have a real sense of being a son or daughter. Again, the fact is there, but the actual experience of being his son, his daughter often escapes us. In other words, living functionally as a slave or employee has relational consequences that hit deep in the heart. This ongoing intimate, relational involvement with our Father and living together with Jesus in his family eludes us as a consequence of our heart not being free. Being liberated from this condition and transformed to the experiential reality of son/daughter is what Jesus came to save us to.
The alternatives to honest relational work can subtly dominate our lives.
The alternatives to honest relational work can subtly dominate our lives. That's all some Christians have known and how they have lived their whole lives. Yet, I think any Christian would like to experience more of God's love. Sometimes Christians talk about reading in the Bible that God loves them but they don't really experience it--that it just seems like words, however true those words may be. So, there isn't the assurance or deep satisfaction that they are loved--loved by God. Often the response to this situation is either to blame God as unresponsive to them or that they just have to have faith--and more faith at that. While there are certainly many moments in life when we have to exercise more faith, such commitment to our beliefs without the relational assurance and experience in our heart will eventually lead to a dry faith, to a desert of inner dissatisfaction. Such a faith is not relational and thus is not engaging a relational process.
Often we don't experience God's love for us because we are looking at his love "words" as merely teachings, separated from his person and outside the context of relationship with him. When we see the person in the words of the Bible, then we can start to make relational connection and hear his relational messages. This relational connection is necessary to experience God's love--or anyone's love--and to know therefore in our heart that we are loved.
But this gets us back to the issue of not being free in our heart, even if we blame God as unresponsive. It is vital for us to understand this in our relationship with God: we cannot intimately experience God's love for us while we are functioning from a position in effect as a slave--that is, as an employee, student, house guest, observer, etc. Such a relationship is the sole privilege of his daughters and sons--those ongoingly being redeemed and transformed.
Undergoing change in our life is not easy, even when we are dissatisfied and want more. Change is even more difficult when we're comfortable in our established ways of doing things, especially if our church reinforces that. Many Christians don't welcome change; that's reasonable if such change is just fashion and merely an end in itself. But here is where we need to chart the critical depths of the person and words of Jesus. To do so requires us to encounter the complexities of our everyday living which have profoundly affected the quality of life in general and our relationships in particular. We can't navigate around these personal issues and expect to understand (syniemi) Jesus (cf. Mk 8:17). As he made imperative for those with an authentic relationship with him, we must (dei) "make every effort" (Lk 13:24) for relational work.
. . . the uncommon and common are incompatible for relationship.
With the incarnation of Jesus came the holy God, so in his person and words Jesus brought only that which is not common (hagios). Hopefully, our study has helped us to understand that we are all predisposed to the common. More so, we are biased by and have our mind set on the common. In accordance with our theology of the holy--arguably God's greatest characteristic--it is vital for us to realize in particular that the uncommon and common are incompatible for relationship.
Intimacy is not possible between these two conditions. Unlike in relationship counseling where both parties need to change, in this case only one of us needs to change in order for the relationship to work; it's not a matter of working out a compromise, although that's how many Christians try to work out their relationship with God. Rather, it has to be all one or the other for the relationship to work. Since by its nature the uncommon cannot practice that which is common and still be uncommon, it is obvious who has to change. But, then, that means we would have to change to that which is uncommon. This is the ongoing tension and conflict we have with God. This is why that which is common in our daily life is the most problematic issue affecting intimacy with the holy God and the growth and development of our relationship.
While change is not often welcomed into our life, change is exactly what the holy God person Jesus came for--to redeem us from the old and to transform us to the new. When we try to avoid these personal issues, then we essentially distance ourselves from his holy person and words and, in effect, don't welcome Jesus into our life. This can be done even while having activities with him and listening to his teachings (Lk 13:26), or while presenting a righteous or spiritual identity (Mk 8:15).
If we are going to "be careful" (horao, Mk 8:15), as opposed to living with our misperceptions and misconceptions, then we will need to honestly address with him the areas to change in our life in order to be freed from our current predispositions. That release may be experienced also by his comfort of a past relationship, his healing from a bad experience as well as his forgiveness and cleansing for sin. This is the relational work in which we need to be more rigorous.
But we also have to address seriously the relational consequences of our perceptions, how we define ourselves and how we do relationships. Since none of us live in a vacuum, we need to account for the broader contexts of our life in order to understand its influence, entanglement or control on our focus and perceptions. This influence develops our predispositions, which form our biases. And the filtering function this serves for us determines how we will see a person, what we will hear from that person and how we will do relationship with them.
So, for example, whenever we define ourselves by what we do or have, then that's what we focus on in our relationships. Some Christians only seem to define themselves and to see others by their spiritual gifts. In relationship with Jesus that translates to relating to him by focusing on his teachings, not his person, because he has truth, his teachings have truth. It's what he has, not him. Furthermore, we relate primarily to what he does, again not his person. Think about how you pray, or even worship. I frequently have to make a conscious effort not to talk to him only about what he's doing, or what I'm doing. But Jesus always wants persons to see him, not his works--even if they were miracles. It's the person behind them who is important. He also says that he is the Truth (Jn 14:6), not only that he has truth. It's not that we can separate what he has and does from his person, but that his person is the most important focus for relationship. In contrast, the relational message we give to him is that what he has and does are more important than his person; and that's what the relationship revolves around.
Doing relationship with him in this way not only constrains the relationship but also exposes our subtle attempts to put the relationship on our terms.
Defining Jesus in these terms not only misses his person but it also puts him in a box. This box perceives him in some way other than he really is; so, Jesus isn't allowed to be his true self. Doing relationship with him in this way not only constrains the relationship but also exposes our subtle attempts to put the relationship on our terms--that is, to do it by that which is common and thus comfortable to us. God is more familiar to us in a box, more manageable; under these conditions there are less unknowns and mystery we have to live with. Our relationship with him is less vulnerable on our terms, less demanding of our person--especially our heart.
But the holy God person Jesus doesn't see us or do relationships by the common. He can't do it any other way except the uncommon. That's how he originally made us and his design and purpose for relationships; and that's what he came to restore. For us to want it our common way is, using Paul's metaphor (Rom 9:20), for the clay to tell the potter how it is and going to be. The common and the uncommon are incompatible for relationship and impossible for compromise.
It should not surprise us that the condition of interpersonal relationships today is probably worse than at any other period of history. We have all been critically affected by a modernist worldview which has compounded our distance from our heart. The relational consequence of this perspective emphasizing how much human endeavor can accomplish, especially through reason and science, has redefined relationships with the absence of intimacy. Given this relational climate it should also not surprise us that a postmodern reaction has been a search for deeper relational connection and meaningful experience. Christians can more than empathize with this desire, but we can further stir up authentic eternity-substance for more and lead the way truthfully to eternity while experiencing the relational reality of eternity now.
But for this to happen, Christians themselves will have to stop making substitutes for more and no longer settle for less in life in general and in relationships in particular. In order to turn from this it will not be sufficient to spiritualize or oversimplify the issues, nor keep the issues general without personal accountability. And we have to stop putting our spin on things. In our Christian culture today we depend so much on Christian vocabulary and the presence of so-called spiritually correct behavior that now we don't really know if those are attached to the heart. Is Jesus speaking also about us in Matthew 15:8? Are the churches he complained about in Revelations 2 and 3 also our churches?
I don't know if we can say that the practice of Christian culture has become an art form. But there are undeniable indications that our practice involves elements of forms without substance, appearance over reality, and presenting a less-than-authentic identity. Whether we want to admit it or not, this gets us into the area of practicing in principle the deception of a masquerade (2 Cor 11:15) and in effect what Jesus called leaven (Lk 12:1). These are the masks we use to secure our person, and the filter of our mind to distance our heart. That's why Paul was also so emphatic about our need to "put off falsehood and speak truthfully to [each other]" (Eph 4:25). "Put off" (Gk. apotithemi) falsehood means get rid of it; that is, Paul (by using Greek middle voice) holds us accountable for this action on our self to reject all lies, dishonesty, deception and games in all our relationships. And "speak" (Gk. laleo) truthfully means to speak as an expression identifying our person. Laleo is not so much the content of our speech but what it says about our person and, therefore, the importance of presenting ourselves truthfully to others. This starts foremost in our relationship with God.
There is a cost to come out of our comfort zones and step out of the box.
Obviously, there is a cost to come out of our comfort zones and step out of the box. Being vulnerable is never easy and being uncommon in the midst of what is common could be intimidating. That could even include being uncommon and therefore different than others at church. Yet, we have to add up the price we pay for substitutes and settling for less: the relational consequences are inevitable, the satisfaction of our heart unattainable.
The Truth is the holy God who vulnerably gives us direct access to intimate relationship with him. The ongoing experience of this relationship is the stuff of eternity--the taste of new wine that cannot be experienced in old wineskins (Lk 6:37,38). Let's not misplace our faith in the old wineskins, let's not be optimistic about the outcome of their practices and send the relational message back to him that our established ways are OK, good enough, or even better (Lk 6:39). If intimate relationship with God is to be the growing experience in our heart, then we've got relational work to exert with great effort ("make every effort"). It's the relational imperative.
I am stirred by Rita Springer's recent song entitled "Worth It All." Whether she shares it specifically as relational work, it has that quality. Part of it goes as follows:
It's gonna be worth it . . .
It's gonna be worth it all.
I believe--all my pain,
It's gonna be worth it all, all my joy.
Well, around ev'ry corner and up ev'ry mountain,
I'm not looking for crowns [how she used to define herself]
I'm desp'rately seeking,
I'm frantic believing
You are all I'm needing Lord,
You're all I'm needing
I will lift my voice to You and say:
May this be the prayer of our heart.
1. See John J. Pilch and Bruce J. Malina, Biblical Social Values and Their Meaning (Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publisher, 1993), pp.63-67.
2. Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970).
©2003 T. Dave Matsuohome
Study Guide & Growth Plan
. . . To Uncommon Intimate Relationship
The title of this chapter can be taken in two ways. First, in the general context of everyday modern life intimate relationship is an elusive experience, thus not common to our common ways of living. This includes the context of churches and Christian practices. The reason intimate relationship is elusive even among Christiansis that intimate relationships according to God's created (original and new in Christ) design and purpose is uncommon--the main focus of the chapter title. How we approach intimate relationship (if we do so at all), especially with God, will determine the extent of our experience--elusive or growing.
We usually don't think of God not knowing someone (Lk 13:24-30). After all, isn't the issue about us getting to know God? But when does the omniscient God not know someone?
Do you think Christ is demanding too much by holding us accountable to rigorously engage the relational process of developing intimate relationship with God (Lk 13:24)? What's the alternative?
How does that which is common distance us from our heart and interfere in our relationship with God?
How would you define redemptive change? Why is it the kind of change necessary for relationships?
Since none of us live in a vacuum, what is it about your broader context that you need to understand, particularly how it influences your focus and perceptions?
The early disciples didn't "get it" and couldn't "put the pieces together" because of this influence which prevented more deeply seeing Jesus' person and making intimate connection with him. With the information you have about Christ plus the benefit of hindsight (unavailable to the disciples), what part of God's revelation of himself have you yet to receive relationally and take responsibility for, thus in effect putting you in the same relational difficulties with Jesus as the disciples--even living on the road to Emmaus?
We distance our heart and maintain comfort zones in relationships because of biases and perceptions influenced by the common. Start to identify ways the common operates in your life which affect your person and your relationship with God.
How does redemptive change become necessary for you to take responsibility for where your heart is and for developing intimate relationship with God?
How do you go from thinking relationally to also acting relationally?
Define further what Christ saves you to and how not being freed (redeemed) prevents you from experiencing that.
Define ways you may function merely as a slave/servant, employee, student, house guest, observer in God's family.
For deeper change are there areas in your life which may involve the need for his comfort of a past relationship, his healing from a bad experience as well as his forgiveness and cleansing for sin? How can you address them relationally?
Give deeper focus to the relational messages you have "seen" from God and define various relational messages you give to him.
From a relational perspective discuss the incompatibility for relationship between the common and the uncommon. Be sure to include contextual issues which affect intimacy with God and the growth and development of our relationship.
Explain the rationale for defining"our greatest sin as Christians is relational distance with God."
Our correct perception of the incarnation necessitates directly from us what kind of response? Define different responses we can make to his revelation, and discuss how they adequately balance the relational equation or not.