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 Following Jesus Knowing Christ

Engaging the Intimate Relational Process

Spirituality  Study                                  For a printer-friendly pdf file   click here

 

  Chapter 5

Developing This Intimate Relationship

 

 

Subsections:

 

Two Cautions in Relational Work

Redefining the Self

Saved to What?

Heart Merger: The Son Doing Relationship With the Father

The Only Relationship That Works

Being Relationally Loved

Being Relational:  the Pursuit of Peter

Life Faster Than Grace

 

Study Guide for chap. 5

  

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

 

Father, just as you are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.

John 17:21

 

Once a love relationship gets established, it is natural to expect the experience of intimacy to continue. But that growth is not guaranteed; and when growth stops, we often try to do something to "feel" better. For example, romantic and married couples have a tendency to idealize each other after awhile in order to make the relationship last or seem better than it really is. This can be helpful to get couples through hard times or dry periods in their relationship but it also becomes a substitute for deeper relational work. Of course, since relationships involve mutual cooperation to grow, a person may have to idealize an uncooperative partner and put a good spin on them to make the relationship work.

Christians are not immune from this, idealizing their relationship with God. Certainly, this is motivated by pressure felt among themselves to describe their relationship as better than it really is. Idealization is another kind of bias that limits our connection to God, for example, to only a working relationship. When the relationship is not going as well as we'd like, it's always "more positive" to think of "my God" as answering our prayers more than he really is. When we're not experiencing much closeness in the relationship, it's always "better" to consider God as sharing himself with us instead of us not making connection. We then end up living more with the idea of relationship with God than its true substance. In other words, while putting God in a box constrains him from being his true self with us, idealizing the relationship makes God into much more than he actually is to us.

God is not flattered when we idealize him into "someone larger than real life." His created design and purpose for life is not "the idea" but the reality of intimate relationship. So, all of God's concern--from the individual to the outcome of human history--is for us to be intimately together with him, not about some ideal, sinless state. Obviously, sin creates a barrier in the relationship; because of that God doesn't want us to sin. But his concern for us about this is, again, not for some ideal to be sinless; his concern is for the deepest of reasons--the relational reason to be intimately together. Even though God hates our sin, he is not afraid of it. The holy God will not back off from us because of it, otherwise Jesus would never have come. He has grace to cover any of our sin, as often as necessary. He just wants us to be together--in ongoing intimate relationship.

This does not mean God idealizes us and doesn't hold us accountable. Grace is not a license to sin but only a relational means to come together, and to grow while together. So, grace is just as necessary to develop our intimacy with God as it was to establish it to begin with. By it we know God doesn't idealize us but allows us to be our true self with him. At the same time grace doesn't allow us to idealize God but frees us to allow God to be his true self in the relationship.

 

 

Two Cautions in Relational Work

God doesn't idealize us because that would render all of Jesus' relational work as unnecessary. Likewise, whenever we idealize our relationship with God, we substitute this for further relational work and "make every effort" unnecessary. But developing our intimacy with God continues to be only a function of the relationship and, therefore, requires deeper relational work on our part.

The importance of understanding this stepwise process of relational work and embracing its ongoing need cannot be overemphasized. Yet, there are two cautions in its practice which we specifically need to be aware of.


Cultivating intimacy is much more than working on problems or needs.


One caution is that we not practice relational work only with a "medical model," which essentially focuses on what's wrong in the relationship and then takes action only to correct it. Certainly, there are times when the relationship needs this. But the concern of the medical model approach is not with ongoing action for the growth and development of the relationship. The attitude is like "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." When only problems occupy our attention, this is how, for example, our focus narrows and persons get overlooked or neglected in a relationship because these other pressing matters get the attention. This is particularly true for those who see themselves as problem solvers. This is how intimacy in a relationship is diminished because the relationship itself is only worked on in times of a problem or need. What do our prayers focus on? Consider, how often are we actually just being with God--just hanging out with no other agenda? Cultivating intimacy is much more than working on problems or needs.

This "medical model" mentality also affects our involvement with others. As Christians we try to help others, some go as far to think we have the answers to any given problem. So when someone shares a difficulty, need or problem, the immediate tendency is to offer advice and solve their problem. This conditioned response becomes a substitute for involvement with that person who may only want understanding and someone to be with them. Is this what we usually see in church?

The second caution involves those who are conditioned by overstimulation in their environment and predisposed by high energy experiences. Perhaps this includes to some degree all of us who live in Western cultures. This influence on our perceptions might have a tendency to look at relational work somewhat like a shot of adrenaline. Though the focus is not on problems in the relationship there is a desire for stimulating experiences together. Obviously, sex has become that primary stimulating experience for "intimacy" in many relationships. Yet, whatever provides that high, gives that quick-fix (almost like a drug) in the relationship is the main pursuit of this relational work, even though the high wears off.


Intimacy is a relational experience which certainly includes our senses, but more importantly must involve our total person.


Recent generations are more likely to have this mindset but I think all of us have been influenced by mountaintop experiences and quick solutions. There is a time for such high experiences in a relationship--even with God. But the ongoing need is for deeper relational work. What do we look for and depend on when we're hanging out with God? What turns us on in a worship service? Let's not confuse intimacy with a sensory experience. Intimacy is a relational experience which certainly includes our senses, but more importantly must (dei) involve our total person. That's why there are no shortcuts in relational work.

As we are freed from such predispositions and barriers in our heart, our intimacy with God can keep developing with this further relational work. We also need to embrace in our heart the reality that in the relational process of such effort God is always engaged in relational work too. Unfortunately, this means for us to take seriously the fact that Satan is doing counter-relational work as well.

 

 

Redefining the Self

Since intimacy with God involves our hearts coming together, it is always our heart that needs to be like his heart for this connection to be experienced. The more this happens, the more intimacy with him we experience. This transition is the process of transformation necessary for us to go from the common to the uncommon, from the old to the new. Theologically, this ongoing process is called sanctification. The relational significance, however, of this term has usually not been in clear focus. Quite simply, we need to change because God wants intimate relationship with us. If we want growth and development of this intimate relationship, then we will welcome ongoing change--not necessarily always feel good about changes, nor always want it, but nevertheless welcome it because of its relational outcome. One of the major areas of this change involves how we define ourselves.

We know that Jesus made a specific effort to involve himself with tax collectors, the sexually promiscuous, other sinners, those deficient and undesirable to the majority. He received them exactly where they were. However you have processed this information about Jesus' life and ways, the relational implication here needs to find direct, personal meaning in our life. That is, we must (dei, unavoidable, not out of obligation) start seeing ourselves in the similar position as those above and embrace in our heart (like they experienced) the relational truth: Jesus receives me, God receives me where I am. God wants me for intimate relationship despite my dirt, crap, imperfections, inadequacies. All we have to do for him to have me is receive his grace.

Yet, this truth has been all too familiar for us. In one form or another we know it by heart. Then, why do we still want him to see us as better than we really are--even with some illusion or lie? The tenacious effects of how we define ourselves is resistant to change by any effort and means which does not involve the honesty of our whole heart. We may know this truth by heart but until we experience it in our heart, change will not take effect. This transformation requires dying to the old before the new can be raised up.

Let's examine how Jesus outlined the process of redefining the self:

(1) Matthew 20:1-16--Parable of workers in the vineyard. On the one hand, the first set of workers defined themselves by what they did; in this situation they did twelve hours of work which they were paid for as agreed upon (Mt 20:2). They were not denied their rights as implied in their complaint (20:10-12)--the owner was "not being unfair" (v.13). On the other hand, when we define ourselves by what we do, the process we get into inevitably is comparative in relation to others. This comparative process with others creates a hierarchy based on what we're able to do. That's why the first workers complained to the owner. Compared to the other workers who only worked one hour, they wanted more because they thought they were better. If we define ourselves in these terms, we would have the same conclusion. But the owner wanted to act differently (v.14). "Want" (Gk. thelo) involves active volition and purpose; in the NT it denotes a will that acts in love. He wanted to be "generous" (v.15, Gk. agathos, benevolent). This is how God is because of his grace. He gives us his favor not based on what we deserve; he doesn't define us by what we do. If he did, justice would demand consequences. Therefore, in the process of redefining our self, we need to start with seeing ourselves as God sees us and thus by what we truly are--with no illusions or lies. This includes the need also to stop comparing ourselves to others and defining our position on the human totem pole. Jesus has broken into systems of inequality ("you have made them equal to us") and reordered that which is common (v.16).
 

(2) Matthew 15:10-20 (Mk.7:14-23)--In his discussion about what's really important, Jesus showed us how to go about redefining ourselves: look at the total person, from the inside first then outward, not from the outside. The inner person (heart) is the most important part of us; and we cannot evaluate what a person is based on the outer person. Note that this builds on what Jesus just said prior to these passages (Mt 15:1-9; Mk 7:1-13) which addressed how we do relationships. Because of defining self in secondary ways, relationships done with the heart are not the primary priority. When this happens we don't understand what's important to God and his purpose in his commandments and the Law--that is, to love. A self defined from "the outside in" relates to others in a comparative process. The self defined from "the inside out" relates to others in the relational process of agape, as Jesus does relationships.

(3) Matthew 5:3-5--When we work on redefining our self from the inside out, we encounter a major difficulty. What is it that I really see of my self when I look inside? This can become an issue we may rather dance around. I consider the beatitudes as interrelated characteristics of the Christian person. In these first three beatitudes Jesus provides us with the critical steps in the process of transformation. When we honestly look inside at our self, Jesus said we should be "poor in spirit" (Mt 5:3). "Poor" (Gk. ptochos) means abject poverty and utter helplessness, therefore, this person's only recourse is to beg. Just to be poor (Gk. penes) is different from ptochos because this person can still, for example, go out and work for bread. Penes may have little, but ptochos has nothing at all. This, Jesus said, is our true condition, our humanity. We are not only imperfect and sinful but inadequate and weak. This is how God sees us; this is what we need to accept about our self. We may be able to accept this spiritually but from a practical, everyday standpoint how can we live with this self-definition? There's a great deal at stake here and this definition wouldn't seem to work in the real world. But the alternative is to go back to the old definition based on lies and make more substitutes. For many that would be an easier alternative because it would not leave us so vulnerable. Yet, we will never be able to dance completely around the truth of our condition.

Jesus goes on that if we are ptochos, then our response will be to "mourn" (v.4, Gk. pentheo, lament, grieve, deep sadness). If our condition truly is ptochos, not penes, then mourning would be the natural response of our heart. Too often, however, we insulate ourselves from such feelings. In terms of how we see and feel about ourselves, it is around ptochos that issues of self-worth revolve. We don't usually recognize this because our heart is not aware of feeling pentheo (grief, deep sadness), only feeling insecure. Jesus said essentially that we need to open our heart and expose the pentheo by fully acknowledging, admitting, confessing our ptochos. (This may include seeing the condition of humanity in general.) More specifically, this is not a person, for example, who tries to be strong. They come to God for comfort, healing, cleansing, forgiveness, whatever, so they can be together. God leaves himself vulnerable to our humanity and we must (dei) likewise. Intimacy with God requires that our heart live in its true humanity. These are the moments we let him truly see us the most and give him the best opportunity to be with us.

These two characteristics (beatitudes) are critical to redefining ourselves. Thankfully, God didn't let us remain in this state and fall into despair. Jesus didn't come in order for us to merely feel bad about our self. As with the tax collectors, prostitutes and other sinners, he extended his favor to us in our helplessness, pursued us in our poverty, took us (the common) back to his special family, then cleaned us up from all our dirt, restored our hearts to intimate connection with the Father and legally granted us the relational position as his own child. This total process can best be defined as family love--a process based on God's mercy and grace that continues for us to experience more.

Since God proved that we can trust him intimately, the initial experiences of his family love rightfully conclude with only one perception of our self. This perception forms the foundational characteristic of the redefined self, the new person in Christ. As Jesus revealed this is "the meek" (Gk. praus), which means gentle--that is, not hard or resistant to live as one really is. The word involves the inner attitude and outer behavior of one who demonstrates what he/she truly is. Contrary to most images of "meek," this is not timid weakness but humble power, truth of character based on one's real condition. How exactly this may be expressed or displayed can be described best by the variety of Jesus' behaviors. Whatever the form, the important matter is that there is no lie or illusion in being meek. We experience difficulty when lies or illusions keep us from facing our ptochos or feeling our pentheo. This may involve a major area in our life or other problems and needs along the way which we deal with by ourselves instead of trusting intimately in God. Therefore, we make substitutes and act out some lie; we settle for less and live some illusion. In strong contrast, the meek is "blessed" (Gk. makarioi), which means to be fully satisfied because God is present and intimately involved in their life. This blessed experience is not about happiness with one's situation or circumstances; life is not reduced to our situations and circumstances. In this redefinition of self, the importance of our total person (from the inside out) and the primacy of intimate relationship become the focus. So, the full satisfaction of being blessed has purely a relational meaning which our heart experiences about the joy of intimate relationship with God. This is the ongoing relational outcome of these beatitudes and redefining our self in this process.


Haven't we all felt at times that we deserve more from God. . . ?


Let's go back to the parable of the vineyard workers. Haven't we all felt at times that we deserve more from God, that he's not being fair or doesn't really care? Or at least had the hope or expectation that God would honor us for our service? Such perceptions (e.g., of entitlement) are not based on the truth of our condition but on the lies or illusions of defining ourselves by what we do. The good intentions of trying to measure up to God, striving to be a better Christian or making sacrifices as a means to serve him (cf. Mt 9:13), all fall into this category of lies and illusions.

Most Christians wouldn't dispute Paul in Ephesians 2:8,9, that we have no basis to give credit to ourselves, that we are saved only because of God's grace. Yet, most Christians have a tendency to apply this only to salvation in the future while engaging in a different practice for daily life in the present based on what we do or have. We need to understand that this disrupts trusting God from our heart and interferes with our intimacy together. If we don't dance around our ptochos and pentheo, our heart responds with greater trust and intimacy. It is only when we deny or bury this part of our self that we effectively keep relational distance from God. No matter what Christian activity we participate in during those times, there is no functioning relational trust and intimacy experienced in our heart.

Lies and illusions keep us from the truth about our self, with the relational consequence of not living intimately connected to God in relationship. Remember Satan's counter-relational work and his goal for Christians: to distance us from our heart and to interfere in our relationship with God. These are the lies and illusions in which Satan would want us involved. These are what we need to expose, reject and turn from (repent) in ourselves, in our relationships and in our churches.

This process opens our heart to the redefinition of self which Jesus brought, freed us to live, and established us in by his earthly life (person and words), death and resurrection. In this process, he is the one who redeems us from the old and transforms us to the new. This redefinition provides us not only with authentic humility, from which to exercise more trust and intimacy, but also the relational basis for heart level thanksgiving and love. No wonder this person is blessed, fully satisfied.

Take some time to look inside your self. Be vulnerable to him who makes himself vulnerable to you and whatever is inside.

 

 

Saved to What?

Thinking relationally and increasingly acting relationally are critical for our spiritual growth and development, authentic spirituality and spiritual formation. Since none of these practices or disciplines are ends in themselves, this relational perspective maintains our focus that they only serve as a means to make intimate connection with God and build this relationship with him. Furthermore, this relational perspective helps us understand the relational purpose and outcome of the process of sanctification.

Whenever we are redeemed, freed and transformed during the course of our Christian life, we are not just saved from, freed from, changed from something to nothing in particular. We always go from the old in us to the new. This is fundamental. Too often Christians think, for example, about dying to something old in them without also embracing the new to be raised up in its place. This is understandable if the new is abstract or only seen as spiritual. But what the new involves specifically is totally relational. What we are saved to, freed to, transformed to is intimate connection with God and growing in relationship with him--plus his design and purpose for all relationships.

This relational purpose and outcome are obscured, or even lost, in many of our attempts to become more like Jesus. Part of any confusion about this comes from a limited view of two of Paul's statements. The first is "being transformed into his [Christ's] likeness" (2 Cor 3:18). In this context Paul is describing the change necessary for authentic faith; all other expressions have a veil hanging over their heart (3:14,15). His second statement is similar: "to be conformed to the likeness of his Son" (Rom 8:29). So, with this goal in mind we start emulating Christ's life but without always understanding Jesus' person and words.

"Transformed" (Gk. metamorphoo) means to undergo fundamental change of one's total form--that is, in substance also, in contrast to changing only one's outward form as in masquerade (Gk. metaschematizo, cf. 2 Cor 11:13-15). This distinction is crucial in our time and culture where emphases are given more to form than substance. If we are indeed freed from a veil influencing, distorting or controlling our perceptions, like a screen and filter, then that freedom is directly a result of intimate relationship with God, as Jesus described in John 8:31,32. To understand Jesus' person and words is to look at this relationship. To emulate his substance, not merely his outward form, is to involve ourselves in this same relationship.
 


When you make the relational connections here and draw the relational picture, what emerges is family. . .


What exactly was this relationship for Jesus? Paul actually gave us partial understanding of this in the context of his second statement (read all of Rom 8:29). From the very beginning God always wanted and planned for his creation "to be conformed" (Gk. symmorphos, together with in form) "to the likeness" (Gk. eikon, similarity of substance) "of his Son." Son is our first relational clue which Paul builds on "that he might be the firstborn" (Gk. prototokos, preeminent, first in order of importance, not that the Son was originally born) and adds "among many brothers and sisters." This is not a conformity to mere forms of outward behavior or principles but together with in his substance (eikon) and his relationship. When you make the relational connections here and draw the relational picture, what emerges is family--to share together in family as the Father's sons and daughters and in a sense as Jesus' brothers and sisters.

If we focus only on doing what Jesus did in order to become more like him, we miss his being, which is what the Father really wants us to be conformed to. How do we know what the Son is like in order to be conformed to him? Mainly from Jesus' earthly life in the flesh, which objectified it for us in his person and words. That's why it's so critical for us to fully understand him between the manger and the cross.

When we ask "who is Jesus, who was this Word who became flesh?," the two most defining aspects of Jesus are: (1) he is God, (2) he is the Son. The former is ontological and the latter is relational. We need to keep these two distinctly separate in the process of conforming to Jesus and becoming more like him. If we don't, we are setting ourselves up for failure.

From the description of the Word in John 1:14,18, "one and only" (Gk. monogenes) shows the very unique relationship of God the Son to God the Father. Ontologically Jesus is "one of a kind" and no one else can ever achieve or assume his position. This is how we often try to be more like Jesus. His ontological position, however, needs to be distinguished from his relational position as Son. Though we can never achieve his ontological position as God, the Father wants all of us to be relationally like Jesus, to be conformed to the same relational position as son or daughter and as siblings in God's family. Conforming to his likeness is about relational work.

 

 

Heart Merger: The Son Doing Relationship With the Father

Other than being unique and special, how is the relationship between the Son and the Father? An overview of how this relationship was as Jesus openly functioned in it on earth gives us a concrete picture. Because of what he practiced in the flesh, we can understand his likeness that the Father wants us to conform to.

Looking at how Jesus lived and functioned on earth, we can clearly observe how involved he was with his Father, how intimate they were with each other. To be like Jesus is first and foremost to be involved with the Father as he was; that was his order of priority. Nothing was more important to him. This intimacy with his Father has dimensions both of quantity and quality which interrelate but are helpful to distinguish.


I think they had fun together, enjoying a range of interaction.


From a quantitative viewpoint Jesus spent a lot of time with his Father. For example, it was characteristic of Jesus to be alone with his Father, especially during the night (Lk 5:16; 6:12). Have you ever wondered what they talked about during all that time? I can't fully imagine. Was it all "business"? We know the Father has affection for his Son (Jn 5:20), so I wonder if they laughed together--especially about our foolish ways (cf. Ps 2:4). I don't want to anthropomorphize God, but I think they had fun together, enjoying a range of interaction.

In those times Jesus both shared his self with his Father as well as received from his Father. The fact that Jesus received from his Father is no surprise; but what he received may be a source of tension for those wanting to do relationship their way, or it could be an issue for anyone with a bias, for example, from their past experience with parental dominance or a child's overdependence. Jesus said: "the Father loves [Gk. phileo, affectionate love] the Son and shows him all he does" (Jn 5:20); that his Father is his model and he follows his Father's lead (Jn 5:19); that the Father taught him everything (Jn 8:28); that the Father validates the Son and corroborates his work (Jn 5:31,36-37; 8:17-18); that the Father is always with him (Jn 8:16,29; 16:32); that "all that belongs to the Father is mine" (Jn 16:15). The Father is not detached, passive or unresponsive; the transcendent God is a directly hands-on God. Because the Father loves (agape, sacrificial love and phileo, affectionate love) his children, this is the relational outcome of intimate involvement with him. Of course, for those mentioned above, this may be more intimacy than they want or too much to trust him in.

By the way, did you know that the Father loves the Son with affectionate love (phileo)? This is important to grasp about God because our perceptions of him don't always include his warmth. Yet, a vital relationship with our Father requires the intimate experience of his tender affection. That's part of the relational work we're seeing between the Father and Jesus. To receive from the Father also involves the willingness to learn (Gk. didasko) from him, which inherently includes increasing our understanding of the Father by learning and assimilating, not merely for information but for shaping the will of his child. This is not mind control to constrain the person but heart merger of the common taken to the higher level of the Uncommon (holy). The relational outcome is that he keeps drawing us closer to himself. We cannot be intimate with God without being involved with the Holy and the Eternal. Relationship with God without this involvement is more illusion than reality. God doesn't do relationships by the common and temporal.

Jesus always had heart merger with his Father. So, the Son "knows him" (Jn 8:55, Gk. oida), that is, intuitively knows, not by learning (Gk. ginosko) as we have to but because of intimate relational knowledge as his Son. In his response to his Father, Jesus wants all of
us to learn that he loves (agape) the Father; so he willingly obeys what his Father commands (Jn 14:31). Obedience is also warranted since the Father is greater (relationally, not ontologically) than he (Jn 14:28) and, thus, justifies deferring to the Father's will--plus it leads to eternal life (Jn 12:50). This includes what to say and how to share himself (Jn 12:49). His sole purpose for making himself vulnerable in the flesh was to reveal the Father (Jn.17:6)--so that we can have intimate relationship with him (Jn 17:2-3)--and to do what was necessary to establish this relationship (Jn 12:27-28) despite his personal sacrifice (Mt 26:38-39; 27:46). This quantitative relational work reflected Jesus' intimate response not to pursue his own desires (Jn.5:30) but to please his Father (Jn 8:29).

The above quantity is always guided and controlled by specific qualitative aspects which determine the extent of relational interaction possible with God. This quality is necessary to experience ongoing relational outcomes of intimacy and growth in the relationship.

The first qualitative aspect involves what Jesus said the Father seeks from those deeply involved with him: "spirit and truth" (Jn 4:23,24). From our previous discussion this is interpreted as "heart and honesty." God's glory as the God of heart can only properly be expressed and revealed in the relational context of intimate relationship. That's what Jesus did in the incarnation. What he revealed to us was the Father (Jn 17:6,26). Yet, he revealed more than information about the Father but also his experiential presence because they were united as one (Jn 10:38; 14:20; 17:21-22). Bonded together such that: if we see Jesus, we see the Father (Jn 14:9), if you know one you know the other (Lk 10:22); Jesus describes their intimate bond as "the Father living in me" (Jn 14:10), "living" (Gk. meno) is the same word we discussed in John 8:31-36 and its relational meaning.

Their intimate bond is both ontological and relational. We can only understand the relational bond of their hearts intimately connected. Because Jesus openly revealed to us his relational bond with his Father, we know what it is and how it functions. Furthermore, that same relational bond on the heart level is also ours to have and experience: relationally bonded to each other (Jn 14:20; 17:21); their intimate love relationship extended to those who conform to his likeness (Jn 14:21); loved by the Father just as he loves (agape) Jesus (Jn 17:23,26), which also includes being loved affectionately (phileo, Jn 16:27), the same as the Son (Jn 5:20).


The qualitative presence of our heart vulnerably extended to the Father opens the way to . . . experience him as Jesus does.


The qualitative presence of our heart vulnerably extended to the Father opens the way to this relational outcome--to experience him as Jesus does. The potential for these outcomes in our ongoing experience of God is not determined by the limits of our heart but by the unlimited, eternal heart of God. At the same time, the quality of our heart also demands honesty. Without it our heart is not vulnerably extended to God.

Honesty of the heart is not a matter we normally think about for Jesus. Yet, it's a quality present in his intimacy with his Father. Honesty is an interesting quality. On the one hand, we are either honest or dishonest; there is no in-between where we can be partially dishonest and still be honest. Honesty, on the other hand, can have degrees; we simply may not, for example, express everything. Jesus was not dishonest when he did not share all his feelings with some of the Jews, or when he talked in parables so others couldn't understand. As we've been discussing, he seemed very honest with his disciples in what he shared--though I suspect he didn't express all his frustration and disappointment.

Honesty, however, in his relationship with his Father is the next level of relationship--the ultimate level. We don't know all he shared in those evening interactions with his Father; yet we can readily assume he shared everything with total honesty. I say this because the key here is the relational issue of intimacy. We know that Jesus experienced a lot of rejection. We can't look at this merely as information because these are the relational consequences Jesus let himself be affected by in being vulnerably present. We have to look at this relationally, then we will understand his experience of hurt in certain relationships, particularly with his disciples. He must have shared a lot of that with his Father.


As the Son, Jesus showed us how much our Father wants to hold our heart in his hand.


What Jesus shared with his Father (that is recorded for us to learn from) reflects his total honesty and their deepest intimacy. As the time of his crucifixion came closer, he shared his troubled heart with his Father (Jn 12:27). As it was imminent, he shared his deep distress and pain--so strong that he asked not to die (Mt 26:38-44). The only time his Father could not be with him, he cried out to his Father with the ultimate pain and hurt: his Father's rejection (Mt 27:46). As the Son, Jesus showed us how much our Father wants to hold our heart in his hands. Christ as Son is so beautiful for us to see. And as we take in the Son, we are directly exposed to the Father.

What we can learn from this is: intimacy with God depends on the qualitative presence of the honesty of our heart; the degree of honesty determines the amount of intimacy experienced in our relationship.

By openly living the ultimate level of relationship vulnerably in the flesh, Jesus revealed it and extended it to us. Everything he accomplished on this earth makes this level of relationship possible for us to experience now. The eternity implanted in our hearts can be realized here as well, because Jesus brought the more to us to have here and now. This leads us to the last qualitative dimension of this level of relationship.

As mentioned earlier, to be intimate with God is to be involved with the Holy as well as the Eternal. This means that God doesn't do relationships by the common and temporal. Holy (Gk. hagios) means to be separated from ordinary and common usage. That's what Jesus said of himself in not being of the world (Jn 8:23; 17:14,16). That's why he was able to clearly reflect the Father and express light in the context of the common (Jn 12:45-46). Jesus maintained his sinless integrity throughout his earthly life as exemplified in his temptations (Lk 4:1-13). But, as we discussed about his temptations, this went beyond our usual perceptions of sin.

Inherent in holy is to be different. Essentially, what is usually considered to be the consensus, the norm, is a contrary perspective or position from the holy. The common is the majority or dominant way of doing things--the common way we define ourselves, the way we do relationships and thus also do church. To be holy is to separate ourselves from these. Jesus not only identified himself as uncommon but he also said that of his true followers (Jn 17:14,16). But he knew that just as he was tempted to the common, his followers would constantly be vulnerable to Satan's lies, so he prayed for help for us (Jn 17:15). This help was to neutralize Satan's counter-relational work and for our relational work with the Father so we can be transformed to his truth (Jn 17:17). Establishing and maintaining our integrity in the quality of holiness is absolutely critical and necessary to be intimately involved with the Father at the ultimate level of relationship.

Honesty of our heart requires us to be who we truly are before God in who he truly is. Because he is holy we cannot remain where we are, though he initially receives us there. That means, for example, the lies we've embraced and lived by--no matter their consensus or dominance, even among Christians--have to be rejected and "died to" and the truth (of us and him) embraced. As Paul quotes God (read 2 Cor 6:17,18), when we separate ourselves from the common "established way of doing things," God will receive us intimately and be a Father to us, and we will be his sons and daughters. This is the relational outcome of not being common, of becoming uncommon, holy like God.

These are the quantitative and qualitative dimensions Jesus revealed to us of the intimacy in his relationship with his Father. This is not for our information but for us to experience with our Father also. This is the relational purpose for which the Father wants us to be conformed (together in form) to Jesus' likeness (substance). To practice these dimensions as Jesus lived on earth is to make real the relational outcome of our same position as his son or daughter and of experiencing similar intimacy with the Father. From the very beginning this has been our Father's desire for us to experience together with him and his Son.
 

The Only Relationship That Works

Even as we read this about Jesus and what the Father wants, we have to be aware of what our predispositions are, including the influence of Satan's counter-relational work. If we don't think relationally, we're probably not going to act relationally. When we think of Jesus, his person, how he was and being like him, we can easily look at all this in our old way. That is, we can approach it, for example, from a doing perspective and think about all we have to do to be like Jesus. Likewise, when we think about taking our place in God's family, the first thing that usually comes to our mind is: what should we do? What spiritual gift should I exercise? Essentially, this attempts to be like Jesus ontologically--trying to be perfect or measure up. That expectation would either put a great burden on us or freak us out. However it affects us, the result is we won't be free. Functionally, then, we live in our relationship with God in effect like a slave.

Obviously, that's not the approach God wants us to take. Contrary to what we often practice--emotionally, if not intellectually--the Father doesn't expect "ontological conformity" but wants "relational conformity." When Jesus instructed about the Sabbath, he restated from the OT "I desire mercy, not sacrifice" (Mt 12:7). When he was challenged for associating with sinners, he repeated the same words and instructed us to learn what they mean (Mt 9:13). In each of these situations, as well as the OT situations, Jesus sharply brings our focus back to the importance of the total person and the primacy of relationships--foremost the person of God and our relationship with him--not about doing the "right thing." We may still need to go back and learn what those words mean, if we don't understand how this underlies God's law, his commands, his design and purpose for our life and how Jesus lived.


In the relational process Christians are going to relate to God in actual practice either from a position as a slave or freely as his son/daughter.


In the relational process Christians are going to relate to God in actual practice either from a position as a slave or freely as his son/daughter. We need the Spirit's help to understand and acknowledge when we live like a slave, in order to be freed from such practices. This is crucial for our relationship, so that we're not misled by a serious pursuit for more like the successful, young guy discussed earlier (Mk 10:17ff), so that we're not laboring under any illusions about our experience in his family (Jn 8:34ff).

As Jesus demonstrates in his own life, there is only one relationship that works with the Father. This is the relationship which is the basis for everything in relation to God and the Christian life. This is what eternity is about: where we're going on our journey to eternity and where we need to be now to journey in eternity. Consequently, what's most important to understand in the Father's plan for us to be like Jesus are the relational messages our Father is saying to us in Romans 8:29. Take the time to grasp his vital relational messages to you in this truth:

(1) how does he see you and feel about you?

(2) what is he saying about your relationship together?

(3) how does he see himself and what does he want to be?
 

Jesus revealed further relational messages from the Father in the rigorous Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 6 there are ten references to "your Father." These are further vital relational messages which God is giving to us about his feelings for us and the nature of our relationship with him. From what appears to be a litany of prescriptions and injunctions emerges clearly the intimacy as his son or daughter that we can have with our Father. When we receive his relational messages, what a beautiful picture of intimate relationship we have in this passage.

All his relational messages communicate how strongly God feels about us and about our relationship with him. They are essential for knowing him. When we embrace his relational messages in our heart, we'll experience what Jesus prayed for us in John 17.

My Father wants me to experience being his son--that's what he made me. For many years, however, "Father" was only a title for God that I used, not a relational experience. The main reason for that was I wasn't really functioning as his son. What does he want for you? He wants the opportunities to be our Father, just as he is with Jesus. No "sibling rivalry" from the Son; Jesus wants all that he experiences with his Father to be ours also. This includes all the benefits: most of all love (agape, Jn 17:23,26) and affection (phileo, Jn 16:27), intimate sharing, and being taught by the Father with all that is his.

This is all because the Father-child relationship we have with him is more important to our Father than anything else. If we haven't gotten his message yet, this is it: he wants me, not what we do for him or give to him; and he wants this experience for me as more than just an individual; we are to enjoy this relationship within the context of a permanent place in his family, belonging intimately together with him (as our Father), his Son and his other children as family forever. These are the relational messages from our Father in Romans 8:29, which the Spirit will help us deeply experience as stated earlier in this passage (Rom 8:15-16). These are the messages we need to receive (lambano, Jn 1:12) and hold (meno, Jn 8:31) in our heart. When we do, there really isn't anything more we would want to be in life than to be like Jesus.

This is the glory of God which Jesus incarnated for us to "view attentively and deeply contemplate" (theaomai, Jn 1:14). He willfully made his inner decision (Gk. boulema, Lk 10:22) to reveal the Father specifically to us. Don't take lightly the privilege he has given us, which many have missed out on (Lk 10:24). Those who embrace his revelation are "blessed" (Gk. makarios, Lk 10:23), meaning the deep satisfaction that comes from God's presence and involvement such that one is sharing in the life of God. Jesus holds us accountable for his revelation as he did with those on the road to Emmaus.

This is the glory Jesus gave to us in order "that they may be one as we are one" (Jn 17:22). His glory is pure relational work. Jesus' farewell prayer (read all of John 17) brings this all together. As we live in actual practice as his sons and daughters and ongoingly embrace him as our Father, this will be an experiential reality.

This intimate experience of his love, family love, will not only be for our own peace and enjoyment. It is also for the world to see God in us, as the Father is in his Son (Jn 17:21-23). This helps the world to know the relational significance of God's love, as the world becomes the object of this family love.

Thank you Jesus for bringing the Father to us. Thank you for taking us to the Father. And thank you for all you lovingly accomplished, so that we could be together with him--together as family.

 

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Intimacy with God is relationally significant and specific to our relationship with the Father. Spiritual growth and development finds its deepest meaning in this relationship. Just as everything Jesus lived was for his relationship with his Father, so must (dei) everything in our life involve our Father.

-- Where do you stand with your Father at this point in your life?

-- How well do you relate to God as Father?

This relationship could be problematic for us. No more significant predisposition or bias develops in our life than what results from our experience with our earthly parents or those who raised us. We could discuss this matter for years. What's crucial now is understanding, acknowledging and being freed from these predispositions which invariably get imposed on God also and, thus, affect our relationship with God as Father. There is no more urgent area in our Christian life than to sort this out with him. It's a stepwise process; take the time to start now if you haven't seriously started already.

-- Related to this, how well do you relate to your Father as his son or daughter?

What's critical about this for all of us is the issue of vulnerability. I don't think we are more vulnerable in our life than when we reveal our self in the intimate needs as son or daughter. Think of the ways we substitute for these needs and the above relationship. Compare Jesus' words in Matthew 18:3.

Honesty of our heart is absolutely necessary in the relational process of intimacy with the Father. When you are stuck and aren't sure what's in your heart about these matters, then claim the Spirit's promise to help you (read Rom.8:26,27).

"Make every effort" (Lk 13:24) in this relational work!
 

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Being Relationally Loved

As we get more established in the process of going from merely thinking relationally to also acting relationally, our transformation increasingly results in being relational. This transition is not usually a direct progression--often going back and forth--besides not being smooth. We will vividly see this in Peter's life.

Whenever tension exists in a relationship--for example, being afraid to go deeper or a lack of self-confidence to get more involved--there is a tendency to turn to substitutes in place of deeper relational involvement. Idealizing our relationship with God is one such substitute. Doing something for God instead of deeper involvement is another substitute. As we discussed about the issue of honesty and how much we should tell God, the key here also is the matter of intimacy and how much we really want to be with God. Substitutes are always easier and involve less risk for us than intimacy. Many times we make the easier choice, even though the substitutes are less satisfying.

Whether our tension with intimacy involves the thought of being disappointed by God (maybe because of hurtful experiences with our earthly fathers) or of "messing up" the relationship (possibly due to feeling inadequate), this is a very real concern which we often don't acknowledge. Instead, it's a risk we try to minimize with substitutes. The implicit thinking behind this is similar to the rationale that "something is better than nothing." Christians are settling for less in their relationship with God because of such thinking. But this is critical for us because it is also a myth for relationships. "Something" as a substitute is not better than the honesty of "nothing." "Something" will not lead us to more with God; it has substituted for the more, even with good intentions. "Nothing," at least, doesn't create any illusions. We can compare these efforts to the relational implications of Jesus' words to his disciples during a critical interaction with Peter, which we will discuss in a moment (see Mt 16:25). To minimize risk in relationship with God is to believe a lie.


Letting God love us seems so basic. . . we take it for granted and assume that we let him.


While intimacy with others usually involves our exposure with uncertain results, intimacy with God involves deeper relational connection with the experience of love. We can never expose any part of our self to God which he doesn't fully realize already. Regardless of what he sees in us or knows about our past, he has consistently demonstrated his deep desire to be involved with us (e.g., Rom 5:8). If we want to have an ongoing deep relationship with God, then we have to let God love us. Letting God love us seems so basic that I think we take it for granted and assume that we let him. But from the relational perspective, for example, many times we focus on "loving God" as a substitute for intimately letting God love us. We do this not because we don't want God to love us. We do this because there is a part of us we don't want to expose to him.

God certainly wants us to love him also; and he expects that. But he knows that's not going to happen until we first let him love us (1 Jn 4:10,19). All of us have some degree of uncertainty about how lovable we are. No matter what our theological convictions about God's love, the actual function of those truths in relationship with God is not a routine practice. Presenting our self to him as we truly are is usually the more difficult choice because we are focused on being exposed, not loved. Yet that is the only choice possible that gives God the opportunity to love us. It all started with his initiative of grace because of our sin, inadequacy, weakness, imperfection. That's why our experience of letting God love us has to start with the experience of his forgiveness.

If we have trouble with asking for forgiveness--relationally, not theologically--we have trouble with letting God love us. Obviously, then, this also means we have trouble with love in general. To minimize forgiveness is to minimize the intimacy of love--first, his love, then our love, eventually others' love.

The prostitute who anointed Jesus learned and experienced that (read Lk 7:36-50). When Jesus said "her many sins have been forgiven" (v.47), it wasn't because of her great act of love. Jesus said the word "forgiven" in the Greek perfect tense which accentuates the fact of an existing condition and stresses the prevailing effects of an action. Because she let God love her first through forgiveness, she was loved, and now risked further rejection in order to be involved with Jesus in this difficult and beautiful expression of love. The cultural and traditional influences at work here made this a very difficult situation, even for Jesus. He was vulnerably open to intimacy with this woman and letting himself be loved, despite others' perceptions. She wouldn't let the past and the old control her. Being vulnerable to others' criticism, and even possibly Jesus' rejection, she stepped out in love to creatively express her heart. For her, such intimacy was not about exposing herself as she really was and to any repercussions but about the relational outcome of deeper connection with Christ. She wanted more, pursued him and experienced the deep satisfaction of being together in love. And forgiveness is the key to this experience of love. "But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love" (Lk 7:47, NLT).

Jesus told her "your faith has saved you, go in peace" (v.50). "Save" (Gk. sozo) includes being made whole. Was the prostitute just saved from her past? As we've discussed, Jesus saves us from and also saves us to. The latter is important and must be understood here. If she were merely saved from her past, how could this reformed prostitute have peace (Gk. eirene, well-being) while still needing to contend for her place in a hostile community and to worry about what the future had for her? Jesus also beautifully lived out with her what she was saved to. He had made her whole again and before the astonished eyes of that rejecting community he intimately received her. He restored her to the well-being of their intimate relationship and her place in his family.

What we are saved from by its nature must (dei) be accompanied by what we are saved to. It is not sufficient merely to be freed from the old or simply to want the new. We can't experience what "Christ saved us to" before we embrace what "Christ saved us from." And if we are not embracing what "he saved us to," it reflects that we are not fully experiencing what "he saved us from."

Forgiveness is fundamental to the relational process of intimate relationship with God and the experience of his love. This vital relational process is seen clearly in summary during Jesus' ongoing interactions with Peter. In examining these interactions we will see the difficulty this key representative of the disciples had with this relational process. Peter lived primarily in the common perception of what we are saved from while Jesus also kept calling him and pursuing him to what we are saved to.

 

 

Being Relational: the Pursuit of Peter

The relational study of Peter will show us that the process of transformation is not simple or smooth, even for the most committed Christian. It will also help us to understand more fully what needs to change in us in order to grow in relationship with Christ and be like him in intimate relationship with our Father. What we will see further is his grace powerfully underlying their interactions. In love and mercy, with patience Jesus pursued Peter.

It has been my emphasis that to truly know someone is a relational process. This knowledge of a person is not mere information gained from observation; it is the experience of that person which could only result from direct relational involvement--specifically in intimate relationship. Such experience is the function only of that kind of relationship, not of any other activity, amount of time or mutual purpose together. This relational process requires the openness of the heart in order to see and to hear the other person, as well as to share honestly with each other. As we examine Peter's interactions with Jesus, think about "when is he open?" and ask yourself "what prevents his openness?"

Luke 5:1-11--In the beginning of their relationship, Peter had a profound experience with Jesus which should have set the tone for the relationship. Was Peter's heart open to Jesus? We don't know what Jesus taught from the boat that day. Whatever Jesus said earlier, Peter was willing to comply with what seemed like his unreasonable request (v.4), even though they had worked hard all night (v.5). This willingness resulted in Peter's profound realization of the difference between him and Jesus (v.8). This experience shows us that Peter not only listened to Jesus' words, but he saw Jesus the person and, therefore, saw his own person as he truly is. This should have set the tone for their relationship. In Peter's initial openness here, he saw the qualitative difference between him and Jesus. But this is not merely a spiritual difference considered, for example, in limited moral grounds. It also involves the depth of the uncommon with the breadth of the common. The full reality of what Peter was and how he defined himself needed to be understood and addressed in very specific areas of his life. As we will see, those areas also needed to be redeemed, transformed and restored to God's design and purpose.

John 6:60-69--At this pivotal stage, many of Jesus' so-called disciples stopped following him because of the relational demands he had just placed on them (Jn.6:29-58). When Jesus asks the twelve disciples if they want to leave him also, speaking for them as he often did, Peter makes this profound confession (v.68). Peter wanted the more (eternal life) and rightly goes to the source for it. Yet, his focus on "the words (Gk. rhema) of eternal life" seems to emphasize Jesus' words, statements, more than his person--for example, as the other term for "word," logos, emphasizes his essence (cf. Jn.1:14). Though Peter acknowledges that they know who Jesus is, the relational experience necessary for this level of knowledge still seems to be missing. Jesus responded that he had "chosen" (Gk. eklegomai, chosen for oneself) them, that is, they were chosen for this intimate relationship. Though Judas would miss out altogether on this relationship, the others struggled with it--especially Peter.

The gap between our confession and the reality of our experience with God can get wide. The difference between what we believe from what we practice may not always be apparent to us. Hopefully, Peter's life will help us in our inconsistencies and encourage us in our relationship with Jesus.

Matthew 14:25-33--Peter had seen Jesus heal various persons, including his mother-in-law, and had just witnessed the miraculous feeding of the 5000. He knew what Jesus could do. Then, what was he thinking when he essentially asked Jesus to prove it was he (v.28)? What was he focused on? This remarkable request demonstrates that Peter sees Jesus for who he is, at least in terms of what he does, and initially trusts him. In the process, however, Peter is distracted from the person by the situation. The resulting fear constrained Peter's faith. Fear does that to us. The relational consequences of fear is that it causes us to pull inward and seek control. Relationally, Peter was not open to Jesus in that moment. Peter pulled back his trust and relationally distanced himself from the person Jesus, even though he asked Jesus to save him from the situation. His cry to be saved should not be confused with trust and relational involvement. In one moment he enjoyed intimate and unique connection with Christ walking on the water together. In the next, he was disconnected relationally from Jesus' person even as he hung on to his hand in the situation. It is important for us to understand this distinction in our relationship with Christ because we could be praying for similar results while distant relationally from God. Anything in the relationship that causes us to pull inward and seek control is in contrast to our trust which extends outward to God and lets go.

Mark 10:28--Remember from our previous discussion how Peter contrasts the disciples with the successful young guy (v.17ff). Based on what they did compared to what the young guy wasn't willing to, I think Peter implied they were better. At the same time I think he is expressing a self-concern because of what they did. Jesus didn't dismiss his concern and gave them the beautiful promise for both now and the future (vv.29-30). Yet, he also warned them about defining themselves in that way and seeking a higher position on the human totem pole (v.31). This issue remained problematic for them (cf. Mt 20:24; Lk 22:24), as we will see particularly in Peter's life. Nevertheless, Jesus kept extending his person vulnerably in love and was establishing a new order of life.

Matthew 16:13-20--This passage and the one immediately following reflect the ups and downs for Peter. We need to compare and contrast these two interactions Jesus had with Peter. When Jesus asked the disciples for their personal view apart from others' opinion of who he was, Peter responded directly and clearly (v.16). This moment is one of his highlights. Jesus called him "blessed" (Gk. makarios, same as in Beatitudes) not because he gave the correct answer. Peter didn't deduce this view from human thought, but from the Father's revelation (v.17, Gk. apokalypto, removed a veil, exposing to open view what was before hidden). Because God was present and involved in Peter's life, he was "blessed." This is not the same as "happy"--an inadequate translation of makarios--which tends to suggest merely a positive state of mind or pleasant circumstances. Blessed is sharing in the life of God and the give-and-take of that intimate relationship. Though Peter so far didn't seem very relationally intimate with Jesus, he did engage this relational process. The Father's revelation here should not be considered a unilateral act from which Peter benefited merely by being in the right place at the right time. God engages the relational process also. So, this reflected God's involvement with Peter as well as Peter's openness to and involvement with God, however imperfectly or inconsistently he practiced it.

But the following interaction gives us another side of Peter. He will go from the above highlight immediately to one of the lowlights in his career as a disciple.

Matthew 16:21-25--From here on Jesus told his disciples what's going to happen to him--a reality that is a "must" (Gk. dei, necessary by the nature of things, unavoidable, in contrast to obligated, for example, morally or due to personal obligation). So, the gloomy events ahead for him are not optional in this sense. This scenario was too much for Peter to take; to his credit he didn't just sit there passively with his contrary feelings. Taking Jesus aside as if to counsel him, Peter responded strongly "to rebuke him" (v.22). The Greek word "rebuke" (epitimao) means to censure, rebuke; it is an abrupt and biting charge sharply expressing disapproval, harshly taking someone to task for a fault. The word implies that Peter expressed a warning as he confronted Jesus on his ludicrous plans. "Never, Lord!"--this Greek word (hileos) functions in such phrases as an invocation for overturning evil. In our vernacular we might say "God forbid!" or "Absolutely no way!" We have to appreciate Peter's honesty here in sharing his feelings with Jesus; even though he was off-base about God's will, without the benefit of hindsight we might have felt the same way, and maybe we do about some other situation for today. It's important to share these feelings with God. Yet, despite Peter's honesty with these feelings, was he really completely open with Jesus? Why did Peter have these feelings?

Jesus' response helps us understand. He responded back even more strongly to Peter by identifying him as the enemy (v.23); contrast this with verse 17. Why was he now considered the enemy? Because he was a "stumbling block" to Jesus; the word (Gk. skandalon) always denotes enticing or trapping its victim in a course of behavior which could ruin the person. Exactly what was Peter trying to trap Jesus in which would lead to his ruin? Compared to verse 17 when Peter was influenced by the Father's revelation over human reason, Peter reversed himself to function on the basis of human thought. "Have in mind" (Gk. phroneo) means to think, have a mindset. This is more than a predisposition or bias. This activity also involves the will, affections, conscience, therefore to be mindful of and devoted to that perspective. Even at this stage of Peter's discipleship and immediately after his highlight experience, Peter's perception of Jesus' plans was based on his mindset controlled by human influence. In other words, Peter put Jesus in his box; and those plans not only didn't fit into his box, they were in conflict with how Peter perceived God, not to mention how he perceived himself. This couldn't happen to Peter's God--absolutely no way. He honestly shared those feelings but he was not completely open about where he was coming from, about why he felt so strongly. This prevented his understanding of God's will and effectively made him God's enemy.

These were areas in Peter's life which needed redemption, transformation and restoration. Furthermore, I'm sure we can safely assume that fear was involved for Peter as he sought to maintain control and have God on his terms. Jesus also spoke to these issues and what's involved (vv.24-25). We will discuss the further implications of this interaction after looking at Peter's other interactions with Jesus.

Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-13--Shortly after this came Jesus' transfiguration (Gk. metamorphoo, to transform, to alter fundamentally). This marks an important stage of Jesus revealing God's glory. In this amazing experiential moment, everything is brought together: the past (represented by Moses and Elijah), the present (with the Messiah in supernatural form and substance) and the future (the reality of God's kingdom/family)--all with the presence of the Father relationally speaking in their midst. This summarizes all that God relationally shared, promised and experienced with his people, now being unfolded and fulfilled for these disciples to experience directly. Imagine yourself being present also, not for a mountain-top experience but for this total relational connection.

When Peter experienced Jesus' transformation and the presence of Moses and Elijah, he proposed setting up three tents. Why do you think he suggested this? Remember Moses' experiences with God, remember the conversation with the Samaritan woman (Jn 4:19ff). In this awesome moment Peter was stuck in the past. His old mindset quickly expressed itself again when he tried to constrain God's glory to a place--just like the OT ways of relating to God. Mark's account tells us Peter suggested this because he was afraid (Mk 9:6); he didn't know what to say. We can empathize, because seeing Jesus transformed must have had a similar effect that transformations in science fiction movies may have on us. Once again fear leads to restraint as Peter reacted merely on the basis of the old. Rather than step out in trust to experience the more of eternity right before him, he backed away from making himself vulnerable to intimate relational connection with God and his family. Instead, Peter turned to what was familiar and comfortable to him, that is, to the "established ways of doing things," to substitutes.

Since God doesn't define himself or do relationships this way, the Father intimately spoke directly to Peter and the others to pay attention to his Son (Mt 17:5). Rightly and necessarily so, for all of us, to pay attention not merely to his words and his actions, but to his person. For the glory of God was before us in the flesh: the visible heart of God, intimately relational, vulnerably present and involved. In his transformed state, Jesus extended his glory to them to experience further. As they lay face down terrified by the presence of the Father speaking to them, Jesus pursued them and tenderly reached down to touch them (Mt 17:6-7). It's important for us to understand Jesus' relational action here and not just look at his words. The word for "touch" (Gk. hapto) involves not just physical contact but touch with involvement and purpose in order to influence, affect. Reflect on the relational messages here. Jesus wanted this awesome experience to translate for them into the total intimate experience of connection with God: "Relationship with God is like this. It's OK, you can enjoy him wherever you are." Do we pause long enough in our times with God for him to have the opportunity to "touch" us?

The relational context of God's glory is clearly established in this experience; the Gospel of John seems to indicate the relational glory of God reflected throughout the earthly life of Jesus. Peter missed, initially at least, the point of God's glory now being revealed in Jesus. The God of heart can only properly be expressed and fully revealed in the relational context of intimate relationship. That's where our response to him needs to be and how we engage God. If Moses and Elijah were to counsel Peter after his suggestion, what would they have told Peter?

To follow Jesus is to be together with his person where he is. To know him is to make heart connection with him. Do you think Peter is learning this yet and growing as Christ's disciple? Predispositions will have to be changed if we're going to be free from the barriers to intimate connection with God. Feelings we have in our heart need to be attended to in order to vulnerably extend our trust to God ongoingly in relationship. Peter continued to struggle with this relational process.

Matthew 18:21-22--Peter later raises this interesting question about forgiveness. I think there are two ways to consider this question: what are the limits of our obligation in what we should do?, or, what is the extent of involvement we should have with others, especially those who wrong us or who are needy? Since Peter was more into what he did than relationships, it seems that he asked the former in terms of the quantity of doing something. Presumably, Peter wanted to fulfill his obligation, which seemed reasonable. Jesus, however, refocused Peter on what's really important, while helping him to understand Peter's own person. The numbers aren't important here but relationships and the quality of relational love. This wasn't about what Peter does but about what the other person needs. The parable Jesus relates to illuminate this is about giving mercy (Gk. eleeo), expressing compassion to relieve the other person's misery, affliction, need. If Peter had been ongoingly experiencing God's mercy and grace in this way, he would have understood what's important here. It involves redefining ourselves according to the reality of our own poverty (ptochos), being vulnerable with these feelings (pentheo) in our heart before God and humbly (praus) living this truth and relational experience with others, as we discussed earlier about the Beatitudes. Peter's focus suggests, in my opinion, that he had trouble with forgiveness and, therefore, with love--both loving others and himself. Persons who define themselves primarily by what they do and have tend to have this problem, asking God similar questions. Do you think the prostitute who anointed Jesus would have asked the same question as Peter?

On the same subject of forgiveness Jesus reiterated in similar words the importance of relational quality (Lk 17:3-4). After hearing this, the apostles (including Peter) asked Jesus to increase their faith (v.5) to which he responded with the famed mustard seed  (v.6). What prompted this request? Based on what Jesus told them (vv.1-4) prior to their request, they must have felt inadequate to measure up to his expectations. So, they asked for greater quantity of faith to fulfill what they needed to do. There's a place for such a request, but not as an expression of this kind of perspective and concern. Jesus' focus on the mustard seed shows us that it's not about quantity of faith for us to better do something. It's about exercising what faith we do have; it's about exercising the quality of trust in our relationship with God and extending the resulting experience of love to relationship with others. This is not about what we can do with just a small quantity of faith. This is what we will experience and what we will be as we exercise trust and intimacy with God.

Faith is not a means to highlight ourselves. Faith as intimate trust is the relational means for deeper involvement with God and our privilege to serve him. This seems to be Jesus' point in the illustration he adds (vv.7-10): just be who/what you truly are and do what you've been told--no more, no less; since you're not worthy to fulfill it on your own, God will help you to be/do that which he desires; the results will be because of his grace, therefore it is the servant who should be thankful, not the master.

There is no limit to God's grace because he doesn't do relationships under obligation. And the extent of his loving involvement with us is eternity, the potential for our heart's experience is the heart of God. As Jesus revealed, our God is full of grace and truth, that is, our Father's unfailing love and faithfulness (Jn 1:14). Peter and his colleagues needed a new way: feed off God's grace and grow in experiencing his love.

John 13:1-10--Jesus was to show them this new way in an experience Peter could have never imagined. In that upper room prior to his death, "he now showed them the full extent of his love"(v.1). "The full extent" (Gk. eis telos) means the complete, continuous, perpetual, eternal action of God's love as he covenanted and now fulfills in Jesus, his Son. As he washed his disciples' feet and came to Peter, try to put yourself in Peter's place. From our discussion of Peter, what do you think Peter's tone was in the question he raised to Jesus (v.6)? What was going on for Peter in this moment? Jesus responded (v.7) that at the moment "you do not realize" (Gk. oida, intuitively know, understand, recognize already) "but later you will understand" (Gk. ginosko, know by learning or experience). You would think that this was sufficient to pacify Peter in his indirect question. Can you imagine what Peter is feeling at this point? Peter did more than object to Jesus' footwashing. His words (v.8), in the Greek aorist subjunctive mood with the double negative, were the strongest expression of categorical denial and refusal to let Jesus do it. Does this remind you of their interaction earlier in Mt 16:21-23? Peter struggled deeply in these moments for him to feel so strongly. Reflect on the issues for Peter and what was involved that made their relationship difficult.

Once again Peter is controlled by predispositions in his thinking and biased by his feelings. Because he defined himself primarily by what he did, he defined Jesus this way also. There was absolutely no way in Peter's perceptions of his Lord and his God that Jesus could do this. Jesus couldn't be his own person; he had to be the person Peter wanted him to be. But Peter undoubtedly had mixed feelings here. Based on how he defined himself, that's how he did relationships. He essentially compared people on a human totem pole. This process of stratification placed Jesus at the top and Peter below, if not the bottom. He was unworthy to have his Lord, Messiah, King, God wash his feet. Therefore, he relationally rejected Jesus in his act of love. He was not open to such intimacy. As you've placed yourself in Peter's position, consider if there are ways you are not open to intimacy with Jesus.


This was necessary for their communion together.


Characteristic of God, Jesus lovingly pursued Peter. "Unless. . . you have no part with me" (v.8). This was necessary, but not for Peter to have a relationship with Christ, because he had that; this was necessary for their communion together. This footwashing should not be oversimplified as symbolic of merely spiritual cleansing or servanthood. We also have to understand the relational significance of this because that's the ultimate purpose that cleansing, forgiveness, faith, spiritual formation and other such practices have. Peter needed to let Jesus wash his feet in order to be with Jesus, that is, to be sharing intimately together with him in their relationship. When Peter realized the relational consequences, he finally said OK, but then directed Jesus not to stop at his feet but wash other parts (v.9). Interpret Peter's response. Where was his focus? Did he really see the person Jesus here? What kind of relational connection would they have had if Jesus also washed those other parts?

Ever since Adam and Eve struggled in their relationships, distance in relationships to varying degrees has been the norm. Intimacy does not develop naturally anymore. It certainly doesn't develop easily, even though we need it and even when we want it. Today, we experience the absence of intimacy in our relationships more than in any other historical period. Yet, we seem to accept this condition or resign ourselves to its loss. The influences of society, culture and family establish us in certain ways which need to be redeemed, transformed and restored to God's design and purpose; this can be true even of the practices of a church. Without such changes, we will do our relationship with God on our terms as Peter continued to struggle in. We will return to his footwashing later.

As Jesus neared the end of his earthly life, there were a series of moments in their relationship which we need to compare and contrast. Look at Peter in the following:

Matthew 26:33  --"Even if all fall away. . . I will never."

Luke 22:33  --"I am ready to go with you to prison and to death."

John 13:37  --"I will lay down my life for you."

Before you mentally jump ahead to the outcome of his bold declarations, there are some important areas to reflect on. Peter did back up some of his words with action. In the garden of Gethsemane, Peter took the initiative with his sword (Jn 18:10) without waiting for Jesus to answer the other disciples' question (Lk 22:49). Though he acts on his own, you've got to like Peter as a person of action. He acted while the others questioned; unfortunately he acted in his bias. He was still trying to determine for Jesus what should happen and how God's will should work. Beyond this one moment, Peter's life seemed to reflect good intentions, incomplete commitments, misguided actions. Yet, in these closing moments of Jesus' life where was Peter focused? Did he see Jesus' person? His main focus was on doing something because he depended on that to define himself. Consequently, his intentions were focused on what he could do--like promises we often make to God.

Peter didn't, however, take into account: first, how circumstances/situations influence him (which includes the influence of culture) and, secondly, his limitations, weaknesses and sin which reflected his true humanity and what he was. Avoiding the second area is characteristic of those who define themselves by what they do. Both of these matters affected Peter and kept him from following through on his intentions. That happened because he didn't focus on his total person, only on what he did. That is, he wasn't aware of his heart and didn't attend to his heart in those situations. What do you think he was feeling when he whipped out his sword?


In the same way that many of us get into while serving, doing something for Jesus was more important to Peter than being with Jesus relationally.


Therefore, Peter relationally was often missing Jesus' person and not really connecting with him. In the same way that many of us get into while serving, doing something for Jesus was more important to Peter than being with Jesus relationally. The contrast in the garden of Gethsemane demonstrates this. The intensity of his sword-wielding is the opposite of his sleeping state in the moments immediately preceding. The reality is that those preceding moments were actually tenser because of the depth and intensity of Jesus' heart pouring out to Peter and the two sons of Zebedee (Mt 26:36-46). Yet, they couldn't stay awake to support Jesus in his most critical time of need. Peter had to be completely blind and deaf not to know his Lord was in pain. What did he feel when he saw Jesus in his anguish? Forget about physical tiredness here; Peter had the intensity with the sword, if only due to adrenaline. Relational intimacy with Jesus in his overwhelming feelings poised more of a threat to Peter than the physical confrontation later.

We can empathize with his discomfort when a situation becomes too intimate or starts to make us feel out of control. For example, how comfortable are you in the presence of someone crying? The common reaction is to try to get that person to stop crying. Is that for the benefit of the person crying or for our sake? When doing something is our main focus and we don't know what to do, we get very uncomfortable. We feel it's not enough to just be there (however we are), to be with the other person--even if that's the most important thing to that person and what he or she needs the most from us. This is not adequate to justify our self when we depend on what we do to establish our worth. When we are threatened in our comfort zones, we tend to try to "fix" the situation (e.g., get the person to stop crying), to make substitutes (e.g., give that person a box of tissue instead of a long hug) or withdraw (e.g., keeping relational distance can be spatial, emotional or mental; even praying for the crying person could be a way to avoid direct contact).

Jesus asked them only to "keep watch with me" (Mt 26:38,40). "Keep watch" (Gk. gregoreuo) involves being alert and aware. With all that was transpiring in these moments as the most significant point in history was reaching its climax, I don't believe Jesus was acutely focusing them on the situation. What danger existed in that moment? Jesus was going to be crucified and he was overwhelmed by that certainty. What could be worse than that? Obviously, Satan was present and active, but limited. He wasn't able to stop God and his will; he could only try to distance the disciples from their hearts and interfere in their intimate relationship with God. This was a struggle that Jesus certainly was well experienced with, and also encouraged them in (v.41). As this dramatic redemptive scenario unfolds, Jesus was profoundly concentrating on the relationship. It wasn't the situation he called them to in this intense moment, it was to his person. He was going to be vulnerably involved with his Father and he asked them to be vulnerably involved with him. "Intimately be with me."

What an invitation, what a privilege they received. What an opportunity! How do you think you would have responded to Jesus? When what we do becomes more functionally important than what we are, then the total person--especially the heart--is given a lower priority, even ignored, noticeably in situations like this. When this is our predisposition, intimate relationships become another lower priority as we attend to what we perceive as more urgent matters. Peter demonstrated this for us. I hope you get a better sense of Satan's counter-relational work and grasp the influence of his lies on Peter and on us.

Jesus already indicated to Peter that he would fail in his ways (Lk 22:32). The ultimate relational distance he had with Jesus (and still have a relationship) was when he made those denials (Mt 26:69-75). He denied identification with Jesus (v.70), association with him (v.72), involvement as one of his (v.74). This wasn't merely the failure of Peter to do something to support his bold declarations. These are relational acts with relational consequences. As Jesus predicted, Peter would "disown me" (vv.34,75). "Disown" (Gk. aparneomai) is a relational word in the NT and means to withdraw from fellowship and remove oneself, as from Jesus. So, we should realize that this relational consequence both deeply pained Peter (v.75) and also intimately affected Jesus, even though he knew it was going to happen. His heart always remained vulnerable to the hurt and pain of Peter's relational action, especially here and in the garden. That's how God is and what Jesus brought to us. Don't underestimate God's heart to feel and be affected; and don't overestimate his nature as a way to insulate himself from us. He remains intimately vulnerable to the relational consequences of how we are with him, even when he knows beforehand. He pursues us anyway, he receives us regardless. And he does relationships in quality distinctly from how we commonly do them. Reflect on his relational messages to us.

John 21:15-22--That's what Jesus continued to extend to Peter. Apparently, in the interim Peter is forgiven for his denials and is able to move on with God's grace. Yet something seems to be missing as they interact here. Do you think they're making relational connection? Put yourself in Peter's position and see what you feel or would say.

-- "Do you love (agape) me with self-sacrifice?" (v.15)

-- "Yes, Lord, you know that I love (phileo) you affectionately" (v.15).

-- "Nurture (bosko) my little ones" (v.15; bosko only involves the basic task of leading the lambs to pasture, nothing more).

"Do you love (agape) me by letting go of your self-concerns, self-interests particularly trying to establish your self-worth?" (v.16)

-- "You, more than anyone should know that I love (phileo) you affectionately" (v.16).

-- "Then take care of (poimaino) my followers" (v.16; poimaino involves much more than bosko; it implies the total task of shepherding, guiding and guarding the flock as well as leading them to food).

"Do you love (phileo) me as you say?" (v.17)

-- "Absolutely, you know everything there is to know--especially about me. You obviously know that I love (phileo) you with all my affection. So, you don't need to keep asking me" (v.17).

-- "You don't understand, but feed (basko) my followers. There'll be changes ahead for you, so concentrate on following me and devote yourself to our relationship" (v.17-19).

Where do you think Peter's focus was in this interaction? What kind of connection do you think they had? In all three responses Peter focused on Jesus "knowing" (Gk. oida) and his ability to know intimately, not by learning. While Jesus certainly has this ability and knowledge, he was not seeking information here from Peter. If not information, what was Jesus seeking? In spite of the painful relational consequences of his recent actions, Peter still didn't seem to focus on Jesus' person and their relationship. Consequently, deep relational connection still was missing as they interacted. He didn't really hear Jesus here, nor truly see his person--though he recognized Jesus as God in his ability to know (oida). This was an opportunity for intimate and tender connection after some acutely painful days, but Peter relationally missed his Lord Jesus in this moment.

Jesus wasn't asking Peter to prove his love (agape or phileo). What happened before was past and forgiven. Yes, Jesus knew (oida) that Peter loved him. Why he switched to phileo in his third pursuit of Peter (v.17) is not clear; he also went back to only basko. I suggest he was reaching out to Peter where he was. Though Peter had phileo, he was not ready for the self-sacrifice of agape. He wasn't at that level because he still wasn't freed from his self-focus, self-concerns and interests. Rather than prove his love, Jesus wanted Peter to release the phileo constrained in his heart and express it relationally. This wasn't about information. It never is about information as far as God is concerned; we need to remember this in how we pray. It's only and always about the relationship and our intimate relational involvement. This relational response is what Jesus was seeking from Peter because his love didn't translate into the relational process and transmit in their relationship.


There is an ongoing tension and conflict between such Christian doing and this relational being in Christ. . . .


So, Jesus once again had to refocus Peter on what's important: "follow me" (v.19), that is, concentrate on being with me and devote your person to our relationship. Even when he told him to feed and take care of his followers, he was not focusing Peter on what to do (his doing) but on who Peter was (his being as one of God's own children) and on the joint relational responsibility of building his family. There is an ongoing tension and conflict between such Christian doing and this relational being in Christ for those who define themselves by their service and subtly depend on that to establish their value to God. But, remember what Jesus told Peter earlier, that after he fails in his old ways, then to help build up God's family (Lk 22:32). Serving God is based on receiving his grace in intimate relationship, not on what we can do.

Did this put Peter in the right perspective and in the proper relational context? Just then he noticed John behind them (v.20) and inquired "Lord, what about him?" (v.21) Where do you think Peter was focused at that point? Transformation was not smooth in his life. This seemingly innocent question demonstrates in this context that Peter was still not focused on Jesus' person but on secondary, situational things. This problem is common in how we do relationships when the total person (significantly the heart) is given a lower priority than what we do. The relational consequence is that we easily overlook each other, functioning in the relationship with substitutes, thus diminishing our experience of satisfying connection. Jesus was not only dissatisfied with their connection here, he was displeased. Peter tried his loving patience. ". . . what is that to you?" (v.22) expressed rebuke from Jesus which Peter needed; in our vernacular the words might be "That's none of your business." Then, he emphatically made it imperative to him: "You must follow me"--the only imperative that Peter needed to hear and focus on. This was only about relational work.

Peter's difficulties with changing didn't end with this post-resurrection period or even with Pentecost. He assumed relational responsibility and took the early lead in the church. But his old "established ways of doing things" persisted and later was both challenged by Christ (see Acts 10:9-16, 34-35) and rebuked by Paul for his hypocrisy (see Gal 2:11-14). Beginning in Acts 8 we see the early church forced out of its provincialism by circumstances of persecution. But the gospel was also constrained by their mindset and worldview. Therefore, Christ spoke to Peter during this vision. As a result, Peter realized, at least intellectually, how predisposed he was and how this had the relational consequence of discrimination, excluding a whole category of people from God. Peter's way of doing relationships was hurtful. Yet, what he gained in theology here did not change his practice in relationships. So, Paul exposed him for not "acting in line with the truth of the gospel" (Gal 2:14). Peter needed to be transformed from both how he defined himself and how he did relationships. He is not alone in this. We need to ask ourselves how we do relationships.


All that transpires and is experienced between us and God is a function of relationship. . . .


 

Relationship with Jesus Christ is not a belief, a theological position, nor even a religious identity. It is an ongoing, dynamic relationship with God's person--not only Jesus' person but also the Father and the Spirit. All that transpires and is experienced between us and God is a function of relationship, not a result of what we do, of what God alone does, nor a function of any other activity, done separately or together. This is only a function of relationship--a relationship operating on intimate trust unlike anything we're used to. We have to sort this out in our theology and understand this in our practice.

Peter strained in his relationship with Jesus because of how he did relationships and wanted their relationship on his terms. He learned the hard way that God doesn't do relationships on our terms, specifically by the common and the temporal. When we reflect on this, do we really want him only on our terms? Peter's perception of God was a great deal smaller than who God actually is and the plans he has for us; so Peter didn't really want much. He made substitutes for the more and settled for less.

Paul described God as he who goes beyond what we can ask or even imagine (Eph 3:20). This is the God that Jesus incarnated; this is the uncommon and eternal Father he intimately connected us to. We keep trying to make the uncommon God more ordinary, more to our common taste. Jesus came in order to take us to the realm of the uncommon so that we can experience even now the more of eternity--beyond what we can imagine. There's a popular song from the group MercyMe entitled "I Can Only Imagine" written by Bart Millard. It's a great song that stirs my heart. But I change the words to "I can't really imagine" because our God takes us beyond. And I want to experience all of him and what he has for us. I don't want to settle for less, which Peter struggled with in constraining Jesus and their relationship.


These areas. . . strongly interact, exerting influence on us regardless of our theology.


 

This makes it important for us to go back to two of Jesus' interactions with Peter. Jesus told Peter that unless he washed his feet Peter had no intimate connection with him (Jn 13:8). What is it about this act that he seems to make fundamental, as the basis and base for our relationship with him? Before we answer this, we need to look at a previous interaction. When Peter went ballistic over Jesus' plan to be crucified, where exactly was he coming from (Mt 16:22), and what was the specific mindset Jesus was exposing (v.23)? The answers to these questions involve how we view God, how we define ourselves and therefore, what becomes the nature of our relationship with him. These areas are not mutually exclusive; they strongly interact, exerting influence on us regardless of our theology.

As we discussed earlier, Peter had his own predisposed views of God and how his Master should be, and what his Messiah should do (v.22). Of course, these were in conflict with what God had already revealed of himself to Peter (cf. v.17). This inconsistency by Peter is the same as any disparity between what we believe and what we actually practice. Like Peter, for example, sometimes we don't like the plans God reveals, and thus we directly or indirectly reject them; this includes ignoring uncomfortable parts of his Word, especially certain words from Jesus. Peter was usually direct in expressing his position, which was more helpful in the relationship than being indirect. Yet, what compounds things for him is how he defined himself.

When Peter rejects God's plans as defined by Jesus (v.21), in effect he rejects God's provisions for his redemption. Then, what was he implying? Either that he didn't need personal redemption--though maybe Israel needed it as a nation--or that he would provide his own means for redemption. By his actions here Peter begs the question: if Jesus is prevented from going to the cross, then who will go to the cross for Peter? Of course, the answer is not directly articulated by Peter; nevertheless it is communicated by how he lived while with Jesus. Think about the relational messages in his actions. As we reflect back on other situations with Peter, we can see how much he defined himself by what he did, or at least said he was going to do. This demonstrated what he depended on to establish himself, particularly as Jesus' disciple.

The flip side of his efforts, however, is Peter's rejection of Jesus' love in his footwashing (Jn 13:8). Why? Partially because Peter didn't feel worthy of such love from his Master, Messiah, that is, from God (cf. Lk 5:8). How can he be worthy of this relationship?

Peter's relationship with Jesus in the Gospels shows him vacillating between, on the one hand, trying to establish himself by his own efforts and, on the other hand, not being able to measure up and thus feeling bad about himself. This is characteristic of those who define themselves by what they do or have. These deep-seated feelings may not be apparent, but they remain an underlying condition no matter how successful we are in establishing ourselves by these means. Jesus clearly identifies this thinking, this mindset and constraining approach to life as the established, common ways of everyday human life (Mt 16:24; 15:8-9) and its source ultimately as the lies of Satan (Jn 8:44).

How does this way of thinking, these views, this mindset, these predispositions affect our relationship with God? As Peter demonstrated in his life:
 

(1) it keeps us from seeing God as he truly is.

(2) it prevents us from connecting with God intimately in our relationship, even though we may be doing things with him or for him.

(3) it makes it difficult or impossible for us to fully receive him in his love and care for us in our total person, that is, significantly in our heart.

(4) the result is the relational consequence that we don't experience him intimately and thus don't know him, despite the fact that our belief system may reflect the knowledge or information of such a God.
 

What, then, functionally becomes the nature of our relationship with God? We need to make the often subtle distinction between what we firmly believe and how we actually function in the relationship. The latter is not readily apparent to us if we don't think relationally. Given what is actually going on in the relational process above, the nature of our relationship with God is based on me and what I can do in order to evoke and justify God's response in the relationship. This wasn't Peter's beliefs or theology but this was what he practiced relationally. He kept living in the old and Jesus kept calling him to the new, to his person, to intimate relationship together. This prevented Peter from intimate connection with Jesus and thus from experiencing love freely in their relationship--both receiving and giving love.

Let's go back to the question related to footwashing. What, indeed, does Jesus make the basis and base for our relationship with him? Remember, with Peter's predisposition and bias, his God wouldn't wash feet; and if his God did manage to do it anyway, Peter would not feel worthy. Worthy--this is the key issue! How worthy are we and how can we be more worthy? Our mindset and established ways of doing things predispose and bias us in this critical issue of self-worth. Either we feel worthy or we don't. If we aren't worthy, we have two alternatives. Either we try to become worthy, or we realize we can't establish our worth and accept that. While Peter rightfully and genuinely felt unworthy in relation to Jesus at different times, he continued the efforts to prove he was worthy in his life and relationship with Jesus. Jesus didn't want this kind of effort from his disciples.


Feeling that we need to measure up is one lie. . . that we
can. . . a compound lie.


Given how Peter saw himself and how he saw Jesus, footwashing was not possible--either for Jesus to give or for Peter to receive. Can you identify the lie in such thinking? Jesus says this is the truth as revealed by God: "I, the holy and eternal God, wash your feet even though you are not worthy." Given what Peter depended on to establish his worth, Jesus' death on the cross was unthinkable and unnecessary. Peter essentially would do it himself. Feeling that we need to measure up is one lie. Thinking that we can measure up is a compound lie. With the truth Jesus says: "I, the holy and eternal God, die on the cross because you can't make yourself worthy." The fact is grace allows only this one conclusion about our self-worth.

These truths from Jesus, however, are not mere truths of fact. They are relational truths exercised by God solely for one relational purpose: "You need my favor because there's no other way possible for you to connect with me and be with me ongoingly."

At this stage for us it's not the initial connection that concerns us; it's this specific purpose of ongoing intimate relationship with the holy and eternal God in the growing experience of love. Yet, after becoming a Christian "by grace," we usually tend to see grace as situational, only when we need it, for example, for forgiveness. But grace is purely relational. When we make it situational, we lose its ongoing relational significance.

 

 

Life Faster Than Grace

Grace--this is the whole issue! This unwarranted, unmerited intimate response from God determines the basis and base for relationship with him. But we may have to set aside temporarily our theology of grace in order to grasp this relational significance. Take the time to look at his relational messages in grace. When we fully define his messages to us, grace tells us two absolutely vital relational truths: (1) how God consistently functions in the relationship ongoingly, and (2) how we need to function in the relationship ongoingly.

This is the ongoing difficulty Peter had with Jesus. This created the tension and conflict with how Peter defined himself and did relationships. This is the underlying reason why he didn't want Jesus to wash his feet and to die on the cross for him. Contrary to the nature of Peter's relationship with God based on himself and what he could do, grace establishes the new nature of relationship with God based on the person of Jesus and what he does: to justify God's complete, ongoing, perpetual, eternal response of God's covenant love and faithfulness.

Grace is the relational expression from God which initiates and motivates all relationships with him. Faith is the relational response back to his relational act of grace. Faith does not precede grace, nor is faith the stimulus for grace. Neither is faith something we have or do. When our faith functions like any of these other things, we revert back to the old nature of relationship with God based on me and what I do. We, therefore, must (dei) never live our life faster than grace. That is, if our faith overtakes grace, it is no longer the relational act of trust but our attempt to impress God and "be worthy." Grace does not allow us to define ourselves by what we do or have. Life faster than grace is trying to do that. But grace and any pursuit of self-worth are incompatible for relationship.


For such faith we need to let Jesus wash our feet and to die on the cross for us, ongoingly.


This reflects the ups and downs of Peter's faith. The only faith Jesus expects and demands from his followers is the ongoing intimate relational trust we extend back to God in response to his ongoing grace. For such faith we need to let Jesus wash our feet and to die on the cross for us, ongoingly. Grace doesn't allow any other conclusion. Therefore, his grace is not only the basis for relationship with him but also the ongoing base for developing the experience of intimate relationship with the uncommon God in eternity now.

Our theology may state "by grace you have been saved" but our everyday perceptions seem to filter out what we are saved to, only leaving us the situation of saved from. There are relational consequences for this. As he did with Peter and the disciples, Jesus also asks us today, "Who do you say I am?" We need to examine if we are also giving him two answers as Peter did. On the one hand, we may give the theologically or spiritually correct answer while, on the other, our predispositions (like Peter) won't allow Jesus/God to be all he truly is. Whether it's putting God in a box, constraining him by defining the relationship on our terms or denying his plans for us, "who we say he is" often is not compatible with the God of our everyday practice. So, like Peter, many of us, in effect, relationally won't let Jesus wash our feet at times or go to the cross for us as needed. We have to understand the actual perceptions of God we're using in practice and examine honestly how we function in our relationship with him.

Furthermore, he calls us out of our comfort zones to join him in what he saved us to. This new way to define ourselves and God, and to do relationships requires that we are ongoingly redeemed (liberated), cleansed and healed from predispositions, perceptions and established ways of doing things which are rooted in subtle lies from Satan and operate in relational conflict with the truths of God. As it was for Peter, transformation for us remains rocky when we don't recognize and acknowledge what we need to be changed from: it is prevented when we don't confess what we need redemption or cleansing from; it is impeded when we don't open areas of our heart that need healing.

In the relational imperative, Jesus tells us to "make every effort" (agonizomai), struggle with deep concentration and intensity in this relational process (Lk 13:24). This is the effort he wants from us. His Spirit is here to help us complete the process. Intimacy with God and the growing experience of his unfailing love are the relational outcomes we can expect as we openly extend our trust to him in this relational process--outcomes beyond what we can imagine.
 

-- "Do you love me?"

Not if we are unwilling to function ongoingly in our relationship by his grace.

-- "Do you truly love me?"

Not if we aren't experiencing forgiveness along the way.

-- "Do you love me as you say?"

Not if we don't release the love in our heart and express it relationally.

-- "You must follow me!"

Not if we get distracted from his person and maintain substitutes in our relationship.

 

 

 

2003 T. Dave Matsuo

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Study Guide & Growth Plan

 

Chap. 5

Developing This Intimate Relationship

 

The depth of intimacy in any relationship is dependent on the openness and honesty of each person in the relationship. How and what we present of our self are critical for relationship. Likewise, letting the other person be their true self without imposing our predispositions and biases is essential for intimacy.

 

As we further examine what we present to God in relationship, we also need to assess the extent to which we relationally allow him to present his true self to us.

 

The progression of Jesus' purpose in the incarnation is reaching its culmination. Yet, it's not about the cross but about the Father. He came to reveal the Father, and the cross serves only the Father and his purpose. (I use "Father" to be relationship-specific, not gender-specific.)

 

 


 

Reflect:

 

Given how vulnerable Jesus was with his heart and in his relational involvement, he doesn't provide us with theological revelations about God but rather gives us the relational imperative for direct involvement with God.  His act of revelation is purely relational, made solely for relationship and can only be embraced by us relationally.

 

Reflect on the relational messages Jesus communicates by being intimately vulnerable to the relational consequences of how we are with him, pursuing us anyway and receiving us regardless, as he did with Peter.

 

When Christ further takes us to the Father as his very own, he established the relational responsibility for us to intimately participate in the Father's life and their relationship, and thus to intimately experience also what they experience in their relationship together as family.

 

Define and reflect on the relational messages the Father is saying to you in Romans 8:29.

 

 


 

Examine:

"Letting God love you." Is that a simple matter for you or is it difficult to leave your person that vulnerable to God?  Be honest with yourself so you can be honest with God.

 

As you saw in Peter, consider if there are ways you are not open to intimacy with Jesus.

 

What do you learn from Peter's life about discipleship?

 

 


 

Anticipate:

 

Go back to the portion (set off by the asterisks) at the end of the section entitled "The Only Relationship That Works." Work through these issues with the Spirit as you anticipate experiencing more of what Christ saved you to.

 

 


 

Optional:

 

What Jesus fulfilled in the incarnation necessitates not only relational formulations of God's revelation and the meaning of the gospel, it may require their reformulation without the influence of our predispositions and biases. Relational formulations also demand ongoing intimate relational function which is the only practice having relational significance to the Father. Even after becoming a leader in the early church Peter had to learn this the hard way.

 

Change can be not only difficult but somewhat of an illusion. When Peter's theology was dramatically changed to no longer exclude the Gentiles (review Acts 10:9-16, 34-35), we would expect a major change in how Peter did relationships.  Yet, despite reformulating the gospel, this change didn't happen until Paul rebuked him later for his functional hypocrisy (Gal 2:11-14). The gospel is not about correct doctrine; the Good News is totally relational and can only be experienced in intimate relationship, both individually and corporately.

 

What are the implications of theology which does not change Christian practice in relationships?

 

Identify such gaps and discrepancies in evangelical theology, and also in your theology or belief system.

 

 

 

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