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Jesus into Paul

Embodying the Theology and Hermeneutic of the Whole Gospel

Chapter  5     The Primacy of Relationship

(Part 1)

and the Human Condition



The Primacy of the Secondary

The Human Condition

Its Issues of Self-Autonomy, Self-Determination, & Self-Justification

Self-Autonomy: Matthew 5:21-48

Self-Determination: Matthew 6:1-34

Self-Justification: Matthew 7:1-27

The Primacy of the Qualitative and the Relational

Ch 1

Ch 2

Ch 3

Ch 4

Ch 5

Ch 6

Ch 7

Ch 8

Ch 9

Ch 10

Ch 11

Ch 12

Ch 13

Ch 14

Printable pdf of entire study

Table of contents

Scripture Index



You are occupied and distracted by many things;

there is need of only one thing.


Luke 10:41-42



We need to deepen the question at the beginning of this study from Goethe’s Faust—what holds the world together in its innermost?—to address the more specific question: What holds the person(s) together in her/his/their innermost? The response to this question makes this the pivotal chapter of this study, in which our whole understanding of the breadth of the human condition needs to clearly emerge.

Attempts by modern science to answer this more specific question have shifted notably to neuroscience along evolutionary terms. And the insights gained from neuroscientists’ hypotheses and findings should not be ignored or dismissed. If anything, they likely challenge our theological anthropology and perhaps chasten, or even put to shame, our practice of faith. While their work does not provide hermeneutic correction for us, it does offer important secondary epistemological clarification about the human person that is helpful to further understand what is primary.

Two interrelated functions appearing to be integral to the human brain are remarkably qualitative (i.e. in terms of feelings) and social (about relationships). In his explanation of how consciousness (a mind with a self) develops, neuroscientist Antonio Damasio promotes the following:

Feelings are often ignored in accounts of consciousness. Can there be consciousness without feelings? No. …I hypothesized that feeling states are generated largely by brain-stem neural systems as a result of their particular design and position vis-à-vis the body.

Why should perceptual maps, which are neural and physical events, feel like anything at all? To attempt a layered answer, begin by focusing on the feeling state that I regard as simultaneous foundation of mind and self, namely, the primordial feelings that describe the state of the organism’s interior. …Feeling states first arise from the operation of a few brain-stem nuclei that are highly interconnected among themselves and that are the recipients of highly complex, integrated signals transmitted from the organism’s interior. In the process of using body signals to regulate life, the activity of the nuclei transforms those body signals. …In brief, in the complex interconnectivity of these brain-stem nuclei, one would find the beginning of an explanation for why feelings—in this case, primordial feelings—feel like something.

Another layer of the answer as to why perceptual maps of the body should feel like anything calls for evolutionary reasoning. If perceptual maps of the body are to be effective in leading an organism toward avoidance of pain and seeking of pleasure, they should not only feel like something, they actually ought to feel like something. …A related aspect of the answer points to the functional divide between pleasure and pain states, which are correlated, respectively, with optimal and smooth life-managing operations, in the case of pleasure, and impeded, problem-ridden life-managing operations, in the case of pain.

The neural design that enables qualia provides the brain with felt perceptions, a sense of pure experience. After a protagonist is added to the process, the experience is claimed by its newly minted owner, the self.[1]

In conjoint function with the qualitative, there is the relational that emerges for neuroscience to explain what it means to be human. Consider the social function of the brain in neuroscientist John Cacioppo’s research on loneliness:

To understand the full capacity of humans, one needs to appreciate not only the memory and computational power of the brain but its capacity for representing, understanding, and connecting with other individuals. That is, one needs to recognize that we have evolved a powerful, meaning-making social brain.

Our research suggests that “not lonely”—there is no better, more specific term for it—is also, like “not thirsty” or “not in pain,” very much part of the normal state. Health and well-being for a member of our species requires, among other things, being satisfied and secure in our bonds with other people, a condition of “not being lonely” that, for want of a better word, we call social connection.

It should not be surprising, then, that the sensory experience of social connection, deeply woven into who we are, helps regulate our physiological and emotional equilibrium. The social environment affects the neural and hormonal signals that govern our behavior, and our behavior, in turn, creates changes in the social environment that affect our neural and hormonal processes.

Because early humans were more likely to survive when they stuck together, evolution reinforced the preference for strong human bonds by selecting genes that support pleasure in company and produce feelings of unease when involuntarily alone. Moreover…evolution fashioned us not only to feel good when connected but to feel secure. The vitally important corollary is that evolution shaped us not only to feel bad in isolation, but to feel insecure, as in physically threatened.

Our brains and bodies are designed to function in aggregates, not in isolation. That is the essence of an obligatorily gregarious species. The attempt to function in denial of our need for others, whether that need is great or small in any given individual, violates our design specifications. …Social connection is a fundamental part of the human operating (and organizing) system itself.

Social neuroscience shows us not only that there is no magical boundary between mind and body, but that the boundaries we have always assumed to exist between ourselves and others are not nearly as fixed as we once imagined.

A great deal of what it means to be human, perhaps a great deal more than philosophy, religion, or even science realized until very recently, is to be social.[2]

The integration of mind and body by neuroscience, of course, is still from an outer-in framework; consequently its notion of the qualitative is determined by the limits of the quantitative. This is certainly insufficient to answer what holds together human persons in their innermost. Hans Küng is correct to critique the limits of neuroscience.[3] Yet these qualitative and relational aspects observed by neuroscience help draw attention, if not point us, to what is primary in holding together persons in the innermost. At this stage in human life, we, whether in the theological academy or the church, need any helpful support or assistance available, even if only secondary. And if neuroscientists make these observations of the evolutionary development of the human person, what are we doing with the unfolding of God’s words from the beginning? David Brooks, author of The Social Animal, a recent thought-provoking book about the human longing for contact and community, does not think we are doing much of any significance: “Philosophy and theology are telling us less than they used to. Scientists and researchers are leaping in where these disciplines atrophy—they’re all drilling down into an explanation of what man is.”[4]

We can and also need to be more specific: the qualitative and relational aspects necessary for whole ontology and function are neither sufficiently addressed nor deeply accounted for when addressed in theological and biblical studies. This suggests a status quo in theology and function above which we rarely rise, and thus from which we need to experience redemptive change (the old dying and the new rising). This also may raise a further question from some of those readers of such studies: On what basis then is the human condition defined and its resolution determined? This pivotal chapter addresses these questions and illuminates the whole of God’s response to them, notably in the theology and hermeneutic embodied by Jesus and Paul.


The Primacy of the Secondary

In human life and practice, the surrounding context (namely culture) commonly establishes the priorities of what is important. To the extent that our identity is shaped and our function is determined by these priorities, we can say that we are products of our context or times. In our period of human history in the global context, the priorities of this larger context are having a profound effect on the priorities of the local context—partially positive but mainly negative. The limited positive effect involves helping people to look beyond a provincial identity and function for connection in the global community—albeit an elusive connection, if not an illusory community. The negative impact has been the conflict or the reduction which global priorities have had on any qualitative and relational priorities in the local context, therefore increasingly shifting, embedding and enslaving persons in the secondary. And, as neuroscience would confirm, this development is taking its toll on the minds and bodies of those affected.

Interestingly, the globalizing dynamic could be a metaphor for Jesus’ actions during the incarnation, although with deeper implications and effects for the qualitative and relational. As discussed in part previously, Jesus had significant connections throughout his earthly life. One of his most significant connections was with a family that included Martha, Mary and Lazarus. The dynamic that unfolds in this intimate family context has some parallel to what is happening today, not only in the global and local contexts but also in family contexts.

The current period of globalization in human history is neither unprecedented as commonly perceived (cf. humanity in the beginning) nor sufficient enough to expect significant change as some propose (cf. the tower of Babel). Jesus connected this local family to the definitive larger context and deeper change necessary for human identity and function to become involved in the qualitative-relational whole, and therefore in what is primary and not merely secondary.

Their first interaction takes place because “Martha welcomed Jesus into her home” with his disciples during his later Judean ministry (Lk 10:38-42). The term for “welcomed him” (hypodechomai) denotes a distinct act of caring for them by Martha, which she apparently initiated; also, identifying it as “her home” is unusual when there is a male in the family. Her hospitable and kind action was no doubt well received by this likely tired and hungry group, and could easily have been the basis for significant fellowship. But fellowship is a context in which the function of relationship is critical. Martha certainly cannot be faulted for what she did (hospitality and serving Jesus), yet she needs to be critiqued for how she did those deeds, and thus the nature of her discipleship. The critical implication of the definitive context to which Jesus connected this family involves not just any kind of relationship.

For persons like Martha, thinking relationally is always more difficult when the surrounding context defines persons in fixed roles and confines them to the performance of those roles. The non-fluid nature of their sociocultural context made individuality outside those roles an aberration; consequently the norm not only constrained the person but also limited (intentionally or inadvertently) the level of involvement in relationships. These barriers made the function of relationship critical for Martha since she was a product of her times.

The person Martha presented to Jesus was based on her role and what she did, which she seemed to perform well. By defining herself in this way, she focused quite naturally on her main priority of all the hospitable work (diakonia) to be done, that is, her service or ministry (diakoneo, Lk 10:40). This work, on the one hand, was culturally hers to do while, on the other hand, was an opportunity for her to serve Jesus. Yet, defining her person by what she did and the role she had also determined what she paid attention to and ignored (from her perceptual-interpretive framework) in others, and thus how she did relationships with them. More specifically, Martha stayed within the limits of her role in relationship with Jesus, whom she related to based on his role, all as determined by her local context. In other words, Martha did not engage Jesus and connect with him in the quality of relationship made accessible to her from his larger context. This can be seen clearly in their second interaction when Lazarus died (Jn 11:1-40), to which we turn before continuing in their first interaction.

In this second interaction Martha quickly extends herself again to Jesus when her brother died (Jn 11:21); she appears not to lack in initiative. Her opening words to Jesus are exactly the same words (see Greek text) Mary would share with him in their encounter later: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (v.21, Mary in v.32). Yet, while expressing her discouragement and seemingly holding Jesus accountable, in the same breath she qualifies her words with an indirect statement: “But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him” (v.22). Whether she was suggesting or requesting that Jesus do something, her indirectness was probably true to cultural form by not asking Jesus (Master, Teacher) for a favor directly. Furthermore, Martha stayed within the limits (functional barriers) of relationship between men/rabbi and women. Her indirectness evokes from Jesus a simple yet personal response of what will happen: “Your brother will rise again” (v.23), implying his relational involvement with them. Since Jesus had already taught about the future resurrection from the dead (Jn 5:28-29; 6:39-40), Martha must have learned that earlier by making reference to it here (v.24). These words by Martha are what a good student would be expected to say. On the surface of Jesus’ response, he then seems to take her on a short theological exercise, yet he is really trying to make deeper relational connection with her at the vulnerable level of her heart—“believes in me,” the intimate relational work of trust (vv.25-26). Martha responds with a clear confession of faith (v.27) but without the intimate relational connection with the whole person of her faith, who is kept at a relational distance as she goes back to call Mary. Later, even her confession is called into question, as she is tested relationally by reductionism: the fact of the situation vs. the person of her faith (vv.39-40).

The priorities of Martha’s local context limited her identity to provincial terms from outer in and consequently constrained her person from being able to function from inner out and to engage Jesus accordingly. How Martha was defined by her sociocultural context also determined the function of her person, which predisposed her to Jesus and biased how she did relationship with him. As a product of human contextualization, she shaped the relationship together with Jesus. With this cultural-perceptual framework, she paid attention to Jesus primarily in his role as Lord and Teacher but overlooked his whole person in this interaction; she concentrated on serving Jesus but ignored being relationally involved with him, as evidenced in the first interaction. Consequently, she neither exercises her whole person from inner out nor experiences her whole person with Jesus in the primary function of relationship imperative for his followers, which Jesus later made paradigmatic (Jn 12:26). As a substitute for what is primary, Martha occupies herself in what is secondary—not necessarily unimportant (as hospitality and serving Jesus evidence) yet clearly secondary to what is primary.

This was the critique that Jesus had for how Martha functioned: “You are occupied and distracted by many things; there is need of only one” (Lk 10:41-42). Jesus refocused Martha on what is primary and redefined for her what is necessary, irreducibly and nonnegotiably. This obviously created conflict with the priorities of her cultural-perceptual framework. Jesus does not directly deny Martha her framework but shifts her to the deeper qualitative framework of his relational context from above to provide her with needed hermeneutic correction. Martha was embedded in the primacy of the secondary. Despite the work that needs to be done and the circumstances related to it, he basically tells Martha not to let that define her and determine their time together: “but only one thing is needed.” The term for “need” (chreia) means usage, act of using, employment, to signify that in which one is employed. Jesus is calling her to the primary priority (her vocation, as it were) in life: to his whole person in relationship together—not merely to occupy the same space as Jesus, nor merely to do what Jesus did (e.g. serve), but to ongoing relational involvement with him in intimate relationship. No greater priority can employ her life and practice, nor should any other priority determine how she functions. The primacy of relationship in whole relationship together is irreducible to any other human functions and nonnegotiable to any human terms.

The primacy of relationship is inseparable from discipleship as defined and determined by Jesus. This necessarily involves the call to be redefined from outer in to inner out, transformed from reductionism and made whole in relationship together. For Martha, who shaped relationship together as a hospitable servant of Jesus, this implied her need for redemptive change. Though she took a small step to connect initially with Jesus in their second interaction, she needed to be redeemed (set free) to be involved in the primacy of whole relationship together with Jesus as Mary was. Moreover, this included her relationship with Mary and seeing her person from inner out also. In their last time together at another dinner given in Jesus’ honor, Martha continued to stay in her traditional place among the women to serve, even though the dinner was not in her home (Mk 14:3; Jn 12:2). Whether she was still occupied by the secondary is not clear; but she did not complain about Mary not serving, who was involved further and deeper face to Face with Jesus in the primacy of relationship (Jn 12:3; Mk 14:6).

Mary was vulnerably involved in relational work (ergon), which should not be confused with occupation in “a good service” (Mk 14:6). In discipleship, when following Jesus is shaped by human terms, the line between the primacy of relationship and the primacy of the secondary becomes indistinguishable. In Jesus’ paradigm for serving, however, he is clearly definitive that the work of serving him (diakoneo) must by its nature emerge from and thereby be secondary to “follow me” (akoloutheo) in the primacy of face-to-Face relationship together (Jn 12:26). The subjunctive mood of diakoneo is contingent on the imperative of akoloutheo. Diakoneo is focused on the primacy of the work to be done (as in Martha’s diakoneo), which, however important the work may be (or perhaps perceived to be), is always secondary to the primary involvement of akoloutheo with the person in relationship (as in Mary’s akoloutheo). When Jesus unequivocally defined the “need for only one” priority, ongoing involvement in the relational work for the primacy of relationship became irreplaceable and nonnegotiable. All other work is secondary, and the (pre)occupation of anything less and any substitutes shifts the primacy to the secondary, even inadvertently and with good intentions as evident with Martha. These are the qualitative and relational aspects of the human person and function with which Jesus integrally impacts human contexts from his deeper relational context for the connection to the whole that holds together both the person and the world in their innermost.

The shift to the primacy of the secondary must further be understood in the underlying quest for certainty and/or the search for identity. This process engages a narrowing of the epistemic field to better grasp, explain and have certainty, for example, about what holds the person and world together in their innermost. Functionally, the process also necessitates reducing the qualitative-relational field of expectations from inner out (too demanding, vulnerable with uncertain results) to outer in for quantitative- referential terms that are easier to measure, perform and quantify the results of, for example, in the search for identity and finding one’s place in human contexts (including church and academy). In other words, the shift to the primacy of the secondary and its preoccupation are not without specific purpose that motivates persons even in the theological task and the practice of faith. Yet whatever certainty and identity result in secondary terms can only be incomplete, ambiguous or shallow. Jesus further critiqued this secondary certainty without the primacy in relationship (Jn 5:39,42) and the substitute identity without the qualitative depth of relational involvement (Mt 5:13-16; cf. 15:8-9).

After Paul’s own epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction, he further extended the ongoing fight against the primacy of the secondary and its counter-relational work in the church. This is evident notably in his Corinthians and Galatians letters. The shift from inner out to outer in, and the preoccupation with the secondary over the primacy of relationship together, can be summarized in Paul’s relational words: “So let no one boast about persons from outer in…so that none of you will be puffed up in favor of one against another. For who sees anything different in you from inner out? …But when they measure themselves from outer in by one another, and compare themselves accordingly with one another, they do not understand the whole [syniemi]” (1 Cor 3:21; 4:6-7; 2 Cor 10:12); “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for the primary; the only primary that counts is the relational work of faith working through distinguished love” (Gal 5:6).

The shift to the outer in and the secondary is always made at the expense of the qualitative and relational, as evident in Jesus’ and Paul’s critiques. Moreover, the qualitative and relational are interdependent and integral to the process to be whole, both for the person and persons together in relationship. The reduction or loss of either also results in the reduction or loss of the other. That is, they are inseparable. We cannot function in the qualitative from inner out apart from the involvement in the primacy of relationship; and we cannot be involved in the primacy of relationship without the function of the qualitative from inner out. The focus and occupation on the secondary are consequential for reducing, if not preventing, the primary by (1) the focus narrowed to referential terms of the quantitative having primacy over the qualitative and (2) the occupation reduced to functional terms of what essentially becomes counter-relational work. In addition, when the primacy is given to the secondary, there are certainly repercussions theologically and for the gospel, as further evidenced in the critiques of Jesus (e.g. Mk 7:5-8, 14-23) and of Paul (e.g. Gal 1:6; 3:1-5).

Of course, what Jesus and Paul embodied, the Face distinguished from the beginning, and continues to turn to us to bring the change from inner out necessary to constitute the new relationship together in wholeness. And the only alternative to God’s whole in the primacy of relationship is reductionism and its counter-relational work with its substitutes of the secondary and the human shaping of relationships—what otherwise needs to be understood as the human condition, that is, the human relational condition.



The Human Condition


Either too much is assumed about the human condition or too little discussion takes place about it. And not enough is said when discussion does focus on the human condition. Yet, the human condition is not as complex as frequently considered, nor can it be oversimplified (narrowed) down to sin as sin is commonly perceived.

If the gospel involves the fulfillment of God’s thematic relational response to the human condition, then in order to fully receive, wholly claim and completely proclaim the gospel, we need to understand the human condition. If we do not, or cannot, account for the human condition, what exactly is our good news and to what is it significant? Certainly, the human condition remains unchanged without the gospel; but the gospel is not good news without the human condition. God’s response is relationally specific so it cannot be generalized. What then is God responding to in his thematic action? Just as the gospel antecedes the incarnation, the whole of God’s relational response emerged from the beginning.

In the beginning God created the human person with an aspect of God to constitute the person from inner out (nepes, soul, spirit, mind, person, self, Gen 2:7). Nepes has a quantitative aspect in which God created all living creatures (Gen 1:30); there is a limited quality within this quantitative structure that neuroscientist Damasio identified in the evolutionary development of the organism’s interior (as noted above). Nepes, however, also has a deeper qualitative aspect created only in human persons constituting the image of God. The combination of both aspects should not be confused with an artificial dualism of quantitative-qualitative, material-immaterial, as in classic dualism from a Greek philosophical framework. Rather the inner (core) and outer (peripheral) conjointly constitute the integral person’s whole ontology and function from a Hebrew framework. Therefore, the person must not, by this created nature, be seen in fragmentary parts or the whole person is reduced, which is the inevitable consequence of an outer-in approach to define the person. Only the inner out distinguishes the whole person, while outer in is a fragmented person who is not whole, even with an aggregate of one’s parts.

In Hebrew terminology of the OT, the nepes that God implanted of the whole of God into the human person is signified in ongoing function by the heart (leb). The function of the qualitative heart is critical for the whole person and holding together the person in the innermost. The biblical proverbs speak of the heart in the following terms: identified as “the wellspring” (starting point, tasa’ot) of the ongoing function of the human person (Prov 4:23); using the analogy to a mirror, the heart also functions as what gives definition to the person (Prov 27:19); and, when not reduced or fragmented (“at peace,” i.e. wholeness), as giving life to “the body” (basar, referring to the outer aspect of the person, Prov 14:30, NIV), which describes the heart’s integrating function for the whole person (inner and outer together). Without the function of the heart, the whole person from inner out created by God is reduced to function from outer in, distant or separated from the heart. This functional condition was ongoingly critiqued by God and responded to for the inner-out change necessary to be whole (e.g. Gen 6:5-6; Dt 10:16; 30:6; 1 Sam 16:7; Isa 29:13; Jer 12:2; Eze 11:19; 18:31; 33:31; Joel 2:12-13).

The fragmentation of the person to outer in emerged from the beginning. In the primordial garden a critical dynamic took place that is insufficient to understand merely as the sin of disobedience. Along with being created as a whole person with a qualitative heart for integral function from inner out, the human person in the qualitative image of God was not created to be isolated, separated, alone from other persons, that is, to be apart from the whole of relationships together in likeness of the relational ontology of the whole of God—the condition of which God made conclusive “is not good, pleasant, beautiful, delightful, precious, correct, righteous” (all meanings of tob) for the person to be and function in (Gen 2:18). God responded at creation to create wholeness in human persons by the inseparable and integral function of the whole person from inner out in the qualitative image of God and of whole persons in the relationships together necessary to be whole in the relational likeness of God. Wholeness is the irreducible and nonnegotiable created ontology and function of both the qualitative and the relational. And anything less and any substitute for the human person and persons together are reductions of creation and contrary to God’s creative action, as well as in conflict with God’s relational response for the whole of persons. This condition is what unfolds in the primordial garden.

The critical dynamic underlying this condition for us to understand is less about what Satan does and involves what the persons do. In Eve’s perceptual field (with her brain engaged as well), the fruit she saw evoked feelings of delight and of desire for gaining knowledge and wisdom in referential terms (Gen 3:6). Whether she thought about the fruit prior to this is unknown, but she appeared to have been satisfied with God in relational terms. That is, God’s creative action from inner out was satisfying (“both naked and were not ashamed,” Gen 2:25) and God’s communicative action was not displeasing (“but God said,” 3:3). In relational terms, however, the feelings evoked by the fruit should also have evoked—what Cacioppo identified in the social brain—feelings of insecurity, perhaps even pain, about losing whole relationship together, both with God and Adam (“naked and not ashamed”). Why the feelings about the fruit had more influence than the feelings about the relationship is not just about the sin of disobedience but because Eve (in her perceptual-interpretive framework and lens) shifted in function from inner out to outer in, from the qualitative to the quantitative, from the relational to the referential, therefore from what is primary to secondary things (“good for food…a delight to the eyes…desired to make one wise”). What emerged is human effort for self-determination and the human shaping of relationships (“clothed and hidden”). What fully accounts for this shift and its resulting actions is the sin of reductionism: that which counters the whole in creation and conflicts with the whole of God.

The persons in the primordial garden redefined their theological anthropology and reduced their whole persons from inner out with the qualitative heart in the primacy of relationship in order to substitute an identity from outer in based on the secondary of what they have and do, and thereby reshape relationships. The consequence was the loss of wholeness in both the qualitative and the relational. In further understanding these critical dynamics, since their action to give priority to the secondary was made apart from the primacy of relationship, by implication the person (self) acted autonomously in the relationship based on one’s own terms. Of further significance then, having assumed an identity apart from the primacy of relationship necessitated being involved in the effort of self-determination. If they had functioned inner out focused on the primary, they would have engaged the above situation by the primacy of relationship. This would have avoided the fragmentation of wholeness in relationship created by their self-autonomy and made unnecessary their attempt to construct an identity in the human context by self-determination, efforts which necessarily involve their shaping of relationships. Their loss of whole relationship together was evidenced in the relational consequence: “the eyes of both were refocused to outer in and they knew that they were naked and they covered their person…I was afraid because I was naked and I hid myself” (Gen 3:7,10). These dynamics were extended further with the overlap of self-determination into the need for self-justification: “The woman whom you gave to be with me [in the primacy of relationship], she gave me fruit…I ate” (3:12). For the person to be defined from outer in and determined by what they have and do, always necessitates a comparative process with human distinctions of ‘better’ or ‘less’.

All these dynamics converge to define the human condition and its engagement in the sin of reductionism. We need to broaden and deepen our understanding of sin to fully account for the human condition in our midst, notably efforts of self-determination and the human shaping of relationships. If we think that the human condition is about sin but understand sin only in terms of conventional moral-ethical failure (e.g. disobedience in the garden), then we do not account for the loss of the qualitative and the relational in everyday human life (even in the church and academy) that God clearly distinguished in created ontology and function of human persons—that qualitative image and relational likeness distinguishing the whole of God. The relational consequence “to be apart” unfolding from the primordial garden is the human condition of the loss of the primacy of whole relationship together and its prevailing relational distance, separation, brokenness, and thus loneliness—which even threatens the integrity of the human brain (per Cacioppo) as further evidence that this condition “is not good, pleasant, beautiful, delightful, precious, correct, righteous for persons to be apart from whole relationship together.” How we tend to do relationship and what prevails in our relationships today are reductions of the primacy God created for whole relationships in his likeness; and the human shaping of relationships composes the human relational condition, which then is reflected, reinforced or sustained by any and all human shaping.

Furthermore, the whole person from inner out signified by the qualitative function of the heart needs renewed focus for understanding the human condition and needs to be restored in our theology and practice. We cannot avoid addressing the human heart (our own to start) and the feelings associated with it because the whole of human identity is rooted in it—along with the consciousness of self noted by Damasio—and the depths of the human condition is tied to it. If neuroscience can talk about feelings as integral to the human function, why doesn’t the theological academy discuss feelings as at the core of the human person? I suggest that part of the answer relates to our theological anthropology having redefined the person without the primacy of the qualitative and relational; but the main reason involves the human condition, that is, our intentional, unintentional or inadvertent engagement in the reductionism composing the human condition—notably in the self-determination preoccupied in the secondary (“good for...a delight to…desired to”) and in the shaping of relationships (“unexposed and distant”). Consciousness as a person necessarily involves feelings—even for the whole of God (e.g. Gen 6:6; Jn 11:33,35; Eph 4:30)—which Damasio defines as essential for the self but locates feelings only in brain function to integrate mind and body. We, however, can and need to go deeper to inner out for the qualitative function of the heart to distinguish the whole person. Jesus clearly declared that the heart is innermost of the person, who when not whole emerges in the fragmented function of reductionism (Mk 7:20-23).

Therefore, a turn from the heart in any context or function has an unavoidable consequence of the human condition. The qualitative loss signified in the human condition emerges when we become distant from our heart, constrained or detached from feelings, thereby insensitive or hardened—just as Jesus exposed (Mk 7:6; Jn 5:42) and Paul critiqued (Eph 4:17-19). This increasingly embeds human function in the outer in and reduces human ontology to ontological simulation. This is evidenced in the function of “hypocrites” (hypokrites, Mk 7:6). In referential terms, hypokrites and hypokrisis (hypocrisy, cf. Lk 12:1) are limited to pretension or falsehood, in acts to dissemble or deceive. In relational terms, the dynamic involves the person presented to others that is only from outer in and thus different from the whole person distinguished from inner out. Just as ancient Greek actors put on masks in a play, hypokrites engages in ontological simulation not necessarily with the intent to deceive but from what emerges by the nature of function from outer in. In other words, whatever the person presents to others, it is not whole and consequently cannot be counted on to be who and what the person is, which is not about the outer-in issue of deception but the inner-out issue of righteousness. This dynamic engages a pivotal issue involving the ontology of the person and its effect on relationships. The consequence of such function in relational terms is always a qualitative relational consequence which may not be apparent at the quantitative level from outer in. The outer-in simulation masking its qualitative relational consequence is exposed by Jesus notably in the relational act of worship: “This people honors me with their lips but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me” (Mk 7:6). Paul also later confronted Peter and exposed his outer-in simulation (hypokrisis) by the role-playing he engaged in focused on secondary matters, which even influenced Barnabas and others to function outer in (Gal 2:11-14).

The qualitative function of the heart is irreplaceable and inseparable from the primacy of whole relationship together. They are the irreducible and nonnegotiable outworking of the creation (both original and new), for whose wholeness they are integral—and therefore the keys for being whole which cannot be ignored or diminished. Anything less and any substitutes of the qualitative and the relational are reductions which signify the presence, influence and operation of the human condition. Any reductions or loss of the qualitative and relational renders the person and persons together in relationship to fragmentary terms of human shaping, the condition of which cannot be whole and consequently function in the “not good to be apart” from God’s whole—in spite of any aggregate determination made in referential terms. The reduction to human terms and shaping from outer in—signifying the human person assuming autonomy apart from the primacy of relationship—prevail in human life and pervade even in the church and the academy, notably in legitimated efforts of self-determination and self-justification (functionally, not theologically). The interrelated issues of self-autonomy, self-determination and self-justification are critical to understand in terms of the sin of reductionism if we are to pay attention to the human condition in our midst.

Its Issues of Self-Autonomy, Self-Determination and Self-Justification

Jesus provides the whole understanding definitive of these issues in the Sermon on the Mount as he places in juxtaposition the following: reductionism with wholeness, the outer in with the inner out, the fragmentary of referential terms with the whole of relational terms, thereby exposing reduced human ontology and function in contrast and conflict with whole ontology and function (Mt 5-7). And what emerges conclusively from his major discourse—his communicative message in the relational words of relational language, not referential—is the primacy of whole relationship together constituted in the whole of God and by the Whole of God in creation, which is integrally distinguished from the workings “to be apart” of the human condition that emerges in contrast and conflict by human shaping of relationships.

The search for the identity of the human person implies the need to have an identity in both the qualitative and the relational, even though this may not be the actual identity pursued. Apart from the qualitative and relational, identity formation is an ongoing process of shaping who the person is in human contexts. The implication of such an ongoing search is that the valid need for identity becomes redefined to a narrowed-down need to have certainty about the identity of who the person is rather than struggle with a fluid or relative identity in human contexts. Without the qualitative and relational, the certainty of an identity in human contexts by necessity requires an outer-in comparative process based on defining the person by what they do and have in reduced referential terms. The reduction of the person and persons together are necessary to have any certainty in who one is in that human context. Otherwise a person has no quantified means to measure their standing compared to others and if there is any assurance of belonging in that human context.

The further implication in this search for who the person is involves the deeper issue: Without the qualitative and relational, the formation of identity does not, and cannot, constitute what the person is, and is thus unable to know, understand, practice and experience what holds together the person and persons in relationship in their innermost. Nevertheless, that does not keep persons from trying to construct an identity in human contexts in search of who they are. Their search assumes self-autonomy (individually or collectively), and self-determination defines the basis of their attempts. The ongoing dynamic is the outworking of the human condition, as unfolded from the persons in the primordial garden in their autonomous attempt to construct an identity from outer in (“sewed leaves together and made loincloths”) as a substitute for their whole person from inner out (“both naked and not ashamed”). Even when a perceived level of certainty in a limited identity had been achieved, the narrowed-down identity markers only engaged their persons in ontological simulations and epistemological illusions—in other words, that which still reflects the presence of and determination by the human condition with its sin of reductionism. This is who and what Jesus makes definitive while exposing such simulation and illusion for the person and persons together.

The determination of self, meaning in life and wholeness in the innermost has been ongoingly the most consequential human practice ever since the first human persons took up the challenge in the primordial garden. This effort becomes even more problematic when it is a theological practice functioning in a religious context supposedly in relation to God. As noted above, when Jesus critiqued the outer-in function of religious practice, he directly challenged the assumptions and determining source of self, meaning and wholeness based on whose terms, God’s or human persons’ shaping of God’s terms (e.g. Mk 7:5,8,13). More importantly, he directly confronted the issue of who determines, functionally and not necessarily theologically, the terms for relationship with God.

When a lawyer made the volitional decision “to justify himself” (dikaioo, Lk 10:29), this exercised the functional choice “to demonstrate to be righteous.” Yet, merely to be defined as righteous is an issue of interpretation and meaning; to be righteous, on the other hand, cannot be self-determined or be measured by terms of human definition. This is critical to distinguish in order to understand the difference in actual function between God’s terms and our terms for relationship together. Failure to distinguish this difference leaves us susceptible to the influence of reductionism and its counter-relational work; “the measure we use will be the measure we get.” The subtlety of reductionism is evident both in the shift of prominence to the individual person and in the person’s effort to fulfill the responsibility to demonstrate one’s righteousness. The latter necessarily occurs in order to quantify some result, however secondary or virtual.

While Jesus said “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Mt 5:6), he clearly taught his disciples that their righteousness must “exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees” (perisseuo, to go beyond, Mt 5:20)—that is, must go beyond the reductionists who function from outer in (as in hypokrites discussed above). This issue of righteousness was addressed in whole by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount—his major discourse (in relational terms, not referential) with his disciples and his summary teachings (in relational language, not referential) for all his followers, the primer for discipleship (Mt 5-7)—in order to constitute our life and practice beyond reductionism, that which signifies the human condition even in a religious context and its practice of faith.

The pivotal section in his major relational message is Jesus’ declarative position on the Torah and the Prophets (Mt 5:17-20). Together with the Writings, they collectively constitute the communicative words of God in the OT, to which his coming (the embodying of the gospel) adhered and cohered. The Sermon on the Mount was framed in this larger context extended from the OT and, therefore, in the full context of God’s thematic relational action. Jesus’ purpose was not “to abolish” (katalyo, to dissolve, demolish, destroy) but “to fulfill” (pleroo, to complete) “until everything is accomplished” (ginomai, to be, comes into existence). Yet, what the incarnation adhered to and cohered with was not a list of demands of the law, nor a system of ethics and moral obligations. The law is God’s terms for covenant relationship together. What Jesus focused on was not merely the oral and written word of God but those words from God—that is, the communication from the mouth of God. And God’s communicative action is not merely informative in referential language but has distinguished authorial intention (as communicator/author) in relational language to which the incarnation adhered and cohered: namely, God’s thematic relational action to respond to the human relational condition “to be apart” from the primacy of God’s relational whole only on God’s relational terms.

Katalyo is an intensive action of lyo (to dissolve, break, destroy), which I will render simply as “to reduce” to better understand the whole of Jesus’ relational discourse. At issue here is the determination of righteousness and the reduction of God’s communicated intention, which the embodying of God’s communicative action in the incarnation clarifies, constitutes and makes whole. Jesus never engaged in reducing (katalyo) God’s communicative action, whether in the person he presented, by the quality of his own communicative action and with the level of his relational involvement. To the theological and functional contrary, by vulnerably embodying God’s communicative action of grace, Jesus relationally both extended and fulfilled God’s authorial intentions since creation. The whole of God’s thematic communicative action is purely for relationship in the qualitatively distinguished relational context and process of the Trinity, as Jesus vulnerably disclosed. The implication of reducing (lyo) any one of these words from God (5:19) is “to dissolve” (cf. “to nullify” in Mk 7:13) communication from God by human reinterpretation in referential terms; the consequence, therefore, is to disembody God’s Word down to a code of behavior, a tradition, doctrine, propositions, and so on, without the qualitative significance of the whole of God’s relational intentions.[5] For this critical reason, Jesus closed this pivotal section of his relational discourse with the theological and functional necessity for the righteousness of his followers to go beyond reductionism and the righteousness shaped or constructed by those still essentially determined (even unintentionally and inadvertently) by the human condition (5:20).

When Jesus definitively said our righteousness needs to go beyond the scribes and Pharisees, it is important for us to think in contrary terms, not comparative terms. That is, we have to think in terms of the qualitative from inner out that is distinguished from what is common function outer in—the significance of being holy. Their righteousness was a product of reductionism based on the comparative measurement of the quantitative indicators of what they did in their behavioral code (e.g. wash their hands compared to Jesus’ disciples’ unclean hands). While most Christians likely do not formulate or perceive of righteousness as an explicit product of reductionism, nevertheless they have a tendency to associate righteousness with certain behavior which essentially amounts to outer-in function. The presence or absence of that behavior becomes the dependent variable in the determination to be righteous. Contrary to this is the righteousness of God in which Jesus’ definitive relational message seeks to compose the righteousness of his followers.

Righteousness (Heb. sedaqah, Gk. dikaiosyne) is the innermost of what is just or of one who is just, righteous (Heb. sadaq, Gk. dikaios). Saddiyq (just, lawful, honest, right) signifies the innermost of what and who God is “in all his ways” or actions (Ps 145:17). Sadaq (to be right in a moral or forensic sense, be just, true) is essentially a legal term, which defines the laws of God (Ps 19:9). Yet, the laws of God cannot validly be separated from God’s qualitative ways and relational actions—that is, disembodied from the righteous God who authored those laws—and still have the qualitative-relational significance of God’s laws. Separated from its author in relational terms, though likely still identified in referential terms, the practice of the law becomes centered on what the individual does, not about the qualitative involvement (righteousness) with others in the primacy of relationship intended by God for its practice.

Being dikaios means to be congruent in actions to what and who one is in the innermost; yet, the actions are not in a vacuum and are only significant in relation to others. The Hebrew derivative of sadaq, sedaqah is a legal term used for relationships to stress that the parties involved should be faithful to the expectations of one another. To be dikaios has no theological meaning without being conjoined to this functional significance from the Hebrew. To diminish or ignore this functional involvement for the individual’s (collective or not) practice to be righteous becomes an ontological simulation of reductionism; to ascribe theological meaning to the individual’s practice without having this functional significance becomes an epistemological illusion of reductionism. This so-called righteousness is composed by the relative shaping of relationships that others cannot count on. Therefore, to be righteous always involves these actions which others can expect, and what can be counted on from the righteous to function in relationship, most notably with God.

“God is righteous” essentially means the whole of God is in complete congruity with what, who and how God is in relationship; and the experiential truth of God’s covenant is the ultimate functional expression of his righteousness in relationship in the human context. While righteousness is innermost of the ontology of what, who and how God is, righteousness is not a mere static attribute or quality of God but always a dynamic relational function. It is readily apparent that God acts on his covenant according to the relational dynamic of the righteous (or just) God in his ongoing involvement with his people; that is, they can count on God to function in congruence with what, who and how he is (cf. Ps 89:33-37). By the nature of being righteous, this is the only way God acts in relationship—nothing less and no substitutes. Also by the nature of being righteous, this ongoing relational involvement is the only way God functions in human context—the transcendent and holy God vulnerably present, wholly accessible and directly involved Face to face in the primacy of relationship. This provides the functional understanding of righteousness which is definitive for our righteousness. As Jesus’ summary relational message (teaching in relational language) will make evident, anything less or any substitutes are reductionism, the sin of reductionism signified in the human condition. In conflict with the human shaping of relationships, Jesus is pointing ahead to his functional key to define relationships by God’s righteousness (Mt 6:33).

While the righteous God and his covenant are conjoined, God is not the covenant—that is, disembodied in a covenant framework whom we can shape in our anthropomorphic likeness. Yet, the covenant is God—that is, the embodied relational promise authored by the righteous God which we cannot redefine on our terms; at the same time, this covenant is only a partial expression of what, who and how God is in toto. Likewise, though the righteous God and his laws are inseparable, relationship with God cannot be reduced to mere relationship with the law, which would disembody the law functionally apart from its author’s purpose for relationship together. Moreover, the law is not the covenant either; it is only the relational framework for the covenant defining God’s desires and terms for the primacy of relationship together. The law communicates God’s desires of how to be involved in the relationships for the covenant of love (cf. Dt 7:9). When we observe the law (or forms of it) in order to define us (as righteous) or to measure up (to God’s expectations for righteousness), we functionally fall into the outer-in function of legalism and thus make the law the covenant. This is reductionism, which effectively diminishes our ontology to fragmentary terms and constrains our function down to what we do; conversely, persons defined by what they do can inadvertently or by design use the law as a referential measure in the practice of their faith—consequently, practice reduced to the referential letter of the law. This approach to the law also fails to understand the relational process at the heart of the law for the relational purpose of the covenant: intimate relationship together with the whole of God, the primacy of which is the relational outcome to understand and know God (cf. Jer 9:24; Jn 17:3).

Whenever we inadvertently reduce the whole of God and disembody God’s thematic communicative action, all that remains are codes of behavior, standards of ethics, teachings of what to do, propositions of belief to sustain, examples to emulate, to which to conform for righteousness. These are quantitative substitutes in referential terms from reductionism in lieu of the qualitative difference of relational involvement with the whole of God, including displacing function in relational likeness of the Trinity. Though this may provide a measure of certainty for identity in narrowed-down terms, any results will be insufficient to be whole for the person and persons together. Jesus makes definitive the qualitative significance that involves the only process to get us beyond reductionism to the distinguished righteousness from inner out that functions in likeness to what, who and how God is in relationship.

Going beyond reductionism necessitates the shift in righteousness from merely displaying character traits (an issue of integrity) and practicing an ethic of right and wrong (an issue of being upright) to more deeply distinguish the qualitative involvement of what, who and how to be in the primacy of relationship—whole relationship both with God and with others. This is the significance of righteousness that is qualitatively and relationally distinguished from common function, and therefore is contrary to and goes beyond those who reduce righteousness, the law, the covenant, God and his communicative action to disembodied referential terms in outer-in function focused on the secondary.

Moreover, this righteousness of what, who and how we are in function is never realized by the individual person in isolation but only as an ongoing relational function both with God and with others in the human context. Thus this involves our identity as participants in a surrounding context while being defined and determined only by the deeper context in the primacy of relationship. This makes definitive the following: Righteousness is the process that makes functional our identity as Jesus’ followers; and identity formation is integrated with the process to be righteous, the extent and depth of which is constituted by God from inner out in the primacy of whole relationship together. In the definitive message of Jesus’ relational language, nothing less and no substitutes can be sufficient to exceed the righteousness of the reductionists, that is, to go beyond in contrary relational terms and not in comparative referential terms.

Human identity by its nature in the human condition lacks wholeness and therefore always functions in uncertainty; and its formation remains in ongoing variation in its elusive search. This underlying elusiveness and absence of wholeness should not be ignored or misperceived due to the presence of a prevailing collective identity with firm identity markers, that is, from outer-in function signifying ontological simulation. This also was Paul’s epistemological illusion prior to the Damascus road for which he received tamiym’s epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction; as a result he clearly understood the basis for his former identity as reductionism, which unmistakably signified “loss” (zemia) and “to be apart” from God’s whole (Phil 3:4-7).

In Jesus’ relational language, our identity serves to define the innermost of who and what we are, and from this primary identity we can present that person to others with the significance of our innermost, that is, when still defined in relational terms. Evidenced by the early disciples’ struggles with their identity—vacillating between who they were in the human context and what they were as Jesus’ followers—the formation of our primary identity is critical for following Jesus in relationship in order both to be qualitatively distinguished from prevailing function in the surrounding context and to clearly distinguish who, what and how we are with others in human contexts—just as distinguished by Jesus at the wedding in Cana (discussed in chap. 3).

Despite the identity conflicts and crises which seem to come with the territory of identity formation, Jesus targeted the two major issues making our identity problematic. These directly interrelate to the human condition and the search for identity in human contexts. The two major issues are often overlooked by a focus on familiar referential terms:

  1. The first issue is ambiguity in not presenting ourselves in our distinguished identity as “light” (5:14-15). Identity becomes ambiguous when what we present of ourselves is different from what and who we are in our innermost, as in the dynamic of hypokrisis. Or this ambiguity occurs when what we present is a variable mixture of two or more competing identities, as Peter struggled with at his footwashing. Light may vary in its intensity but there is no ambiguity about its presence. Identity is problematic when it does not have this distinguished function from inner out and clarity in relational involvement with others in the surrounding context (v.16; cf. Peter, Gal 2:14).
  2. The second issue is shallowness in our identity. This identity, for example, may have the correct appearance in our presentation but lacks the qualitative significance from inner out that distinguishes the innermost of who, what and how the person is—just like the salt without its substantive quality (v.13). This lack of depth is both an ontological issue and a functional issue. Salt is always salt; unlike dimming a light, salt cannot be reduced in its saline property and still be salt. Merely the correct appearance of an identity neither signifies the qualitative function nor constitutes the ontology of the person presented in the depth of wholeness; it never exceeds reductionism. Shallowness is guaranteed when we define ourselves by an outer-in approach as opposed to an inner-out process; subtle examples of this approach include defining ourselves merely by the roles we perform, the titles we have, even by the spiritual gifts we have and/or exercise.

In these metaphors of the light and the salt, Jesus was unequivocal about the identity of his followers: “You are…” (eimi, the verb of existence), and therefore all his followers are accountable to be (not merely to do) “the light of the world” and “the salt of the earth.” As a preservative in the ancient world, it is not clear what specific function the salt metaphor serves—perhaps as peace (cf. Mk 9:50). But as a seasoning (“its taste,” moraine, v.13, cf. Col 4:6), this metaphor better suggests simply the distinguished identity of Jesus’ followers which cannot be reduced and still be “salt,”; and, as further distinguished, an identity which cannot be uninvolved with others and still have the qualitative effect of the vulnerable presence of Jesus and illuminate the significance of his relational involvement as “light” (cf. 2 Cor 4:6; Eph 5:8). In relational terms this is not an optional identity, and perhaps not an identity of choice, but it is unmistakably the identity which comes with the primacy of whole relationship with Jesus and the qualitative function from inner out as his followers.

The clarity of the light and the depth of the salt are the relational outcome of this ongoing vulnerable relationship with the whole of God. Any identity formed while distant from this relationship (which happens even in church and academy) or in competition with the primacy of this relationship (which happens even in Christian subcultures) diminishes the primary identity of being the whole of God’s very own (as “the light,” cf. “children of light,” Eph 5:8) as well as deteriorates its qualitative substance (as “the salt,” cf. Col 4:6). Certainly, then, the qualitative presentation of the whole person to others is crucial to the identity of Jesus’ followers. This makes evident the importance of Jesus interrelating identity with righteousness in conjoint function. While identity defined the innermost of who, what and how we are, righteousness is the functional process that wholly practices what, who and how we are without ambiguity or shallowness. Identity and righteousness are conjoined to present a whole person in congruence (ontologically and functionally) to what, who and how that person is in the innermost—not only in Christ but in the whole of God, the Trinity. Righteousness is necessary so that his followers can be counted on to be those whole persons—nothing less and no substitutes without imposing their own shaping of relationships. And what is often practiced as Christian identity may not be congruent with the identity of his followers.

Christian identity without righteousness is problematic, rendered by Jesus as insignificant and useless (5:13). Yet, “righteousness” without wholeness of identity is equally problematic, which Jesus further made a necessity in its practice “before others” to go beyond reductionism (6:1). Righteousness without whole identity emerges often as an issue unknowingly or inadvertently by how “the light” and “the salt” are interpreted. “You are the salt…the light” tend to be perceived merely as referential missional statements from Jesus of what to do, or as ethics in referential terms of doing the right thing. While this so-called commission has certainly challenged many Christians historically to serve in missions, it has promoted practices and an identity which do not go beyond reductionism. By taking Jesus’ relational words out of the context of the qualitative whole of his major message in relational language, they fail to understand the significance of Jesus’ call to his followers—the extent and depth of which Jesus summarized in this indispensable communication to his followers and increasingly made evident in his whole ontology and function in human context.

In contrary relational terms, Jesus’ declarative statements about the clarity of the light and the depth of the salt are definitive for our identity. Yet, they are not a challenge about what to do in referential terms; such a challenge would not help us go beyond reductionism but further embed us in it. His conclusive statements of our identity are an ontological call about what and who to be. That is to say, the call assumes the human condition and the need to be redefined from inner out, transformed from reductionism, and made whole in the ontology of the person created in the qualitative image of the whole of God, therefore also as the call of whose we are. Conjointly, his definitive statements are a functional call about how to be, that is, called as whole persons to function together in the primacy of relationships necessary to be whole in relational likeness of the Trinity.

The ontology of the person is a key variable in understanding God’s terms disclosed in this relational discourse. The lens through which we perceive the person, thereby define human identity and determine human function, is ongoingly challenged or influenced by reductionism. This then urgently addresses our perceptual-interpretive framework and holds us accountable for two basic issues: one, how we define our person, and as a result, two, how we do relationships. God’s terms will have either more significance or less depending on our assumptions.

Jesus clearly defined the process of distinguished identity formation for his followers (Mt 5:3-12, to be discussed in chap. 8) and the identity issues of clarity and depth necessary to be qualitatively distinguished from the common’s function of reductionism, and to relationally distinguish who, what and how we are with others in the surrounding context (5:13-16). This necessitates by its nature (dei, not opheilo) the ontology of the whole person created from inner out in the qualitative image of God and those persons together in the primacy of whole relationship created in likeness of the relational ontology of the Trinity. Moreover, this is the theological anthropology which coheres with the light and emerges from the Light—it does not antecede it. This constitutes the relational compatibility and congruence necessary to function as whose we are, that which is necessary to go beyond the human shaping of the reductionists (5:17-20). Thus, the remaining sections of Jesus’ summary relational words (a primer for discipleship) for all his followers (5:21-7:27) make evident the function of this new identity conjoined with relational righteousness and the ontology of the whole.

In transition to the remaining sections, two common issues about the Sermon on the Mount need brief attention. If God’s terms for the whole of relationship together were disclosed by Jesus essentially for the future life in his heavenly kingdom, then present life and practice are negotiable or reducible to our terms. On the other hand, if God’s terms are only high ideals incapable for realistic life and practice, then these terms need to be renegotiated or reduced to terms shaped by our prevailing function in order to work in human contexts. Moreover, neither future-life interpretation allowing us to ignore his relational words nor high-ideals perception causing us to evade the Sermon on the Mount are correct or an acceptable perceptual-interpretive framework for Jesus’ summary relational message. When the Father made it imperative to “Listen to my Son,” he wants us to pay attention to every word communicated for the primacy of whole relationship together made clearly evident, vulnerably accessible and intimately functional ‘already’ with the embodied whole of the Word—whom Paul later defined theologically as the pleroma of God (Col 1:19) who constitutes the whole (pleroma) of his body, the church (Eph 1:23). Jesus’ relational terms necessary for whole ontology and function in the present, therefore, are nonnegotiable and irreducible; and these contrary terms able to go beyond the reductionists can only be understood in the incarnation principle of embodying of the whole: nothing less and no substitutes. This is the whole that Paul embodied further theologically and hermeneutically for the wholeness of the gospel and the church (e.g. Gal 6:15; Eph 2:14-15).

Additionally, along with his relational context and process, Jesus’ summary relational message (teaching in relational language) needs to be framed throughout his communicative discourse in the three major interrelated issues for all practice (discussed previously):

  1. the significance of the person presented to others, including
  2. the integrity and quality of this person’s communication to those persons, and
  3. the depth level of relationship this person engages with them.

As Jesus seeks to constitute his followers in relationships beyond reductionism to the whole of God, his contrary relational terms need to be understood as directly involving these interrelated issues—which directly also involves the above two basic issues of how we define ourselves and do relationships, and accordingly, of course, implies how we practice church. Unless these can be distinguished from what prevails in the surrounding context, the person’s ontology and function do not exceed the reductionism of human contexts, which signifies the presence and influence of the human condition.

This brings us to the existing reality integrally challenged in Jesus’ summary relational message. His relational words further cohere throughout with the progression and interaction of three critical concerns specific to the human condition: (1) self-autonomy, (2) self-determination, and (3) self-justification. It may seem incorrect to say that Jesus was definitively addressing something self-oriented in a non-individualistic setting. Yet, in this collective-oriented religio- and sociocultural context, self-autonomy was not the modern self-autonomy of individualism in the West but rather the self-autonomy of persons (individually or collectively) who determined function in relationships together and acted autonomously “to be apart” from the whole, that is, engaged in human shaping of relationships—for example, by the absence of significant involvement while in relationship together, or by merely keeping relational distance in those contexts (cf. Martha in relationship with Jesus). This pervasively happens in a collective context as well (even in churches in the East and global South), though due to ontological simulation and epistemological illusion it is less obvious than in the individualism of the modern West. The subtlety of self-autonomy (as an individual or a collective) involves the work of reductionism, which signifies its influence and its counter-relational work. With what Jesus placed in juxtaposition in his summary message, he disclosed the relational terms to be whole and thus ongoingly confronted human life and practice reducing the whole in each of these reductionist terms. In the process, he broadens and deepens our understanding of sin, and its functional implications and relational repercussions as evident in the human condition. Therefore, these three concerns evidence the general applicable character of the Sermon on the Mount in human contexts today and the need in particular for all his followers to respond to in the present to his summary relational message—or be found still within the righteousness-limits of the reductionists, yet to go beyond the narrowed-down ontology and function necessary to be whole and, therefore, yet to rise above the sin of reductionism in the human condition.


Self-Autonomy: Matthew 5:21-48

In this section, Jesus began to define specific qualitative-relational terms for the function of the new identity formed by the integral process of the beatitudes (see discussion in chap. 8)—the distinguished identity redefining the person from inner out and transforming persons to be whole. Since he already disclosed his complete compatibility (pleroo, i.e. to make whole) with the Torah (5:17-18), his focus remained on the law of the covenant with the issue being either essentially reducing (lyo) these commandments (entole) or acting on (poieo) them in their whole (5:19). This issue precipitated Jesus’ definitive relational statement to his followers about the nature of their new identity (that of righteousness, what and who they are in the innermost) determining how they function, thus acting on the relational righteousness necessary to go beyond the reductionists (5:20). This necessarily involved the interrelated issues outlined above.

The commandments (entole) Jesus focused on, however, was not a specific list of demands, code of behavior, system of obligations or rules of ethics—all denoted in referential language by the term entalma, a synonym for commandment—which signify the referential letter of the law. While entalma points directly to its content and stresses what to do, entole stresses the authority of what is commanded, that is, its qualitative relational significance. In other words, with the relational language of entole Jesus focused on the law beyond merely as the charter for the covenant, but he went further to the whole of God’s desires for covenant relationship together in love (cf. Ex 20:6, Dt 7:9) and deeper to God’s necessary terms for relationship together to be whole in likeness of the Trinity (signified by his emphasis on the Father). Jesus’ teaching engaged this communicative action, which cannot be understood without his relational language.

This is not to say that Jesus did away with the entalma of the law. Jewish ceremonial law, for example, served to maintain purity, and thus to have clear distinction as God’s people, if only in referential terms. Righteous life and practice serves a similar purpose more deeply in relational terms to be qualitatively distinguished from the common’s function and to be defined only by God as God’s—that is, what and who they are as well as whose they are. Yet, Jewish practice (post-exilic Judaism in particular) of the law often fell into ethnocentricism and national protectionism—maintaining the law symbolized this. They essentially reduced God’s terms for covenant relationship and making their collective self-determination an end in itself—that is, merely for themselves rather than as “the light to the nations” for the whole of God and the relationships necessary to be whole. This is how the practice of the law deteriorates when seen only as entalma in referential terms, and how it becomes embedded in the secondary over the primacy of relationship together.

When entalma is the dominant focus, the qualitative relational significance of the law is diminished by this misguided priority, creating an imbalanced emphasis on what to do that is focused on this behavior more than the persons receiving the supposedly-relational action. Consequently, the law’s purpose for relationship together is made secondary, ignored or even forgotten—pointing to concerns about self-autonomy, self-determination and self-justification. When the law is reduced, the primacy of this relationship is lost and consequently also its top priority. The practice of the law then becomes a code of behavior to adhere to (i.e. to its referential letter), not about the terms for involvement in the covenant relationship together God desires. Moreover, this signifies that the person presented in this practice has been redefined by an outer-in human ontology based on what one does; and this reduction of the person to outer in raises the issue of the integrity and quality of one’s communication, while at the same time reducing the level of relationship that person engaged, if at all.

Such reductions have relational consequences both with God and with others, the counter-relational implications of which Jesus contrasted with God’s terms to be whole and to make whole in the primacy of relationship together. This is the ongoing tension/conflict between reductionism (and its counter-relational work) and God’s whole (and the relationships necessary to be whole) that Jesus integrally addressed in his summary relational teaching by clearly setting in juxtaposition the following six examples of the law (or its tradition) with God’s desires. These six examples should not be seen separate from each other but seen together in order to avoid fragmenting Jesus’ integral message.

When Jesus juxtaposed God’s desires by declaring “But I say to you” (5:22,28,32,34,39,44), he clearly distinguished the whole meaning of the law and the prophets. The focus of entalma on the quantitative aspects of the law (the referential letter of the law) was a prevailing norm in his day. That practice, however, operated essentially as a system of constraints to prevent negative acts, without any responsibility for further action: “You shall not murder” (v.21), “You shall not commit adultery” (v.27). Based on the ontology of the person from outer in, which is defined primarily by what one does, this kind of system invariably focused on outward behavior as the main indicator of adherence to the law. No physical murder and adultery meant fulfilling those demands of the law, without consideration of the significance of that behavior. This opened the way for God’s law to be reduced and its function to be shaped by self-autonomy, self-determination or even self-justification. To formulate practice based on the referential letter of the law is to reduce the integrity of human ontology in the divine image and to redefine the significance of human identity in its innermost to a substitute constructed merely by the quantitative aspects of what we do. Furthermore, this self-definition also determined how others are perceived and how relationships are done, foremost with God. The referential letter of the law is the human shaping of relationship with God on our terms.

For Jesus, this was an inadequate human ontology and an insufficient response to God’s intent for the law. More specifically, God’s relational action (creative and communicative) was contrary to both. In contrast, Jesus disclosed the qualitative-relational significance of the whole law (the relational spirit of the law) for which to be responsible, therefore deepening the involvement necessary just on God’s terms. This must by its nature (dei, not opheilo) involve the conjoint function integrally of the following without fragmenting the terms or without selective observance:

  1. the ontology of the whole person from inner out, thus the words (vv.22,37), thoughts and feelings (v.28) as well as the overt behavior constitute a person’s actions; and
  2. based on this ontology of the whole, other persons also need to be defined and thus engaged in the primacy of relationships together to make and to be whole (vv.23-25,32,34-36,39-42,44-48).

By embodying involvement deeper into the relational spirit of the law, Jesus essentially restores the person and their relationships to their created ontology of God’s whole. Conjointly, the whole of the law restores the primacy of covenant relationship together and makes definitive its top priority in life and practice as the integral qualitative-relational function.

The whole law signifies nothing less than God’s desires and no substitutes of God’s terms for covenant relationship together. By its nature the law cannot be reduced either to merely avoiding the wrong behavior or to a code of merely the right thing to do, either to not making mistakes or to trying to be right—that is, reduced to mere ethics. Such action, even with good intentions, in contrast with relational terms becomes a form of legalistic function and its preoccupation is a measure of legalism, in spite of legitimation in referential terms. Such practice of the law invariably becomes narrowed down, even selective, in order to determine adherence; yet Paul later made clear that adherence to the referential letter of the law is an all-or-nothing proposition (Gal 3:10; 5:3). In contrast and also in conflict, God’s desires in the law are terms only for relationship together and how to be involved in its primacy; therefore, the law defines the positive relational action to live whole necessary to make relationships whole. Yet, even the specific relational prescriptions Jesus presented to these six examples should not be taken as an end-practice for ethics; they are only provisional steps in the relational process to wholeness. For example, merely clearing up something someone has against you is not the sum of reconciliation (5:23-24)—nor all that peace involves—yet is a provisional step to the irreducible end to be whole. When Christian ethics, including peacemaking, stops at provisional steps, its practice will not function to be whole and make whole but only serves as a reductionist substitute, an ontological simulation and an epistemological illusion—which then may end up only reflecting, reinforcing or sustaining the human shaping of relationships in the human condition.

Jesus clearly countered the underlying concern of the reductionists about doing the “right” thing by the referential letter (or avoiding doing the wrong thing), which did not serve to lead them to this positive relational action. While refraining from negative behavior certainly has some value, the absence of positive relational action is of greater importance to God—evidencing the deeper significance of God’s design and purpose for those relational terms involving murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, an eye for an eye, and love for enemies. As the counterpart to any form of legalistic function, even moralism is not the righteousness God expects and Jesus composes in his followers. Moralists and legalists are misguided in thinking that such conformity is congruent with, and even compatible to, God’s desires and who, what and how God is. Conversely, we should not be thinking in the limits of mere conformity to God’s terms, which would tend to become merely about doing the right thing and trying to live up to those expectations—autonomous efforts signifying self-determination.

On the other hand, since the law signifies God’s terms for relationship together, this certainly makes the practice of God’s law the function only of our whole person from inner out, thus making practice vulnerable (vv.44,46-47), threatening (vv.39-42), if not even demanding (vv.29-30) for us in the primacy of relationship. Also, undoubtedly, the practice of the relational spirit of the law is most inconvenient to much of what prevails in modern social relations. Yet, the further responsibility of God’s desires in the whole of the law is not given to burden or constrain human persons. It was disclosed only for relationships together to be whole; and the juxtaposition of these various relational terms having deeper responsibility signify the positive relational opportunities to grow in the distinguished identity of our whole person to make relationships together whole. The interrelated focus and conjoint function between the whole person from inner out and the primacy of whole relationships together always emerges in the whole of Jesus’ relational words and action because they embody the essential relational ontology of who, what and how the triune God is in the innermost. In his summary teaching distinguished in relational language, Jesus is giving us understanding of the heart of God’s desires for human persons and the integrating purpose for God’s qualitative relational terms indispensable for his followers together. As we reflect on these six examples together juxtaposed in this section, they clearly disclose the loving purpose God has in the primacy of relationship: Not just for any relationship but to be distinguished in the qualitative significance of relational belonging in the relationships together as the whole of God’s family—“so that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (5:45).

Without the whole (relational spirit) of the law, we have no understanding of God’s law in its innermost and consequently of God’s thematic intent for the law in relational response to the human condition “to be apart” from God’s whole. Without the whole of the law, Christian ethics has no integral basis to compose the qualitative integrity and relational significance necessary to be compelling for even the various shaping of Christian life and practice, much less for all shaping of human life and practice in the human condition. In his summary relational teaching, Jesus juxtaposes the relational spirit of the law to the law’s interpretive framework to distinguish it from any application of the referential letter of the law. Yet, Jesus disclosed that this forensic interpretive framework is constituted further in the qualitative relational context and deeper by the intimate relational process of the whole of God. This signifies the relational language by which his teaching needs to be received in order to be understood, and constitutes how it must by its nature (dei) be responded to in order to be experienced.

The relational dynamic underlying the relational spirit of the law goes beyond merely a greater flexibility (than legalism) and application (than moralism) of God’s law. Its whole function is to lead persons into involvement in the primacy of relationships with others—namely, to care for and to love persons not merely in their situations and circumstances but foremost in relationship together for wholeness. Jesus is taking us to a further and deeper level of relationships in the innermost, beyond our prevailing ways of doing relationships that have been shaped even by the church and academy. With the relational spirit of the law, he illuminated in the following relational terms: (1) what it means to love, (2) the intimate relational process of love, and (3) the integrity and dignity of the persons involved in this process. This necessitates the inner-out human ontology signified conjointly by the importance of the heart and the primacy of relationships in which hearts open and vulnerably engage others for relationship together. This practice is qualitatively distinguished from the referential letter of the law. The relational spirit of the law defines and determines the relational involvement necessary to be whole in the whole of God, with the whole of God and for the whole of God.

The function of this human ontology and its qualitative relational process, however, are ongoingly challenged by reductionism and its counter-relational work. Each of the six examples represents a situation or circumstance which can have the following effect: either to redefine our person and let those limits determine how we function in that relationship; or, instead, to be an opportunity to grow in being our whole person and function in that relationship to live whole and make whole. The former effect involves a contrary dynamic. For these situations and circumstances to redefine who and what we are, and to determine how we function, implies that we react from outer in to other persons in these contexts essentially out of a concern for self and our autonomy. We are reduced to merely reactors by pursuits in self-autonomy, hence ironically indicating an absence of freedom, rather than being free to function as respondors by the relational involvement of love for the sake of God’s whole.

This self-autonomy emerges in the priority or dominance given progressively to what Jesus exposes: (1) self-interests, for example, signified in acting on anger or sexual desires (involving issues of how the person is defined and relationships are done); (2) self-concerns, for example, signified by unwarranted divorce (overlapping in self-interest), or depending on oaths for validation (involving issues of the significance of the person presented, integrity of one’s communication and level of relationship engaged); and (3) self-centeredness, for example, signified by seeking restitution/revenge (overlapping with self-concern), or keeping relational distance with those who contest you, are different than you, or are simply not in your social network (involving issues of how the person is defined and level of relationship engaged). The concern for self-autonomy certainly overlaps into self-determination and interacts with the major and basic issues outlined above. The underlying dynamic of this self-orienting process engages in counter-relational work, which Paul also identified for the church’s wholeness (Gal 5:13-14).

Each of these six expressions of self-autonomy can find some justification, yet at the expense of reducing human ontology and reinforcing reductionism’s counter-relational work “to be apart” from the whole of relationships together as a result of one’s own shaping of relationships together. The persons involved are reduced to less than whole persons from inner out, and relationships shift to outer in to become fragmentary and self-oriented instead of whole relationships together—even in a collective context. This is the contrary dynamic Jesus confronted by juxtaposing the qualitative relational significance of the whole of God’s terms necessary for relationships together to be whole, and to be made whole as needed. In the process, he deepens our understanding of sin by introducing us to the functional workings of the sin of reductionism. His summary relational teaching exposes the sin of countering (knowingly or inadvertently) God’s desires, as well as God’s created relational design and purpose, by reducing one’s own person and then reducing other persons to reinforce the human relational condition “to be apart.” By the juxtaposition of these practices of the law, Jesus conclusively expands our understanding of the human condition: Though the human condition in function clearly exists outside ‘the rule of law’, it also can and still does operate in the practice of the rule of law—which then includes and has critical application to ‘the rule of faith’. This dynamic is exposed by Jesus as he opened our understanding further and deeper to the sin of reductionism and its counter-relational work. And by the nature of its reductionist function, this includes anything less and any substitutes of the qualitative whole and the primacy of relationship innermost both to the whole of God and human persons created in his qualitative image and relational likeness.

The relational terms Jesus made definitive in this discipleship primer restores this fragmentation to wholeness, therefore clearly functions for his followers as the definitive call to be whole. Even his apparent severe injunction in 5:29-30 serves this purpose. This is not a mere injunction to prevent sexual sin, consequently not about self-mutilation—which in effect would be reductionism. (Remember, Jesus used relational language in his teaching.) This action was about decisively not letting one part of our body or human make-up—not about “eliminating” its function—to redefine and determine our whole person (cf. 1 Sam 11:2, dishonor persons), and likewise not looking at other persons in only certain parts of their body or make-up as a consequence of fragmenting their person by defining them by what they have. His strong prescription paradoxically is about restoring such fragmentation to be whole and to engage others to live whole—involving the issue of the depth level of relationship engaged based on the issue of how the person is defined.

The only alternative to function in anything less or any substitute of our whole person and of others in the primacy of whole relationship together, is to function in nothing less and no substitute of who, what and how we are in our innermost with the new identity formed through the beatitudes in relational involvement with Jesus as his followers together. Following Jesus in his relational context and process involves us in the relational progression to his Father for the innermost belonging in relationship together as the whole of God’s family, with the relational outcome of constituting us as his very own daughters and sons by the redemptive process of adoption (as discussed previously). The function of this distinguished relationship together in this new identity is only on the whole of God’s terms Jesus made definitive in his summary teaching. Therefore, these relational terms for qualitative function are irreducible to any alternative or substitute from human terms—notably to human ontology and relationships together—and are nonnegotiable for the varied efforts of self-autonomy, self-determination and self-justification. Later, Paul will further our understanding of adoption and deepen the experience of relational belonging in the primacy of whole relationship together as God’s church family, whose ontology and function illuminate the relationship needed for the human condition in its innermost.

To provide clarity and depth of function for this new identity on God’s terms, Jesus concluded this section with the functional key (the first of three for the entire discourse) to which the six examples converge and to which the distinguished identity of his followers coheres.


First Functional Key: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (5:48).

Jesus directed this to those who have been adopted by his Father into God’s family. Moments earlier he said essentially “Love others (even those against you) to be the whole of your distinguished identity, that you may begin to function (ginomai, begin to be) as the sons and daughters of your Father in heaven” (5:44-45a). It was a recognized responsibility in the ancient Mediterranean world for adopted children to represent their new father and to extend his name. In contrast to mere obligatory terms, Jesus defined this responsibility in relational terms and qualified it essentially with this key: “You are to be involved with others as your heavenly Father is involved with others, notably with you.” This is the relational significance of agape in distinguished love, which Jesus embodied to fulfill God’s thematic relational action to make us whole in relationship together. Now he calls his followers to embody this love in the primacy of relationships together to be the whole of God’s family and to make whole for God’s family—to embody, however, not merely as his followers but further and deeper as their Father’s very own sons and daughters. The seventh beatitude (5:9) coheres with this key to give depth of meaning to the making of peace (wholeness).

Once again, Jesus’ emphasis here is not on what to do but on how to be involved with others in the primacy of relationship. Yet, certainly, we cannot be involved with others to the extent in quantity or quality as God is involved. To function in comparative terms was not what Jesus stressed in this key. Quantity, like ethical or moral quantity, is not the goal of “be perfect.” The notion of perfect is often rendered in only referential terms which narrow the focus to aspects of what we do, which then is measured on the basis more likely of what we do not do. Moreover, to perceive ‘perfect’ from a lens influenced by classical theism—and its perfect God defined by negative theology (what God is not)—reinforces the emphasis on what we do not do and, more importantly, is simply a reductionist view of God unable to distinguish the transcendent God’s ontology vulnerably present and involved. The consequence also is immeasurable for the ontology of human persons. To be whole (perfect), and wholeness, defines the vulnerably disclosed ontology and function of the triune God, which necessarily defines and determines human ontology and function created in the image and likeness of the whole of God. Without God’s whole ontology and function, the human person and persons together have no understanding of what constitutes them and holds them together in the innermost, consequently can only be rendered to reduced ontology and function. This critical difference in ontology and function emerges clearly from their juxtaposition in Jesus’ summary teaching in relational terms. Thus, in his first functional key Jesus’ relational language is focused on involvement with others by “how” (hos, as) God is involved only in terms of the primacy of relationship. This is not an unrealistic ideal since God created us “to be” (eimi, verb of existence) in the qualitative image and relational likeness of the Trinity, to which the identity as the light points. While “perfect” in referential terms can never be the outcome of what we do and how we do it, “perfect” (teleios, describing persons who have reached their purpose, telos, thus are full-grown, mature, i.e. whole) in relational terms can indeed “be” (eimi) the growing function (ginomai in v.45) of who, what and how we are in the innermost as the very daughters and sons of the whole of God’s family.

Therefore, the first functional key becomes the distinguished emergence of whole ontology and function: “Live to be (eimi) whole and then make whole as your Father is whole in the Trinity and is vulnerably present and intimately involved to make us whole in relationship together as his family.”

Jesus does not want his followers “to become” reduced to mere reactors to this or that situation or circumstance and to these or those persons; that would be counter-relational work. He calls us “to be” persons who live in the primacy of relationships to be whole and function to make relationships whole, hence free to be respondors in love to the human relational condition. His call and its function are ongoingly challenged to be redefined and determined by reductionism, notably with subtle self-autonomy apart from God’s terms. This first functional key begins to form the integral basis necessary for the process of triangulation (cf. navigation) in relational congruence with the triangulation Jesus used with his Father to engage the surrounding contexts and relationships with persons in those contexts without being redefined or determined by reductionism. Just as it was for Jesus, the main aspect of this triangulation process is ongoing intimate involvement in relationship together with our Father and the whole of God for the determination needed to be involved in the human context and relationally respond to the human condition as our heavenly Father functions.

The primacy of relational involvement with our Father is the guiding point of reference for the function of our primary identity in the surrounding contexts and in relationships with persons in those contexts, including in his kingdom-family. Furthermore, this involvement is the dynamic necessary for Jesus’ followers to embody the reciprocating contextualization to clearly both be whole and make whole without being co-opted by human contextualization. In the next section, Jesus takes this relational process even further and deeper.

Self-Determination: Matthew 6:1-34

Besides our perceptual-interpretive framework and our operating human ontology of the person presented, other issues which interact with this part of his teaching are the convergence of how we define our person and do relationships, thus the integrity and quality of our communication and the level of relationship engaged. And the overriding issue throughout this section of his summary teaching is the concern for self-determination. What follows in this section is a progression from self-autonomy in the previous section (Mt 5:21-48) because self-determination is always in ongoing interaction with self-autonomy and coheres with that section’s teaching.

In this discipleship primer, frequently preempted by assumptions about the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus constitutes his followers in the relational righteousness that by its nature functions beyond reductionism. Relational righteousness is the process to ensure that our identity as his followers functions unambiguously in ongoing life and practice both with God and others in human contexts. It is crucial for our identity to be in conjoint function with relational righteousness in order to present whole persons in congruence with the innermost of our whole identity, therefore as those who can be counted on to be those whole persons in relationships—whether with God or with others, in his kingdom-family or in the surrounding context, with nothing less and no substitutes. The identity of God’s people without righteousness is problematic and righteousness without wholeness of identity is equally problematic (cf. 5:20), which Jesus makes evident in this section. This addresses deeply two of the major issues for all practice: the significance of the person we present to others and the integrity and quality of our communication.

Jesus began this section immediately focused on righteousness with the relational imperative to his followers essentially to “Pay attention to (prosecho) how your righteousness functions” (6:1). Righteousness is neither a static attribute nor a function in a vacuum, so Jesus is not pointing to mere introspection. As noted earlier, the significance of righteousness is not isolated to the individual but only as it affects relationships in some way. In what way it does directly depends on the person presented. All relationships are affected by the specific presentation each participant makes, thus the quality of any relationship is contingent on the accuracy of that presentation. This is where righteousness needs to have congruence with who and what a person is in the innermost, or else others cannot have confidence in what to expect or count on from that person. His followers’ identity without righteousness is acutely problematic, rendered by Jesus earlier in his relational message as insignificant or useless (as salt, 5:13).

God’s righteousness in relational terms is completely essential for our confidence in how the whole of God (not merely some part of God) will be in relationship together, which negative theology in referential terms is unable to provide. This makes evident that righteousness without wholeness of identity is also questionable, doubtful or even suspicious (as Paul exposed, 2 Cor 11:15), which in this section Jesus makes their integration imperative for his followers to go beyond reductionism. In other words, a partial or inaccurate presentation, or semblance of the person are insufficient to establish confidence and generate trust in relationships at a significant level. The whole of the person from inner out is needed, which is the integral function of relational righteousness. The incarnation made evident God’s righteousness since Jesus presented the embodied whole of God’s vulnerable presence and relational involvement with others in nothing less and no substitutes—the significance, quality and depth of which can be known and understood only in whole relational terms, not fragmentary referential terms. How we present our person to others involves this issue of wholeness and the inseparable function of righteousness, thus what others can expect and count on from us—including what God expects (cf. Jn 4:23-24).

How we function in the whole of who and what we are emerges from the significance of the person we present. In this section of his summary relational teaching, Jesus continued to expose the workings of reductionism and disclosed the deeper process of relational righteousness, specifically in direct relationship with God. Paying attention to how our righteousness functions involves examining not only the person presented, but also further involves understanding our perceptual-interpretive framework and the human ontology by which we live and practice our faith.

To make definitive what God expects in relationship together, Jesus focused specifically on three important areas of religious practice and prevailing methods of enacting them: giving to the needy (6:2-4), prayer (6:5-15), and fasting (6:16-18). In each of these relational contexts, Jesus juxtaposed relationship with “your Father” (with the emphasis on your Father, not merely the Father, 6:1,4,6,8,14,15,18) with his conflict with prevailing methods signified by the term hypokrites (6:2,5,16). I prefer not to use its English rendering (hypocrite) because of its limited connotation and its associated stereotype incorrectly imposed on all of Judaism. Jesus broadens our understanding of this term and takes us deeper into the process behind it. This is crucial to understand since it not only involved a prevailing norm in his day, it also involves a prominent mindset and practice today. While sincerity is an issue of hypokrites, it is not the main issue. The primary issue involves the function of the whole person verses the enactment of a reduced version of the person in reduced life and practice (cf. the inner-out change of metamorphoo distinguished from the outer-in change of metaschematizo).

As noted previously, hypokrites involved playing a role or taking on an identity different than one’s whole self. Just like an actor, this presentation of a person was made to a crowd, an audience, observers, that is, before others with interest, or anyone who took notice. When Jesus focused on righteousness, he was specific about “paying attention that you do not live your righteousness before others to be seen” (6:1, emphasis added). The term for “to be seen” (theaomai) denotes to view attentively, deliberately observing an object to perceive its detail. In other words, this is a presentation intended to be observed and noticed by others. Moreover, theaomai (related to theoreo) involves more than merely seeing (as in blepo, to be discussed shortly); the observer regards the object with a sense of wonderment (maybe even imagination) in order to perceive it in detail. This implies that there is a certain effect, image, even illusion, that the “actor” seeks to establish about one’s presentation of self, which will result in a response “to be honored” by observers, and ultimately by God (6:2). The term doxazo, from doxa (glory), means to recognize, honor, praise. Whether performed overtly (as Jesus exposed) or enacted simply in performing a role of service (as commonly seen in Christian ministries), this dynamic points to the self-determination motivating the act. Intentionally or unknowingly, this is what they seek and, on this basis, this is all they will experience, as Jesus said unequivocally: “they have received their reward in full” (6:2,5,16) with “no reward from your Father” (6:1). When we factor in also how the person is defined, how relationships are done and the level of relationship engaged, what emerges from this reduced ontology and function merely reflects, reinforces and sustains the human condition. This should raise questions about our faith-practice and the need to challenge our theological assumptions, even for the gospel.

This reduced practice was addressed further when Jesus exposed such efforts “to be seen” in prayer (6:5) and “to show” others their acts of fasting (v.16). The same term (phaino) is used for both, which denotes to appear, be conspicuous, become visible—that is, essentially to be recognized by others for one’s presentation of self (e.g. in eloquent or verbose prayers), and, of course, ultimately be recognized by God. Both of these acts were accentuated to elevate (v.7) or dramatize (v.16) the effects for greater attention, and accordingly greater recognition and honor. Whether elevated, dramatized or performed simply in religious duty, the effort for self-determination underlying these acts is clearly evident; and for some persons, this effort also overlaps into self-justification. This process unfolds even unknowingly for persons, yet there is always an intentional element present since we are responsible for our course of action.

While the term phaino comes from phos (light), there is no clarity of light in this reduced practice, even if punctuated with correct doctrine or accentuated with the right ethic and spiritual discipline. The identity of light in this presentation of the person is ambiguous at best, and mainly just reduced to outer simulation and inner illusion. In the absence of relational righteousness, there is no basis for wholeness of the person presented or of the integrity and quality of the person’s communication. This is how we need to understand hypokrites and perceive its operation today—not so much as a blatant lie or subversion of the truth but as the outer-in substitute (sometimes even enacted unknowingly) for the whole person from inner out, and thus for the relational function of one’s whole identity with others, notably with God. When the pursuit of recognition and affirmation is left to self-determination, it invariably becomes reduced to being seen by others and how others perceive what one does, consequently easily compromising the whole presentation of self ‘to be seen in a better light’ in narrowed-down comparative terms.

This is the purpose for Jesus making imperative the ongoing need to pay attention to how our righteousness functions. It has direct relational implications for determining the level of relationship we engage. In highlighting these three important areas of religious practice, his concern is foremost our relationship with our Father and the level of relationship we engage with him. The major implication of merely performing roles in Christian duty is the significance of the specific relational messages we communicate to God implied in such practice: first, about how we see ourselves—with an outer-in human ontology and the responsibility for fulfilling obligations by self-determination; next, about how we see God—that God is similar to us, and thus sees us as we see ourselves, holding us accountable to fulfill our obligations by self-determination; and then about our relationship together—it functions neither on the basis of God’s relational grace nor on the intimate relational involvement of agape (distinguished love), which would be on God’s relational terms, but rather it functions on the basis of obligation (opheilo) and fulfilling those expectations (from entalma, not entole), thereby the preoccupation with what we do, reducing the relationship to our terms. There are assumptions about God made in these relational messages for which we have no basis and therefore no right to make—assumptions which Jesus corrected both theologically and hermeneutically with the relational truth of the Father (discussed below).

These are pivotal relational messages implied in such practice constituted by self-determination. Their significance reflects a perceptual-interpretive framework focused on the secondary over the primacy of relationship, and an outer-in ontology of the person which reduce life and practice to quantitative (over qualitative) function embedded in reductionism and its counter-relational work. How self-determination emerges in this process that reduces life and practice to quantitative function in narrowed-down referential terms involves a two-fold dynamic: (1) it reduces function and practice to what a person can both control (overlapping with self-autonomy) and thereby manage to accomplish for success in determining one’s self, identity and worth (in contrast, qualitative function necessitates more from the whole person); and yet (2), this cannot be determined in a spiritual vacuum or in social isolation, but by necessity of its quantitative approach in referential terms can only be determined in comparison (and competition) with others, consequently requiring the use of quantitative indicators to ascribe “better” or “less” to self-definition, identity and worth, and to establish higher and lower positions in stratified relationships (overlapping with self-justification, cf. 7:1-5, discussed in the next section). Paul also identified this dynamic in the epistemic process of acquiring knowledge and exposed the use of knowledge for self-determination (1 Cor 8:1-2). This reductionist focus becomes the preoccupation (even compulsion or obsession) in practice with the relational consequence implied in the above relational messages; and ethical and moral practice alone does not address this.

In contrast and conflict, Jesus disclosed the intimate relational messages from his Father, both in these three areas of religious practice and the rest of this section. He made eleven references to “your Father” (6:1,4,6,8,14,15,18,26,32), which are vital relational messages communicating how our Father feels toward us and defines the nature of our relationship with him. In conflict with self-determined pursuit of recognition and validation, Jesus embodied God’s relational work of grace, and with the relational language in his teaching he communicated the holy and transcendent God’s vulnerable presence and intimate involvement. From the midst of this apparent litany of prescriptions and injunctions emerged his relational message clearly divulging the intimate involvement and response of our heavenly Father. Contrary to the reductionist effort to be seen, he fully disclosed that “your Father sees” (6:4,6,18). The term for “sees” (blepo) is the most basic of a word-group having to do with sight and observation; others include horao, theoreo and theaomai discussed earlier. Blepo simply denotes exercising one’s capacity of sight, to look at with interest, to be distinctly aware of—suggesting an intentional or deliberate act (cf. 5:28, the implication of blepo as a relational act). The significance of his disclosure that your Father simply blepo is vital to what Jesus taught about these practices.

Jesus did not compartmentalize various acts (like giving to the needy) to different areas of function, thereby fragmenting the person (“…do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,” 6:3). Nor, in this, was he suggesting to be subconscious in practice (“so that your giving may be in secret,” v.4); rather he was directly addressing the issue of practice becoming self-conscious, that is, self-oriented (for recognition) instead of giving self in relational involvement with the person(s) receiving. Jesus rendered such self-conscious practice unfulfilling and unnecessary. Likewise for praying (6:6-7) and fasting (6:17-18), Jesus was not suggesting these practices be inconspicuous, nor inward or detached. These are relational acts of involvement for relationship together—namely, prayer as a means for greater intimacy with God, and fasting as a means of submission to God for deeper relationship. And Jesus targeted the qualitative function (from inner out with the heart) of the whole person in intimate relational involvement together with our Father, nothing less and no substitutes.

In his distinguished relational message Jesus disclosed the experiential truth for relationship together: our Father blepo us because he is relationally involved with us; and such giving of our whole person to others (in service) and to God (in prayer and fasting) is relationally compatible to his involvement and is relationally congruent with how he sees us from inner out, as well as how he both defines the primacy of our relationship together and functions in its innermost. Jesus used the term “secret” (kryptos) to describe this relational involvement together. In an apparent play on words, kryptos (6:4,6,18) is in juxtaposition to hypokrites (6:2,5,16). Kryptos means hidden and hypokrites functions essentially to hide the whole person. Yet, in function they are contrary and in conflict. Kryptos (“in secret”) signifies the qualitative relational function of the whole person (constituted by the heart) in intimate involvement in relationship together, which hypokrites avoids and/or precludes this deeper involvement by the outer-in function in the secondary referential terms of reductionism. Since the primacy of this relational involvement signifies the relational truth of how God functions in the innermost, our Father blepo intimately “what is done in secret,” that is, what has qualitative relational significance from the inner out of the person. Our Father neither needs to use wonderment or imagination (as in theaomai) to see what we are, nor does he need deep contemplation (as in horao) to experience who and how we are, as we need to experience him beyond referential terms. Our Father simply blepo the whole of the person presented, therefore he intimately knows what, who and how we are in the innermost, including what we need (6:8).

In this distinguished relational process, then, he “will reward you” (apodidomi, recompense, give back, 6:4,6,18), which needs to be understood in his relational context and process and not by a reductionist perceptual-interpretive framework shaping the varied efforts of self. Reductionism engages a referential exchange process narrowed down to the quid pro quo of misthos (“reward” as wages, 6:2,5,16). With apodidomi Jesus is using only relational language to build relationship together. “Reward” involves our Father’s relational response to us—not with quantitative things, secondary matter, or on our terms—by giving his intimate Self further and deeper (including some things or matter, yet not on our terms) in Face-to-face relationship with distinguished love. In this intimate relational outcome and experience, we are clearly being recognized for what we are and affirmed for who we are as persons belonging to his own family in the primacy of whole relationship together.

Jesus wholly embodied and thus vulnerably disclosed our Father’s intimate relationship-specific involvement with us, which is the basis for his Father’s imperative to his followers “Listen to my Son.” This is the experiential truth of the irreducible presentation of their whole persons, with nothing less and no substitutes of what, who and how the whole of God is. In this pivotal teaching as the whole of God’s communicative action, Jesus called his followers to be whole in what, who and how we present of our person in reciprocal relationship together with him, our Father, the whole of God, in their qualitative and relational likeness.

As a relational means for, and an ongoing relational response of, the function of our whole identity in relational righteousness together, Jesus taught this summary prayer using only relational language to involve us further and deeper in the primacy of relationship together: the Lord’s Prayer, a functional outline for relational communication humbly submitted directly to our holy (hagiazo) Father for Face-to-face relationship together as family (6:9) only on the whole of God’s terms (v.10) in order to be made whole, to live whole and to make whole for God’s family (vv.11-12), which necessitates neutralizing the influence (“temptation,” peirasmos) of reductionism and being disengaged (“deliver,” rhyomai) from its counter-relational work, authored and ongoingly promoted by Satan (v.13). These relational messages (about him, our relationship and our person), ongoingly communicated to our Father in humble response back to the vulnerable presence and intimate relational involvement of the whole of God, constitute the integrity and quality of our communication (involving the three major issues for our practice). This then signifies the engagement of our whole person at the level of intimate involvement in relationship together—in the relationships necessary to be whole.

Just as with the incarnation of Jesus, this relational process begins with embodying the person. The significance of any embodiment, or incarnation, is a function of the person presented in relational context.[6] The incarnation of Jesus had distinguished significance beyond anything embodied in human context because Jesus presented his whole person vulnerably in relationship and functionally embodied the whole of God, nothing less and no substitutes. This is the embodying that interposed on Paul on the Damascus road, and the embodying of Paul that emerged from the Damascus road in his practice, theology and gospel. Likewise, the embodiment of our person only has significance in this relational process when it is the function of our whole person presented for intimate involvement in relationship together. Anything less and any substitutes for the whole (of our person and of God) are a function shaped by reductionism, notably and subtly emerging from self-determination. Jesus continued in this section to directly address the issue of whom and what we will pursue.

Anything less and any substitutes for our whole person are incongruent with the person created in the innermost in the image of God (cf. 6:25b-28), and consequently incompatible for intimate relationship together with the whole of God. Jesus made this clearly evident in his remaining teaching. When influence of reductionism pervades our perceptual-interpretive framework and how we see things (6:23), this shifts the focus defining our priorities and determining our primary pursuits from relational terms to referential terms (6:19,24). Consistent with thought in the ancient Mediterranean world, the eyes and the heart are interrelated functions for the whole person, which Jesus made evident earlier (5:28, cf. Job 31:7, Ecc 11:9).[7] He now also interrelated their functions to the ongoing tension-conflict issue of reductionism of the whole. In function, Jesus said “For what defines you also determines where your heart (signifying the whole person) will be also” (6:21). In conjoint function, he illuminated that what the eyes focus on determines the function of our identity as the light, that is, the primary identity of our whole person (6:22-23). And he unequivocally delineated the complete incompatibility between reductionism and God’s whole, and exposed any illusion that we can pursue and function in both with a hybrid identity in human contexts (6:24).

The lens from reductionism focuses on quantitative secondary matter and outer-in function, thus pays attention to (or becomes preoccupied with) the quantitative referential aspects of life and practice—namely in what we do and have—while ignoring (or making secondary) the qualitative significance in the function of persons and relationships together. Jesus reconstitutes this reductionism by restoring the qualitative function of the heart to compose the whole person. Only the heart in qualitative function signifies the presence of the whole person—no matter how much quantitative practice accentuates the person presented. Conjointly, Jesus restored the primacy of relationship by integrally constituting whole persons in the relationship together necessary to be whole in likeness of God. These are the qualitative intimate relationships, which by their nature are the function of only the hearts of whole persons opening to each other and coming together. This is the intimacy in relational congruence with the whole of God and God’s vulnerable presence, and the intimacy necessary to be relationally compatible with God’s ongoing intimate involvement. This is the relational outcome and experience “in secret” divulged by Jesus, in which the whole of God seeks our vulnerable presence and intimate involvement.

Yet, self-determination continues its urgent call also. Situations and circumstances in life and practice always emerge seeking to define who we are and what our priorities are, and thereby to determine how we function. The ongoing issue is whether those matters (however large or small) need to be determined by our own efforts, which overtly or covertly constitute self-determination—however normative the practice, even in Christian contexts. Or, “therefore” (dia, on this account, for this reason) in Jesus’ relational words (6:25-32)—given our Father’s involvement with us and the nature of our relationship together—we can entrust our person ongoingly to our Father to define who we are and what our priorities are, and on this relational basis to determine how we function in whatever situations and circumstances because our Father is both intimately involved (both “sees” and “knows,” 6:32b) and lovingly responsive (6:26,30) with us in the primacy of reciprocal relationship together.

This relationally penetrating polemic leads to the second functional key illuminating the relational framework that provides clarity and depth for the intimate relational involvement of our whole identity in relational righteousness with our Father.

Second Functional Key: “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (6:33, NIV).

“Seek” (zeteo, actively pursue to experience) in Jesus’ relational language is not about obligatory striving (opheilo) to belong to God’s kingdom, which becomes self-determination overlapping into self-justification. Likewise, “seek” is not about striving for an attribute of righteousness, and thus to be righteous in likeness to his to justify and/or ensure receiving “all these things.” Nor is this about practicing mere ‘kingdom ethics’. In his relational language, the imperative of zeteo, by the nature (dei) of God’s terms, is the qualitative pursuit of the whole of God (“his righteousness”) for intimate relationship together in his family (“kingdom”). The pursuit of this primacy of whole relationship together is nonnegotiable to human terms and shaping. This qualitative-relational pursuit by necessity (dei) involves the vulnerable presence and intimate involvement of the whole person, constituted by the heart from the inner out, nothing less and no substitutes—composing our relational righteousness in likeness of his righteousness. Such a distinguished pursuit, then, provides the clarity and depth for both who we are and whose we are in the primacy of relationship together as his very own daughters and sons. This intimate relational process of belonging to his family and participating in his life has the relational outcome of ongoingly experiencing the whole of God further and deeper (cf. “understands and knows me,” Jer 9:24), as well as receiving what belongs to our Father in his family—the qualitative relational significance of “all these things” necessary to be made whole, to live whole and to make whole.

The relational framework of this functional key also provides the relational process by which our Lord’s summary prayer needs to be submitted to our Father and from which it will be fulfilled in his reciprocal relational response. Moreover, this key relational process coheres with the interrelated process between the fourth and sixth beatitudes (5:6,8). The second functional key’s relational framework of pursuing our Father on his terms further forms—integrated with the first functional key of living how our Father loves us—the basis for the process of triangulation by making functional in our life and practice the primary aspect of this triangulation process: ongoing intimate involvement in relationship together with our Father and the whole of God as family. Guided from this intimate relational point of orientation in the larger and deeper context of God, we are defined in the surrounding context by the trinitarian relational context of family, and how we function in relationships and in all our situations and circumstances is determined by the trinitarian relational process of family love for relationships together to be whole. Without the relational framework within which to engage this triangulation process, the primary influence defining our identity and determining our function comes from human contextualization, thereby co-opting the primacy of reciprocating contextualization.

With the primary focus on this distinguished pursuit in our life and practice, it becomes unnecessary (not to mention insufficient) to self-determine the course of our life “into the future” (eis, motion determining action). Instead, ongoingly engage, without reductionism (implied by the daily presence of “enough trouble,” kakia, evil), the level of reciprocal involvement of intimate relationship together with the whole of God and the level of involvement with others in the primacy of relationships necessary to be whole and to make whole, just as Jesus projected (“worry about tomorrow” with the subjunctive mood) to close this section (6:34).

Self-Justification: Matthew 7:1-27

As discussed in the previous section, self-determination is never an individual action (or an individual group action) done in isolation from others (or other groups). Self-determination is a social phenomenon requiring a process of comparison to others to establish referential standards (e.g. of status, privilege and power) for measuring so-called success or failure in the determination of self. Invariably, these comparative (and competitive) differences involve constructing human distinctions which are the basis for “better” or “less” social position (historically, even ontological nature, as seen in racism), consequently the operation of stratified relationships together (formalized in systems of inequality). Such a social order, no matter how efficient or cohesive, still reflects the human condition in contrast with the primacy of whole relationship together. When relationships in any arrangement on any social level become separated, partitioned or fragmented, there is a basis of justification needed either to access a “better” position or to entrench/maintain others in a “less” position. The pursuit of this legitimating basis is the effort for self-justification (by individual or group). That is to say, the effort for self-determination inevitably becomes the function in social context for self-justification; and the results of this effort unavoidably come at the expense of others, even unknowingly or inadvertently. These varied efforts are inseparable from the human condition and inescapable from its reduced ontology and function.

Jesus continued to expose the underlying dynamics of reductionism, its counter-relational work and the functional workings of the sin of reductionism countering the whole of God’s desires. In his initial teaching in this section, the subtle shift of self-determination to self-justification emerged from an invalid application of “righteousness”—or an inadequate practice of ethics and morality—to effectively create distinctions (“with the measure you use”) of “better” and “less” for relational position in religious and social context (7:1-2). This so-called righteousness was not merely about “the holier the better” but about “holier than thou.” Judgment based on an outer-in human ontology evidenced their reductionism, with the relational consequence from counter-relational practice diminishing relationship together to be whole (7:3-4). This mere role performance of righteousness (even with good intentions, e.g. by church leaders) is characteristic of hypokrites and is a function of the sin of reductionism lacking the inner-out practice of the whole person constituted by the heart (7:5)—the necessary outworking of the sixth beatitude defining the whole identity of Jesus’ followers (5:8). In addition, to be whole is the outcome of God’s relational work of grace, not self-determination, thus humility precludes self-justification—for example, humility in ethical and moral practice, or in spiritual development, which would involve epistemic humility, as signified in the identity formation of the first three beatitudes (5:3-5).

The dynamics of reductionism in religious/Christian life and practice is embedded in ontological simulation and epistemological illusion of God’s whole. Yet, Jesus exposed the varied efforts of self-autonomy, self-determination and self-justification as insufficient (not to mention unnecessary) to be whole. Reductionism and the whole are incompatible. Moreover, they cannot be conjoined in any pluralistic or syncretistic way, and any attempt to do so will fragment the whole, consequently rendering the whole to human shaping and terms. It is the integrity and significance of this whole which Jesus pointed to in a vivid illustration of the issue of whom/what we will pursue (7:6). This verse is not merely an added injunction thrown into his discourse but needs to be directly integrated into this issue at hand. Given the whole identity of his family in the primacy of whole relationship together, to function in anything less is to pursue an alternative substitute of reductionism, even with good intentions. The dynamics Jesus described is consequential: The integrity (“sacred”) and significance (“pearls”) of your whole person and relationship together in their innermost are indiscriminately thrown (ballo) to reductionists, who treat with disdain (katapateo) anything whole, and even turn (strepho) on you to break down your wholeness and leave you fragmented (rhegnymi). This dynamic, for example, emerges in the modern search for human connections on the Internet in social media like Facebook, Twitter and texting. While Jesus’ words may appear as hyperbole, the dynamic is rightfully described because of the essential violence reductionism exerts on the whole—even though the influence reductionism exerts, notably in its counter-relational work, tends to be a very subtle process, even appearing in Christian roles (cf. 2 Cor 11:14-15) or as the Christian norm, for example, in ontological simulation and epistemological illusion of God’s whole (as Paul also exposed, Eph 4:14-16).

The choice of whom/what we will pursue is really quite simple, as Jesus’ summary relational teaching made definitive: God’s whole or anything less and any substitute. Yet, the results penetrate deeply to the innermost, as Jesus clearly distinguished in this concluding section of his most major discourse with his followers.

The summary relational word embodied by Jesus to communicate the whole of God’s desires is this nonnegotiable relational message: self-autonomy, self-determination and self-justification are insufficient and unnecessary, no matter how their practice is punctuated and accentuated; their varied efforts signify the human condition, therefore are contrary for whole relationship together. The summary experiential truth embodied by Jesus to fulfill the whole of God’s thematic relational response to the human condition is this irreducible relational message: God does not define our person based on what we do and have, therefore the whole of God’s vulnerable involvement and intimate response is solely based on the Trinity’s relational work of grace for relationship together to be whole—the whole of God’s family.

These nonnegotiable and irreducible relational messages are the whole of God’s terms and the only way the Trinity does relationships. Since this precludes self-autonomy, makes self-determination unnecessary and renders self-justification insufficient, Jesus invited his followers to partake of God’s relational work of grace (7:7-8). Yet, God’s relational grace constitutes involvement in relationship only on God’s terms, not to partake as a gift (or commodity) for self-determination (or indulgence) on our terms. In integral function, then, “ask…seek…knock” signify only our reciprocal relational work of involvement to be whole together in intimate relationship with our Father and his relational work of grace. His vulnerable involvement and intimate response can be counted on because of his relational righteousness (7:9-11), and participating in his life in this reciprocal relationship together necessitates by its nature (dei, not opheilo) our relational righteousness. On the indispensable basis of God’s relational work of grace for this relational experience together in the primacy of whole relationship—the grace of our Father’s intimate involvement and response of love—Jesus disclosed the third functional key, commonly known by its reductionist title in referential terms, the Golden Rule.

Third Functional Key: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets” (7:12).

This teaching tends to be reduced by interpreting it only in the limited context involving us with others. This clearly bases how we do relationships with others on the self-orientation formulated from two basic issues (which Jesus addressed throughout his summary teaching): (1) how we define our person, and thus, on this basis, (2) how we do relationships. If this self-orientation has been influenced by reductionism, then “in everything we do to others” will not go beyond and deeper than a reductionist practice of how we do relationships based on a reductionist self-definition. In other words, what we desire others to act on (thelo) in relation to us will always be seen through this diminished or narrowed-down lens, which in turn will determine how we function with them. This use of self-orientation, even with the best of intentions as the Golden Rule, is insufficient basis for wholeness in our life and practice “in everything”—for example, even for Christian ethical decisions and practice to go beyond the outer in of referential terms. Moreover, the practice emerging from this approach is inadequate to be the sum and substance (eimi, what is) of the law and the prophets (i.e. God’s communicated Word), which Jesus vulnerably embodied in his teaching only for the primacy of relationship together to be whole.

The one alternative to this reduction is the whole. The third functional key cannot be limited to only the context involving us with others, which would then take it out of its whole context, as the Golden Rule does by its nature. Its whole context involves us further and deeper than this by the process of reciprocating contextualization. This functional key can only be understood in the relational context of “your Father” and wholly understood by his relational process in intimate relationship together, which is the relational context and process Jesus disclosed and made definitive in his summary relational teaching. That is to say, in our Father’s distinguished relational context and process we have engaged vulnerable relationship together Face to face and have been intimately involved to experience the whole of God’s relational response of mercy, grace and agape involvement to be made whole. In his relational context and process, we ongoingly experience being redefined as whole persons in the innermost, redeemed from reductionism and its sin, transformed necessarily in human ontology from the inner out and reconstituted in the function of relationships necessary to be whole in the qualitative image and relational likeness of the whole of God. From this experience we know without equivocation: (1) how we want to be seen (from the inner-out human ontology), (2) how we want to be treated by others (as whole persons, nothing less), and (3) what we want to experience in relationships (the intimacy together to be whole, no substitutes).

Therefore, on the basis of this relational experience together with our Father, Jesus calls those being made whole to live whole “in everything,” notably with others in the primacy of relationships in order to make whole. In other words, to paraphrase his third function key: Use what you are intimately experiencing in your relationship with ‘your Father’ as the basis for defining and determining how to function with others, both in his kingdom-family and in the surrounding context—‘in everything’ live to be whole and make whole.”

This points to the indispensable engagement in the triangulation process. The third functional key completes the basis for the process of triangulation by making definitive the relational experience of being made whole in relationship together with our Father. In integrated function with the second functional key (of pursuing our Father in relationship together as family on his terms), the third functional key uses what is being experienced in that intimate relationship to interact in integral function with the first functional key (of living how our Father loves us). In integrated function together, these three functional keys provide this intimate relational point of orientation in context with the whole of God, by which to be guided in order to be defined in any human context by the trinitarian relational context of family and to function in any relationship by the trinitarian relational process of family love. Triangulation with our Father takes us further than the right ethics and merely doing the right thing, and engages us deeper than acting in life and practice as mere reactors to others in situations and circumstances. As Jesus embodied and calls us to embody in likeness, triangulation with our Father directs our whole person and engages us to be relationally involved with others in the same distinguished love by which he is involved with us in the primacy of relationship together necessary to be whole, God’s relational whole.

Jesus embodied the whole of God’s thematic action and relational work of grace in response to the human condition existing at various levels and in varied efforts apart from God’s whole—in the relational dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes. Therefore, he functioned on God’s relational terms signified in the law and the prophets for relationship together to be nothing less than whole—terms irreducible and nonnegotiable, embodying the whole of God’s Word. Our embodying, in likeness without reduction, will function in our whole identity with relational righteousness to be also the qualitative and relational significance of the whole of God’s word—to function both in the distinguished loving involvement to be whole and in the distinguished loving response to make whole. Our likeness, in contrast and conflict with the human shaping of relationships, will then also illuminate the whole relationship together necessary to fulfill the human relational condition.

Without ongoing relational function in these three functional keys (all relationally focused on our Father with reciprocating contextualization) and the triangulation process, Christian life and practice (distinct from Jesus’ followers) is left with only alternatives to the whole. To pursue, settle for or be resigned to anything less and any substitutes for the whole is to engage in reductionism. Jesus made clearly evident in the juxtaposition of reductionism with the whole throughout his summary relational discourse and teaching that there is no other alternative in-between, which may trigger those assumptions about the Sermon on the Mount mentioned earlier. Consequently, in each moment, situation, circumstance and relationship encountered in our life and practice, we are faced with the decisions of what is going to define us and what will determine how we function, notably with others in relationships. And Jesus is unequivocal about our having only two alternatives (7:13-14): God’s whole, which is irreducible and nonnegotiable, therefore imperative to only one function (“narrow gate and road”); or anything less and any substitutes, which is amenable to any variation away from the whole, consequently adaptable to various functions (“wide gate and road”). “Gate” is a metaphor for what defines and determines us, while “road” is a metaphor for the ongoing function in our practice emerging from that “gate.” The wide one leads away (apago) from the whole to loss (apoleia, i.e. reduction) or ultimate ruin, while the narrow one brings before (apago, same word for opposite dynamic) the zoe of the whole of God and to the qualitative relational function of zoe in God’s whole. The former is easier because of a reduced ontology and function, while the latter necessitates significantly more by the nature of whole ontology and function.

Zoe signifies the qualitative relational function of the whole of God and the Trinity’s relational action in the trinitarian relational context of family by the trinitarian relational process of family love. Zoe involves the practice of this qualitative relational work made definitive in Jesus’ teaching, which is contrary to prevailing practices and norms (as implied above) and in conflict with quantitative outer-in presentations of a reduced human ontology (7:15-20). Moreover, relational work in its innermost is not about doing something (like performing ministry, 7:22), nor even about beliefs, associations or intentions referentially made to “Lord” (7:21). This qualitative relational work constitutes only the primacy of involvement in intimate relationship together to be whole, experienced first with the whole of God (“I don’t know you” to the reductionists, 7:23). This is the qualitative relational work of those being made whole in relationship together in God’s family, and therefore who are able to live whole as their Father’s very own daughters and sons—those “who do the will of my Father” (7:21b), whom Jesus also made clearly definitive in another context (12:48-50).

As Jesus vulnerably embodied and intimately disclosed the whole of God, he made definitive what composes the inner-out function of God’s whole. In his closing communicative action to all his followers (then and now), he integrated this whole function with accountability (7:24-27). We are accountable for all his relational words communicated to us in his summary discourse, which was not referential language merely to inform us but only God’s terms in relational language to make whole our relationship together and its relational significance to be and live whole with others in his kingdom-family and to live and make whole with others in the surrounding contexts. The qualitative and relational depth of how we live and practice emerges directly from the inner-out function of who and what we are in our whole identity (righteousness in the innermost), which involves whose we are. And what validates our innermost is all his relational words and our relational involvement with him on those relational terms (“the foundation on rock”). This accountability is relationship-specific, and thereby we are accountable not for the self-orientation of what we do but rather for our vulnerable involvement in intimate relationship together—that is, accountable for this qualitative relational work of who and what we are in the primacy of relationship together with the whole of God. To separate how we live and practice from the function of our whole identity renders how we live and practice to reductionism—namely defined by only what we do, which does not go beyond the righteousness of the reductionists (5:20).

As Jesus unfolded the truth for the primacy of whole relationship in his teaching, he clarified what is signified in the human condition: In reality, the function of self-autonomy is not free but only an ironic form of enslavement—namely because of the outer-in human ontology which defines it and determines its practice, most notably in the human shaping of relationships—which self-determination reinforces by being constrained to the limits of ontological simulation, and which self-justification then embeds even deeper in epistemological illusion. The events, situations, circumstances and relationships (“rain…wind,” 7:27) experienced in life and practice will expose their lack of qualitative substance to be whole, qualitative significance to live whole, and qualitative function to make whole. This is a reality check for those engaged in any form of reductionism (even inadvertently or naively), which extends our accountability with the clear need to ongoingly account for what defines us and what determines how we function—notably in what we specifically characterize as our Christian practice.

As the primer for discipleship, Jesus’ relational words to his followers clearly distinguish without variation that discipleship is following him in relational progression to his Father for relationship together as his very own to be whole as family (cf. Jn 12:44,49-50). This nonnegotiably involves discipleship distinguished in relational terms not referential, and irreducibly frames discipleship formation in only his Father’s relational context and process. While there are more than a few variations of discipleship and approaches to discipleship formation—not to mention varied efforts at discipleship—his closing metaphor of building a house warns us that these may only appear to be genuine to define his disciples and merely claim to be valid to determine discipleship (7:26-27), yet be lacking the depth of basis to have relational significance to God (cf. Rev 2:2-4). Jesus was conclusive in his relational message that any genuineness and validity foundational (“built on rock”) for all his followers are relationally based on the inner-out functional practice of all his relational words (7:24-25; cf. Rev 3:1-3). All his words in relational language (not referential), communicating our Father’s terms for relationship together in its innermost primacy, are what his Father also made imperative for us to “Listen to my Son”—which Peter eventually understood (2 Pet 1:18-19). Therefore, all his relational words communicated to us from our Father are not optional, negotiable, nor can his followers who are distinguished from inner out be selective about which of his words to practice (cf. Lk 6:46). They cohere as the whole of God’s terms necessary for relationship to be whole, that holds persons together in the innermost—which Paul made functional for the church (Rom 10:17; Col 3:16; 1 Cor 4:6). The whole of Jesus’ communicative action defined the whole of Paul’s witness and determined the whole in his theology (Acts 26:16; Gal 1:11-12; Eph 3:2-3; 2 Cor 4:2).

Even as he shared his summary relational discourse, Jesus vulnerably embodied the whole of God and intimately involved himself in relationships with others to live whole and to make whole. Many also listening to his words, other than his disciples, recognized his qualitative difference (exousia, denoting his right and authority to be and make whole) and his qualitative function distinguished from the apparent reductionists prevailing in their context (7:28-29). Yet, what those persons did with his words they listened to with interest was an issue of accountability integrated with inner-out function (cf. Eze 33:30-32, a pervasive practice in ancient times as well as modern). His distinguished followers are called beyond reductionism to be the innermost whole relationally congruent to the whole of God, and therefore ongoingly accountable to vulnerably embody God’s whole and to be intimately involved with others in the primacy of relationship together—to be whole, to live whole and to make whole, nothing less and no substitutes. This is the only ontology and function that go beyond the reductionists and rise above the human condition. And if his followers are not adequately addressing the self-determination and shaping of relationships together, they are unable to sufficiently define the human condition and determine its wholeness, including the existing human condition within the church and in the academy.


If the view of sin in the human condition remains limited to the parameters of moral-ethical failure, then salvation of the human condition merely becomes saving from this sin. Defining sin, however, in its complete nature and function as reductionism, which Jesus did in the Sermon on the Mount, necessitates a complete soteriology for the response to the human condition to be significant in its innermost. In the nature of a significant saving dynamic, we cannot be saved just from sin if sin is reductionism. That is, reductionism, and its counter-relational work, by its design and purpose always has fragmenting repercussions on wholeness, the whole, God’s relational whole. Therefore, to be saved from this reductionism of the whole, and the human condition existing relationally apart from the whole, needs to involve, by its very nature, being restored to wholeness—what a complete soteriology saves to. Any saving from reductionism has no meaning and functional significance if wholeness and God’s relational whole are not restored in the innermost; such salvation is in itself reductionism, no matter how normative theologically or sincere in practice. ‘Saved to’ constitutes the primacy of relationship together in wholeness, in the beginning of which God created human persons in the innermost likeness of the triune God, and from the beginning, for which the distinguished Face turned to us in the whole of God’s definitive blessing to bring the necessary change from inner out to restore.


The Primacy of the Qualitative and the Relational

The whole of God’s thematic relational response of grace unfolded from the beginning. God’s vulnerable presence ongoingly has been distinguished by the qualitative from inner out—the innermost of God’s heart, beyond any kind of quality in the universe. Even from before the beginning, God’s involvement ongoingly has been distinguished by the relational in wholeness, and only for relationship together in wholeness. Therefore, God’s relational response of grace prevails not theologically in referential terms but only in the primacy of whole relationship together—defining human ontology and determining human function in his qualitative image and relational likeness.

If we do not have whole understanding (synesis, as did Jesus, Lk 2:47, and Paul, Eph 3:4; Col 2:2) of the primacy of relationship, we essentially do not understand the integral composition needed for theology to be whole and not fragmentary:

  1. Who, what and how the whole of God is as the Trinity (to be discussed in chap. 11).
  2. Who, what and how human persons are created in the qualitative image and relational likeness of the whole of God.
  3. The depths of what and how the human condition is and the whole of God’s thematic relational response to it.

The whole gospel is contingent on this whole theology, which Jesus relationally embodied from inner out as the hermeneutic key for the gospel. Conversely for Paul, the embodying of his pleroma theology emerged from the whole of the gospel whom he experienced in the primacy of Face-to-face relationship.

What Jesus ongoingly embodied is often observed apart from his primary relational context and process. Then the focus shifts merely to what Jesus does or to his teachings, yet only as referential words and not in his relational language. When Jesus saw a widow at her only son’s funeral procession, his heart felt compassion for her (Lk 7:11-16). His feelings indicated the qualitative heart of his whole person, vulnerably present in the human context. This also illuminated the depth level of his ongoing relational involvement with those who were not whole and unable to function in wholeness, which Jesus made evident with Levi in the significance of Hosea 6:6. Without her son, this widow in the ancient Mediterranean world lacked value and would suffer social illness (kakos, as Jesus implied about Levi and Zacchaeus). Jesus responded to her by restoring her son—a further expression of God’s thematic relational response to the human condition.

In this seemingly limited moment, Jesus demonstrated more than his power over illness and death; and by this act beyond intervention, he demonstrated more than the limitations of a messianic role. The witnesses of this miracle were convinced that God had come to fulfill the covenant and messianic promise (7:16-17). Yet, the relational significance of what Jesus distinguished with this widow appears to be lost in their covenant and messianic expectations shaped by human terms, rather than the meaning of the covenant in God’s thematic relational response. This reflects the absence of whole theological understanding and, consequently, it demonstrates lacking what indeed signifies good news for the human condition. In other words, their working theology and gospel were fragmentary.

In the creation narrative, human ontology was never about one’s self (or the individual) nor designed “to be apart” from the whole (Gen 2:18). The person was never created to function as if in social isolation, thus the individual has neither the functional freedom for self-determination nor the relational autonomy to determine meaning in life and practice and to constitute wholeness, that is, in mere self-referencing terms. The ontology of the person is only a function of relationship in likeness of the relational ontology of the triune God—in whose qualitative image the human person is created and apart from whom there is no determination of self, meaning and wholeness in the innermost. Since creation, God’s thematic action throughout human history has been to respond to the human relational condition “to be apart.” While widows and orphans were at risk in their situations and circumstances, it was their relational condition apart from God’s whole to which Jesus responded as fulfillment of God’s thematic relational response to restore whole relationship together.

Not understanding the depths of what and how the human condition is certainly then necessarily diminishes the whole of God’s thematic relational response to it. This has significant implications critical for Christians who supposedly have been saved from the human condition but lack the theology and function necessary for what they are saved to—that is, to that which is the sole definitive replacement to the human condition: the primacy of relationship together in wholeness. This lack is certainly consequential for the experiential truth of the good news and the experiential reality of its outcome for the human relational condition.

Furthermore, as the distinguished Face vulnerably present and relationally involved, God ongoingly functions in and thereby is concerned for the primacy of the qualitative and relational of those in the primacy of relationship together. Whatever distracts, defines and determines persons away from this primacy are of a primary priority for God. Accordingly, the various issues (e.g. troubles, problems, sufferings, even persecutions) persons experience in situations and circumstances in human contexts—though always secondary to the primacy of relationship—are also primary concerns which God ‘delivers, saves from’, yet nonnegotiably for the primary purpose of the relationship God ‘saves to’ (cf. Ex 6:6-7; 14:13; Ps 34:19; 2 Tim 3:11). As deliverer and savior, God always functions in and is concerned for the primary. Therefore, the whole of God must not by nature be reduced to just Deliverer or Savior in truncated salvific action, or the qualitative and relational of God are rendered secondary, and our theology becomes fragmentary. This occurred in Israel’s reductionism (“devoted things,” herem, Josh 7:1,7-12); and Joshua, in irony of his name (meaning “the Lord saves”), needed this theological clarification and functional correction of the primary of what the LORD saves to.

Of subsequent significant consequence both theologically and functionally, the qualitative image and relational likeness in which God created the human person from inner out is no longer the primary determinant for human ontology and function, and for what holds together the person and persons in relationship in the innermost. This was evidenced as Jesus’ qualitative and relational correction of Martha clarified the wholeness necessary for his followers and their discipleship (Lk 10:41-42), and as Paul further clarified theologically and functionally for the church’s wholeness (2 Cor 3:14-18; Col 3:9-10; Gal 6:15; 1 Cor 14:33; Col 3:15). In a critical lesson for Paul personally, he learned and developed in this whole theology, that further distinguished his deliverer and his own person, by a key relational experience about his ‘thorn in the flesh’, the relational outcome of which deepened him in the primacy of the qualitative and the relational (2 Cor 12:8-10). This outcome involved experiencing the depth of the whole of God’s presence and involvement with him, thereby giving him this whole understanding: “weakness” as defined by the qualitative is primary over “strength” in quantitative terms, when determined by the primacy of whole relationship together.

The distinguished Face of the savior turned and shined on us from the beginning (Num 6:24-26) solely to ‘bring change necessary to constitute the new relationship together in wholeness’—the relational outworking and fulfillment of siym and shalom. Anything less and any substitutes of the savior, deliverer, messiah are reductionism from human shaping and construction, the terms of which become quantitative over qualitative, referential over relational, and therefore secondary over primary, with a theology and gospel fragmented, not whole.

In a fragmentary context and process, not only is the whole of God elusive but the human person becomes increasingly a virtual simulation from outer in, while knowledge and awareness of the human condition are diminished and redefined by illusions in social discourse and relations—for example, evidenced currently in the social media on the Internet. These interrelated dynamics are critical because any reduction or loss of the qualitative and relational renders the human person and persons in relationship to unavoidable fragmentation. Regardless of human efforts, this condition in function cannot discover the whole (e.g. through science), become whole (e.g. in the search for identity), or be whole (e.g. in the quest for human connection). Accordingly by its nature, this condition functions only within the limits of a worldview (interpretive framework, phronema), the constraints of a mindset (perceptual lens, phroneo), and the unchangeableness of reduced human ontology, all of which compose the disconnected function apart from God’s whole in the innermost. Yet, the human pursuit, search and quest for more (than existing in human experience) continue unabated. This is less about human curiosity and mainly about the human need that remains unfulfilled by the secondary, as even neuroscience is helping us to understand.[8] In terms of the innermost, however, there is a deeper explanation illuminating whole understanding that is needed.

Jesus challenged persons who were pursuing more to put their efforts into that which “endures for eternal life” (meno, dwells, Jn 6:27). Most human efforts would claim more modesty in their goal than something eternal, while many others would dismiss this pursuit as spiritualized daydreaming. In actual function, much of prevailing Christian practice fits into either of these categories, lacking both involvement in Jesus’ challenge and understanding of eternal life, even though the term itself occupies a prominent status in Christian vocabulary. Yet, this ‘more’ desired and needed is the singular purpose Jesus claimed “which the Son of Man will give you” who pursue more. What is the whole understanding of the more that Jesus illuminates in the innermost?

The writer of Ecclesiastes provides the antecedent necessary to answer this question, which emerged from his own honest reflections on life (Ecc 3:9-11). In the context of the human condition, he recounts God’s creative action: “He has made everything beautiful in its time” (NIV). Along with these well-recognized words, in the same breath he also includes that “He has set eternity in the human heart” (NIV). This part of his words is not a secondary supplement to his previous words but actually is more significant for function and needs our attention more than the better known part. The writer’s honest reflections get to the heart of human ontology and function and the underlying desire and need for more described above. How so?

Eternity (‘olam) is a concept that means forever, lasting, never ending, that is, eternal; yet this needs to be understood beyond the limits of quantitative terms and chronological time. God is eternal (“everlasting,” Gen 21:33; Jer 10:10), and he enacted a complete plan in the beginning in which everything is made beautiful according to it. Moreover, this eternal God transplanted an innermost part of himself into the human heart: the qualitative of eternity, or simply ‘eternity-substance’. Even with this eternity-substance of God in us, however, our efforts cannot discover, comprehend or even imagine the whole of “what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Ecc 3:11)—as Job learned, “too wonderful for me” (pala, too distinguished, Job 42:3). In the whole of God’s complete plan for creative action, all its parts (dynamics) are wonderfully put together and distinguished in the whole. Though humans cannot fully grasp God’s whole, we can experience and enjoy the beauty of its parts converging in the whole. We can because of the eternity-substance God implanted of himself in the human heart, that is, creating us with the qualitative innermost of the whole of God and in God’s whole, and as a result to be whole. Therefore, at the qualitative level of the human heart implanted with this eternity-substance, we can have whole understanding (synesis) of the whole constituting God and the whole in which the whole of God composed human persons. Accordingly, the eternity-substance of the human heart is affected in the innermost by anything less and any substitutes (e.g. the secondary), which signify the absence or loss of wholeness.

This understanding of wholeness and affect intrinsic to eternity-substance in the human heart can be a burden or a blessing. It is a common burden—that prevails in the human condition—when it just brings out dissatisfaction and frustration with our life (individually or collectively), as it did for the writer of Ecclesiastes. But the feelings from such honest reflections on our life can also become a blessing when they help us realize there is more in life to experience and enjoy, and thereby stir in us to pursue more, namely at the level Jesus challenged and not in secondary pursuits. This blessing goes beyond an awareness of something lacking; it is the deep desire and need emerging from the innermost of the human person who seeks ‘the more’ that is vital to eternity-substance—which can no longer be met by the secondary but only fulfilled by the primary.

Eternity-substance, when paid attention to, essentially provides epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction for that which is innermost to the whole of God and therefore to the whole human person. It is from this antecedent that our understanding of eternal life needs to emerge. And how the dynamics involved in the pursuit for more stirred by eternity-substance converge with Jesus’ challenge above is critical to our understanding. These dynamics unfold in a revealing interaction Jesus had with a person pursuing him for eternal life. Jesus’ response to this person also implies an interaction with and extension of his summary relational message to his followers in the Sermon on the Mount, discussed earlier.

On this occasion Jesus encountered an interesting, rich young man who pursued him about eternal life (Mt 19:16-22). The effects of eternity-substance apparently stirred in his heart a great deal because he assertively imposed himself on Jesus (par. Mk 10:17)). Whether he had been feeling this for awhile or whether seeing Jesus' loving treatment of little children just prior (19:13-15)) triggered his feelings, he seized the opportunity to pursue more. Since by all social standards back then, or even today, this person was successful and young, what exactly was the more he was pursuing? While his query was about eternal life, this was not a typical evangelistic conversation about life after death. He wasn't merely seeking to prolong his life into eternity. So, if this wasn't about insurance for the future, why was a successful young man pursuing more? The word he used for "life" (zoe) involves the qualitative substance from inner out that is distinguished from another word for life (bios) simply involving the quantitative aspects from outer in. His pursuit of the lasting qualitative of zoe reflected the need and desire of his heart. This innermost feeling signified the eternity-substance from Ecclesiastes—not about chronological time and quantity but about depth and quality. Accordingly, this pursuit necessitates meeting Jesus’ challenge to pursue the qualitative that “dwells for eternal life.”

However, since this person focused on what he must do, he lacked a whole understanding of the person from inner out. The quantitative of bios still prevailed over the qualitative of zoe. Even though he pursued the stirrings in his heart for more, he defined his own person from outer in based on what he did and had. Consequently, he also missed seeing Jesus’ person, because when we define ourselves by what we do or have, we also define others by what they do or have. That's why he focused on what Jesus did (teach) and had (knowledge) also. Since he focused on secondary things from outer in instead of the whole person, how he did relationships also focused on merely doing something (“good deed to do”), not on relational connection between persons in relationship together—which is what Jesus focused on. These conflicting dynamics—between, on the one hand, his feelings from inner out and, on the other hand, his outer-in function with Jesus—demonstrate the ongoing tension between the qualitative and the quantitative, the primary and the secondary, that is, the whole and reductionism.

After trying to refocus him, Jesus raised the issue of God’s terms for covenant relationship together: the commandments (19:17)). As Jesus exposed in the Sermon on the Mount, this successful young man perceived these actions in referential terms based on what he did from outer in (the referential letter of the law) rather than in relational terms based on the involvement of his whole person from inner out (the relational spirit of the law); therefore, he also failed to understand their importance for the primacy of relationships in God's design and purpose. But, then, this would be predictable from how he defined himself and did relationships. Nevertheless, he declared to Jesus that he faithfully practiced these behaviors since his youth (par. Mk 10:20). Despite his apparent devotion, eternity-substance helped him realize that he lacked something in the innermost (“what do I still lack?” 19:20), so he pursued more.

Despite all that he was accomplishing and all he had, this serious, devoted, successful young man wanted more in his life. Jesus pursued his heart further and loved (agape, as distinguished previously) him (par. Mk 10:21). With the primary Jesus addressed his lack and focused his attention “to be perfect” (19:21) in relational terms, which he defined in the first functional key for his followers in relational likeness of the Father (Mt 5:48). Then, in relational language those familiar words came out of Jesus' mouth (19:21), which in referential language seem so exceptionally demanding as a requisite for discipleship that they are taken as an exception. These gentle, loving relational words were so burdensome to this serious, devoted religious man, as they likely seem to us, that he could not respond to Jesus’ relational message and walked away depressed (19:22). Was Jesus too hard on him? Wasn't he, after all, serious and devoted?

His depressed state emerged from the conflicting dynamics unfolding in this interaction, consequently its state was twofold: (1) the deep disappointment in not experiencing the more he desired and needed, and (2) the frustration and sadness of the thought of losing his identity based on all he had. The issue for him was his perception of Jesus’ words in referential terms, thus exposing the primacy he gave to the secondary. Despite the blessing of eternity-substance stirring his heart to pursue more in the innermost, the secondary emerged as the primary to render him only to eternity-substance’s burden to bear. In contrary qualitative and relational terms, by the distinguished love of communicating those relational words to him, Jesus redefined his person from inner out (the primary) and wanted to redeem him from what he based himself on from outer in (the secondary); and by sharing these relational words, Jesus also unmistakably revealed what was primary to the whole of God, to God's life and thus to eternal life. The primary focus of his relational words is not on secondary efforts of what to do, like "go, sell everything ...," but on the primacy of relationship together in "follow me." Jesus tried to focus the young man’s person on the whole of his distinguished person, not further embed the man in his occupation in the secondary. Jesus wanted this serious pursuer to be relationally involved with him in Face-to-face relationship, not indirectly engaged by just doing things, even if they were for God. The critical issue is relational work in the primacy of whole relationship together that Jesus lovingly presented to him for his primary involvement, just as he defined in his second functional key for his followers (Mt 6:33). This primacy in the qualitative and relational was what his person lacked and how he lacked; conflictingly, that's also why this successful young man wanted more in his life—that more of eternity-substance that can only be experienced in qualitative ontology with relational function. In the pursuit of more, eternity-substance converges with eternal life in the primacy of the qualitative and the relational to be fulfilled and made whole in the primacy of relationship together with the whole of God.

This is the what, who and how of eternal life Jesus illuminated in the concluding part (dynamic) of the whole of God’s complete plan in thematic relational response to the human condition, which provides whole understanding of the more in eternal life and that leads to the conclusive outcome of his challenge above of pursuing him who “dwells together for eternal life.” With the relational words in relational language, Jesus communicated his primary relational message in his formative family prayer: “This is eternal life, that they may know you Father, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (Jn 17:3). This cannot be reduced to referential words in referential language to transmit information about God (and to God in his prayer), because that would not be the level of knowing in the innermost signifying the eternity-substance constituted by the innermost of the life of the eternal God. The significance of the qualitative and the relational in the innermost are irreducible. Their significance for the human person in the qualitative image and relational likeness of the whole of God are deepened in the distinguished context composed by the ongoing qualitative presence and relational involvement of the whole of God: the distinguished qualitative and relational context of eternity and eternal life. The integrally vulnerable presence of Jesus’ whole person embodied the qualitative presence and relational involvement of the whole of God for relationship together (Jn 17:6), in which we can relationally participate face to Face in the qualitative life of God (17:21). The relational outcome of this intimate involvement is the eternal life Jesus intimately distinguished in his prayer: to “understand and know me” (as in Jer 9:24 but further and deeper) in the primacy of whole relationship together, “so that the love with which you Father have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (Jn 17:26).

The relational challenge Jesus made to direct our efforts in the primacy of dwelling together in eternal life is the necessary reciprocal relational work of vulnerable involvement compatible to the whole of God’s presence and involvement. This primary relational work is unmistakably distinguished from efforts of self-determination and the shaping of relationship together. As Martha apparently learned, we can be distracted and occupied by many secondary things, even with good intentions in efforts for God, but there is necessarily only one primary response (Lk 10:41-42). The rich young man turned away from this relational work to remain apart from the whole.[9] Paul turned to this reciprocal relational work to become whole, to live whole in God’s family and to make whole the human condition (cf. Phil 3:7-11; 2 Cor 5:17-19). They both learned, the former as a burden and the latter as a blessing, the irreducible and nonnegotiable reality:

Only the qualitative and relational from inner out, created in the innermost in the very likeness of the whole of God and with God’s distinguished qualitative being and relational nature, can have the compatibility and congruence necessary (1) to make relational connection with God from inner out, (2) to understand the innermost significance of the primacy of the qualitative and the relational in order to be whole, and therefore (3) to intimately know and understand the whole of God in the primacy of whole relationship together—that which holds together the person, persons in relationship, and the world in the innermost.

Anything less and any substitutes reflect, reinforce and sustain the human relational condition in its human shaping of relationships—even among his followers, within the church and in the academy. Without addressing the breadth of the human condition, any response to it lacks the depth of the gospel.



[1] Antonio Damasio, Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain (New York: Pantheon Books, 2010), 242, 56, 259, 262.

[2] John T. Cacioppo and William Patrick, loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection (New York: W.W. Norton, 2008), x, 8, 11, 15, 127, 167, 201.

[3] Hans Küng, The Beginning of All Things, 179-91.

[4] Quoted in an interview about his book, Newsweek, March 7, 2011, p.47. For an integrated account of these issues, see David Brooks, The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement (New York: Random House, 2011).

[5] Anthony Thiselton comments on how author intentions tend to be overlooked by individualism in The Promise of Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 133-239.

[6] Embodiment and “incarnational” are terms gaining wider usage in recent years—for example, incarnational discipleship, ethics, ministry, etc. Yet, these tend not to be understood as a function of the whole person presented in the relational context and process engaging intimate involvement in relationship together—namely in relational compatibility and congruence with the incarnation of Jesus embodying the whole of God for relationship together. Jesus was more than incarnational and embodied more than embodiment. In other words, mere use of a term does not make practice more functionally significant.

[7] See the discussion of social values in John J. Pilch and Bruce J. Malina, eds., Biblical Social Values and Their Meaning: A Handbook (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publ., 1993), 63-67.

[8] In his research on loneliness, Cacioppo concludes: “Loneliness itself is not a disease; feeling lonely from time to time is like feeling hungry or thirsty from time to time. It is part of being human. The trick is to heed these signals in ways that bring long-term satisfaction.” loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, 228.

[9] Cacioppo’s observations of the human person lead him to believe: “The degree of social connection…is both as simple and as difficult as being open and available to others…. The characteristic most common among those low in loneliness is a full availability to whatever genuine social interaction is appropriate to the moment” (loneliness, 229). Cacioppo, however, makes a false assumption that the human person is simply free to engage such a response that would satisfy the whole person, especially when motivated by the desire and need for more—an assumption that the rich young man’s lack of response disputes.



©2012 T. Dave Matsuo

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