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Jesus Knowing Christ
Engaging the Intimate
Engaging the Intimate Relational Process
T. Dave Matsuo
©2003TDM All rights reserved
No part of this manuscript may be reprinted without permission from the author
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Chapter 1 Relational Perspective
Above all else, guard your heart, for it affects everything you do.
Proverbs 4:23 NLT1
This study is for those who have a relationship with Jesus Christ, whether relatively new or long established. It's for those who want to genuinely know God further but not in the conventional way of more information and technique. We will expand on the relational process of experiencing God in intimate relationship which results in knowing him more and more. In this sense our study will not be about spiritual growth and spiritual formation as these have popularly come to be connoted, though it certainly involves spiritual growth and will result further in it. I think you will find this study confronting and challenging but also potentially comforting and satisfying in a relational way.
It's important that you use your Bible as you undertake this study in order to interact with God's word. Also, I hope you pause along the way increasingly to interact with him directly. I further suggest that you read the sections of this study in their order because they build progressively. The process of relationship is certainly not linear and this study is not presented as structured steps for relationship. But understanding the relational process is a cumulative experience of Jesus' person and words which build toward greater and greater intimacy with God. (I use Jesus' "words" instead of "teachings" because the latter tends to get disconnected from his person in our thinking.)
Though growing in a relationship does not take place in a straight line, the relational process keeps unfolding and developing, with no shortcuts or substitutes. If you're looking for something easy or a simple formula for successful Christian living, you won't want to involve yourself in this study. If you want to go to the next level of relationship with God, I know you can experience that in the study of Jesus' person and his words. As familiar as his life may seem to you I think you can still experience further adventure and discovery. In fact, you may find more than you're looking for.
All the global changes and instability we've been experiencing since the latter third of the 20th century, as well as the diminishing dominance of the modernist worldview, have created much more uncertainty in our lives, collectively and individually. Christians are living in very challenging times and I'm excited about our opportunities. Yet, we have some serious work ahead of us, more specifically what I call relational work. This makes the study of Jesus imperative.
As we anticipate studying his person and words, we have
to prepare to work through the complexities of our everyday living
(individually and corporately as God's people) which have profoundly
affected our interpersonal relations and the satisfaction we experience
in our relationships. This effort involves three major issues:
(1) how we've come to see ourselves and thus define ourselves;
(2) as a result of this definition, how we then proceed to do (live in) our relationships, both with God and with others;
(3) how these two then influence and even ultimately
determine how we do church today.
These three major issues will be a continuous focus interwoven throughout this study. They are basic issues which we will need to deal with along the way.
At the risk of oversimplifying global relations (political, economic and socio-cultural) the specific condition of these relationships is just a macrocosm of interpersonal relationships on an individual level. When we examine this condition it reveals: how much we define ourselves by what we have and what we do; and how we base our relationships on this and how this determines essentially how we relate to others. Such relationships illustrate the pervasiveness of how we define ourselves affects how we do relationships.
Yet, none of these so-called indicators of growth necessarily result in quality relationship.
There have been various ways of following Jesus throughout church history. Many of those ways usually have concentrated on what we should do (follow his teachings and example) than on his person and the relationship. For example, they may focus on exercising your spiritual gift, serving in some role or even bearing a title, all the while unintentionally overlooking him and the relationship. Growth in this relationship also has been measured in various ways. Think for a moment how you measure growth. Increasingly, for the most part, growth has come to be viewed in terms of quantity. For example, growth is perceived in how much you've done together (church activities, service, even Bible study or fasting) or accomplished (particularly in service for God), in how long you've been together or how much information you know about him. Yet, none of these so-called indicators of growth necessarily results in a quality relationship.
All of us are familiar with marriage relationships, maybe even of our own parents, for whom quantity did not result in quality. In spite of this lack, our tendency still is to embrace these standards, to accept these relational conditions or to be essentially resigned to them. We make these choices instead of going deeper in the relationship for more substance and satisfaction. Consequently, we end up making substitutes and settling for less.
The use of the above indicators of quantity to reflect a quality relationship is directly tied to defining ourselves by what we do and have. They are both based on lies which result in our focus on secondary areas and our settling for less than is available to experience. Of course, sometimes quantity may be the only area in a relationship available to us but we can't impose this limitation on relationship with God. He is so much more to know and to experience than mere quantity.
Consider the following questions:
-- In the multitude of conversations (short or long) we have in an average day, how many of those are actually with God?
-- Do you feel closer to God when he is doing (has done) something specific for you?
-- Do you feel the most satisfaction in your relationship with Christ when you are doing something (e.g., serving) for him?
These are all relational questions. They deal respectively with: when we are involved with him (e.g., only at set times or even at a particular place); how we are involved with each other (e.g., primarily through deeds or in activities); why we are really involved in the relationship at that moment (e.g., essentially because of a need, a sense of duty or obligation). Most of these focus on secondary areas and indirect connections in the relationship. They establish us in virtual connections with God but not relationally significant ones. There is a definite sense of the relationship but not the real experience which comes from intimate involvement.
How many areas of life, including the church, do we
assess on the basis of secondary matters? This is vital for us to
examine. Hopefully, we will come to understand the subtle presence and
influence lies may have in our relationship with God. The person and
words of Jesus reveal to us what is necessary and what is sufficient for
a quality relationship with God
. . . in order to to fully understand this person Jesus and his words, as well as ourselves, we need to start thinking relationally.
With all the changes taking place around us, relational changes are the most critical. Globalization is forcing us to think more about relationships (at least in economics) beyond our provincial boundaries and comfort zones. These relationships, however, focus only on an exchange process (e.g., of labor, goods and services), not a relational process. This is not how we need to think relationally, though the exchange process is how many personal relationships are conducted, even with God.
Emigration has affected all our lives in one way or another. At no other time in history has a group of persons "faced" so many other peoples different from themselves than exists today. This has strained our comfort zones and either threatened us or challenged us to expand our relationships, even to change how we do relationships.
The current displacing of modernism (and its dependence on reason and the mind) is another relatively recent development influencing our perception of relationships which is important to briefly note. Modernism has been instrumental in creating further distance from our heart and helping to prevent intimacy in relationships. Now it's being said of the Western world that we seem to be realizing the limits of the mind and the talk of spirituality is increasing. While this is encouraging, we have to wonder about the extent of this shift and its real significance, especially for relationships. It is not apparent if any shift is increasingly focusing us on the heart of the total person and is also lifting the modern constraints on relationships toward greater intimacy.This change is vital for our redemption from the negative effects of modernism.
Do the heart and the experience of intimacy still escape us today? I think the answer is unequivocal--yes, even among Christians. But I don't think this condition has been the consequence unique to modernism. This worldview and mindset has only further entrenched us and formalized our existing tendencies in how we define ourselves and do relationships. Therefore, I don't think we adequately reverse the flow and formulate a new direction for ourselves merely by addressing the issues from the philosophical tenets of modernism. If indeed we are moving into postmodernism (and a reliance on experience), it is that much more urgent to understand the relational process and practice it in relationship with God and others.
Merely acknowledging God, for example, however sincerely and consistently, does not mean it will lead to knowing God. The latter is a relational outcome involving the heart and is not guaranteed by a shift in intellectual position. On the contrary, a limited shift could even result in further misperceptions about God and the person, and the relationships which are basic to both.
I think the common Christian concern underlying various spiritual approaches and traditions in church history essentially boils down to this: the interpersonal relationship between Christ and me, and the development of this relationship toward greater intimacy between us. Rightly so, because this is what Jesus came to establish and what the Spirit will bring to completion. Yet, we haven't always looked at our relationship as a function of relationships nor engaged the relational process in our practice. Jesus makes this fundamental to all which takes place between God and us.
Basic to examining his person and words is understanding his interpersonal relations. In order that we don't take Jesus out of the relational context, our examination will need to look also at the other participants in his relationships or interactions. Merely focusing on the teachings is not sufficient. We need to go deeper in order to better see Jesus the person and the others involved. For example, by going beyond merely what he did and the others did, we can focus more deeply on their persons, as well as focus on the total person, and on what is actually taking place in the relationship.
The cultures of biblical times and Western culture today differ in many important ways. The individual today is seen as an independent person, with individualism the norm. The individual was not so defined in the cultures of that period in Christ's time. The individual was not seen apart from the family, kinship network or the community in which one lived. Yet, the tensions involving the individual in one's relationship to Jesus functionally still work similarly to today. That's because the tensions are relational and not circumstantial or situational, as we will see in our study. What prevents receiving Jesus, connecting with him or deeper involvement in relationship with him is common for all of us (with slight variation), whether in the 1st century or the 21st. Those issues back then are still the issues today, particularly involving how we define ourselves, how we do relationships and church. As we examine the biblical narratives of Jesus, we will also see other participants in this relationship who were much like we are today. In that sense we can put ourselves in their shoes in those accounts because that's what is happening in our relationship with him today.
This process is forcefully revealed in the early disciples' relationship with Jesus. One particular interaction stands out to illustrate this; I comment it on here, with further examination of their relationship to come later.
Jesus was basing their knowledge on what they should have experienced in intimate relationship with him--a deeper epistemology.
As Jesus was preparing to complete his earthly ministry, he openly shared vital words with his disciples, particularly for their life ahead (see John 13-17). Since they had been with Jesus intensely for three years, there are certain assumptions at this point which could reasonably be made about these disciples: their faith in Jesus, their commitment and sacrifice to follow him. For the most part they seemed to demonstrate these. And it would be reasonable to think that they also knew Jesus fairly well by this time. But is it really correct to say that the disciples knew Jesus at this point? The answer is revealed in their interaction (read John 14:1-11) when Jesus clarified and challenged their faith. Let's examine this interaction.
Jesus: "Do not let your hearts be troubled ... you know the way to the place where I am going" (14:1-4).
When Jesus said "you know the way," he used the word "know" (Gk. oida)2 which means to intuitively know, to be acquainted or familiar with based on one's intimate knowledge of the subject. Jesus was basing their knowledge on what they should have experienced in intimate relationship with him--a deeper epistemology. Thomas responded to Jesus in a way most of us probably would.
Thomas: "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?" (v.5)
Is this a perfectly reasonable response? Before you might be too quick to reprimand Thomas for not knowing the way, think about it. How can anyone know the way to a place if they don't first know where the place itself is? So, Thomas asked a reasonable question, a valid, correct one, that is, correct based on how we usually think--conventional epistemology, not a deeper epistemology Jesus pointed to. Jesus built on his first words with the well-known words.
Jesus: "I am the way ... If you really knew me, you would know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him" (vv.6,7).
Notice where Jesus sharpens their focus: on his person ("I am the way"), not on a place and some mode or mental directions to it. Then, he implied that they had come to know, experience (Gk. ginosko) the truth of God because it was contained in his person--plus made the bold statement that they had seen the Father. Like many of us, Philip was eager to "see" the Father.
Philip: "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us" (v.8).
Does his request have any similar sense to the Jews asking for a sign? Well, I'm sure we have all asked God at some time, in effect, to "show us." But, like our requests, Philip's request was based on conventional epistemology also. In one sense these are reasonable requests. Yet such knowledge we would gain from having these requests fulfilled is not sufficient to provide us with the fuller understanding of the truth of God that includes the heart, as well as to provide us with the experience of God so vital in our relationship with him. That's why in response to Philip's request--in the same manner he often responds to our such requests--Jesus returned the focus to his person.
Jesus: "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father" (v.9).
Why does Jesus keep returning the focus to his person? Because the person of Jesus is so intimately connected to his Father, both relationally and ontologically (cf. Jn 10:38b), that the transmission of deep knowledge about one to the other is accomplished in the relational context of this intimate relational process (cf. Jn 12:45). For the disciples to truly know and experience the Father required their intimate connection with Jesus in this relational process. That's why Jesus so openly shared his person and his words with them. Yet, Jesus understood that something was missing from the disciples even though he had been involved with them and shared with them from his heart those past three years. Note his frustration and sadness.
Jesus: "Don't you know me, Philip...? How can you say, 'show us the Father'?" (v.9)
If I could paraphrase his words, Jesus would say: "I've been opening the deepest part of my heart to you all this time and you still don't know me? I shared with you my intimacy with my Father so you could experience him also, but you keep us at arms length from you. You won't let us get close to you. As much as I've loved you, you still don't trust me!"
...the disciples... would need to be transformed.
So, the disciples clearly were not deeply connecting with Jesus and, as a result, they didn't know him. Whether it was because of their thinking or because of their way of doing relationships, the disciples did not experience all which Jesus made available to them. They would need to change--to be transformed. But, then, that's what Jesus was to go to the cross for. Just as he would save them from the old, he came equally to save them to the new. The new is what he vulnerably brought to them to intimately experience in his person and words.
We will go further into the dynamics of their relationship later in this study. But as their relationship demonstrates here, any involvement with Jesus which depends only on conventional epistemology or on merely doing things usually becomes involvement somewhat distant from our heart. That distance increasingly separates us from our true humanity and from the longing in our heart to experience him. This heart is created in the image of the God of heart and is made for intimate relationship with himself. To practice our faith without engaging this relational process then becomes primarily an intellectual exercise. Like the early disciples, such faith does not make relational connection with the person Jesus to really know him.
This means in order to fully understand this person Jesus and his words, as well as ourselves, we need to start thinking relationally. For some this may mean an uncomfortable paradigm shift; if part of postmodern thought truly includes this shift toward intimacy, then we would do well to learn from this aspect of such thinking. If a so-called quest by Generation X for something deeper in life truly exists, this generation especially would learn from Jesus. For all of us this means specifically focusing on the relational process and understanding relational messages. The relational messages in any interaction basically are about one or all of the following (made verbally or non-verbally, directly or indirectly, usually implied in the message):
(1) What is the other person communicating about you, how they see you or feel about you?
(2) What is the other person saying about their relationship with you, how they see it or feel about it?
(3) What is that person saying about their own self?
These relational messages become very important for our deeper understanding of Jesus Christ and for our experience in our relationship with God.
There is so much which God designed, plans and desires for us to experience about him, life and being together. It's not enough, as far as God is concerned, for us to define all this merely in beliefs and values, propositions or systems of theology, no matter how much of the truth it reflects. Likewise, it must frustrate God to see us exercise this truth in limited or selective parts of our total person by which, for example, we may be only stirred in our minds but not touched in our hearts. This frequently happens during formal theological study, as it did for me; but it also happens during the course of everyday Christian living, for example, in personal Bible study.
To think relationally means to make the relationship the context, and thus focus on person and the relationship.
Those who take Jesus seriously realize there are imperatives in his teachings to his followers. Generally, we tend to focus on different imperatives and do not always agree if a teaching is imperative. We also give different priorities to his imperatives. Whatever imperative we practice, it is important to realize one imperative from Jesus which is fundamentally necessary for all the others. This is the relational imperative by which all the other imperatives need to be undertaken. This imperative clearly and strongly emerges from his person and words, as we will see in this study.
This imperative of the relational process provides the context and the process for the others, indeed for relationship with God. Our tendency is to make the situation the context over the relationship. We are also influenced and controlled more by circumstances than by the relational process. To think relationally means to make the relationship the context, and thus focus on persons and the relationship. This helps us make aspects of the Christian life more functional as real relational experiences rather than as practices of merely doing something which often become routine and even ends in themselves. Faith, for example, is not something we have and do, it is the exercise of trust we vulnerably give to God in intimate relationship. Faith as well as grace are absolutely necessary for ongoing intimate connection with God, yet they easily become more like concepts to us with little relational significance. These, along with others like truth, eternal life, spirituality, fellowship, even church, need to be understood in the relational context and put into practice by the relational process for us to have deep connection and substantive experience with God. Without the relational process our practices have no relational significance to God. If they don't to him, how much can they have for us--and for others?
God wants so much more for us, he has so much more for us to receive and experience in life with him, as well as to share with others. Proverbs tell us "to guard (i.e., observe, watch, inspect) our heart, for it affects everything we do" (Prov 4:23 NLT). To paraphrase this: "be aware of your heart, attend to it and deal with it because your heart issues are brought into everything you do and influence how you are." So, we are challenged in these days, challenged by him relationally to open our self fully to the Word made flesh.
Jesus, we need new eyes to see your person, and we also need new ears to hear your words. Free us from the old in us and open the eyes and ears of our heart to the new. We want to experience more of you--you, our Lord and our God!
I think it can be accurately said that evangelical theology formulates and articulates the Christian mind but it does not usually touch and express the Christian heart. This is partly understandable because evangelicalism in the 20th century emerged as an apologetic response to liberalism and its dependence on rationalism from the Enlightenment. But there is a serious gap here, the deficiency of which is not so much quantitative (regarding truth, though theological problems exist) as it is qualitative (the actual practice of our beliefs). The whole issue of understanding Jesus and the matter of knowing him are only secondarily related to his miraculous deeds and objective information about him. They were not the primary and direct areas which resulted in understanding and knowing Christ during his earthly life. Despite Thomas' experiences (see Jn 20:24-29), Jesus said that relational connection through intimate trust is what fully satisfies (makarios, 20:29b). This relational context was clearly brought out in John 14 as Jesus defined this deeper epistemology to Philip and Thomas.
Without the relational connection with Jesus, apologetics has no meaning.
Evangelicals still labor in a bias for the intellect. But without the relational context, apologetics, for example, has little significance. Without the relational connection with Jesus, apologetics has no meaning. Biases and a closed mind prevent that connection, as rationalism in our time and persons seeking signs in Christ's time illustrate. But even an open mind without heart will not yield the relational connection necessary to understand and know Christ. Even his disciples demonstrated that.
Postmodernists say "So what!" to our apologetics. While we may question their relativism, they may look for the significance of our beliefs. The postmodernist tells us to "Show me the experience!" in our faith, and we may have little more than information to give. It will be valuable for us to examine the significance of our Christian vocabulary in relation to our experience. What in fact is a reality in our experience or only has virtual sense? When we seek this kind of understanding, I suggest that we need to immerse ourselves in our relationship with him and engage him in the relational process in order to pursue the relational significance of our practices.
This qualitative deficiency in our everyday Christian practice takes us back to the original biblical issue of justification by faith or by works. As our study proceeds, we may be surprised by the areas of our practice which are in tension or conflict with the person and words of Jesus Christ. And the main reason any practice of ours would be in conflict with Christ is that it essentially (even though unintentionally) becomes a form of self-justification. Such practice does not change our theological position on grace and faith but it does effectively change our relational position with God and with others. I will develop this later in terms of how we basically define our person and how this diminishes our relationship with God (particularly in our relational messages and trusting him) and how it affects our relationships with others (especially in our loving).
The deeper appreciation of the person and words of Christ has always involved the pursuit of authentic spirituality. Because of the current popularity of the term "spirituality," we need to understand that not all spirituality is authentic. I don't consider any spirituality apart from biblical authority to be valid; it may be useful for an individual for certain purposes but not valid as a basis for one's life. Furthermore, I don't hesitate to say that it is not automatic for Christian spirituality to be reliably authentic, nor, for that matter, substantive in its practice. Spiritual authenticity is rooted in the biblical person and words of Christ and its substance emerges from the relational experience of intimate involvement with him.
There is a wonderful movement among biblical Christians (particularly evangelicals) that has rediscovered biblical spirituality. This is resulting in the experience of a deeper, more authentic spirituality. Biblical spirituality has always existed in one form or another since the time of Jesus Christ. This specific rediscovery of Christian spirituality and spiritual formation engages various aspects and disciplines (e.g., contemplation, forms of prayer, lectio divina, fasting) which I will not cover in this study. There are many good resources available for that purpose.
Though some may place our discussion in the area of contemplation and practicing the presence of God, what I seek to do in relation to any practice of biblical spirituality is provide the relational context and process necessary to maximize the practice of those disciplines. This is important in order for these practices to ongoingly provide intimate connection with God and not merely become exercises of limited experiences, however valid. These new ways (i.e., new for Protestants) of spirituality don't guarantee this intimate relational outcome for everyone; life with Christ is not merely new behaviors but the transformed life of a transformed person living in a transformed relationship. These spiritual practices also are susceptible to becoming ends in themselves--ends used as another means of self-justification. When properly discussed, the writers in this movement express this same warning.
"Honesty of our heart" is basic to the grace Jesus brought, and it is fundamental in practicing our faith in him.
Authentic biblical spirituality has little to do with certain methods or disciplines. But it has everything to do with our hearts and the function of our hearts in relationship with the heart of God. As Jesus revealed, we cannot have biblical spirit(uality) without involving our heart; and we can't have authentic spirituality without honesty, that is, being vulnerable with our true self. God is this way and he is this way in relation to us. So, God looks for the same in those deeply involved with him, as we will see later in John 4:24. This "honesty of our heart" is basic to the grace Jesus brought, and it is fundamental in practicing our faith in him.
Yet, the area of spiritual growth can be confusing in how
it's approached. For example, it is often a curious matter to me that
Christians define spirituality at its core as a loving, deepening
relationship with the living God but then basically focus on
non-relational issues and a non-relational process. The heart dimension
is focused on, but the relational dynamics are not often present or
clear. In a very useful book (which I recommend) for evangelicals
summarizing Christian spirituality by Bruce Demarest, he expresses:
"Christian spirituality concerns the shaping of our inner beings after the likeness of Jesus Christ by the indwelling Spirit and the living out of Jesus' values in service to others" (italics mine).3
Demarest does discuss relationship but usually not the relational issues and process involved in "shaping," "likeness" and "living out." Writers on this subject, like Demarest, are either vague about relationship itself or leave it up to you to figure out the process.
If a deepening relationship with God is sought through more intimate connection with him, then we are talking about a relational process of interaction. There is nothing mystical about this relational process, even though there is certainly still some mystery about God. It's the same process which involves all our relationships; therefore, issues in how we do relationships in general certainly affect how we relate to God. This interaction operates only within the relational context and, thus, must be engaged by its participants: the God of heart, who created us in his image to be persons of heart who, in turn, must respond back with our heart to consummate the heart-to-heart connection. It's this connection, otherwise known as intimacy (defined as hearts opened to each other and coming together), that we long for in our relationships both with God and with others. It is this relational experience our hearts so deeply yearn for. This is understandable because this created relational context and process are God's design and purpose for our lives.
So, in experiencing the intimate presence of God, whether we call it contemplation or use the various practices associated historically with it, the only important matter here is to experience God intimately and to know his heart and person. This is the growth which can only take place in the ongoing relational context and process of God's design and purpose. The reality of this growing relationship is secured by Christ's person; the fulfillment of it is completed by the person of the Holy Spirit.
Along with the ongoing relational work of his Spirit, whatever disciplines, methods or "tools" which help us experience this deeper intimate connection with God should be valued. Whatever means helps us grow to this joyful, relational end is a valuable resource, no matter where its period in church history or what its place in church tradition. Those who use Scripture as the authoritative word from God should not be afraid to utilize the various traditions of brothers and sisters in Christ who have gone before us. Yet, for any resource to remain a valuable means to this glorious end, it must be exercised within the dynamic relational interaction of our hearts coming together with the extended, vulnerable heart of God.
Ultimately, even for those who hold to Scripture, we need to develop our relational focus primarily on the Word himself in the flesh and intimately connect with the vulnerable life and words of this person Jesus. That will be the purpose of this study.
Thank you, Father, for your mercy, grace and love which further await me. Expand my mind and open my heart to receive you as never before.
1. Unless otherwise noted all quotes from Scripture are taken from NIV.
2. Greek and Hebrew word studies used in this study are taken from the following sources: Colin Brown, ed., The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology,3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975); R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., Bruce Waitke, eds., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 2 vols. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980); Gerhard Kittel, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 10 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974); W. E. Vine, Vine's Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1981); Spiros Zodhiates, ed., Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible (Chattanooga: AMG Publ., 1996).
3. Bruce Demarest, Satisfy Your Soul (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1999), p.74.
A study guide is restricting if it becomes the sum and substance for the user's involvement rather than a flexible outline for discovery as well as a stimulus for further personal growth. The purpose for this outline is to assist our focus toward deeper involvement, thus I hope it engages the user much more in a personal plan of growth and less so as a guide for study.
The outline for each chapter will include four sections which are best addressed in succession:
1. Reflect:Certain aspects of a chapter need our deeper reflection; let the Spirit help you take the content to a deeper understanding or to a further level.
2. Examine:Work with the Spirit to help you examine the issues more directly in relation to your own life; you may experience discomfort in some of these matters, yet this is a necessary process for change from the old in tension with the new.
3. Anticipate:If our engagement in this study is for more information or as an end in itself, then we have nothing further to look forward to; the plan and steps for growth involve first and foremost more intimate relationship with God; if this is not the experience we anticipate as the relational outcome of our involvement, our effort is in vain.
4. Optional:Only after you have thoroughly addressed the previous three sections--not necessarily completed because this is an ongoing process-- you may want to respond to this section; it will require further thought and may engage you in the theological task; for this purpose church leaders are especially encouraged to participate in this section, but only after addressing the other three.
As you undertake this Study Guide & Growth Plan, you may be challenged to adapt it for your individual and/or small group context and needs. I encourage you to send us any adaptations because they may be useful to others.
The growth and development of relationships, both with God and with others, especially in his family, is imperative. The relational work necessary for such outcomes could be a burden or a blessing. His Spirit has been given to us for the blessing of completing this relational process. Yet, this does not diminish our likely struggle, eliminate difficult situations and insulate us from life's hard feelings. The Spirit only guarantees with his seal the growing experience of intimate relationship with the Father as his very own daughters and sons in his family. Anticipate this--here and now!
Study Guide & Growth Plan
No matter how long we've had a relationship with Christ, we all need to understand the actual level of involvement we engage in with God from day to day, from moment to moment. We must never assume the depth of our involvement nor take for granted its practice. What we genuinely experience of God is directly proportional to the level of relationship we engage with him--not merely the fact of the relationship.
Be prepared to examine your relationships, particularly with Christ but also with others.
In order to establish relational significance with God, we have to revisit the Word and come to understand in deeper relational terms two basic elements to our faith:
1. What is God's revelation of himself in Christ Jesus?
2. What is the Gospel and thus what exactly is the Good News we claim for ourselves as well as
proclaim to others?
Keep in focus these elements throughout the course of this study. It will be important to formulate (or reformulate) a functional understanding of these two basic elements for our daily practice, not merely for our belief system.
When you think of Christ, what are some of the specifics which come to your mind?
Write a list and reflect on your thoughts about Christ.
Later, try to identify:
-- what has become matter-of-fact information.
-- what you experience or don't experience in your relationship with him.
--what you want to learn/know more about him.
How have you defined yourself down through the years?
How do you specifically measure growth in relationships?
What are the indicators you use for growth:
-- in relationship with God?
-- in your family relationships?
-- in relationships with friends?
-- in your relationships at church?
Next, on the above lists identify what indicators focus on secondary areas.
Note: In your thinking and probably in your culture these secondary areas may appear as primary. Yet, when we examine what exactly is experienced in a relationship, they often involve more indirect connections, quantity over quality, and as an alternative to going deeper in the relationship for more substance and satisfaction we are really making substitutes and settling for less.
Think about salvation for a moment.
Then reflect on what Jesus saved you to, not saved you from but the to aspect of salvation. What does this mean for you?
At this stage in your relationship with God what has been imperative from him for you to act on?
How do you think the relational imperative would affect this?
In what ways do you think we make it difficult to have intimate relationships today?
How can our Christian belief system create tension or conflict with God's design and purpose for the total person and for relationships?
How do we engage in an exchange process rather than a deeper relational process in many of our relationships, especially with God?
Try to identify current evangelical Christian practices which effectively in function become a form of self-justification. What are the relational implications of such practice and how does this affect our perception of the Gospel?