The Relational Progression
A Relational Theology of Discipleship
2 The Quality of Our Response
Study Note: Please engage each chap. in sequence because this study is cumulative.
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So, you see, it is impossible to please God without faith.
Hebrews 11:6 (NLT)
What constitutes our response to Christ specifically? Having a personal relationship with Christ is usually perceived by most Christians as one who is saved as a result of confession of faith in Jesus Christ. What follows that decision is not usually seen as constituting that relationship, only what established the relationship. Faith, then, becomes basically a belief system, and maybe a way of life. We need to reject this view because what follows that decision does indeed ongoingly constitute the relationship with regard to its most fundamental element: faith. A misguided assumption in this view is defining faith as something one has or possesses; so, once the relationship with Christ is established by faith, one always has faith. Though one always has the relationship, it is erroneous to think one automatically also always has faith.
At the same time Christians understand for the most part that we need faith to live the Christian life--for example, when we're in need, when the situation calls for it, and especially in times of crisis. But there is a tendency to take faith for granted during the times between those circumstances. Do we assume that our faith is "alive and working" ongoingly? That would be another ill-advised assumption.
Since discipleship is about following Christ and following him is being a disciple (not a learner, not a follower of principles, not an imitator of behaviors), it is the relational process of an adherent deeply involved with the person of Jesus that is the primary action to keep in focus. Faith is critical to this relational process. Yet, although the epistle of James makes it clear that our faith and our daily life actions must go together (see Jas 2:14-26), as followers of Jesus we need to further understand that faith is not merely doing something--no matter how much of a service it is. No matter how sincere we are or how good our intentions, faith which merely does deeds is dead also.
This discussion is an important foundation on which all of discipleship is engaged and built. Whatever our level of maturity, faith is not a matter we can bypass nor assume; faith is an ongoing issue for all Christians. It was for Jesus' first disciples. We cannot understand the disciple (mathetes) in the Gospels without grasping faith. The disciples' faith in their Lord was crucial and also problematic in how they practiced it. And maybe today in our zeal, guilt or anxiety to make our faith complete we don't consider the converse of James' well-known words (Jas 2:26b): to perform daily deeds apart from an active faith is to render those deeds useless. This is a susceptibility especially for active Christians who seek, for the most part with good intentions, to be a servant of God and of service to others. Yet, all who define themselves by what they do are easily misguided about their faith.
Authentic faith is more than doing good deeds. Scripture is even more distinct on this issue and can be summarized in the opening verse of this chapter: "without faith it is impossible to please God" (Heb 11:6). What is this faith which must also be conjoined with our deeds so they would not be useless? What is the active nature of faith which is to be distinguished from our deeds of service? What is this faith basic to discipleship and why is it the fundamental condition necessary in order to please God?
Even though faith obviously begins with God's people in the OT--epitomized by Abraham and summarized in Habakkuk 2:4--I begin our understanding with the incarnation. Focusing once again on Jesus' incarnation clearly provides us with the unique context and the specific process which are inherent to all Christian faith.
When God revealed himself to us in the flesh of Jesus Christ, directly extending himself to us first and openly sharing his person and words (particularly as promises), he gave each of us the opportunity to respond. That response could be: flat out not interested, a disinterested "whatever" or an interested "OK," a routine assent, a moment of "Wow!," a humble obligation or appreciation, or a deep involvement. These are possible responses, however, not only to his incarnation; they are also a range of responses we each make to his person and words during the course our relationship with him.
The opportunity Jesus gives us to respond to God's vulnerable presence is what faith is all about. Our response is what God holds us accountable for. But not only do we have to account for our initial response to Christ, we must also account for our ongoing response at any given point in our relationship with him. That's what accountability involves in a relationship. The issue of faith is the quality of our response to the person(s) of God in relationship--an ongoing issue about our ongoing response.
When Hebrews 11:6 goes on to say "anyone who comes to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him," faith emerges distinctly and solely as an interpersonal response taking place from me to God. In the incarnation Jesus presents us (in his person) with the objective existence and presence of God and demonstrates to us (in his words and actions) the moral integrity of God we can count on to keep his promises. But the incarnation (including the resurrection) is not mere objective fact on which to hang our cognitive hat, nor a divine revelation to evoke responses of an interested "OK," a routine assent, a moment of "Wow" or appreciation. These responses are not what define the faith pleasing to God. As James tells us, these responses (except for appreciation) are the kind of faith, in effect, the demons have also (Jas 2:19).
If the incarnation of Jesus is what we base our faith on, then there are two nonnegotiable aspects of faith which are crucial to understand in our relationship with Christ. First, the opportunity Jesus gives us to respond is first and foremost a response to his person, not his teachings, his deeds, his examples, his life in general. That makes the necessary response totally a relational response. Faith must take place within the unique relational context of the vulnerable presence of God presented to us by his incarnation, and faith must engage the specific relational process of involvement with God intimately opened to us by Jesus' person and words. This involves the quality of our response, which we will discuss shortly.
Secondly, the incarnation reflects God's initiative to reveal himself to us, to extend himself to us by initiating in a way that we can intimately grasp and experience God. Faith then becomes nothing more and nothing less than the reciprocal response we make relationally to God's initiative.
His initiative, of course, is unjustified by us and totally represents his grace expressed intimately in love to us. This familiar truth often gets set aside or even lost in the exercise of faith but it is vital for us to understand in the relational process. Since God took the initiative in the incarnation, we cannot initiate faith in the sense of making the initial response in our relationship. Even the choice to be Christ's disciple is not made by the initiative of one's faith. In contrast to the norm of biblical times where the student made the initial decision to be a disciple, Jesus took the initiative and called persons to discipleship. The importance of this distinction will be apparent in our discussion to follow, especially for those who tend to express faith as what they do.
Because our response is simply a reciprocal relational response to God's relational action toward us, it is not enough to say that "faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see" (Heb 11:1). Maybe it was before the incarnation but not after. These views of faith or any faith-deeds perspectives (such as James') are not properly understood unless we grasp faith as a reciprocal relational response from us to God's grace. This is the starting point for our relationship with God, but it also involves the extent of our ongoing response that pleases God.
These two nonnegotiable aspects of faith are deeply interrelated and
strongly interact in the relational process of any and all relationship
with Christ. Let's examine
them within this relational context and process.
If we were to examine Christian practice today and get a sense of the landscape of Christian culture, the dominant picture to emerge has faith defined as what we possess, have or do--individually and/or collectively. Some of this faith might be perceived within a context of a personal relationship with God but very little of that faith is actually practiced ongoingly in the relational process. That is, since faith is not seen relationally, such faith doesn't intentionally engage the relational process. But it certainly affects this process in problematic ways, as the early disciples demonstrated.
While the general concept of faith (religious or otherwise) may connote what one possesses, has or does, faith in Christ is only relational. If the practice of faith is not relationally specific to the person of Jesus, such faith has no significance to God because there is no relational connection with him. Faith is a function only of this relationship, nothing else.
If we read Paul's epistles apart from their total context, we can be misinformed about both faith and discipleship. Paul didn't specifically use terms like "following Christ" (akoloutheo) and being his "disciple" (mathetes) but rather focused on "faith in Christ." Does this mean discipleship was not important or a priority in Paul's teaching? Certainly not, yet he seems to be taken this way. When Paul talked about different followers of different personalities (namely, Apollos, Cephas, Christ, Paul, 1 Cor 1:12), he didn't use the term akoloutheo, yet their attachment is usually rendered "follow" in today's translations. The divisive situation in Corinth is informative for us. It is highly likely that Paul doesn't use the terms for "follow" and "disciple" because of this kind of situation where people had a tendency to follow "cult-like" personalities, as well as systems of false teachings. Paul wanted to counter these by focusing only on the person of Jesus Christ and exercising faith in him. He didn't want believers to reduce Christ to mere teachings; and he didn't want "following Christ" to become an activity or something they do. Faith was distinctly relational for Paul also.
Yet, Paul is not always clear (particularly apart from the total context) about what faith is and involves in the relational process. For example, he makes 138 references to "faith" (plus references to "believe," which is the verb form of faith) but only 14 of those include the object "in Christ" (one is "in God"). For Paul, faith is always clearly connected to the message of the gospel but connection to the person of the gospel is not explicitly stated in most of his uses of the term. Not putting the remaining 124 references to "faith" (plus those to "believe") into context can easily distort faith to imply something we possess, have or do. An accurate reading of Paul always puts faith into the relational context as well as includes the process of deep involvement with Christ, which is what discipleship is all about.
Matthew's Gospel has the most specific use of disciple (mathetes) and clearly establishes the relational context as that of following (akoloutheo) Jesus. John's Gospel seems to expand the relational context to the big picture and focuses on God's revelations in the person and words of Jesus. His emphasis on receiving Christ's revelations and following this God person as his disciples clearly mean having faith. While John's focus may be broader than Matthew's and can be seen as a transition to the rest of the NT (especially Paul's writings on faith), together these Scriptures provide us with the relational context and process of the faith of Christ's disciples.
When faith is put in its proper relational context, the relational process can be distinctly and intentionally engaged. God's initiative with his incarnation is the reason we have relationship with him; so his grace is always the starting point--the initial action and the sustaining action for the relationship, its basis and base. This is critical throughout the relational process because grace defines the nature of the relationship as one between superior and inferior (or subordinate), between benefactor and beneficiary. There is no other way we can legitimately define this relationship. Though this may not appear to conflict with our beliefs and perceptions, this may not be the way we actually function in our relationship with him.
For example, if we live a life faster than grace (e.g., when our faith-deeds move ahead of him or apart from him), then our faith precedes grace, or displaces it, in the relational process. This creates a shift in the relationship. When our faith becomes the starting point (the initial action and/or the sustaining action) in our relationship, grace subtly no longer is the reason we have the relationship nor what defines the nature of the relationship.
What are the implications of this in the relational process? Faith ahead of grace makes us susceptible to attempt to create, to establish or control our relationship in some way on our terms. But the functional and theological truth is that God took the initiative and extended his unmerited favor. Grace, therefore, precludes any terms for the relationship other than his. The burden is on us to respond to him, not him to us. Contrary to many perceptions, faith cannot precede grace and be used as a "stimulus" to evoke God's favorable response in the relationship. While grace precludes our terms, authentic faith is our acknowledgment and response to his terms for our relationship. This is why faith is necessary to please God, and without it we can't please him.
Grace or faith as the starting point in the relational process (not necessarily in our beliefs or theology) is an absolutely vital distinction to ongoingly keep in focus because it tells us who controls the relationship and determines its terms.
Religions, in general, tend to determine who their god is and what god is like based on some expression of their faith. Christians have not been immune from this kind of faith activity in their actual practice, if not in their belief system. Biblical Christianity, however, reveals God acting to us first with his favor and, thus, revealing who, what and how God is. Biblical faith is our response to God and his initiative; faith is not an expression which determines our God. God won't be controlled or manipulated in the relationship. He will not accept anything less than our faith in him for who he truly is, what and how he really is, not some projection or wishfulness on our part.
What exactly is the quality of our response which properly puts faith
in this relational context and fully engages its relational process?
With the incarnation Jesus revealed God's glory (in terms of his being, nature and presence) as the God of heart (his being) who is intimately relational (his nature) and vulnerably present and accessible (his presence, Jn 1:14,18). This openly revealed not only who God is but what he is and how he is, all of which determines how to connect with God and defines how to do relationship with him.
Since Jesus came to "our house," presented his heart, pursued us for intimate relationship and vulnerably involved himself with us, what constitutes an appropriate response to such initiative? "Anyone who comes to him must believe . . ." (Heb 11:6) sets not only the relational context and process of faith but also establishes the active nature of faith as that of trust and intimacy. Herein is the basic foundation of faith on which all relationship with Christ grows and from which all life actions as his disciples must flow. This kind of faith is the ongoing response by which discipleship is lived.
As made explicit in both parts of Hebrews 11:6, to please God is to come to him. To please God who came to us first is to respond to him on his terms. Yet, responding to him does not mean to come to him in the dominant way we do relationship or as we commonly do even in our close relationships. "To come" (Gk. proserchomai) means to draw near to him, to walk closely with him, that is, to have fellowship with him in intimate terms--not to only approach him. Trust and intimacy are the most fundamental characteristics to a deep relationship, be it with God or with others.
Faith and believing have always been synonymous in Scripture with trust. The heroes of faith outlined in Hebrews 11 lived by their trust in God, even without the incarnation. But we must understand trust in its relational context, not as something the faithful generate by what they do. Faith cannot be rightly understood by functionally isolating the individual from this relationship. The trust of the faithful is enacted only in relation to God in the relational process. Consequently, biblical trust focuses more on the person(s) of God than it does on our person. That's because trust is not something we have or do by ourselves but what we exercise and experience only in our relationship with God. And the incarnation made this relational context an objective reality and established its relational process in distinct intimate experience.
The whole of Christ's work was to make us acceptable to God for intimate fellowship (Heb 10:1,22), to redeem us from the impenetrable barriers to such intimate relationship (Heb 7:19,25), to open the way for our relationship to come together intimately as friends (Jn 15:15), intimately as Parent-child (Gal 4:4-7). As discussed in Chapter 1, the incarnation revealed to us Jesus' intimate bond with his Father--to see Jesus we see the Father (Jn 14:9, to know one we know the other (Lk 10:22)--he describes it as "the Father living in me" (Jn 14:10). Their intimate bond is both ontological and relational. Their ontological bond is beyond us; but we can understand the relational bond of their hearts intimately connected only because Jesus openly revealed to us their relational bond. He also offered this same relational bond on the heart level for us: relationally bonded (Jn 14:20; 17:21); intimate relationship (Jn 14:21); loved by the Father (Jn 17:23,26; 16:27). This is the significance of the relational progression that we can experience.
To receive Jesus in the incarnation and to come to God on these intimate terms requires the ongoing exercise of an active faith as trust and intimacy. If authentic faith is the difference between someone who believes (Jn 6:29) in contrast to an outsider or an observer (see Jn 6:14-66 for those who functionally fell into the latter category), then the difference between any faith and trust is the ongoing relational work of involvement. Mere faith (e.g., mind-level assent) can often put us at a distance in the relationship as an observer but trust is the relational act which engages us intimately in the relationship. This is the quality of faith necessary to please God--ongoingly.
Trust is characterized by honesty and openness of the heart. Without these elements our faith is only exercised with our mind, not by our heart. Without these the process of faith does not become an experiential reality of growing intimate relationship with God. When we understand trust as a process of this relationship, we can also understand why intimacy must also characterize our relationship with God.
Trust is not something we can exercise in any relationship casually or at a distance. We cannot be relationally distant from another person--not necessarily distant mentally or even physically--and still think we are trusting that person. In this sense, trust is not being exercised merely through participation in Christian disciplines and church activities or, for that matter, in Christian mission. We may want to conclude that trust is implied indirectly through this involvement. Yet, despite what has become the norm in relationships, we must realize that in any good relationship nothing substitutes for direct relational involvement of our person. God wasn't indirect in his incarnation, nor did he send us a substitute. In these same terms, he expects nothing less in our response to him.
Likewise, trust cannot be truly exercised without the risks involved in disclosing myself, in making my person vulnerable, specifically for the purpose of getting closer to another person--in relation to God, a superior being at that. In other words, the relational involvement of faith, which often tends to get obscured, is intimacy. We cannot separate intimacy from trust. Together they constitute the faith which has relational significance to God. To restate David's basic expressions of faith pleasing to God in his experience, "The intimacy of the Lord is for those who reverently trust him" (Ps 25:14).
In the relational process there are two aspects of trust which we need to exercise ongoingly:
1. The trusting of the other person: that which I place in the other person, expecting them to be who they say they are and counting on them to do what they say, all of which is contingent on the other person sharing their true self directly with me.
2. The entrusting of my person: trust also involves presenting myself to the other person as I truly am; that means to disclose me in the relationship such that the other person has the access and opportunity to be involved directly with me.
Since relationship with God is a reciprocal process, God never does all the relational work nor can we. Our relationship always requires joint cooperation and participation. God has been exercising his part of the relationship--specifically as demonstrated throughout his incarnation. Our discussion on faith and discipleship primarily focuses on our part of the relational work and our response in this relational process.
The second aspect of trust (entrusting my person), then, becomes crucial for us to grasp because any limitations we put on this practice directly limits our relationship with God. We are obviously transparent to God since he sees everything within us; there is nothing to disclose of ourselves which he doesn't already know. But relationship with God is not about information, it's about heart involvement. Despite God's knowledge, I think it is accurate to say: as a rule he only interacts with that part of our person we are willing to disclose to him openly or are open to let him be involved with.
With exception, of course, God doesn't seem to engage us in the relational process beyond what we present of
ourselves to him. This doesn't mean that God doesn't
pursue us for more of our person, which he certainly does as the further
initiative of his grace. But our response to his grace is what faith is. God doesn't do all the
relational work in the relationship, nor does he do relationship on our
terms. Our response of ongoing trust is a necessary condition for
relationship with him--nonnegotiable. This relational response to trust him (his person) to be
and do what he is and says, by his design (for intimate relationship),
must also include entrusting our person (to disclose ourselves) to him. This second aspect of trust is inseparable from the first and, thus, is
just as important in the quality of our response.
When we define ourselves by what we do or have, then that's how we tend to see faith and invariably limit our relational involvement with God. This is illustrated by a number of persons pursuing Christ and following him (Jn 6:14ff). Pursuing and following Jesus should have pleased him. But their response was not to his person (6:26,27), thus exposing their self-interest and their attempt to have relationship with Jesus on their terms. Since they apparently defined themselves by what they did and had, they inquired about the things to do that would measure up to God's requirements ("to do the works," v.28). Jesus said it's not about doing something but only one relational response is significant to God (v.29). As the interaction continued, Jesus elaborated on his terms for relationship and the changes necessary for them in order to experience relationship with the Father (vv.51, 56, 57). This confronted them with an overshadowing issue (obstacle), and it certainly wasn't about cannibalism (vv.52ff). It only involved who determined the terms of relationship and how to do relationship with God. They were unwilling to let go of their terms and trust Jesus to define the relationship (vv.60, 66).
Authentic faith and discipleship are always relationally specific to Jesus' person (nothing less) and only have relational significance in direct intimate involvement with him (no substitutes). To be connected with Christ (and thus the Father), to be involved with Jesus (and thus the Father) is constituted on our part by the relational act of trust within the relational context and in the intimate relational process of following him in the relational progression. This ongoing relationship of following does indeed constitute functional "personal relationship with Christ" because this is the only relationship which defines being with Christ. All other identities of a personal relationship with him are not relationally significant to God. This is strongly demonstrated in Jesus' analogy of the narrow door (see Lk 13:24-27).
In his response to a question if only a few will be saved (made whole), Jesus replied with the analogy of "the narrow door" (v.24) by which many will try to enter the house but "will not be able to" (Gk. ischyo, to have ability). Why? Because the owner didn't know (think about this word in relational terms) them (v.25b). But they argued that they had fellowshipped with him--eating and drinking together were very significant in their culture--and he had even taught them (v.26). His insistence of not knowing them (v.27) instructs us that this difference in perception is not understood from their joint activity but in the relationship.
While the question was about being saved, the focus here is not only on the future. Jesus' response actually emphasizes a vital matter in the present to them and, thus, is of extreme importance even to all who have a personal relationship with him. The narrow door is not about how to earn salvation. In the statement "make every effort" (Gk. agonizomai, to fight, struggle, engage in strenuous endeavor, exert great effort) Jesus used Greek grammar (present tense, middle voice, imperative mood) communicating that he wasn't making a suggestion or a request to them. Indeed, Jesus was demanding (imperative mood) that they start taking direct responsibility now (present tense) and rigorously act. We can easily misinterpret this as further expectations he lays on us to do--how to qualify or better measure up.
By his use of Greek middle voice, Jesus demands the direct involvement of the person in the action, not merely doing something. The middle voice further indicates that the person is seen as acting upon oneself; that is, the person is taking responsibility for oneself and acting on what is necessary about oneself. Since Jesus is engaged in relational work, he is focusing us on our part of that work. In other words, he demands that we take responsibility for our person (particularly where our heart is) and rigorously address, for example, how we make intimacy with God difficult. All this effort involves only the relational process of developing intimate relationship with God. This is the relational imperative; and it's all about relational work.
Paul reinforces this relational work in his charge to Timothy (1 Tim. 6:12). "Fight [agonizomai] the good fight of faith" is first and foremost the rigorous relational work of his relational response of trust in Christ. "Take hold of eternal life" uses a word (Gk. epilambanomai) which involves laying hold of firmly, grasping securely a person. Indeed, because eternal life, in Jesus' words, is experiencing knowing him and the Father as a relational outcome of intimate involvement with each other (Jn 17:3). Paul's charge is all about relational work: the relational imperative.
God didn't relationally
know "the many"
trying to enter the narrow door because they were not intimately
involved with him--despite
the fact they were doing things with him. The effort necessary to
the narrow door is relationship-specific, which makes relational work on
our part ongoingly necessary and rigorous. It's the only work which has significance to God. It's not optional, nor negotiable.
Let's return to the question at the beginning of this chapter: Do we assume that our faith is "alive and working" ongoingly? If faith is something we have or possess, we can assume our faith is always present throughout our life--that is, unless we've "lost" it or given it up. If faith is something we only do, we may also be able to assume we're doing faith, depending on what we do, of course. But if faith is a relational action, then faith is only distinguished by what we ongoingly exercise and directly experience in our relationship with God.
Since this active nature of faith is characterized by trust and intimacy, these fundamental functions must always be exercised jointly, for example, with our spiritual disciplines or our deeds of service if they will not be useless. For all levels of discipleship, these are the functions which determine the quality of our relationship with God, which determines what pleases him. In the relationship the determining factor with God is never the quantity of our deeds, though we certainly will be held accountable for our deeds.
David learned this distinction, as he shared from his heart (in Ps 40:4,6-7):
"Blessed is the man who
makes the Lord his trust. . ."
"Then I said, 'Here I am, I have come.'"
"I come"--beyond anything God could receive from me or that I could do for him, God wants me. And God has me when he receives my faith ongoingly as trust and intimacy.
This seems clear throughout Scripture and attains unequivocal clarity in the incarnation. Yet, there is much in our everyday living which obscures or distorts the relational functions of trust and intimacy. These faith functions are not what we declare only at the beginning of our relationship with Christ and, then, can expect to be present thereafter. We should never assume the presence of trust and intimacy. This assumption is a tendency too many persons make about their relationships in general. That's why, for example, marriage relationships develop problems or are dissatisfying--often much to the dismay of the assuming person.
Making this assumption is especially critical in our relationship with God. As followers of Christ we can't account for our faith based on what we have or do, but we must always assess our ongoing interaction in the relationship to determine the extent of faith in operation and the quality of our relationship. Trust and intimacy are processes ongoing in this relationship. That means faith is not static--for example, something we possess or have that remains constant. Faith as trust and intimacy is dynamic. Since these functions are not static, for this reason they fluctuate: go up and down in amount, and extend in and out in terms of relational distance. More often than not, a good level of consistency may be the exception. It certainly was an exception for his first disciples.
These changes in our faith reflect, on the one hand, the unchangeable sinful condition basic in our humanity while, on the other, they reflect changing influences on our lives. These issues (both internal and external to us) often interfere and even work against these processes of trust and intimacy. We need to assess honestly, for example, how many of our relationships demonstrate this trust and intimacy--especially among Christians at church. As we reflect on this, we start to understand the difficulties involved and why, for example, it's easier to do things for God than to be with him on deeply relational terms.
Distance in relationships reflects problems needing redemption, healing or reconciliation. Until we address these issues directly we will continue to maintain such distance with God and with others. Relational distance unattended to increasingly reflects also distance from our heart, which, in turn, results in distance from our true humanity as well as from the image of God. Without heart our faith becomes merely an intellectual exercise; and what we end up presenting to God is someone less than our total person, our true self.
The long-term effects of Western cultures and a mind-set formulated from a modernist worldview have had profound influence on how we do relationships and the relational process today. Under political conditions of freedom, social conditions of individualism and conditions of a global economy, the pressure to get things done and succeed in today's task-oriented, result-oriented, high tech lifestyles have redefined the person without the substance of the inner person, replaced the primacy of relationship with relations without intimate significance and displaced faith from God to human endeavor and other things. In this climate self-determination, enhancing one's self-worth and emotional self-preservation are influences which divert our faith as trust and dilute our faith as intimacy. The fears of failure, exposure, being rejected, being disappointed, being out of control or feeling inadequate, as well as pains and angers from past relationships, are some of the reasons we wear masks, erect relational barriers and "protect" ourselves--making trust and intimacy more difficult. These conditions, including the continued loss of trust and intimacy as an expectation of our everyday cultures, reflect the underlying need for redemption and healing of our person and our relationships.
Even when faith is talked about today in terms of relationship, the language of relationship may be there but not the function. The words or forms of relationship may be there but not its deeper meaning and substance. This reflects one problem about relationship critical for us to understand: that the perception of relationship is not consistent with the actual substance of relationship. Too often our perceptions are influenced and conditioned by sources contrary to God's design and purpose for relationships. These distortions or misperceptions are certainly not unique to modern life, as some of Jesus' interactions discussed earlier demonstrate. But this problem is more acute today because of the conditions stated above and the dominant influence of the media (particularly the entertainment media) upon our lives shaping how we define ourselves and do relationships.
Since trust and intimacy are fundamental to a deep relationship, anything which minimizes these processes has significant affect on God. Any distance, any avoidance or withdrawal on our part from God all have strong implications relationally. Avoiding, for example, deeper areas of our lives which need healing is critical to the whole issue of faith because these areas left unattended to effectively create barriers, impose restraints or otherwise disrupt the process of faith as trust and intimacy. What this translates to in our relationship is keeping distance, evading, withdrawing from him.
God makes clear his feelings about this kind of response when he
shared: "my righteous one
will live by faith; and if he [she] shrinks back, I will not be pleased
with him [her]" (Heb 10:38). We may commonly think of "shrinking back" only in terms
of our deeds. But the word (Gk. hypostello) also means to
withdraw, even avoid and must be understood in the relational context of
faith and its process as trust and intimacy. He is not pleased when we
shrink back relationally from him. Understandably--who would be pleased with
this kind of relational response and involvement when you care about
someone and have vulnerably, intimately and ongoingly involved yourself
with this person?
Besides the quality of our response being specifically relational and ongoing, there is also a necessary posture to our response. This relational posture tells us a lot about the nature and extent of our participation in the relationship.
When individualism is the norm in our culture or social context, when individualism is the operating standard in our Christian practice, then commitment becomes defined by what is relative to the individual. Since no functional authority (not for what we believe but for what we practice) supersedes the individual, it is each individual who effectively determines the nature and extent of one's commitment. In relationships this involves having the relationship on one's own terms, not a commitment of mutuality, of submission or of self-sacrifice.
Any relationship (good or bad) requires some degree of cooperation between the persons involved. With God, however, we can never assume that cooperation includes negotiation. The fact that ongoing relationship with God is on his terms signifies a certain kind of involvement on our part: submission. When grace is the starting point in the relationship (its base and ongoing basis) and our faith never moves faster than grace to precede it, our relational involvement with God is with submission.
Cooperation with God equals submission, which cannot be reduced or compromised by negotiation. Submission in this relationship is submission of our total person: will, mind, body and especially the heart. First and foremost, submission involves worship. This is our primary posture in the relationship of following.
Worship is relationship-specific and its presence or absence tells us a lot about the relationship. The functional everyday posture of worship serves as the primary determinant for what the relationship means to us. It distinguishes what we have attachment to (in our heart) from that which only has our interest (primarily in our mind). Based on our attachment it determines our priorities; interest alone is not sufficient to establish priority. For following Jesus, worship is the benchmark for relationship with God because it expresses who is important to us and what the relationship means to us. Without worship our relational messages to him communicate a different priority.
To understand worship as a relational act helps us to see the presence of compromise and its consequences on the relationship. When Jesus rebuffed Satan in his third temptation, he exercised what is basic and vital to relationship with God: "Worship the Lord your God and serve him only" (Mt 4:10). As Jesus demonstrated (and the Hebrew words he quoted from Dt 6:13 denote), true worship functionally signifies submission which then would involve service to the superior. To submit is to serve; the two go together naturally and should not be separated. Together this is the relational posture of his disciple.
Whether in the above temptation or in his intense trial in the garden of Gethsemane (see Mt 26:37-39), Jesus wouldn't entertain compromise of his relationship with the Father. The act of this relational posture, which includes service, clarifies for us when our relationship is rendered to compromise. For example, to only respect God as the expression of our worship doesn't guarantee submission, and thus service to him. How we treat him ongoingly the rest of the week reveals the extent of our worship. Likewise, to only serve God doesn't guarantee submission either if it doesn't include worship. Such service could be on our terms or how we define ourselves and establish our worth.
To submit to God is to ongoingly extend our true person to the true person God is. That submission wouldn't genuinely take place if we weren't openly honest about our person and responding to the vulnerable presence of God, particularly as revealed by Christ. Such honesty was problematic for his early disciples. Also, after David's adultery, he learned that God desires honesty of the heart ("truth in the inner parts," Ps 1:6). Had he exercised this honesty with God on the night he couldn't sleep and saw Bathsheba bathing, he might not have compromised their relationship (2 Sam 11:1-4).
Jesus' person and words
clearly involve this honesty and posture in his relationship with the
Father. This is what God expects in all relationships with him because
he wants the true me, all of me.
When faith is taken out of the relational context and practiced apart from its relational process, we don't have to account for acts of trust, intimacy and submission. I don't include service as one of these acts because generally service is perceived to accompany faith, even without a relational perspective. Yet, how one actually serves (if at all) is problematic given the diversity of Christian perspectives and lifestyles existing today. This points to a deeper problem.
Under conditions of individualism so dominant in our context, freedom essentially legitimates (within reason) what choices we make, how we define things and basically live in relation to others. Christians use this freedom as a qualifier (intentionally or unintentionally) for how they choose to live their faith. When the style and shape of faith become so individualized, it is inevitable that compromise, contradiction and conflicts with biblical perspectives result. Postmodernism exacerbates this condition.
In this kind of context faith is not only individualized but privatized as well. Individualism among Christians is highly susceptible to prompting the privatizing of faith. Even accountability for trust, intimacy and submission can be seen as a private matter. This is a contradiction of what we profess in Christ and in conflict with what Christ professes about us (e.g., see Jn 17:20-23; 13:34,35).
Faith expresses itself in a public way, not just private. This is not a public display of our good works but witnessing to the object of our faith and making others the object of our love. Biblical faith is not lived for oneself nor merely for God's pleasure. If our response of faith to the grace of God is complete, then it will find its expression publicly in the lives of others. Beyond the intimate relational process of faith, any expression of our faith is designed to be public: for others to see, to hear from, to be directly affected by, or generally to be the recipients of.
Furthermore, authentic faith is not adequately expressed by the individual alone, no matter how conspicuous. It is and must be also the individual's public expression through the corporate efforts of the church. Such active faith is the life of the family of God in public. This public aspect and corporate nature of faith will be discussed in later chapters.
The underlying assumptions that faith is individual and private are religious fictions, not biblical truths; and they have far-reaching repercussions in all our relationships, both with God and others. Even Peter--who was well into the ministry of the gospel and establishing the church--didn't realize the implications of his individual practices. Though he didn't live in a context of individualism, his decisions were still influenced by his socio-cultural surroundings. Thus, he took the liberty to be inconsistent in how he treated the Gentiles in contrast to the Judaizers (those who believed circumcision was necessary for salvation). Peter made his decision to practice religious fiction even after Jesus corrected him about his discrimination of the Gentiles and treating them as less (see Acts 10:9-11:18). So, Paul had to confront Peter about his hypocrisy in order to expose the clear fact that Peter was not "acting in line with the truth of the gospel" (see Gal 2:11-14).
The deeper we address the daily outworking of our faith, the more we will encounter personal decision-making conflicts--for example, between our so-called "secular" life and our "religious" life, between our terms and God's terms, between our old self and our new self. This can take place between, in our estimation, two positive choices--an approach-approach conflict. Or we can feel both positive and negative about the same alternative--an approach-avoidance conflict. If we are resistant to act in our faith while feeling guilty for doing something else, the result may be a retreat from both by taking a third alternative--avoidance-avoidance conflict.
All of us have experienced these conflicts in decision making. Discipleship includes the need to deal with them. How well these conflicts are resolved is greatly dependent on our honesty and seriousness. Yet, in general, these personal decision-making conflicts are made more difficult by a distorted sense of Christian freedom.
One of the most influential qualifiers for the outworking of faith is the liberty Christians exercise in making choices. (Obviously, this is not to imply that Christians don't have liberty and shouldn't make choices.) By implication, however, these qualifiers are choices which serve our personal interests more than God's. Our response of faith remains basically determined by our self-interests and self-concerns unless our faith operates under a necessary condition. This condition necessary in order for any faith to act without self-imposed qualifiers or limits is obedience.
Obedience to God and his revelations (especially in Jesus' person and words) compels his people to respond; we are accountable to him for all his revelations. Though we may not like a particular action, obedience directs our faith to respond regardless of circumstances, costs or consequences. Self-concerns and interests are not ignored but they are not the determiners of our response (cf. Jesus in Gethsemane). Discipleship requires obedience, or it gets reduced essentially to following me, not Jesus. Without obedience the expressions of our faith (if any) are on very precarious ground (see Lk 6:46-49).
The Hebrew word (sama) in the OT translated obey means "hearken to, hear." In the NT the verb for obey (Gk. hypakouo) comes from the root word for "hear" and means literally "to hear under" (i.e., under the authority/influence of another). Obedience, then, in the Bible signifies the active response to words one hears, rather than passive listening.
In the teachings of Christ one who hears his words without acting on them is forecast for a downfall (Lk 6:49). One who hears and acts receives great honor and blessing (Lk 11:27-28), experiences God's love (Jn 14:21) and intimate relationship together (Jn 14:23). Jesus also clearly described the various ways we "hear" God's word and the results for each (Lk 8:11-18). James also took up this discussion: "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says" (Jas 1:22).
Christian freedom may give us flexibility in the particular way we express our response of faith, but it does not allow us to negotiate what that response is. Obedience to his word qualifies Christian freedom; Christian freedom does not qualify the outworking of biblical faith. Paul extends our understanding of the use of Christian freedom (see 1 Cor 8-10) as being for the primary purpose of serving others in love such that the individual and her/his freedom is deferred in faith.
Faith, obedience and God's word interact together in a distinct relational growth process (Rom 10:17). We cannot minimize obedience or compromise his word if faith is to function properly and grow. This necessary condition of obedience certainly challenges the true make-up of our faith and how we constitute relationship with Christ. It also takes away some of our options which we usually assume to be legitimate--especially since they are often dominant practices in our social, cultural and/or religious contexts.
This brings out what I would call a "social nature of commitment," which our discipleship needs to address also. This involves a commitment to Christ which has contingencies related to a particular social or cultural context. It may be tied to the way people live with each other in that context (e.g., how they define themselves and do relationships) or linked to how these people react to deviations from the norm (e.g., pressure to conform and not be different). However it's connected, the contingency (explicit or implicit) must be met before the commitment is carried out. Jesus frequently contended with this social nature of commitment in those interested in following him, notably the man who first wanted to go bury his father and another who first needed to go back to say good-bye to his family (a cultural process, as noted earlier, which could take years, Lk 9:59-62). These were contingencies needing to be met to follow Jesus, which seemed to be reasonable but revealed only interest in Christ while having deeper attachment elsewhere. The relationship of following in the relational progression is not engaged with such a commitment.
In a reverse sense this social nature of commitment can be implied indirectly by placing contingencies also on God to be a certain way. This emerged in Peter when he strongly objected to two of Jesus' loving acts for him--objections based on contingencies influenced by his socio-cultural context. Peter wouldn't let Jesus go to the cross for him (see Mt 16:21-23) and he also wouldn't let Jesus wash his feet (Jn 13:6-8). Peter's God could not do this, would not do this because in his perceptions God had to be a certain way (in Peter's box). If Jesus did these acts for him, then Peter would have to redefine himself and how he did relationship with God. That's the redemption and transformation Peter ongoingly experienced in his person and his relationship with God.
This social nature of commitment is in contrast to the commitment of
faith not significantly influenced or controlled by social conditions,
cultural factors or any other attachments. The quality of this response
is first and foremost a commitment to Jesus Christ in trust and intimacy
to live life together with him in submission to his terms. Obedience to
his word is the necessary condition which keeps this all in the proper
perspective for us and maintains the relational context and its process,
for which we are accountable and by which our relationship will grow.
The responsibilities of carrying out biblical faith, even its demands, are such that they can be discouraging, frustrating, even burdensome. In addition, the negative situations and conditions encountered along the way could easily take their toll on us-- not only emotionally and spiritually but physically as well. Though obedience is a necessary condition for the faith that responds, at times like these it is not always a sufficient condition to yield that action. The willingness may be there but not the resources to exercise faith. Even Jesus struggled with this as he approached the time of his death.
It is important for followers of Christ to take to heart the truth that biblical faith does not reduce us to mere servants. Likewise, obedience doesn't disregard nor immunize us from the effects of negative situations and conditions, especially in relationships. Consequently, the process of faith must include another condition sufficient for faith to act consistently. This sufficient condition is resiliency.
There is a definite resilience about faith that must exist in order to continue to act in spite of circumstances, repercussions or other consequences. But the strength of that resiliency is directly proportional to being attended to in our needs and feelings created by those negative conditions and experiences. This involves how we present ourselves, our person: making our person vulnerable, openly and honestly sharing our heart and giving God and his people the opportunity to be involved with our heart. Being attended to is part of an overall process directly engaging the exercise of faith as trust and intimacy as well as submission, not merely by an individual believer but by a body of believers also.
What Christians experience together as a body, as they respond relationally in trust, intimacy and submission, is absolutely essential in our support base. Along with his Spirit, the Father provides us the support base of his family in order to live out biblical faith in the world (which will be discussed in greater detail later). Without such an active support base the individual tends to gut it out basically alone--that is, essentially grit one's teeth to step out again. Gritting our teeth is not the kind of cross Jesus said we should bear.
The faith that acts consistently, in spite of negative situations and conditions, is a faith intimately nurtured, relationally supported and ongoingly trusting in God's sovereignty, as well as experiencing the intimacy of God's presence along with his people. When this is our experience, our faith develops resiliency creating a sufficient condition to continue to act.
This was Jesus' experience in his struggle in the garden at Gethsemane (Mt 26:36-46). Jesus always made himself vulnerable during his incarnation. So, in his obvious negative circumstances he was deeply affected. That's how he presented himself to his disciples and his Father; he poured out his feelings to his Father, he didn't want to continue this action to the cross. Unfortunately, the opportunity Jesus gave his disciples to support him was not responded to very much. They struggled to be involved with him. Nevertheless, Jesus intimately opened his heart to the Father and also declared his willingness to defer to his Father's will. There was clearly trust being exercised. Having made deep relational connection, Jesus was attended to in his needs and feelings.
The outcome was the resilience creating the sufficient condition for Jesus to continue his loving action to completion on our behalf. We further benefit from the relational model Jesus presents for us to follow him in practice and experience also with our Father. What a beautiful account of the necessary condition of obedience and the sufficient condition of resiliency working in "faith that responds" because of actively exercising relational trust, intimacy and submission.
This is how genuine faith is always relationship-specific and
relationally significant. When this takes place ongoingly with obedience
and consistently with resiliency, God is both pleased and served.
Faith is not static but it also cannot be passive--that is, relationally passive, which may exist even with high levels of personal activity or church participation. The reality of being a new person in Christ is not a condition that can be experienced here and now in a passive way. Such relational passivity is a contradiction to the redemptive results of the work of Christ and his Spirit. Life itself is not static, and relationships don't remain constant, even in an inactive period or because nothing ostensibly negative is taking place. Passivity actually involves a regression in faith because it's disengaging the relational process--effectively distancing oneself in the relationship.
By being redeemed in Christ, the redemptive outcome for us is liberation, even here and now though not completed until heaven. As we exercise this new condition we engage in the process of liberation and transformation that provides us opportunities to experience the new creature (Gk. kaine ktisis, qualitatively new species) Paul talked about in 2 Corinthians 5:17. This process of liberation yields creative expressions of our faith. Without such a transformation process, "old things" don't drop out of our life and "new things" don't replace them.
For faith to grow, to progress in the relational process, it needs a progressive aspect to it. That aspect is creativity. Basic to the practical everyday functioning of the redeemed in Christ is the ongoing outworking of faith involving the adventure of the creative process. In this sense, the exercising of faith becomes pleasing not only to God but to us also. Without it we cannot go forth to fulfill who we are in Christ. That means living experientially as what we truly are in Christ is not realized and, therefore, cannot be a source of satisfaction.
This suggests that creativity needs to be a distinct aspect of our daily faith, that creativity is necessary to further operationalize our faith, or else our faith will become passive. But that would depend on what is meant by creativity.
The common perception of creativity is the ability to create something new, something unique. This act of doing something new or unique is confirmed primarily by the product that results. If what is produced, for example, can be valued for its uniqueness, then creativity has been achieved. But it is the form, the product, the result which receives the attention here. Just the act of doing something new or unique is not considered sufficient in itself to be called creativity. Consequently, the predominant idea of creativity implies having a certain ability to do something new or unique. In the arts, for example, creativity would involve a greater ability (even mastery) to achieve a level of sophistication that could be labeled unique.
Well, how many people have this ability? Even if we did, how often could we produce a new or unique form? Certainly, with this predominant perception of creativity no one would expect creativity to be a natural aspect of our daily faith. Justifiably so, because in this sense creativity is a limited activity of only the more gifted; and most of us would dismiss our participation in creative efforts.
Disqualifying ourselves from such efforts, however, would also be nullifying a vital part of who and what we are in Christ. Creativity is not about producing something but about stepping out and taking risks--about being someone. This effort is not to be confused with the special uniqueness of the product or with a new form that results. That expectation is a level of sophistication we adults impose on creativity. In doing so we effectively eliminate most creative efforts as beyond our abilities. This has a tremendous negative effect on discipleship--putting constraints on our person and rendering us increasingly passive in our relationship with God, even with very active church participation.
We don't usually do this with children. If a young child brought us a drawing he/she tried for the first time, how would we evaluate that likely crude and unartistic product? Even if it didn't resemble anything seen before, I'm sure we wouldn't dismiss the child's effort but applaud it. Why? Implicit in this affirmation is the recognition of the child's creativity to step out in this new or unique way. We don't usually impose the same expectations on children which we do for adults. We affirm in them the creative process--whatever the outcome--because for them what's unique is not the product but the effort, the attempt.
The effort or attempt is how creativity needs to be perceived as unique, not in the form, the results. The fact that someone is trying something new makes that effort unique for them. Whether it is elementary or commonplace for everyone else is irrelevant to creativity. Yet, because of our entrenched predisposition to form, products and results, adults have made it difficult to step out in new ways for ourselves. Unlike children who have yet to be conditioned with our constraints, adults live with constraints almost naturally. This can be called "adult incapacity" (similar to the "trained incapacities" of higher education). This approach to living is directly related to our product-oriented, result-oriented social contexts which manifests, for example, in sports with "winning is the only thing" and in business with the bottom line.
For the Christian, young or old, this creative process becomes crucial for what and who we are in Christ. Without this progressive aspect we tend to become passive in the relationship: either neglect to actively trust him or fall into routine practices (maybe legalism) which displace our trust from him to ourself. In the creative process there is inherent an aspect of childlike trust that needs to be developed in all adults in order to grow, to progress in quality relationship with God. Jesus told his disciples when they asked who is the greatest in his kingdom: the person whose being exercises trust as a child (Mt 18:3,4). They might have thought Jesus was using hyperbole again and oversimplified the issue. Yet, the simplicity of this trust involves the freedom to let go of oneself (e.g., in self-sufficiency or self-determination) and to relinquish control of a situation or an outcome into God's hands--an issue adults struggle with in contrast to children. Such involvement is part of the new person's relational work.
The disciples' question reflected their focus (from the outside in), so Jesus knew "unless you change . . . " (Gk. strepho, turn around, adopt another course) their faith would be limited and not grow. For adults to exercise their faith in the creative process requires liberation (redemption) and extending trust, intimacy and submission to God. As it undoubtedly meant for Christ's first disciples, this change probably means a paradigm shift in most Christians today. It certainly requires a change in how we define ourselves and what we look at in relationships and use relationships for.
It is in the creative process that the redeemed in Christ (the
liberated new person) must engage in practical and ongoing relational
expression of their faith for it to develop. It is in
"making every effort"
in this relational work that we incarnate our redemption and witness to
the transforming work of Christ (and his Spirit). Consequently,
creativity is not the option or the privilege of the more spiritually
gifted. This process of creativity becomes the progressive aspect for
the ongoing faith of all who are recreated new in Christ, and
basic to following him.
Besides thinking of the creative exercise of our faith as optional, another reason that faith is constrained and rendered passive is the mind-set of "professionalizing" its action or limiting its greater expression to the educated, trained and experienced. Who essentially lead our churches today? Jesus' first group of disciples wouldn't have qualified by today's standards of faith. As noted earlier when the early church was being established, the rulers, leaders and teachers of the law were astonished with how confidently Peter and John expressed themselves. These educated and privileged leaders knew that Peter and John were uneducated and ostensibly unqualified persons presented before them; they simply knew what distinguished Peter and John was having been with Jesus (Acts 4:13).
This relational involvement of faith in being with Jesus has these kinds of outcomes which take us beyond our comfort zones and are able to witness to others our involvement with the person of Jesus. These relational outcomes are the result of the active discipleship to which we are all called--whether in church leadership or whatever function in the body of Christ.
In the 16th century, the Reformation movement relied on "the priesthood of all believers" as a rationale to liberate faith from a system of constraints. Yet, Protestants still utilize a hierarchy in practice (though not in theology) to operate the church--a hierarchy of ability (often called by the euphemism "spiritual gifts"). In this sense we need another reformation of ecclesiology today to get us back to the priesthood of all believers, not to further cultivate individualism but to step out further in the exercise of our faith and to participate in the church for development individually and corporately.
The faith of all believers needs to take up this responsibility and demonstrate openly in our lives what a relationship directly with God involves. This quality of our response to Christ is upon each of us to determine its extent ongoingly--a response for which each of us is accountable first to God, then to his people.
Obedience helps us to counteract the constraints on faith (as the early Reformers demonstrated) while love motivates us to engage the relational process of faith in creativity. Two biblical examples, in addition to Christ, demonstrate this love and obedience which are instructive in their relational process for us to examine.
The account of an immoral woman (probably a prostitute, Lk 7:36-50) anointing Jesus gives us a remarkable example of adult creativity. Though the form of her act is well known, it is this creative process of faith she exercised that needs our attention. Whether she gained access to this special gathering in order to respond to Jesus in a demonstrative way, or she decided to act in seeing that the host did not follow custom by providing for Jesus, we don't know. Yet, in apparent spontaneity, in lieu of water and a towel she used her tears and her hair to refresh his feet. In place of cheap oil for his head (used for dryness) she poured very expensive perfume on his feet. Instead of a customary kiss of greeting from the host, Jesus received from her repeatedly tender kisses on his feet. By all custom she was remarkably unique.
Even more important was her boldness to step out at all to do this. Certainly her reputation preceded her. It was unheard of for such an immoral person to enter the house of a Pharisee. It was also clearly shameful among Jews for a woman to let her hair down in public; that would identify her as promiscuous. These were strong reasons for her not to have acted at all, or at least to have chosen an easier, more comfortable alternative to respond to Jesus.
Yet, in her humble and devoted way she took the risk to be with Jesus and paid the cost to respond to him. Even the perfume would be perceived as offensive since it was a tool of her trade. Nevertheless, love motivated her because she was already forgiven by God before this situation. As a forgiven sinner she acted with the love she felt for Jesus without constraint. Because she let God love her first through forgiveness, she experienced love. Now with that love she risked further rejection (and failure) in order to be involved with Jesus in this difficult and beautiful expression of love. She was redeemed; and this was what and who she was now in Christ. Whatever anyone else thought, she wouldn't let her past and the old control her. In her own unique way she stepped out by exercising her faith as trust and intimacy, thus engaging in the creative process to express her heart in love for Jesus.
As extraordinary as this relational outcome was, the process itself is ordinary and simple enough for even the most timid to step out. But it requires relational work. Relationships don't grow without it. When we operationalize creativity in the specific terms of our relationship with God, we become much more aware of how any Christian can participate in this creative process. The relational truth, of course, is that participation is not optional, despite our circumstances or condition.
When acts of faith are made more sophisticated by the social values of education and training, when we have contingencies for the expression of faith tied to the social nature of commitment, tied more and more to economic and political conditions, then it is no longer a simple matter to step out in faith. Faith is becoming too calculated, measured more by modern contingencies than the long-standing promises of God. The priority of relationships is displaced by the assumptions and priorities of so-called progress. But faith as relational response is not progressive under these constraints.
While love motivates us to engage this relational process, obedience is necessary to counteract the constraints limiting our faith. Our devotion and love for Christ, for example, do not experience their potential apart from practical application of our liberation in relational work. If allowed to, internal and external constraints can control the process of faith by effectively eliminating the opportunities to step out in new or further ways.
The discipline of obedience relationally practiced helps us to counteract these constraints. With the help of the Holy Spirit obedience is a "resource" we all can exercise. Early in his "career" Moses provides us with a working example of how obedience operates in the creative process in the face of various constraints.
In Exodus 3, God called Moses to lead his people out of captivity. Moses' response was "Who am I?" with the strong sense of being unqualified (3:11). God said, "I will be with you." But Moses set up a number of "what ifs," to which the Lord gave explicit answers. Then Moses brought up the obvious reality that he had never been good at speaking, in fact he was bad at it (4:11). God promised him a greater reality: "I will help you speak and will teach you what to say" (v.12). Finally, Moses pleaded honestly to the Lord to send anyone else but him. The Lord was honest also and confronted him with the truth that he would not be alone. Not only God but Aaron will be with him also.
In response to God's words, not circumstances or conditions, Moses reluctantly obeyed. Things, however, didn't work out with Pharaoh; the situation even seemed worse. So, Moses went back to the Lord and let his complaint honestly be known (5:22,23). God assured him that he was in control and would do what he promised. With that he asked Moses to step out further. Yet, once again, Moses raised the issue of his terrible speech (6:12,30). God was steadfast and his promises unaltered. Again, in response to God's words Moses obeyed, and the rest is redemptive history.
We need to learn from Moses and embrace this process for ourselves. He would not have experienced this new, unique way for him if he had not stepped out. Yet, he wouldn't have stepped out to take the opportunity to see what else could be done unless he had exercised the discipline of obedience. Since obedience is not about gritting one's teeth but about the relationship, this creative process would not have moved along apart from the trust and intimacy of Moses' faith.
Moses shared his feelings with the Lord, opening his heart to him. He talked honestly with his God and he listened to what God said also. This is a relational interaction which reflects the deep aspects of intimacy, not relational distance. The actions which followed reflect the relational trust Moses put in his God, not in his own abilities or resources. The development of his faith took place as Moses stepped out more and more. His confidence was not misplaced; it was relationally on the Lord. Thus, in the face of the crisis at the Red Sea Moses declared unequivocally: "Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today" (Ex 14:13).
From this working example we can further define the operational steps in the relational process of creativity:
1. The first step, as Moses did, is to go directly to our relationship with God, talk things out, share all of our feelings honestly with him, as well as quietly listen to him--particularly his words, his promises.
2. Next, embrace whatever resource God has made available to us right now, even if it's only a promise.
3. Taking that to heart, we then step out relationally with him (not on our own) on that basis in order to act in the given moment, situation or issue.
4. Lastly, as we move out we need to actively count on (trust) him to feed back to us, to show us and help us develop what else can be done--especially if things don't seem to be working out as he promised.
As we engage our Lord in this relational process, our faith expresses itself in new and further ways. Since the creative process operates in this relational way, like Moses we may find these steps being repeated in the same situation. The order of them is not fixed either, so we may find ourselves, for example, continuously going back to pursue him on the last step involving feedback. The important matter in relational work is that our faith is exercised in trust and intimacy with him, not passively, and that our will defers (submits) in the end to his will.
As the redeemed in Christ, as those who profess to be a new creation, each individual as well as the church are accountable to exercise daily the liberation resulting from redemption. In daily living, this liberation means exercising our faith with creativity. Yet, creativity can't be discussed apart from its relational context. Faith is not about oneself but is always a relational act focused primarily on the object of this relational process. When this is understood, then the most important dimension of creativity can be realized also in its basic substance as the process of giving. That is, creativity is the giving of one's self, the extending of one's true person, in new and deeper ways to God and to others.
This process of giving is the love (agape) Jesus commanded which identified his disciples (Jn 13:35). Agape is about extending our person in relational involvement with others. Love is not what to do but how to be involved. Peter focused on secondary things and what he did as Jesus emphasized how to be involved; so Peter didn't really give of his true self and missed crucial opportunities for agape involvement (13:37,38). Such giving and involvement are the real uniqueness of the prostitute who anointed Jesus. As this is done, it's not the form that matters but the opening of hearts to one another in love which signifies the new creation and identifies Christ's disciples.
All the above aspects of faith together determine the quality of our ongoing response to Christ. This response is both individual and corporate (which we will discuss increasingly). This constitutes the underlying process for the relationship of following Jesus in the relational progression. The process as well as his call are imperative. It's the relational imperative for all Christians. And God is not pleased with any response less nor with any substitutes. Thus we need to account for our faith.
Just as discipleship is the relational response to Jesus' call to follow him, the quality of this response is the ongoing reciprocal response of our faith as trust and intimacy to God's initiative. His grace vulnerably revealed by Jesus in the relational progression is the basis and base for ongoingly trusting his person as well as vulnerably entrusting our person to him in intimate relationship. Authentic discipleship becomes operational by the reciprocal relational work of developing this intimate relationship with God (spirituality). The ongoing relational work of opening our heart honestly to God develops our involvement with him on his terms signified by submission. This submission involves the primary posture of worship and includes service. Together this is the relational posture of his disciple.
Furthermore, the quality of our response cannot remain individualized
and privatized but with obedience in the relational progression becomes
part of the life of the family of God in public. Obedience helps us to
counteract the constraints on our faith, while love motivates us to
engage the relational process of faith in creative steps for its
development. This progressive process is basic to following Jesus, and
it cannot be reduced to something we do or have but is constituted by
the qualitative relational substance vulnerably initiated by God and
reciprocally responded to vulnerably by us.
©2004 T. Dave Matsuo, Ph.D.