with Jesus Christ
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A PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS CHRIST
If you were asked to choose one of the following phrases to complete the sentence, which would you choose?
To be a Christian is...
There really should be a fourth option: (4) All of the above. The objective historical foundation and theological formulation are essential prerequisites to the subjective relationship with Jesus. But if one's understanding of Christianity is comprised only of assent to the objective facts, and devoid of the subjective personal relationship with Jesus Christ, can such a person be considered a Christian?
What does it mean to have a "personal relationship with Jesus Christ"?
Evangelical Christians have often proclaimed and explained that to be a Christian is "to receive Jesus and have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ." Many who have heard that proclamation have not been able to understand what evangelical Christians mean by that phrase. Is it possible for the non-Christian, the natural man, to understand or comprehend the meaning of that phrase?
The natural man can understand "religion" how religious organizations function, how they solicit finances, how they utilize propaganda to get their message out. The natural man can understand rational assent to religious tenets, propositions, principles, statements of history, theology, and doctrine. The natural man can understand adherence to a belief-system, or devotion to an ideology or an organization. The natural man can understand "spirituality" if it is defined as the serenity of "well-being", or devotion to a meaningful cause, or the recollection of an ecstatic experience, or conformity to a moral ideal.
But is it possible for the natural man, the non-Christian, to understand what it means to "have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ"? The Apostle Paul explained that "the natural man cannot understand spiritual things" (I Cor. 2:14). Is "having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ" a spiritual reality that requires the presence and appraisal of the Spirit of Christ to understand what it means? If so, is it possible to adequately explain the meaning of this reality to a non-Christian?
A philosophy student, with whom I had an acquaintance, was
very brilliant, well-read and articulate. He was willing and
desirous of considering the facts of Christian history and theology
under the microscope of human reason. But with a sneer and derisive
comments full of scorn, he would mock and make deprecatory comments
about those who referred to a "personal relationship with
Jesus Christ." Why? This was outside of his ability to understand
on a purely rational, philosophical and scientific level.
RELATIONSHIP - In its broadest sense this simply means that one object has a connection or correlation with another object. The relation of this to that. Mathematically, it may be the relationship of x to y. Geometrically, it may be the angle of relationship between one line and another line. Mechanically, it may be the relationship of the clutch to the drive shaft of an automobile, or one part of a machine to another part. Cosmologically, it may the relationship of earth to the sun; or even more extensively it may be the relation or relationship of everything in the universe to a constant (such as the speed of light within a vacuum), which is how Einstein developed his "Theory of Relativity", which was essentially a theory of relationship.
The above mentioned relationships are all impersonal relationships. As it is our objective to understand a personal relationship, we must explore what that means.
A personal relationship must involve at least one person. The first dictionary meaning of "personal" is defined as "how something relates to or affects a person." With this broad definition, a person can have a "personal relationship" with anything that affects or relates to them a dog, a tree, a flower, a bottle of beer, etcetera ad infinitum.
An individual person might consider the historical evidence of a particular event or person, and then relate such to their own situation. Is that a personal relationship? An individual person might develop ideas into a logical explanation of how they fit together and function. Is that a personal relationship with a particular ideology? Can one have a personal relationship with history? ...philosophy? ...theology? If a person associates themself with, or relates to, a particular social unit, such as an organization like a fraternity, is that a personal relationship? Does loyalty, adherence, commitment and dedication to a grouping of other persons constitute a personal relationship? What is a personal relationship?
Surely the reader can recognize that I am questioning whether the phrase "personal relationship", as used in the evangelical terminology of contemporary religion, is but the personal affect that Christian history, theology and community have upon a person who consents and assents to relate to such. In its broadest definition this could be called a "personal relationship"; but are we content to accept that as the intent of the Christian relationship with Jesus Christ?
PERSONAL - How personal does the relationship have to be to be a personal relationship?
If you receive a loan from another individual, is there a personal relationship between the payer and the payee?
Is the legal and contractual relationship between an employer and employee a personal relationship?
Do you have a personal relationship with your great, great grandfather who may have died twenty years prior to your birth? Or is it just a biological and genealogical relationship of heritage?
Is it possible to have a personal relationship with George Washington or Napoleon Bonaparte?
Is there a necessary personal relationship between siblings within the same family? Does biological kinship establish a personal relationship?
Let me share a personal illustration: I have a sister. We are related. She is my relative. We have a genetic and biological relationship. Is that a personal relationship? I have not seen nor communicated with this sister for over twenty years, nor does she apparently ever desire to do so. Do we have a personal relationship?
We must admit that the broadest definition of a "personal relationship" allows for a unidirectional relationship whereby an individual person relates to an object, an idea, a cause, an image, a fantasy, a mental construct, or a person who is no longer living. A "personal relationship" also allows for a relationship of two or more persons that is merely contractual, biological or social.
But a "personal relationship" is also defined as a dynamic inter-relatedness between persons, an experiential relationship between two persons that involves subjective interaction and communication, a person-to-person relationship, the connection, correlation and interaction of at least two persons in what might be better termed an interpersonal relationship.
I have an interpersonal relationship with Joe, for example. We are friends. We interact. We communicate back and forth. Since Joe is a Christian, I have a different kind of interpersonal relationship with him than I would have with a non-Christian friend. With a Christian friend I have something in common that allows for communion and fellowship (koinonia), a communication based on our spiritual commonality in Christ; a deeper level of interpersonal interaction and communication than I could have with a person who was not spiritually one with me in Christ.
But every other interpersonal relationship that I might have is not on the same level of experiential interpersonal relationship that I have with my wife. The interaction of our interpersonal relationship as husband and wife involves a connection, a "knowing", an intimacy, an "intercourse" (social and sexual) that is deeper than any other interpersonal relationship that I have. And the fact that she is a Christian wife allows a spiritual communion and oneness that makes our marital interpersonal relationship as deep as any human interpersonal relationship can be.
That is why the Apostle Paul uses the intimate interpersonal relationship of husband and wife as the best human and physical analogy to the interpersonal relationship of a Christian with Christ. (Ephesians 5:22-33). The closest oneness and intimacy of personal relationship on earth that can be used to picture and describe and explain the oneness and intimacy of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, is the marriage relationship.
JESUS CHRIST - What then is a "personal relationship with Jesus Christ"? Or would we be better served to refer, instead, to an "interpersonal relationship with Jesus Christ", in order to avoid any idea that we are referring to an individual person relating to an object, an idea, a cause, an image, a fantasy, a mental construct, or a person that is no longer living?
Is a "personal relationship with Jesus Christ" just a relation of our mental assent to an historical Jesus? Is a "personal relationship with Jesus Christ" just an ideological relationship of belief based on the circumstantial evidence of reports that we can read in the Gospels of the New Testament? Is it possible to have an interpersonal relationship with an historical personage that lived hundreds of years ago? Is it possible to have a interpersonal relationship with a logical construct of theological tenets about God and His Son, Jesus Christ?
Or does an "interpersonal relationship with Jesus Christ" necessitate an experiential, interactive relationship that involves an inter-relatedness, a oneness, a union, a commonality of identity, an intimacy, a "knowing" that can only be likened to the marriage relationship on earth?
That would necessitate the recognition that the Jesus of history, who walked around Palestine over 1900 some years ago, is still alive as a living Person, though in a different form in a spiritual form, and capable of interacting in an interpersonal relationship with human persons today. That is the message of the Christian gospel that Jesus lived, was crucified on the cross, and was raised from the dead in the resurrection, and having ascended to God the Father, He was "poured out" and made available in spiritual form, as the "Spirit of Christ" (Rom. 8:9), in order to indwell the spirits of persons in every age, becoming one with them in spiritual union, and becoming the basis of their new spiritual identity, as they engage in a dynamic interpersonal relationship with the living Lord Jesus.
At this point we need to admit that even the reference to an interpersonal relationship with Jesus Christ might be inadequate. The marriage relationship that Paul employs in Eph. 5:22-33 breaks down in illustrating the relationship of Christ and the Christian because the relationship between the Christian the the living Lord Jesus is also an intrapersonal relationship, involving the indwelling presence of the Spirit of Christ within the spirit of the Christian.
In order for the Christian to have a dynamic interpersonal relationship with Jesus Christ it necessitated that Jesus be a living Person. That was facilitated by the historic resurrection of Jesus when He was raised from the dead on the third day to become the every-living Lord Jesus. In order for the Christian to have a spiritual intrapersonal relationship with Jesus Christ, it necessitated that Jesus be a Spirit-person. That was implemented by the Pentecostal outpouring of Jesus in Spirit-form when the Spirit of Christ became available to indwell the spirits of receptive individuals in every age as the life-giving Spirit (I Cor. 15:45).
This is why evangelical Christians employ the Biblical terminology of being "born again," to explain the living reality of the personal Spirit of Christ coming to dwell in the spirit of a receptive person in an intrapersonal relationship, and that to engage in a growing and developing interpersonal relationship whereby the living Lord Jesus functions in and through the Christian.
It is important to understand that a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is not just an objective relationship to the benefits that Christ allegedly made available by His historical actions of death, burial and resurrection. Protestant Christian religion, in particular, has tended to objectify the relationship of the Christian to God and Christ in a forensic, juridical and legal framework that posits the relationship as but the "justification" of a right relationship with God the Judge in the heavenly realm. As a corollary, the relationship of the Christian with God has been viewed as a static "reconciliation" that is no more personal that "reconciling" one's financial books.
The intrapersonal and interpersonal relationship of the Christian with Jesus Christ must be recognized as a subjective, internal, spiritual reality, whereby an individual in any age receives the living Spirit of Christ into his or her spirit (Rom. 8:9), thus becoming a Christian, a Christ-one. That relationship must involve a dynamic sense of ontological interaction and communion, a living and functional communication.
Granted, this explanation of a personal, intrapersonal and interpersonal relationship with Jesus Christ requires spiritual understanding that can only come by the presence of the Spirit of Christ within the spirit of a receptive person. (I Cor. 2:8-16). That is the difficulty Christians have in attempting to explain what it means to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It cannot be understood until He, the Person of Christ, is received by faith. Then, we have the spiritual and relational understanding of regeneration and new birth (Jn. 3:1-6). Then, we can have the spiritual understanding of the indwelling of the Spirit of Christ within our spirit (Rom. 8:9); that the living Lord Jesus Christ is in us (Col. 1:27; II Cor. 13:5), and lives in us (Gal. 2:20) as our spiritual life (Col. 3:4). Then, we can begin to fathom that we are united in a spiritual oneness of union with Him (I Cor. 6:17). Then, we can begin to understand that we are new creatures (II Cor. 5:17; Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10), and that our identity is only "in Him" as Christ-ones, Christians that who I am can only be explained on the basis of Who He is. Then, we can begin to understand the dynamic function of the Lordship of the Living Lord Jesus, not just as an assent to His being Lord, God, Deity, but as the acceptance of the fact that my life is no longer mine to determine, but is entirely as His disposal and determination.
(Of course, my life was really never mine to determine, anyway. I was just deceived into thinking that it was, and that I was an independent self-determining self. I am convinced that one of the major reasons why the natural man, as well as most religion, including evangelical Christian religion, does not understand what a personal, intrapersonal or interpersonal relationship with Jesus Christ involves, is because they do not understand or accept that the non-Christian, the unregenerate person, has a personal, intrapersonal and interpersonal relationship with Satan, the Evil One - Jn. 8:44; II Tim. 2:26; I Jn. 3:10. cf. The Natural Man.)
So, how do we as Christians attempt to explain that the Christian life is a personal, intrapersonal and interpersonal relationship with Jesus Christ?
We do not want to "fake people out" and offer them "religion" instead membership, involvement, commitment, dedication. In much of Christian religion today people are told about a relationship to "churchianity" rather than Jesus Christ. They are introduced to the "fellowship of excitement" whereby people can "get all excited about Jesus"; hyped up and "high" on Jesus. They are introduced to "programs", the success of which is evaluated by the numbers of buildings, budgets and baptisms. They are introduced to the "escape hatch" whereby the penalty of sin can be removed, and a "fire insurance policy" of eternal assurance in heaven is offered. The past can be forgiven, the future can be assured such an offer provides an impersonal relationship to sin and an impersonal relationship to a future destiny, but it does not adequately encompass a dynamic and living personal, intrapersonal, and interpersonal relationship with the living Lord Jesus Christ in the present.
It is imperative that we, Christians, explain, as best we can by the empowering of the Spirit of Christ, how a personal, intrapersonal, and interpersonal relationship with Jesus Christ is initiated and functions. Only God can effect that relationship of Christ with another, as an individual chooses in the receptivity of faith to receive the living Spirit of Christ into his or her spirit.