Have you ever noticed some of the odd habits we that Christ-followers sometimes adopt? One of them is our tendency to mystify and obscure the truths that the Bible treats as plain realities. We sometimes overlook the fact that spiritual realities are not mystical just because they are supernatural.
This habit of ours has two sad results. One is that we accept far less of Jesus than He intends for us, and the other is that we spread His fame far less than He deserves. I offer the following guest post by my friend Brian Onken to provoke us in a good way to think about a vital topic.
Most Christians, in our day, talk about “having a personal relationship with Jesus.” That’s not a bad way to think. John, the apostle, wrote about the “fellowship” he had with Jesus (1 John 1:1–3). Jesus spoke of making His home with those who believed in and loved Him (John 14:23). Paul prayed for the Christians in Ephesus that Jesus would be more and more “at home” in their hearts (Ephesians 3:14–17). It would seem that having a personal relationship with Jesus is a biblical idea.
But when many Christians talk about having a personal relationship with Jesus, it seems they don’t really grasp the idea.
Here’s how we might illustrate the issue.
Suppose I told you that I have an invisible friend named George. I went on to explain to you that I have a personal relationship with this friend George. If you took me seriously, you might be inclined to ask me a few questions.
“So, you have an invisible friend, George. That’s fascinating. Do you and George talk to each other?”
“Well, I do talk to George, but he never says anything. I’ve never heard his voice or anything, if that’s what you are asking.”
“So, you have this invisible friend who you talk to but he never talks to you?”
“Yeah! That’s right.”
“Oh, I see. Although you never hear his voice, he must do things in your life. You know, you see things that he does that you or others didn’t make happen. That’s how you know he’s there. That’s how you experience this relationship with George.”
“Well, I do the things I think George would want me to do. I think I know the kinds of things he likes. So I do those things. But, no, I can’t say anything has ever happened that I would honestly say, ‘Look at what George did!’ and not feel that I kinda made it happen because I know what George likes. No, there’s not really anything I would say George, by himself, did in my life.”
“So, you have an invisible friend, George, who you talk to but who never talks to you, and for whom you do things but he never actually does anything for you. And you say you have a personal relationship with him?”
“That’s right! I have a personal relationship with George.”
“I see! There must be times when you ‘feel’ George around you. Like some kind of tangible presence. Is that it? That’s how you know you have a personal relationship with George?”
“Well, no. That just sounds weird. I don’t ‘feel’ anything. George doesn’t do that kind of thing. But I know he’s there. He’s with me. After all, I have this personal relationship with him.”
“Let me make sure I understand you. You say you have a personal relationship with an invisible friend named George. You talk to George, but you never hear his voice and he never talks to you. You do the things that you think George would want you to do, but George never actually does anything in your life—anything you would honestly attribute to him alone. And although you say that George is with you, you never have any real experience or sense of his presence. Is that correct?”
“Yes! Absolutely! You understand just what I mean when I was saying I have a personal relationship with my invisible friend George.”
If this is how the conversation ran, when it drew to a close, you would be quite fair if you turned to me and said,
“If that is what your relationship with George is like, I would say that having a ‘personal relationship’ with your invisible friend is like having no relationship at all.”