“Religion today is not transforming people; rather it is being transformed by the people. It is not raising the moral level of society; it is descending to society’s own level, and congratulating itself that it has scored a victory because society is smilingly accepting its surrender.” A.W. Tozer
Like many teens of the ’90s, at some point during the dating years, I wrote out a list of the ideal qualities I wanted in a marriage partner. The list included someone who was a Spiritual leader, a good listener, and who would make me laugh.
When I met Ordell, there was one “ideal quality” on my list where I compromised. My list included dating someone with blue eyes. This was a trait I was willing to overlook because our relationship was more important than the original standard I’d set for what my “ideal dating relationship” would look like.
Personal relationships allow us the freedom to establish and shift boundaries as life evolves, and our preferences change. We can choose subjects that interest us in discussing and ignore situations that rub us the wrong way. When we get frustrated with someone we are in a personal relationship with, we can establish a boundary and tell the other person they need to meet our expectations rather than moving toward their requests.
False Equivalent to our Personal Relationship with Jesus
“Sociologists argue that in contemporary Western society the marketplace has become so dominant that the consumer model increasingly characterizes most relationships that historically were covenantal, including marriage. Today we stay connected to people only as long as they are meeting our particular needs at an acceptable cost to us. When we cease to make a profit – that is, when the relationship appears to require more love and affirmation from us than we are getting back – then we “cut our loses” and drop the relationship. This has also been called “commodification,” a process by which social relationships are reduced to economic exchange relationships, and so the very idea of “covenant” is disappearing in our culture. Covenant is, therefore, a concept increasingly foreign to us, and yet the Bible says it is the essence of marriage.” Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God
Many use the phrase “personal relationship” to differentiate the Christian life from religious observance. There is a significant emphasis placed on the need to have a personal relationship with God to connect one’s heart, mind, and soul to our Lord.
The concept of developing an intimate relationship with God the same way you do a friendship creates an equality that creates a false perspective. Just like Western society has created a consumer mindset when it comes to friendships and marriages, many translate that mindset to our personal relationship with God as well.
Have you ever heard someone say, “this is how my personal relationship with God works” or “That may be how you and God work, but our relationship is different.”? There is a false permission that allows people to add transactional boundaries to their relationship with God because it’s established just between the two of them.
In John 15, Jesus begins to teach the disciples about what a relationship with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit will look like by presenting the imagery of a vineyard. John 15:1-10 says:
I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. (NIV)
Consider the visual. Jesus is the vine. He is the center where the branches attach themselves to the vine, which nourishes them. As the vine moves, the branches move. Each branch connects to the same vine; however, the vine isn’t equal to the branch.
Jesus also presents himself in other I am statements as The Good Shepherd who guides and cares for us; his sheep. Jesus teaches using the imagery of a Door and Gate, representing the boundary we must pass through to access heaven.
Jesus says, “I am the bread of life” in John 6. He is our provider and sustainer. We can never provide anything for our Lord nor sustain him. This alone shows our relationship is not equal. When we confuse our equality with God, we forget that he is more powerful and mighty than we can begin to imagine.
God-Centered Relationship with God
Interestingly, when you Google Christ-Centered relationship or God-Centered relationship, you will find hundreds of articles about how to place God in the center of your marriage or dating relationship. Very few Christians seem concerned about the need to keep God in the center of your relationship or life with God.
While you may know little about union with Christ, some view it as the most comprehensive aspect of Christian salvation. Michael Horton, for example, shows how union with Christ draws together the various aspects of salvation—including “the past, present, and future, as well as the objective and subjective, historical and existential, corporate and individual, forensic and transformative.”
Paul’s letters mention this doctrine of union with Christ nearly 200 times, using terms like “in Christ,” “with Christ,” and “through Christ.”
Jesus also describes this reality: “In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (John 14:20). In simple terms, union with Christ captures the mysterious reality that Christ dwells in the heart of believers, and believers, simultaneously, dwell in the heart of Christ. Thus they are one.
In other words, a relationship with Jesus is much more complex than many prefer to admit. Jesus tells us while we are on earth, some things will remain a mystery. (Mark 13:32) God directly addressed with Job as well. As God responds to Job’s questions, he reminds us how much bigger and more powerful our Savior and Lord is.
Job 38:2-5 says:
Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?
Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.
“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
When we retain a correct posture of humility before our Lord and Savior, we will strive to have God-Centered marriages and friendships. More importantly, we will accurately view God as the center of our relationship with God.
Accurate Posture before God
We must remember that God is God, and we are not. By inaccurately shifting our personal relationship with Jesus from one where Jesus is Lord to one where Jesus is our friend or equal we turn our faith into a cultural religion of convenience where we make up the rules we prefer and ignore the ones that make us uncomfortable. In essence, we mirror the Pharisees.
Pray: Mark 1:35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.
Know the Word: Matthew 22:29-33 says:
But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but like angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living. “And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.
Stay in a posture of humility as Jesus modeled: Philippians 2:1-8 says,
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross! (NIV)
Love Your Neighbor: Matthew 5:43-45 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (NIV)
The Christ-Centered Life
The Christ-Centered life requires discipline, grace, mercy, and humility. We must understand that we will need to work on this for our entire lives. However, the gifts we will receive from our Lord as we keep him in his rightful place in our lives are endless.
- God is our provider – we can trust in him to provide rather than depending solely on ourselves.
- God is our sustainer – we can lean on him to carry our burdens.
- God is our shepherd – he protects and guides us.
- God is our Savior – we do not need to save ourselves or anyone else!