Here from Cathy Deddo is part 1 of a 2-part essay looking at the Christian life. The essay compiles presentations made by Cathy to GCI's Denominational Conference in Orlando, FL, in August 2017. For part 2 of this essay, click here.
Wholehearted, part 1:
Finding Fellowship in Jesus
What does it mean to be a Christian? Is it about believing certain doctrines? Behaving in certain ways? Practicing certain spiritual disciplines? Embracing certain purposes? Though all these have their place, as we’ll see in this two-part essay, the essence of the Christian life is fellowship—specifically, our participation with Jesus, by the Spirit, in the fellowship Jesus has with the Father and the Spirit, and our participation in the love that the triune God has for all people. This essay explores the nature of this fellowship and suggests ways we can grow in our participation as followers of Jesus Christ.
Created and redeemed for fellowship
We begin by being reminded of the biblical truth that God created us after his own image. But when humankind turned from God, evil got a foothold in God’s good creation, reaching down into the roots of human nature. As a result, our fellowship with God and with people—the very purpose for which we were created— was severed. Thankfully, God did not leave us there. God, who created us through Christ (John 1:3), also reconciled us to himself in Christ (2 Cor. 5:18) to restore us to the fellowship with him that we had lost. Now, in the “already-but-not-yet” period between Jesus’ first and second advents, the Spirit is at work growing us up in that fellowship, as God continues working to bring into final judgment the evil that destroys the fellowship for which we were created.
Jesus summed up the Law of Moses (with its 613 commandments) as being about loving God and loving people (Matt. 22:36-40). This is because love is the basis for the fellowship we enjoy with God and with one another. It’s what we’re wired for and, therefore, what we most deeply long for (even when we don’t recognize it). The “components” of the Christian life mentioned above are expressions of this love.
All my life in church, I’ve heard about a personal relationship with Jesus. But through my journey as a Christian, including my involvement in ministry, I’ve come realize that we can actually have, or at least be tempted to have, an impersonal relationship with Jesus. I didn’t always understand the connection between my fellowship with him and the rest of my life, especially my service to God. I tended to see my relationship with God through Jesus as one thing, and doing things for God as another. There was an unfortunate disconnect, one I often see in the way churches choose and articulate their goals. What they seek to do is sometimes (often?) disconnected from a personal relationship with Jesus.
That disconnect, I believe, is typically due to viewing Jesus, our fellowship with him, and the components of the Christian life, through the lens of our pre-understandings. The solution is to set our preconceptions aside and let Jesus tell us who he is, let him define the nature of our fellowship with him, and then let him shine that truth into all our relationships and agendas, including the programs of our churches.
The fellowship found in Jesus
The fellowship Jesus provides for us with God, is a share in his own relationship with the Father, in and with the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ intention in giving us this gift is to make us his sisters and brothers who are beloved daughters and sons of the Father, born of the Spirit and adopted into the communion of love he lives in. Note what John says in his Gospel:
To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right [or authority, “exousian”] to become children of God who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)
Rather than drawing near to us through the Incarnation merely to be like us, Jesus drew us up to himself, sharing with us the “us-ness” he has with the Father in and with the Spirit—to make us sharers in the life he has always had—a life in a holy communion of love. Indeed, Jesus says he came so that we can share in the same love the Father has for him! As T.F. Torrance put it…
God draws near to us in such a way as to draw us near to himself within the circle of his knowing of himself.
God has reconciled us to himself in Jesus so that we can live in, participate in, and grow up in this relationship in and by the Spirit—a relationship by which we live into, and grow up into, the Source of all love, life and joy. In Romans, the apostle Paul says the Spirit we received has brought about our adoption to sonship and by him we cry “Abba, Father.” He also says that as children of God, we are co-heirs with Christ. We have been created and redeemed to live in a deep, personal relationship with Jesus that is like the deep personal relationship Jesus has with God the Father. That is the main reason we exist! Relationship with God is not just a part of our experience—it is to be the center of our lives. But how can that even begin to happen?
What has Jesus provided for us?
Jesus is God come in our flesh—the Son of God come to share his Sonship with us as creatures. Jesus doesn’t come merely to show us how to get along with God, or to provide for us a free ticket into heaven. The fellowship Jesus gives us is, first of all, a share in himself, and through him a share of his relationship with his Father and the Spirit as it is lived out in our humanity, revealed in his earthly ministry.
In his incarnation, life, atoning death, resurrection and ascension, Jesus is bringing this relationship he has enjoyed from all eternity with the Father, into our humanity—redeeming us, overcoming our resistance to his grace, and freeing us from evil in order to draw us up by his Spirit to be with him in the bosom of his Father.
In Jesus’ relationship with his Father, in the Spirit, clothed in our humanity, we see what it means to be fully human. We see what Jesus has provided for us, and thus where he is taking us in his Spirit. In the record of Jesus’ earthly life, we see something of what we have a share in now—of what we are in Christ, and thus what we are becoming (growing up into) as we live in the already-but-not-yet of our present existence.
The maturing (sanctification) of which the New Testament speaks, is our growing up into that relationship. This growing up “into Christ” (as Paul refers to it in Ephesians) involves personal transformation from the inside-out. It’s an ongoing transformation, that is not yet complete. We are a work in process, and as we move forward, we look not to ourselves, but to Jesus and his relationship with us and with the Father.
Though we are not yet fully enjoying the kind of relationship we see in Jesus, we seek to participate wholeheartedly in his relationship with the Father (and thus the title for this essay). Though our participation (on this side of glory) is imperfect, we participate trusting that what Jesus has already, in himself, accomplished for us, the Holy Spirit is continuing to work out in us. We live by the promise that the work God has begun in us, he will bring to completion.
Growing in relationship with God, in Christ, by the Spirit, is the heart and core of the Christian life. It’s the essence of that life—what it’s all about. This relationship is neither automatic nor static. It is a gift from Jesus that we enjoy through the daily, deliberate effort the Holy Spirit invites, enables and confirms in us over and over again.
Jesus’ relationship with his Father
With that background in mind, let’s now focus on Jesus’ relationship with his Father, in the Spirit. In the Gospels, we see that relationship directly, then in the Epistles we see how believers share in Jesus’ relationship with the Father through the indwelling Spirit. By sharing Jesus’ relationship, I don’t mean we somehow become Jesus, or that we somehow replace him. Nor do I mean that we experience a parallel relationship with the Father, somewhat like the one Jesus has with the Father. The reality of our sharing with Jesus in his relationship with the Father, in the Spirit, is expressed well in Matthew 11:27-30. There we learn that Jesus extends to us his yoke—the relationship he has with his Father, inviting us to share in that relationship with him. He invites us to learn from him and then enjoy the deep soul rest that is his because of his yoked relationship with his Father.
As we expand on this key Gospel passage, we note that Jesus’ relationship with his Father is not accidental to Jesus’ being, life and identity. He is not Jesus first, on his own, who then develops a great relationship with his Father. As God the Son, Jesus’ reveals to us that his relationship to his Father, in the Spirit, is intrinsic and essential to his very being—no relationship, no being. Jesus thus has his being-in-relationship. His sonship is not a status, nor is it static (motionless). Rather, it is upheld and maintained in ongoing, dynamic love—interaction and communication between Father and Son, in the Spirit.
This means that all of what we can say about Jesus—all that he does and says, and all the titles we may give him—can only be understood in terms of who he is as the Son of the Father. “Son” isn’t just one of many labels we have for Jesus—it’s who he is most deeply and fundamentally. We can’t understand and know Jesus as “Son” apart from how he is the Son of this particular Father. Jesus has his being sustained and upheld in this real relationship, which is particular to his Father. In other words, this is not a generic father-son relationship.
Jesus is the Son only because he is Son of this Father, in this one-of-a-kind relationship. That particular, unrepeatable relationship makes him who he is from all eternity. He is Son only as he is continually, actively, dynamically receiving from and giving to his Father as the Son, in the Spirit, from all eternity. He is continually being the Son, as he is continually being in relationship with the Father, in the Spirit.
All this can also be said of the Father and the Spirit. The Father is the Father by being in relationship with this Son. The Spirit is the particular Spirit that proceeds from this Father and Son relationship. God is and remains God by being in this dynamic communion of love—a love between the three divine Persons who are not interchangeable with each other.
All that the Son does as Jesus, the incarnate One, he does as the Son that he is, out of his relationship with the Father. He serves as the Son, heals as the Son, loves and teaches as the Son, and judges and warns as the Son of this good and glorious Father. We see this in the way Jesus speaks of “my Father” and also in his referring to himself as the one sent from this Father. Their relationship binds them together in such a way that to know the Father is to know the Son, and to know the Son is to know the Father.
Since Jesus has his being, by being in relationship with his Father, how can we know Jesus without knowing his Father? To know Jesus personally, is to know him as the Son of this Father, for that is who he is. That is what he is all about. All that he is and all that he does, he is and does as the Son of the Father. Knowing the Father is thus to know him as the Father of the Son. There is no other Father except the Father of this Son.
When we say that Jesus has his being in relationship with the Father in the Spirit, we are not talking about a static relationship like one might see on a family tree (for example, you might technically have a relationship with an aunt you have never met). Instead, we are talking about an ongoing, actual relationship—dynamic interaction and communion. The being of all three parties in the tri-personal relationship we refer to as the Trinity is upheld and sustained in the ongoing, active moving towards one another in a relationship of holy, wholehearted love.
A relationship of “knowing”
Matthew 11 and several other places in Scripture speak of the Father and the Son as knowing each other and, in fact, knowing each other in an exclusive way (John 1). It makes sense that this knowing is exclusive, for as Jesus tells us, only the Son knows the Father and the Father the Son. Only the Son knows the Father as his Father. We can see the logic of this in human relationships where the relationship shapes the knowing. Think of the relating of spouses, of parents and children, or the knowing of close friends. In these relationships there is exclusive, insider-knowing, the knowing that takes place in these unique, one-of-a-kind relationships.
The biblical word for knowing is gnosis or its stronger form, epignosis, meaning intimate, personal, relational knowledge. This is knowledge that is only gained in real interaction (not a knowing about, not a list of attributes or characteristics, not even just spending time together). This knowing is present tense—knowing each other all the time, continually. It involves real exchange, real giving and receiving. The Father gives to the Son, Jesus receives and gives glory and praise to the Father in return. This is real, relational knowing.
There is thus a real exchange going on in this knowing—a real moving towards one another. This knowing is thus not static, not a repetition of the same thing. It’s dynamic interaction that goes out, brings forth, and grows deeper. It’s a relational knowing that involves face-to-face interaction—addressing one another, not just “hanging out” or working together on a joint project. Jesus prays to and thanks his Father. He hears the Father speak. They have real conversation. What one says calls forth the answering response of the other.
It is because of this personal, real interaction among the divine Persons that God is fullness—uncontainable, always going forth, always moving towards, always fruitful. We see this in Jesus, who is the eternal personal and particular “going forth” of God. Then we note that God designed us for this dynamic, interactive relationship, first with God, then out of that relationship, with each other.
Consider the way Jesus perfectly lived out the two Great Commandments: to love God and love people. Though we are imperfect in doing so, we see evidence of Jesus love in our relationship with God and our relationships with other people. The deep pain we experience in broken relationships is a sign that we have been created by God for good and right relationships. We even see this in the way God has wired the human brain. The brains of babies develop in response to face-to-face interactions with the parents or other primary care givers.
Thus, we understand that a relationship of knowing involves a real presence one to another, characterized by ongoing loving interaction. The Father loves his Son. The Son loves his Father. In John 15:10, Jesus speaks of keeping his Father’s commandments and remaining in his love. In John 1:18 he notes that he comes from the bosom of Father. In John 10:38 he says, “the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”
This love between the Father and the Son overflows into mutual glorification—shining forth, in and for love, the wonder and goodness of the other. This shining forth is ongoing—always being loved, always loving—not just remembering “I am loved,” and not just a new status or name tag, but the ongoing experience of being loved. Living in the joy of that love more and more is what is offered to us in wholehearted relationship with the triune God through the Son and in the Spirit.
Sharing in God’s tri-personal communion
Through his incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension, Jesus has enabled humanity to share, through the indwelling Spirit, in what C.S. Lewis referred to as God’s “tri-personal” love and life. How that inner communion of the three divine Persons “works” is somewhat of a mystery to us, but perhaps an illustration will help.
Picture the triune God at work in an office building. Each Person has a separate office, maybe on different floors. You enter the building and the receptionist asks, “Who do you want to talk to?” “Jesus,” you reply. “He’s busy, but the Father is available.” “I’ll wait,” you say. But where do you think the Father and the Spirit are? The reality is that they are present to each other at all times, but not just because they are in the same office. They aren’t just hanging out in proximity while the Son takes care of the appointment by himself. The Son is, at all times, in complete and “instantaneous” (if I can even put it that way, as if there is any distance between them) communication with the Father and the Spirit.
We cannot relate or interact with one Person of the Trinity without interacting with the other two. Though distinct in person, they are one in being. Their difference of person does not amount to a separation or a difference of nature, character, heart, mind, will and every other divine attribute. Our relationship with the Son is a relationship with his Father and with the Spirit. As C.S. Lewis pointed out, prayer involves the whole of the Trinity. We pray to the Father who is over us, with the Son who is with us, and by the Spirit who moves within us—all in the same moment.
The Father is the Father of the Son, and the Father is in real, continuous interaction with the Son in and with the Spirit. The three Persons of the Trinity have their being (their very existence) in and with each other. In Jesus, the whole God is present, meaning the whole God is being the whole God at that moment. As you pray to Jesus, Jesus is presenting you to his Father, and the Spirit is speaking, leading, and thus guiding you in your prayer. Thus, in prayer, we are being brought up into the tri-foldedness of God!—joining an ongoing conversation. It is the delight of the whole God to include us in their tri-personal us-ness. We see this in Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17, where Jesus lets his disciples “listen in” to his conversation with his Father. The Father and the Son, in the Spirit, share with us all that they share between them, even though we are but creatures.
Jesus has his being in relationship
In his divinity, Jesus is eternally the Son in a dynamic relationship with the Father in the Spirit. In their eternal relationships, the Persons of the Trinity do not reside in an office building where each has a separate space, coming together only from time to time. The reality is that Jesus does not need a note from his Father to remind him that he is loved. Jesus is being the Son all the time because the Son is in relationship all the time with the Father and the Spirit. Jesus continuously receives his personal identity (as the Son of the Father) from the Father in this relationship in the Spirit.
In his humanity, which he bears on our behalf, we see Jesus yielding himself totally to the Father. We see him overcoming humanity’s sinful resistance to the Father’s covenant love and grace. We see him transforming our humanity to where it is able to receive all it was created to receive in relationship with God. During this earthly ministry, we see Jesus at work in this way when he was tempted by Satan in the wilderness (Matt. 4). To the first temptation, Jesus answered: “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Jesus lived out this truth throughout his earthly life and then in his death, resurrection and ascension, in our place and on our behalf.
Jesus has his doing in relationship
Jesus not only has his being in relationship with God—he has his doing there as well. There is never a time when Jesus departs from living in communion with God to “do his own thing.” Moreover, he doesn’t check a list of assignments given him by the Father who is off somewhere else. Jesus is not sent away by the Father on errands to then report on when he returns. All that the Son does he does as the Son of his Father. The Son of God is in ongoing, dynamic relationship with the Father. This is why Jesus said this:
Truly, truly I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son, and shows him all that he himself is doing. (John 15:19-20)
In the same vein, Jesus says he judges according to his Father’s judgment: “I can do nothing on my own authority; as I hear, I judge” (John 5:30). He also said that he only speaks the Father’s words, not his own (John 14:10) and that his teaching is not his own, but the Father’s who sent him (John 7:16; 8:28). Jesus obediently follows where the Father leads. He does so on the basis of his continual conversation (prayer and communication) with and awareness of the Father. The Father and Son, in the Spirit, work together out of an ongoing intimate communion. Their doing together comes out of their being together—their belonging together.
What Jesus sees and hears from the Father, are not mere examples and instructions. The Father doesn’t just urge Jesus on, walking ahead with his back to Jesus to show him what is next. As the Father does his will, Jesus does it with him. Jesus knows his loved by the Father. He is always receiving from the Father, then giving out of the fullness of that relationship—acting, thinking, speaking, praying, responding as the Son of the Father in ongoing relationship with the Father in the Spirit. Jesus exists and operates on the basis of his identity as the Son of the Father.
Jesus shares all this with us
The glorious truth of the gospel is that Jesus shares the relationship that he has with the Father, in the Spirit, with us! He gives us a share in his own sonship! By the Spirit, Jesus opens up this relationship to us. Only God can do that, and he has done it (and continues to do it) in and through Jesus and by his Spirit. We are given to share in Jesus’ glorified human nature and in all of his actions done in our place, and on our behalf, as our great high priest. This includes our sharing in the motives and purposes that underlie Jesus’ actions. By the Spirit, all our being and doing become related to the fellowship Jesus has always had with the Father, in the Spirit, and now has in his glorified humanity.
As we share in Jesus’ sonship, we are enabled to share in his delight to do the Father’s good will. You will recall that in John 4, after talking with the Samaritan woman, Jesus says that his food is to do the Father’s will. This is not a contractual relationship—Jesus freely and continually, in our place and on our behalf, says “yes” to his Father’s good, life-giving will. He knows that “no one is good but God alone” and that God’s will—God’s desire—is for life; for all to be drawn to him. We see Jesus freely choosing to live as the Son that he is, not as a victim of circumstances, or as one being coerced into sharing in doing the Father’s will, but as one joyfully giving himself to the Father in the Spirit to accomplish with them the good and glorious work of the whole God.
It is by being the Son that Jesus bears witness to the Father and the Spirit. His obedience out of absolute trust in the Father is part of the logic of God’s tri-personal relationship. Indeed, Jesus is the very definition of sonship. By his doing-in-relationship, we see Jesus redeeming our fallen human nature so that it is turned back to God—now able to say in the Spirit out of complete trust in the faithfulness and love of the Father, “Not my will, but thine be done.” In the Garden of Gethsemane, the night before his crucifixion, we see Jesus wrestling on our behalf (from our side as fallen, distrustful humans) sinful human nature back to a place of hope and trust in God.
On our behalf, Jesus overcame our sinful inclination to not live in accordance with who we were created to be, thus enabling us to say “no” to everything that pushes us away from God onto ourselves, and instead say “yes” to God’s “yes” to us. Jesus’ obedience to the Father is his free affirmation of who he is. To obey the Father is to live in his own belovedness as the Son.
In redeeming us, Jesus judges and redeems our sinful desire to turn God’s covenant relationship with us into some sort of contractual relationship. Our disobedience is all a part of our seeking to keep him, the very Source of our life, at a self-protective distance—to have less love and less life than what he gives because we would not then remain in control. In contrast, the covenant relationship we have with God, in Jesus, by the Spirit, is a relationship of love that is abundant, uncontainable, outgoing, full of joy, peace and well-being. Jesus relationship with the Father and the Spirit is the fullness of this covenant love. Jesus is the most complete, secure, whole human being who has ever lived and he shares that love and life with us, through the Spirit. It is our calling to grow in experiencing that love and life—to have an increasingly wholehearted relationship with God.
When Paul speaks of the fullness of God dwelling in Jesus (Col. 1:19; 2:9) and prays that we will be filled with that fullness (Eph. 3:19), he is not thinking of a substance like water, but of the fullness of being in relationship. Jesus promises that, in the Spirit, he will do greater works in and through us because these works will be the fruit—the outflow—of this new relationship–this new interaction and conversation.
Jesus acts as one of us, on our behalf, from the place of peace in his Father. He does not act in accordance with mere circumstances. When the Pharisees asked him for a sign, Jesus didn’t give them one. He is not manipulated by others, and he doesn’t lord it over others. Jesus always gives out of the fullness of the relationship that he has with the Father, in the Spirit. He always gives what is best for the other, even when it is not what the other believes they want—even when they feel threatened by what he is giving them. Jesus always seeks to reveal his Father—to reveal himself as the Father’s Son, in the Spirit, inviting people to feed on him, to trust in him.
Jesus is not a victim. He was not haplessly caught up in having to be the Savior. He endured the cross for the joy that was set before him (Heb. 12:2). Jesus took up God’s judgment and determination to bring all our sin to an end. He took that sin (all of it) upon himself—all our brokenness, all our sinning against others (and our being sinned against), so that we can be made new in him. In this fellowship that we now have in Christ, whatever we have been through, or may yet go through, is not the last word. In Jesus, the whole God is always more present, active, and faithful than we are.
The particularity of this relationship
In Jesus’ earthly ministry, we see that the particularity of the relationships of Father, Son, and Spirit issue an invitation into particular, personal, ongoing, dynamic relationships with us. In dealing with his disciples, Jesus revealed more and more of who he is. He did so in particular interactions with them. He didn’t take them through a class or have them read a pamphlet or book. He himself was the book—the Word of God, living, acting, interacting, communicating in word and deed. When he chose the 12,it was so that they would be “with him” (Mark 3:14).
We see Jesus dealing individually with various people in the four Gospels. It was not a “one size fits all” interaction. Note, for example, how Jesus dealt with the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years (Mark 5). In that encounter, we see Jesus seeking out the woman who had touched him. Jesus was provocative in many other encounters with individuals. You’ll recall Zacchaeus up in the tree in Jericho. Though Jesus could easily have passed under, he “looks up” and calls Zacchaeus down from the tree, telling him that he will be coming to his home later that day. What can Zacchaeus do in response? Either receive or reject Jesus’ audacious invitation. Jesus addressed Zacchaeus in a deeply personal way.
Then there is the woman at the well in John 4. Jesus initiates the conversation with her as well, asking if she will give him a drink. Through these face-to-face encounters, Jesus calls forth a response. His initiative makes non-response not an option. He can’t be evaded.
You’ll also recall the provocative way Jesus related to the Pharisees. There was the time when Jesus, in the synagogue on the Sabbath, called forward a man with a withered hand. Jesus did not have to heal him on the Sabbath, but he did so intentionally to make a point about who he is. He was equally provocative when he declared the paralytic forgiven.
Then there are Jesus’ parables, which he meant to be puzzling in order to draw people to himself to ask for more. Jesus is always calling people—the weary, in particular—-to “come to me” (Matt. 11:28). He calls them into a one-on-one personal relationship with himself. In doings so, he doesn’t give them a lighter yoke of their own, then send them on their way. Instead, he invites them to share his yoke (Matt. 11:29)—to be yoked to him, and in doing so to enjoy his rest as they walk together. Jesus thus calls people into a dynamic, interactive, intimate relationship—one he initiates—sharing with them the relationship he has with his Father, in the Spirit.
Called to share this relationship with others
It’s important to know that we are called to share the relationship we have with God with others. That sharing is the fruit of the relationship we have with the Father, in and through Jesus, by the Spirit. Our mission, as Jesus’ followers, involves inviting others into that relationship with us. Though we are imperfect in this inviting, (remember, we are a work in process!), God’s love motivates us to take the risk of reaching out to others with the gospel. We do so through our actions and words (living and sharing the gospel, is how we say it in GCI). Our motivation for doing this is not fear, guilt, anxiety, or obligation, but faith, hope and love—the identifying characteristics of the relationship we have with God, in Christ, by the Spirit.
After his ascension, Jesus poured out the Spirit as he had promised in John 14: “He who was with you will now be in you.” Jesus also promised that the Spirit would guide his disciples into all truth, growing a real relationship of knowing Jesus and the Father. The Holy Spirit brings us into dynamic relationship with the whole God, working in and with us through the dynamic relationship we have with God, in Christ. In that relationship, the whole God is present and at work.
The Spirit bears witness to our spirit that we truly are God’s children (Romans 8:16). All that God in Christ has done for us in Jesus, as a completed and finished work, the Holy Spirit works out in us personally, dynamically, relationally, through a life-long conversation and interaction with us by his Word.
The point here is this: we are given this relationship to grow up in it. This is what the Christian life is all about. Throughout the New Testament, we are exhorted to actively participate in this relationship. But that is not all—Scripture also makes it clear that God not only exhorts us in Jesus (Jesus being the Father’s Word to us) but he also (as our high priest united to our actual humanity), makes the response we were created to make, but cannot.
But don’t be confused on this point—don’t think that since Jesus makes that response for us, we don’t need to respond ourselves. The Spirit’s working in us now is not so that we don’t need to respond, but so that we can begin to respond—so we should respond as fully and freely as we can.
The Spirit enables us to respond to Jesus’ response—to give our responsive “Amen” to what he has done on our behalf. Desiring to hear this response from us, God releases us to praise and thanksgiving—to our real participation as whole persons in this wonderful, life-giving, fruitful fellowship.
Unfortunately, rather than understanding what our Triune God is actually bringing about, we can be tempted to revert to an impersonal, contractual view of our relationship with God—seeing God somehow at a distance from us. Succumbing to that temptation, we compartmentalize our Christian life, as if relationship with Jesus is in one compartment by itself, and other things we do are in other separate compartments. Or we can regard our relationship with God as merely being a means to some other important “work” we have of building the kingdom—of doing things “for God” (rather than “with God”). We can mistakenly think that God is there merely to direct us—to set us an example or somehow inspire or enable us to do things for him or for ourselves. When that split or disconnection happens, the real work of living out of a growing personal relationship with God takes a back seat to the other, seemingly more important duties, such as duties of ministry, parenting, evangelism, discipleship, or whatever.
We can begin to behave as if we need Jesus only to get us “in” or get us “saved,” then we need only occasionally check in with him to say hello, get some instructions, give him a few of our requests, and be on our way to attend to other things, including the things he wants us to do for him. By falling into the trap of this wrong-headed way of thinking, we are disconnecting our doing from our true being—from having our being in personal, daily and interactive relationship with Jesus.
While we are away from Jesus, doing things for him, we begin to trust in our own skills, doctrines, agendas, programs and concerns. We trust in these things as much, if not more, than we trust in Jesus—in his real, active presence with the whole God and with us. In doing so, we miss out on continually receiving from Jesus, yielded continuously to his dynamic leading through the Spirit, participating with him in his continuing ministry by his Word and Spirit.
Think about it this way—where is Jesus and what is he doing when we’re off doing things for him? Is he simply looking on? Is he depending upon us to do things for him? Is he only passively present? Or, perhaps we think he’s out front, leading the way, with his back to us as we observe him from a distance, trying to mimic what he is doing—following his example in our own tasks. Or perhaps we think Jesus is behind us, watching from the spectator stands—cheering us on or evaluating our performance. And what about the Father and the Spirit? Where are they and what are they doing?
While we know God is a speaking God and that he is acting in and through our lives today, we may act as if we are more present and active than he is. We may think, yes, he speaks but (again) from a distance. We may view his love for us and his attention over us being like a blanket—draped over us and everyone all wrapped up in it and included under it. In accordance with this view, we hear him speaking but only in general, generic ways, not aware of anyone in particular.
The glorious truth of the gospel is that the triune God, by the Spirit, is loving us as individuals, calling us in a deeply personal way to his side, reminding us of his faithfulness, helping us see places he is working with us, so we can let go of other things that keep us from fully receiving him.
God is calling forth our response—a response arising out of trust and hope—rejoicing in who he is, and who we are in relationship to him. He is saying to each of us: “I love you. I know you. I have you. I have your whole life and I am not going to be thwarted in healing and transforming you even as I am redeeming this world and everything in it. Look at me as I wholeheartedly attend to you.”
Dear brothers and sisters, Jesus is speaking to you today. Right now. He will be doing so tomorrow, and each day after that. The heart of our Christian life is this wonderful, dynamic, ongoing, personal, interactive, particular, life-giving, uncontainable relationship with our tri-personal God. He is calling you, inviting you, to share in his rest, to live by trusting in him—to participate wholeheartedly in what he is doing. Amen.
Here is a video of the presentation on which this part of Cathy’s essay is based:
On Youtube at https://youtu.be/32I5_RzOJvE.