Saturday, January 11, 2014


I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.

If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love....This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 

You are my friends if you do what I command you. ...I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. (Excerpts from John 15)

Christ abiding in us and we abiding in Christ. Wow. That is almost beyond comprehension. Jesus tells the Apostles that He desires a profound and perfect unity with them. Many people search for this divine friendship and find it in various forms. Catholics and Protestants prefer different ways of describing this unity with God. 

Jesus is My BFF

Evangelicals describe this connection as “a personal relationship with Jesus.” That is a very sweet phrase. In fact, “that phrase is the number one metaphor that modern Evangelicals use to describe their faith.  They use it to draw a contrast between a living faith (personal relationship) and a dead one (going through religious motions).”1

On the surface, Catholics would not disagree with it. In fact, I can say that I, as a Catholic, have a personal relationship with Christ. However, the current usage of this phrase can be theologically suspect in certain cases. 

First, the phrase is nowhere found in scripture. Though scriptures imply that Christ wants an intimate connection with us, it is puzzling that Protestants who insist that everything have a prooftext from scripture would use this extra-biblical phrase to describe their theology. 

It is not even a historical Christian term. The first usage is from the Victorian age in Caroline M. Hallett’s book, Rest By the Way (p. 34) in 1881. Not well known, the phrase  made a brief comeback in Christian literature during WWI and WWII (note that the men were away at war) but did not become popular until the late 1960’s. And the term has skyrocketed in the Christian culture since then. The phrase is equivalent to saying, “I am born-again” or “I have been justified through faith alone.” It means, “Hey, I know Jesus, I’m in.” 

When I was a Protestant I knew people who claimed their personal relationship with Christ was so close they would talk to Jesus all day long and even ask Him everything about what to do down to which socks to wear. And they were serious. 

This theology of a "relationship" with Jesus often does not draw the Christian up to Christ, but attempts (in our democratically-correct worldview) to bring God down to our level. Often this relationship becomes secular and mundane.

We see the secularization of God in T-shirts and bumper stickers.

The problem is not with having a relationship with Christ, but what kind of relationship do you have with Him? 

Is Jesus your friend? Indeed, Christ called His Apostles His friends. 
I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father." John 15: 15
But what does that mean to be the friend of Christ? I am afraid it has devolved into the profaning of Christ as nothing more than a buddy and pal.

As you can see from this video, our trivialization of our relationship with Christ began before most of us were born. But today...

Is Jesus your homeboy, your "top dawg"
The very word “relationship” implies a certain equality that can cause men to revere and fear God less. But notice in the above text that Jesus still calls Himself the Master, even in that friend relationship.  

Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Matt. 24: 46 (See also John 13: 6, Luke 5:5) 

Jesus as Father
Is the relationship between you and God one of a child to a father? Again, this is biblical:
Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Matt. 6:9.
Jesus is to be our Lord, yet even calling Him Lord doesn’t mean we will enter the Kingdom. (Matt. 7:21) Too often the theology of a personal relationship with Jesus leads to a relationship based upon an experience of feelings and sentimentality that leads to a passivity among Christians. 

A relationship based on experiencing warm fuzzies
Very often people who do not have this type of experience feel they are not saved and become so discouraged as to turn from Christianity. This warm feely gospel message alienates those who, from an act of will, believe in Christ and live in obedience to His commandments but do not hear His voice or feel His presence in their hearts. 

I have comforted people who have broken down in sobs because they have prayed for so many years to have this dramatic "feeling" of Christ in their hearts and they simply do not have such an experience and they believe God doesn't love them. They hear all these stories of people hearing God's voice and feeling His presence and they feel abandoned.  

I know of teenagers who are so pressed by their Evangelical parents to have this spiritual "experience" with Christ that the kids end up faking it so they can feel saved and please their parents. Later some of them end up tossing out God altogether because they never have an authenticating spiritual moment that they came to expect to prove God to them.

What a shame! Blessed are you who do not see and yet believe, Jesus said. Perhaps those who follow Christ and never have these warm fuzzies are also blessed because they must walk in faith alone, without the reward of comforting spiritual experiences. We should not think ourselves better or closer to God just because we feel His presence in our lives. We actually have an easier road than those who must faithfully journey on in the dark without feeling God's presence with them.

 A "personal relationship" also alienates men who are not comfortable with a description of how they relate to God as a “relationship.” Men are born for combat. Men are turned off at a sentimental faith whose connection is based on subjective experiences.
In America’s golden years of church attendance (1950's-60's), when men were in the pews and in leadership, the gospel message was more about obedience and mission. The idea of a “relationship” with Christ, grew with the sixties flower child movement and the feminization of our culture that seeped into the church. Men do not understand or are attracted to a touchy, feely gospel of relationship.2 

So, now women dominate in church leadership and attendance.

We need to get our men back in church, so we need to change our verbiage to something more like Christ Himself taught--a masculine gospel about sacrifice and service. The personal relationship we need to have with Christ is that He is our king. (Luke 19:27; 23:2, John 1: 49; 12: 13) Men can relate to that image.

Israel's Household gods

While we need to be connected to God as individuals, the pop theology of a "personal relationship" has separated us into being our own little spiritual authorities and has substituted our personal desire for submission to God's will. We can fall prey to the idea that God is that little voice in our head telling us to follow our own preferences. We confuse our own ideas with our conscience. 

Israel fell prey to the local household gods of surrounding nations. The idols could be small enough to place in your pocket and the women would ask them for help in mundane favors as well as predictions of the future. (Gen. 31:19, 35; Judges 17: 5; 18:14,17; Hos. 3:4) The abuse of the idea of a personal relationship with Christ can lead to the creation of a small, controllable, keep-in-your pocket Jesus, doing for us just what the household gods did for the Israelite. They did nothing but mirror what the worshipper wanted. They became their own god through projecting themselves and their desires into the idol. So their own spiritual echo sounded like god to them.

This spiritual me-ism is deadly. Christians need a greater emphasis on the unity of the entire Body of Christ to keep us from centering God in us rather than we centering ourself in God. 

What is a true personal relationship with God?

Is He your Great Pal that you knuckle bump in your mental communications, because, "Dude, my God is so cool?Is that what scripture describes as our relationship to God? A drinking buddy god?

We learned in the first text exactly what the "personal relationship with Jesus" must look like: 

They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them." John 14: 21 
You are my friends if you do what I command you. John 15: 14 
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. John 14: 15
Despair not if you fear you cannot be obedient to Him. He freely gives His grace and power to those who want to live in obedience. Get on your knees and pray without ceasing for it.

Obedience: The True Relationship
Christ told His Apostles that friendship came after being an obedient servant. It was because they had been there from the beginning and had served him as a disciple that then they could afterwards be called friends. 

Does your personal relationship with Christ include a surrender of will and desires to Him? Do you keep His commandments or do you hear a small little voice telling you that since you are sincere and loving that you can decide on your own what is good and bad? Does that personal relationship include your own personal morality?

Do not be self-deceived and let some pseudo- “personal relationship with Christ” substitute for real obedience to God. 

For it is the Only Begotten, the Holy One who speaks and the cosmos obeys. It is He who judges with an iron fist, to whom the entire world will one day fall upon their faces in humble worship. Let our relationship be one of obedience to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. 

1 Murrow, David, A Few Grown Men Blog at Patheos ( June 10, 2013
2 Ibid.

Also thanks to Father Dwight Longnecker at:

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