Jesus Isn’t Interested in a “Personal” Relationship
Being an evangelical, one of the most prominent phrases that I hear on a regular basis is the tried and true verbiage, “Jesus is my personal Lord and Savior,” when stating they are a Christian. Now I’m only dealing with the word “personal” here as “Lord” is also a word that most people fail to understand (at least that’s what their actions show). This word “personal” has become the staple of evangelicalism when describing their status with Christ.
Now before I start this let me define terms. Oxford Dictionary defines “personal” as, “Of, affecting, or belonging to a particular person rather than to anyone else.” The problem with the term then is two-fold for me; first, we use it incorrectly, and second God never characterizes his relationship with individual humans as “personal” within Scripture one time. Now the first issue is easy enough. When we say “personal” most Christians mean individual and that is well and good…but that is a Christian definition of a term, not its vernacular usage as defined in the dictionary (which is kind of why they exist, to define terms used in everyday language). So when I say that Jesus isn’t interested in a “personal” relationship I am saying that he isn’t interested in an exclusive relationship where he is yours and no one else’s. Some might laugh at this thought (which is a good thing) but you’d be surprised how many people have manifested a God in their own mind that doesn’t really exist. It is a god of their own making and while they may have attained the framework from Christian principles, it is nonetheless not the God of Scripture and therefore not God in reality.
Second Jesus wants relationship with each of us individually and that relationship will be different with every person. Since this is the case, why am I squabbling over a term? Isn’t this semantics…well yes it is. But when it comes to God…the semantics are important especially the words that we use to describe who God is. Scripture is God’s own self-revelation, if this is the case than it is interesting that God not one time articulates a relationship with particular humans as “personal”. This isn’t to say you can’t have an individual relationship…but that even this part of the relationship will have elements that are impacted by community.
We live in an individualistically minded society where the focus is on independent and autonomous human liberty. This obviously has implications on how we read Scripture and how we discuss and describe our relationships with God. To be Christian is to be invited into the Trinitarian relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So let’s look at that relational dynamic and use it as an example. Within the Trinity, there are two concepts that help guide how we understand the mystery. The first is the ontological trinity, where Father, Son, and Spirit are all of “one essence”. Each is completely and totally God in their own person, with complete authority and dominion over all of creation. Then there is what is called the economic trinity. This concept helps describe how the members of the Godhead act in relationship with one another. Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit empowers the believer to act in the name of the Son for the glory of the Father. The Holy Spirit then acts subordinately to Christ and Christ subordinately to the Father. This is not to say that the Holy Spirit is less in any way from the Father, or greater, but that each member of the Godhead has a specific function and role within relationship. Each defers to the other, giving praise, honor, and glory (truly shows the humility of the God we serve that even within His own being He is deferring glory to other members of the Godhead).
Our relationship with God is much like God himself…while we have an individual relationship with God…we also have a communal one. One side of the relationship cannot trump the other, for to do so is to ignore God’s intended design for relationship (in that it points back to Him and His nature). The Father has a relationship with the Son, and a relationship with the Holy Spirit individually, but he also has a relationship with each communally within the Godhead itself (I am thinking of working on a book on this concept at some point). God goes even further though…instead of sharing relationship with only one another (a form of personal relationship) he does the exact opposite and invites all of us into relationship with them. This is a strength of Christian faith…not a weakness. God sees all of us individually and has relationship with each of us…but His relationship with us is not exclusive to us…it is open for all to see as a witness to the person of Jesus and how His presence in a person literally regenerates the dead to life. So the next time that you want to identify with Jesus, use biblically backed phrases like “I believe in Christ,” or “I am in Christ” (do a study on that phrase someday), or “I know Christ.” These phrases have a theological pedigree that is far more consistent with historic biblical Christianity, and lend themselves to biblical words with biblical passages backing their wording specifically. Peace and Blessings.
With Love in Christ
Justin (aka The Nerdy Theologian)
P.S. Don’t believe me…want to research it further….good! I encourage you to do so. Willard Erickson’s “Christian Theology, Wayne Grudem’s “Systematic Theology,” John Calvin’s, “Institutes of the Christian Religion,” and Karl Barth’s “Church Dogmatics,” all deal with the topic of relationship to humanity and how that should be understood at length. Another fantastic resource is J.I. Packer’s “Knowing God,” which is a staple for anyone trying to come to know who God is in a fuller way. Enjoy!