You Don't Have a Personal Relationship with Jesus

What if the mystery of relating to an invisible God is revealed through relating to the visible church?

My wife and I were that dating couple you hated. We were the can't-get-off-the-phone, gross-out-PDA kinda people. We found so much joy and stability in each other that, for a lot of reasons, we didn't take time to invest much in others.

That us-against-the-world complex worked for a while until we found ourselves pregnant in Chicago with all of our family in New Jersey and all of our college friends moved away. My wife's words still haunt me: "We should've made more friends."

So when our daughter was born in January, we had virtually no support (apart from one of my wife's very gracious friends) for this challenging new phase of life. And our daughter has been very challenging. Each new stage in development finds us rewriting not only our parenting paradigm, but how we interact as a couple. It can truly be said: you don't know the mettle of your marriage until you have kids.

As hard as it's been, I've also discovered the joy of knowing my wife even better than I did before. There's a little piece of her in my daughter that I get to see the more that little girl grows up and expresses herself. I also see different sides to my wife that I hadn't seen until she was a mother. It's almost as though I couldn't fully know her unless I engaged her more with others. Until I gave up on that us-against-the-world posture.

Perhaps that's why we were all created: because the only way to know an infinite God is to experience infinite expressions of his image. Each one of us is like a little piece of him, just like my daughter is of me and my wife. And knowing God is less like imagining Jesus sitting in the chair next to us as it is seeing Jesus in our fellow brothers and sisters in the faith. To ignore the implications of God replicating his image without duplication is to say to our beloved, "I want to know you, just not fully."

Yet this is exactly how many Christians have been taught to relate to God. Even though having a personal relationship with Jesus can't be found anywhere in the Bible, it's prevalent in modern Christianity. That's not to say that God doesn't care about us individually or that he never interacts with us individually. We just have to recognize that God is spirit and that he never intended for us to attempt a personal relationship beyond our plane of existence. That's why he put his Spirit in us and put us together in the church.

Nevertheless, it's easier to imagine the Jesus we want to see than confront the Jesus we don't like in each other. Personal Jesus's have no accountability because no one can argue with the voices in our head. But just as the Bible was given to us to guide our beliefs, so the church was given to us to guide our relationship with God:
Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. (1 John 4:20)
Though our hearts are subject to their own deception, the Spirit's work through another is not.

The irony with this personal relationship business is that it's emphasized alongside corporate obligations through church attendance. And the tragic punchline that follows is how quickly Christians today seem to be abandoning the biblically-approved model for the metaphysically-problematic one. It makes you wonder if church attendance would still be down had we understood that the church is not merely supplemental to our relationship with God--it is our relationship with him.

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