Thursday, October 29, 2015

Whose I Am and Whom I Serve

How do you characterize your relationship with God?

When people ask you, what do you say? How do you describe it?

Anybody can make a list, even a long list, and many have done so. But if you were addressing unbelievers and had to distill the relationship down to one or two very primary, fundamental elements, which aspects would you choose?

The Fantasist’s Answer

Stacey Hooper responds to the question:
“He is like my brother or sister I can play with, as if we were puppies running around chasing each other and wrestling, laughing and having fun.”
I don’t mean to be unkind, but there are those who describe their relationship with God in ways so bizarre and foreign to my own experience — not to mention any sort of orthodox interpretation of the Christian faith — that I can only characterize them as fantastic. By which I mean they are fantasies, not that they are terrific or wonderful. Such notions are utterly insubstantial and whimsical, and have no basis in revelation.

How such a picture sits alongside the king set on “Zion, my holy hill”, the “man of sorrows” or even the one beside whom John reclined is something only Stacey Hooper may be able to explain.

If you want to really know someone, it is necessary to know them according to the facts actually revealed about them, not according to your imagination.

The Sentimental Answer

Then there is the sentimental answer. J.P. says:
“Before I left the faith: Total. As in, I woke up with Christ in my heart, lived that day ready to live and die with Christ in my heart, and went to bed thankful to Christ for the successes and the trials that strengthened my faith.

Now: I do not believe any longer and consider him an insane person at best, if he even existed at all.”
J.P.’s emotions were stirred. He speaks of having had Christ “in his heart”, as many evangelicals do today — as if the Lord of Glory comes to and departs from the places he dwells subject to the whims of men.

Now the apostle Paul certainly speaks of Christ dwelling “in your hearts”, but it is clear he does not mean the mere stirring of feelings or a flood of individually-experienced sentiment. Rather, it is a matter of sure knowledge. It is “through faith”, not feeling. It is shared (“with all the saints”), not merely personal. It is acquired over time (“I bow my knees … that he may grant you …”), not instantly felt and appreciated:
“… that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
Paul wants his readers then and today to “comprehend” something that is not a content-free flutter of emotions, but knowledge so rich that it goes beyond mere knowledge, filling up the mind and pouring over into the heart. He is eager for “the manifold wisdom of God” to be “made known”.

J.P. felt something intense when he thought about the idea of Jesus Christ, and he seems to have felt it for quite a while. He may have been very sincere indeed. But his sentiments didn’t stand the test of time.

The Intellectual Answer

Telford Work has the opposite problem:
“I am a vocational teacher of the Christian faith. Since Jesus Christ is its object, my career does involve the subtle temptation to reduce Jesus Christ to an object. Theology teachers naturally adopt a ‘third-personal’ relationship with Jesus. Add this to a busy life with young children, a new home, a new workplace, and an increasingly apocalyptic world, and lately my Jesus has been more a ‘him’ than a ‘you,’ more existentially distant than I am used to him being or would like him to be.”
Mr. Work recognizes the temptation to let his relationship with the Lord be “all work”, and rightly rejects that model. But he reminds those of us who serve just how easy it can become to be merely technical in our knowledge of God. Head knowledge can make us “ineffective and unproductive”, whereas a knowledge of Christ in which we mature by displaying his qualities of character is intended to make us “partakers in the divine nature”, not mere spiritual bystanders.

The Right Answer

Paul gave this very eloquent summary of his own relationship with Heaven to a group of pagan soldiers and sailors when he referred to “God, whose I am and whom I serve”.

There is a wealth of information there for those inclined to meditate on it: the confession of ownership in “whose I am”. The same words convey an intimacy of which the best marriages are only stick-drawing imitations. “Whom I serve” must surely have been evident to all who heard him: Paul was on his way to Rome to give his life for his Master. No one could doubt he was a servant in truth. But “serve” here is the same Greek word often used to describe temple service, and so the ESV translates the phrase “whom I worship” instead.

Paul speaks later of being “poured out as a drink offering”, so any distinction I might attempt between worship and service is a bit moot in the context of his life. When our worship has become service and our service has become worship, I suspect we’re in a very good spot indeed.

Whose are you? Whom do you serve? These are the real questions. A feeling of “having Jesus in my heart” cannot compare to a settled conviction of relationship informed by the word of God and empowered by his Spirit.

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