Pastor's Blog

Some people think I don’t believe you can have “personal experiences” with Jesus.  I don’t deny that you can.  I’m only saying that (a) a relationship with God through Christ is built, not on personal experiences with the person of Jesus but on a personal commitment of faith to the Christ presented in the gospel message and (b) one’s personal experience has little meaning apart from whatever personal benefit one derives from it. 

God’s “relationship” with humanity is depicted more regularly as a relationship with a group of people.  In the OT, God related to Israel.  The constant refrain through the Scriptures is “I will be your God and you will be My people.”  Likewise, in the NT, the relationship is between Christ and the Church.  Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her.

It’s not that each Christian individually is the bride of Christ.  WE ALL TOGETHER are the Bride of Christ.  Individually we are depicted as body parts of the Bride;  none of us alone, in isolation, is the Bride.  So I don’t say that I love my wife’s gall bladder.  I love my wife -- ­as a whole person.  The parts are loved as I love the whole.  The same is true of God relating to His people.

Some protest that the Bible depicts God’s relationship as a marriage, and what relationship could be more personal than that? 

But that is a modern view of marriage being read back into the Bible.  Though there certainly could have been personal aspects to marriage in both the ancient near East and the Roman world, marriage itself was more like a contractual agreement that clarified the legitimacy of children and rights to inheritance.  Arranged marriages worked more like a contract.  Feelings had little to do with it.  You kept your part of the bargain because it was your responsibility, your obligation, and your duty to do so.  Having romantic feelings for your partner was irrelevant.  If there were warm feelings – well, so much the better for you!  But warm feelings weren’t required to make the marriage a legitimate marriage – or even a good marriage.

Perhaps our failure to understand this truth is why marriage is so damaged an institution today?  We build everything on our feelings – our inner experiences.  People feel romantic and have sex, enjoy it, and move in together.  Nothing obligates them to stay together.  They do so if they feel like it, or until they tire of each other or until they develop feelings for someone else.  Then they move out, often leaving behind not only a broken heart – but broken children – who are then passed around to be cared for as though they are finger foods on an appetizer tray.  We live by our feelings and experiences – our ever undulating and transient romantic feelings – and I think we’ve lost something precious in doing so, something that is more solid and stable when the role is given to a sense of responsibility and dutiful obligation.

When God depicts His relationship with Israel and Christ’s with the Church, it’s depicted as a marriage covenant – a contractual agreement in which God promises to provide certain benefits and prescribes certain behaviors and His people as a body agree to love, honor, and obey Him.  The obedience demonstrates the love and honor.  Failure to obey is a failure to love and honor. 

“And by this we know that we have come to know him – if we keep his commandments.  Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected.” (1 John 2.3-5a)

In the Old Testament God gives the nation of Israel the law.  That’s the covenant relationship.  The history of Israel is a history of violation of that covenant and those violations – even non-sexual violations like mistreating orphans and widows -- are depicted by the prophets as the nation’s fornication, adultery, and prostitution.  She cheated on her covenant partner.

So God made a new covenant (Jeremiah 31.31-32).  Hebrews says it is a new and better covenant with new and better promises, not so individuals will have experiences that make them feel loved and special, but so that they – as a people – would be made more obedient.

“And I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezekiel 36.27)

Obedience to God’s terms is what is important in a relationship with God.  All the mystical experiences in the world mean nothing without obedience.

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