“Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?”
Over the course of my life, I have been presented with this question hundreds (if not thousands) of times. Growing up in the church, having a “relationship” with Jesus was presented the hallmark of an authentic Christian faith and the primary guarantee of personal salvation. To be “saved” meant that Jesus lived in your heart through faith, making a "relationship" with God possible.
But entering into a relationship with Jesus was only the first step of the Christian faith. The ultimate goal of the Christian life (as communicated to me) was to draw closer and closer to Jesus, and that could only come about with time.
Although “close” and “personal” were never really defined (and strangely subjective), one thing was clear: In order to have a close relationship with Jesus, I needed to do certain things—things like praying, reading my Bible, and regularly attending church. Most of all, I needed to do the things I should and not do the things I shouldn’t. The more faithful and committed I was to these things, the closer I could get to Jesus.
But over time, I became convinced that my proximity to Jesus was somehow contingent on the faithfulness of my spiritual devotion. What I mean is, when I was faithful in praying, reading the Bible, and doing as I should, I considered myself to be “close” to God. When I failed to do these things (which most often was the case), I found myself to be “far” from him. I jostled between feeling far from Jesus when I wasn’t doing as I should, and longing to be close still when I was. The spiritual roller coaster was nauseating (and exhausting).
It wasn’t until years later that I came to the shocking realization that Jesus never wanted to be “close” to me in the first place; but always longed to be perfectly one with me instead. In other words, where I imagined a relationship between two individuals, God had something much more intimate in mind--a complete and perfect union with him.
That subtle shift in my thinking—from “relationship” to “union”—radically transformed the understanding of my relation to (and relationship with) God, myself, and those around me. It was then that I discovered, in the words of Phillip Yancey, “the Jesus I never knew.” Striving was replaced with abiding. Guilt gave way to joy. My life reflected a gradual conformity to Christ rather than an endless striving to draw closer and closer to him. And the same can happen for you.
Is your “relationship” with Jesus wearing you out? Is trying to maintain a close and personal relationship with Jesus killing your spiritual life? If so, maybe it’s time to try something new. Maybe it's time to trade in your "personal relationship" with Jesus for an "intimate union" with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Maybe God wants to awaken you to the overwhelming and scandalous love he already has for you in Christ Jesus—a love that crossed all boundaries not just to be close to you, but to be closer than close.
Portions taken from, “Closer Than Close: Awakening to the Freedom of Your Union with Christ.” (NavPress, August 1, 2016)