What do we mean by having “a relationship with Jesus Christ”? There’s an interesting passage of Scripture that suggests we need more than intellectual knowledge and understanding, more than religion, even more than using our gifts. It has to do with listening, knowing, and being known…
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
In this passage, Jesus paints a picture of what it really takes to enter the kingdom of heaven. He associates two things: doing the will of the Father, and being known by Jesus. One could spend a lot of time exploring this association, but it seems one basic truth is that one cannot really do the Father’s will without knowing Him, and without hearing from Him what that is. This implies a relationship with Him. On the other hand, Jesus also points out that we need to be known by Him, which is the other side of relationship. So, the necessary thing is to know Him, and be known by Him: to be in relationship.
Although relationship is important, it’s easy for it to be replaced by knowledge. Knowing about someone is easier than really getting to know them. Studying theology, no matter how certain we may become, is no substitute for knowing theos. 🙂
Here’s a comparison that attempts to illustrate one way of looking at the difference.
Suppose you woke up one day in the hospital with your memories missing. Suddenly a strange person walks in the room unannounced, and claims to be your spouse. You don’t remember every having seen them before, but before long a wide variety of facts are brought out to prove that the person is your spouse. Pictures of your life together, your marriage certificate and other official legal documents, blood tests showing you both were parents of several children, many witnesses who testified of knowing you as husband and wife, and so on. You eventually admit that the person must be your spouse. In fact, you have complete intellectual certainty of the fact, and agree to walk out of the hospital with them.
On the other hand, suppose you woke up in the hospital one day after some sort of large catastrophe. Many people are dead or missing, computer records are destroyed, whole neighborhoods missing, and so on. Suddenly a person walks in the room unannounced, and you immediately recognize them as your spouse. No one else knows who the person is. They ask for proof, but neither of your are able to provide any. No pictures, no documents, no witnesses, no relatives, nothing. There is absolutely no way to prove that the person is your spouse, even though you yourself know that to be true. Your knowledge is based on a relationship developed through years of shared life, but is not something you can prove to anyone else.
Which scenario would you rather experience when leaving the hospital? Would you rather leave with the absolute intellectual certainty and external proof, or a certainty based on experience and a shared life?
Similarly, when you encounter Jesus as in the passage above, would you rather have complete theological understanding, belief based on bullet-proof apologetics, and the testimony of many other people? Or would you rather have none of that, and instead rely on a life spent in His presence, hearing His voice, trying to walk according to His will, sharing His life?
Imagine an encounter that looks like this: “Lord, Lord, I have heard Your still small voice and seen Your mighty deeds, but it’s so good to see you face to face now!” “Remember how you taught me…”, “Remember that time we worked together on…”, “Remember when you saved me from…” Like two old friends.
“Remember when I was in the hospital and they didn’t know what was going on, why I wasn’t getting better, laying there in the middle of the night so afraid, and I called out to You in fear… And You answered ‘Don’t worry, I would take care of them.’ You showed me that my real concern was for my family, and then eliminated that fear in one fell swoop. You knew better than I did what was really bothering me.”
“You know me better than I know myself!”
I don’t know if this is truly theologically sound, whether it represents correct doctrine, or whether my exegesis of that passage is proper. But I do know that I’m looking forward to seeing Jesus face to face, without any fear at all.
Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!