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Is Christianity All About “A Relationship With God”?

21 December 2014 6 Comments

tv3Last night I was watching the news on TV and a pastor was asked by the interviewer what “the gospel” was all about.

The TV was covering the bi-centenary of the gospel coming to New Zealand.

In answer to the question, the pastor replied “…that in short, is the message of the gospel.  It is God restoring a relationship with humanity.”

I struggled with the pastor’s answer, and this blog is about why.

I know from experience that most non-Christians, those who have never turned and surrendered to Jesus savingly, when they heard the pastor summarise the gospel, would say to themselves:

“Great.  I say a prayer every now and then to God when I am in trouble. I have a relationship with God.  He’s da man!”

“Cool.  I believe in God.  He and I have a good relationship. “

“Awesome.  The I believe God made the world.  So I have a good relationship with him.”

“Neat.  I know Jesus said he died for the sins of the whole world.  I am part of the whole world, so my sins are forgiven.  I therefore have a great relationship with God!”

“Fantastic.  Me and God have a relationship because I give to charity.  Once I gave $20 to homeless person!”

Etc

Please think this through.

The devil has a relationship with God, but it’s not a very good one.

In this sense, absolutely everyone on the earth already has some kind of relationship with God!

You get the point.

Saying on TV that Christianity is all about a relationship with humanity only re-enforces a huge misunderstanding about God which most non-Christians are already carrying, which is that they already have a relationship with God, and therefore they are “sweet” with Him.

For a few others the phrase “I have a relationship with God” is confusing. They will ask “What on earth does that mean?”

This is because to most non Christians, the phrase “I am in a relationship with someone”  means they are dating someone.

So you can see how confusing this phrase is to the non-Christians listening to us.

So what ought the pastor have said?  I think He ought to have said something like “Jesus Christ is the one true God. He made this world and every human being. Absolutely everything that is good in this world comes from him and is sustained by Him.  As such, He deserves our worship and service.  Everyone in their life time has a chance to acknowledge this and bow the knee to Him. We call this turning and surrendering to Jesus. Those who don’t do this at some point in their life end in hell at death. Those who do bow the knee end in heaven. That is the message of Christianity.”

A super short version might be: “Jesus Christ is the one true God. He commanded everyone to turn to Him, to worship and serve Him only.”  Or “Christianity is about following Jesus – saying what He said, and doing what He did.”

So why did the pastor give the answer he gave?

Well, the vast majority of pastors don’t do evangelism, so they don’t know what they don’t know about evangelism.

That is to say,they don’t really know how non-Christians think.  Their world view of the lost is theoretical, not actual.

Here is another thought I had about this issue.  The whole idea of “having a relationship” with God is not mentioned once in the New Testament.

So where did it come from?  It’s been invented.  Sure, like all the devices of the devil, there is some truth in it.

For example, when we become a Christian we are adopted into God’s family, we become children of God, God is our Father, etc etc.  These are very “relational connections.”  So there is a case for saying that an aspect of Christianity is about a relationship with God.

But nowhere, anywhere, in the New Testament did Jesus or Paul or anyone else call people to “…have a relationship” with God.

Jesus simply said “Follow me.” i.e. watch me, and do what I do; listen to me, and say what I say.  Over and over he said this in the context of “repent and believe.”

So, why am I bringing up this issue?  I believe the phrase “I have a relationship with God” is subtly undermining obedience to Jesus, and the completion of the Great Commission.

How do I know this?

Please look at the poster with the butterfly on the right.  It’s typical of what is going around in Christian circles.A-personal-relationship

Is what is written on this poster true? Is what is written Biblical?

Truth and error are mixed, and dangerously so.

Wrapped up in the idea of “relationship with God” are a whole bunch of other ideas which are heretical.

Let me explain what I mean here.

It is true that we are saved by grace through faith. No question about that (Hebrews 4:10).

It is NOT true that there are no rules and regulations.  For example, the greatest command is to love God.  Jesus, in John 14:21, then unpacks what “loving God” means.  He says “..those who love me obey my commands.”   Commands are rules.

That is to say, if someone says “I love God” but they don’t obey his commands, they show by their actions that they don’t love God at all.  They have broken the rule of loving God.

Obeying God’s rules doesn’t save us, but obeying God’s rules does prove we are saved (James 2:17 “Faith without works is dead”)

The “rules” in the New Testament are almost endless – abstaining from sex before marriage, not cheating on taxes, loving one’s neighbour, turning the other cheek, obeying the law of the land, loving one’s wife / husband, forgiving people, evangelising the world, etc etc.   Call them what you like, but ultimately they are rules and regulations.

If we break them, we sin (James 4:17).  If we obey them, we show we love God (John 14:21).  Matthew 7:21-23 is about people who says they love God but don’t do what He commanded.

About what about rituals (which is also mentioned on the poster)?  A ritual is something someone one does over and over.  My devotional time with God each day is a ritual. Without it I would, spiritually speaking, wither and die.

My reaching someone with the gospel each day is a ritual.  Again, without it I would wither and die.  I don’t HAVE  to do these things, in the sense that if I didn’t my salvation would be a stake.  I do them because I love God.

I am fineRituals don’t save us, but they grow us in Him, and without them we’d have no power and nothing to say.

Without them, I wouldn’t have the will and power to do God’s will, especially the hard sayings of Jesus.

Without them, I would not “…… get along fine!! “(contrary to what the poster with the butterfly is saying).

Conclusion?  I propose that the reason only 2% of the Church evangelises has to do with this phrase “I have a personal relationship with God”.

In and of itself, the idea of “a personal relationship with God” is Ok.

But….

….like the poster with the butterfly, what’s now mixed up in the idea is a whole bunch of heresy, chief of which is the thought that when you become a Christian, you enter into a relationship with God, and this means you don’t actually do anything for God from then on.

This idea is the ultimate heresy. We were saved to do good works (Ephesians 2:10), chief of which is to evangelise this world.

I also think that this phrase is symptomatic of the Western Church which is attempting to be PC with the world, trying to woo it, and please it, and be accepted by it, instead of lovingly confronting it with the gospel.

It’s also symptomatic of much of Western Church leadership which is trying to make everyone’s experience of ‘church’ like a cruise ship – stress free with no challenges and no demands.

I’d like to dump the use of “christianity is all about a relationship with God” completely and get back to simply saying “Christianity is about following Jesus – saying what He said, and doing what He did.”.   This is clear and simple and not at all confusing to people inside the church, or outside of it.

Now there is something to think about…..

P.S When the pastor on TV said “…that in short, is the message of the gospel.  It is God restoring a relationship with humanity” he probably also had in mind that his answer was vague / ethereal and fluffy enough to not offend any other religion in NZ.  Imagine if he’d said  “….“Jesus Christ is the one true God. He commanded everyone to turn to Him, to worship and serve Him only.”  Image that!  Tomorrow the news would doubtless carry a story of how his church was bombed by Muslims. Jihad.

Ironically, this kind of event might be exactly what the Church needs to halt it’s retreat, and break the “sissy spirit” which has come upon much of it.

It was during 9/11 that the Muslim faith experienced it’s greatest ever spike in membership increase.  This is because people watching saw that the Muslims were serious about their cause and prepared to die for it.  I find that interesting.

Mark my word – one day – and not too far away, persecution is coming upon the Church in NZ for anyone who dares to say “Jesus Christ is the one true God. He commands everyone to turn to Him, and to worship and serve Him only.”   

P.P.S (and referring to the butterfly poster again and contrary to what it is saying), a relationship with a loving God does require obedience to rules, regulations and rituals.  Jesus said so in John 14:21.

 

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  • George Falconer says:

    It is the new version of, God loves you and has a wonderfull plan for your life.

  • Alan Woods says:

    I appear to have the same bee in my bonnet. I keep hearing from so many christians “oh I love God, it’s all about relationship ” yada yada yada and yet never proclaim the gospel even once, in fact that’s far too in the face. I can not reconcile genuine salvation with this attitude which is modern Christianity’s current proclamation. A long way from my bible. You have it right Julian, Follow Jesus.

  • Brett Whiteley says:

    Good blog Julian – I think we need to keep on at the church about this. I had 2 instances recently at work where 2 people messed up work for me. Instead of apologising and taking responability for it they both made excuses for why the fault had occurred, which is infuriating and left me feeling I cant rely on these people or work with them. I imagine this is how God feels about sin – if we dont own up, repent, and acknowledge He is in the right and we are in the wrong then God’s anger remains on us. Non-christians do have a relationship with God – but it is not a good one. Yes they live in His world and experience His blessings and even answers to prayer (Mt 7:7), but what kind of relationship is it that they have?

  • Julian Batchelor says:

    Great insights Brett…thanks for writing in.

  • Julian Batchelor says:

    Glad to hear I am not the only one who is noticing these things…LOL

  • Julian Batchelor says:

    So true George!!

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