Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Relationship With Christ: A Means or an End?

To the extent that I am a follower of Christ, I am a theologian. I always preferred learning how to do the work of the church and practical ways of teaching God's truth to sparring with other believers about the minute details of a God who is so much bigger than we are. But this week, I realized something that challenged what I've thought for a long time. Growing up, I learned from a number of pastors and teachers that we are saved by having a "real relationship" with Christ. In other words, it wasn't enough to know about God, but we had to know him personally, and this was a requirement for our salvation.

After chewing on this concept with a friend of mine and bouncing it back and forth, it has occurred to me that to me, this may not be entirely correct. Ephesians 2:8-9 says we are saved by grace through faith that is the gift of God--not by our works. Romans 10:9-10 says that if we confess with our mouth Jesus is Lord and believe in our heart God raised him from the dead, we will be saved. So where does the relationship come in?

I think in this case we often get the cart before the horse. I think a relationship with God is the byproduct of our Salvation, not the cause or source of it. Claiming that our salvation is based on our relationship with God puts us on a slippery slope. If we say our salvation is based on putting our faith in Christ, we can say that we've done that. But if it is based on a relationship with Christ, at one point is that relationship deep enough to give us salvation? At what point to we go from knowing "about God" to "knowing God" in such a way that justifies us before God? How good is that relationship supposed to be?

Not to split hairs, but I think that a relationship with God that is developed through prayer, Bible study, fellowship with other believers, and service to others should be a natural result of our putting faith in Christ. It also is evidence that we have put our faith in Christ. To say that our relationship with Christ is a pre-requisite for salvation leaves the believer constantly questioning the depth of his relationship (not in a positive way that leads us to a deeper relationship, but in a negative way that leads to fear and doubt of one's salvation). For example, if my salvation is based on a relationship with Christ, at what point have I prayed enough, read the Bible enough, served others enough, to know that my relationship with God is real? Also, emphasis on this relationship as the source of our salvation leads us to have an elitist attitude that implies that if your relationship with Christ is not like mine, then you must not have a true relationship or that a bunch of people who think they are saved are really not. So, to me, a relationship with Christ is the end result (even though it continues to grow) of our salvation, not the means of our salvation.
So, since I am human and do not have all the answers, I would welcome your comments. I do not intend to start a debate, but rather to share something that has challenged my thinking and caused me to re-evaluate an important truth. Your thoughts?

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