By: Ng Zhiwen
In my last cheepistle, I noted that there are no short cuts or easy steps towards growing as a Christian. It is a journey.
But we can be helped along by signposts to guide us on the way. This is the purpose for the ensuing series of cheepistles, where I will be discussing six key elements of the Christian life. You may notice that these elements correspond to the six statements that define the vision for our youth ministry.
The first element is that the Christian life is about enjoying a personal vibrant relationship with God.
This is not the key to spiritual growth or spiritual life. This IS spiritual growth and this IS spiritual life (John 17:3).
The Christian faith may not be reduced to a religion. It is a relationship. We are called not to cling to a set of doctrinal propositions, but a person. To be sure, religious practices (such as sacraments, membership with a community, conformity to an ethical code, even evangelism and church building!) and doctrine (i.e. a well-conceived and comprehensive biblical theology) are very important, but if we kept ourselves to just those, we would have sorely missed the central purpose of the Christian life. We would have been like a professor of philosophy and human relationships who had spent years researching and teaching about love, but who’s never been married and had never properly loved a person in his life! Devotion and doctrine must go together.
We must be careful not to major on the minors, even when the minors can seem very important. Remember what Jesus said to the Ephesian church (Revelation 2) – they had a reputation for accomplishing many good works and for standing up for sound doctrine – but they had lost their first love! And for that, they were in serious danger of losing their place as a church. Their rebuke came from no one else but Jesus their Lord.
See also Mark 3:14, where the evangelist tells us the key reasons why Jesus called His disciples – FIRST, that they might be with Him [Fellowship]; then second, that He might send them out [Mission].
God desires a personal relationship with each of us.
This means that your relationship with God is ultimately not meant to be mediated by anyone else (other than Jesus Himself). Someone may have led you to Christ (or more precisely, been led by the Spirit to facilitate your coming to Christ). Someone may have taught you and raised you up in the teachings of Christ. Others may have preached to you when you had backslidden, or had inspired you by their personal example of walking closely with God.
But at the end of the day, God calls you to a personal walk with Him. He knows you by name, He calls you by name. He wants you to know Him on a personal, intimate level. No child of God is ever called to stand and admire God from a distance [If that was the best that the Israelites at Sinai could do, it certainly is not what’s offered to us!].
I want to tell you that that is the greatest blessing and joy that anyone can ever have – God offers Himself to us. But the choice is yours whether you want to leave Him standing at the door, or supping with you at the table (incidentally, Revelation 3:21 concludes this metaphor with Jesus granting the church the possibility of sitting with Him on His throne!).
God doesn’t just want a personal relationship with you. He desires a vibrant relationship with you. It should be marked by the fullness of God’s life in us. With God, life cannot be permitted to be viewed with dreariness and boredom anymore. Everything can be tinged with meaning and purpose, and enjoyed to its fullest. Why do so many people nowadays find their jobs drab, and their studies pointless? How did we end up stuck in a rut, and shooting aimlessly, whiling away our hours and days? It boils down to a lack of purpose, a confused identity, and the conundrum of unresolved sin resulting in brokenness. God has purposed to take all these away. When you go deep in your relationship with Him, you will discover that He has made you for a purpose, that you have a unique and colorful identity (in Him), and you have the hope of forgiveness and freedom from sin. Most of all, you will find a God who loves you with an everlasting love, and who delights over His children. Anyone who says that his life became boring ever since he became a Christian has simply not yet experienced the fullness of life in Christ. Would that that is not the case for every believer!
At the same time, I cannot leave you thinking that cultivating a personal vibrant relationship with God will be nice and thrilling all the time. It may even be hardly so most of the time. I say this not because life is hard. But when one desires to draw near to God, he will find himself walking down the challenging road of stepping into the light of self-judgment. God will not suffer you to draw near to Him while choosing to remain in sin and darkness – these are totally at odds for holiness and un-holiness cannot abide together.
It is like courtship. We usually begin thinking that we are out in search of “the one”. We think that once we have found the person who fulfills our essential criteria of a good match, the relationship will be well. Then we discover that once you get into the relationship, the burden is on you to be “the one” for that other person as well! This is because the chief criterion is not something that you possess once for all time, it is dynamic and it requires a daily commitment for fulfillment. That criterion is love.
When you approach God, you will quickly feel the utter inadequacy of your love and the grossness of your own sin. And yet freedom from these requires you to face up to that fact.
Can you be courageous enough to be honest about that?
But wait. There is more.
Pursuing God may involve seasons when God seems absent. Even the most ardent believers have had periods of wrestling with doubt and wallowing in sorrow. Life is hard. Yet, it is precisely during these moments when we come to grips with what is really in our heart: Have I been desiring the gifts and blessings, or God Himself? Even when there are dark clouds, will I still seek God? Will I cling to Him? He has promised never to leave you nor forsake you. He has promised Himself.
Oh dear friend – put your faith in God. Seek His face ever more!
[What can help us in this journey of building a relationship with God? We will talk about this in the next part of the series – Discipleship]