To realize the dramatic difference between God as an idea, or an ideal, and God as a Person, however, is life-changing. To discover Christianity as, above all, a relationship with this God, the living God, and not as a system – of morality or even belief – is staggering. It’s like the difference of knowing things about someone and knowing the person intimately, personally. The kingdom of heaven really is like finding a treasure in a field.
And, as in the parable, once you discover the treasure, it becomes worth it to give up all you have to make the treasure your own.
Everything Christians do is, in the end, a quest for deeper intimacy with this God. Scripture teaches us of his character, of what matters to him, of how to think of him and approach him. Prayer is the means by which we speak to and entreat him. Communion is just that: communion – intimate, spiritual communication – with God by participating in the Son’s death through the physical presentations of his blood and body, the wine and bread. Joining a local church means joining up with other people on the same quest for the purpose of helping each other “press on to know the Lord.”
Other things Christians do as they progress in their understanding of the faith, such as: researching, sorting out, and taking sides on thorny doctrinal issues; cultivating habits of personal holiness, discipline, and devotion, such as fasting and memorizing scripture; serving and exhorting other people with greater self-abandonment; teaching, leading, and counseling; recognizing and confessing sin more specifically and more often; all these things and many others ultimately serve to advance the one underlying purpose of the Christian life: to deepen and more fully express the relationship between human and Creator, child and Father, sheep and Shepherd, subject and Author of salvation.
Lose sight of the end, and the means become empty. Worse, they become idolatrous, replacing the living God with ritualized observances, meaningless exercises, and mere habits of lifestyle. “These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.”
Christians treasure the Bible’s teaching that Jesus Christ, the Man who is God, is the clearest revelation of who God is. He is the “exact representation of God’s being” (Hebrews 1:3). In him, we see God manifested and played out in our grimy, physical, human world.
19th century preacher C. H. Spurgeon said this:
Our faith is a person; the gospel that we have to preach is a person; and go wherever we may, we have something solid and tangible to preach, for our gospel is a person. If you had asked the twelve Apostles in their day, ‘What do you believe in?’ they would not have stopped to go round about with a long sermon, but they would have pointed to their Master and they would have said, ‘We believe him.’ ‘But what are your doctrines?’ ‘There they stand incarnate.’ ‘But what is your practice?’ ‘There stands our practice. He is our example.’ ‘What then do you believe?’ Hear the glorious answer of the Apostle Paul, ‘We preach Christ crucified.’ Our creed, our body of divinity, our whole theology is summed up in the person of Christ Jesus.
-C. H. Spurgeon, in Lectures Delivered before the Young Men’s Christian Association in Exeter Hall 1858-1859
Indeed, our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 1 John 1:3
Paul said this:
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Philippians 3:8
The Lord Jesus himself prayed this:
This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. John 17:3
Many writers and thinkers have long pointed out that the most effective people on earth – horizontally – are those most caught up with heaven – vertically. There is absolutely nothing like encountering a person whose relationship with God is so profound and extensive that every thing they do and say smells of him. I remember a handful of momentary introductions with people like that, which, years later, I still think about and long to imitate. “God, help me to begin to begin.” Abandonment to God is the single most crucial element of any person’s spiritual growth, any ministry, any church’s effectiveness within its community.
Why? Because our faith is a Person. Therefore, our life is a relationship.