Riders of the Apocalypse

I don’t believe in a “personal Jesus” ! Nor do I believe in your “personal Jesus” !

Believing in a “personal Jesus” is not the same as believing in what Jesus defined himself as and our relationship to that unique identity in Him. We can no more define what Christ is, for purposes of our belief in Him, than Christ could define or alter what His Father is. John 3:18-21; 5:14-18; 8:48-51; 12:47-50; 13:16-20.

Many of us believe that we are Christians because we “believe in Christ.” That works, if one does what a Christian does and believes what a Christian believes (as does the person who got me to think about these issues). John 3:16-21 (read the whole section).

However, what a Christian should do and say can only be figured out by reading the Bible and what it is that Christ did have to say about these elements of our faith. Indeed, he was rather clear about what he expected: He expects us to do the things he told us to do and that, if we fail to do them, we can expect our spiritual structure to be “ruined.” Matthew 7: 21-27.

In fact, He did tell us what to do in ordinary life and he did tell us how to specifically pray. It does seem unfortunate, to me, anyway, that all too many of us have justified our faith by simply reiterating that we have it. This cannot be so. If we do not pray in the manner set forth in the “Our Father” prayer, we have substantially deviated from his command. Matthew 9:8-15. If a Christian knew that he/she believed “in” Christ, this would presumably mean that they knew to pray in that manner. After all, if we do not do the “work” of forgiving others, we lose the person we believe “in.” Matthew 6:14-15.

Likewise, if we do not tend to the needs of the poor, widowed, and hopeless, we lose our own spiritual food and hope in Christ. Yes, that’s right, you get to hang out with the goats as it were. Matthew 25:29-46. It really is this simple. The goats, those who don’t do His commands, don’t get to hang out with Him. John 15:14.

When I say I believe in someone, it should mean I believe in what they have taught me to do or in what they have given me to adopt as a way of thinking/doing. The admired’s name represents much more than an identity, it should represent a distinct body of belief and action — one that I am willing to, and do, adopt in my own life. For a Christian, it seems that believing in Christ means that we have adopted His way, as set forth in writing, about how to live our lives. There could be a hundred people in history named “Jesus,” but only one provides a specific set of beliefs and ways worthy of “believing in.” It is true that “Blessed are they who come in the name of the Lord,” but this can only mean that they are coming at us with the body of beliefs and actions that are packed into the Lord’s name. See, Psalm 118.

For example, if one based a marriage on a simplistic John 3:16 analysis, without reading the remaining verses in the chapter, the marriage would be doomed to certain failure. The most important aspect of marriage is that the couple “knows” each other, not merely by name, but by the expectations that we have of each other. Those expectations are ordinarily most basely defined as trust, honor, respect, and loyalty. In practice, we must know and respect the person to whom we owe these things. John 8:48-51. Often, when one spouse finds out that the other is not what they seem, the provision of these base elements is cut off or severely rationed. If one knew the other truly, then perhaps these elements would never have been provisioned in the first place. On the other hand, knowing the person also allows for forgiveness, which really is the loving cycle of the reprovision of these elements of trust, respect, honor, loyalty, and love. Simply put, the couple must stick to the words of their vows to honestly say that they believe “in” their vows. See, John 15:10-17.

Much in the same way, salvation is a relationship that requires a back and forth about what is expected to be done to show our love and a reiteration of that verbal commitment (altar-call or confirmation) by conduct. Earning and deserving the unity of love in a relationship simply cannot be held on the notion that “I don’t know if I deserve his/her love, but I just know that they have already forgiven me for whatever I have done.”

Even if it were the case that I knew that someone had already forgiven me for something ahead of time, just as I know my own beautiful wife has on many an occasion, it does not mean that I get to stop the works that brought me to and through the relationship up until the point that complete Grace could be extended to me. It doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t look into whether the lover of my soul doesn’t expect more so that I may maintain my relationship with them. I must also understand that if I intentionally fail to do what is expected, then I may be separated from even the one person who loves me more than anyone.

In the case of Christ, it is an eternal separation and I ought to live my life as though an eternal separation from him is just as possible as if I hadn’t believe in Him in the first place. If I wanted to know my wife’s expectations, I am duty bound to communicate with her about that and then live it out. In the case of a Christian, I must read the instruction manual, if you will, and pray for the discernment that must occur as I try to apply the Word that I already have read to my life circumstances. Indeed, I may quickly find out that I do need to pray in a certain way, that I might need to do certain acts, that I may need to regularly confess of my sin, that I may need to remain in constant Communion in body and soul, that I may need to completely surrender my will to that of the other person to find complete freedom to enjoy a selfless relationship with the other person.

Storefront Christianity begins to flourish when each pastor or person starts defining their own “personal relationship” with Christ. The only problem with this is that He may not have defined the relationship the same way. One would have to look at His words to know what he expected(s) of someone who claims to believe in him. He did warn that many would come-a-knockin on his door, but would be denied entrance because they did not know him. Matthew 7:21-23. I think, in this context, that could only mean that He suspected that many would have a superficial understanding of what He was about, or simply just not listen to what he had to say in terms of the type of life and set of beliefs that He expects a believer to have. In fact, Matthew 7:22 makes it very clear that we will be denied admission to Christ because, in part, we “work iniquity.” Also see, John 10:7-21.

How much do I need to do in order to conform my identity, through conduct and practice, to reflect who or what I believe in? That is the question of faith.

I don’t believe in a “personal Jesus.” I believe in the Jesus as he represented Himself, through his words, commands, and deed. (i.e., the truth, the way, and the light). I want Him to define the relationship because of my love and honor of Him. It is not my place to define who He ought to be for me. John 3:16-22; 31-36.