At the very center of Christianity is a Person: Jesus Christ. We know this in our theology but sometimes I wonder if we know it in our mission and value statements, especially in our experience. What moves me and motivates me as a pastor, and personally as a believer, is to see everyone in my sphere of influence have such a personal encounter with Jesus Christ that they would be ruined for empty substitutes.
You see, I don’t want people to simply make decisions for Christ, or have a religious experience (even a charismatic one) that creates all kinds of excitement that fades away when the revival is over. I want them to have an encounter with a Person—Jesus Christ— because I know that when we encounter Jesus Himself everything changes. (See “Encountering Jesus Changes Everything.”) We simply can never be the same again, nor would we ever want to be.
My life mission can be distilled down to one simple statement of purpose that’s not original to me but it says it all: “To know Christ and to make Him known.”
To know Christ is my life pursuit, to make Him known is the fruit of that pursuit. And the latter should never come before the former.
My life verses are John 15:9-12, which usually ends up in just about every message I preach (and I use just about every Bible translation):
9 “I love each of you with the same love that the Father loves me. You must continually let my love nourish your hearts. 10 If you keep my commands, you will live in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands, for I continually live nourished and empowered by his love.11 My purpose for telling you these things is so that the joy that I experience will fill your hearts with overflowing gladness!
12 “So this is my command: Love each other deeply, as much as I have loved you. (John 15:9-12 TPT)
Everything I do, or am, as a fellow human being flows from this joy-filled place. I’ve come to realize it answers the every question, every problem, every addiction, every fear, anxiety…every issue of life. It defines success for me.
I certainly don’t do it perfectly, but this is my “magnificent obsession.”
The reason I bring this up is because the more I taste and see His goodness, the more I’m convinced that we’ve gotten off track. Generally speaking, we’ve turned Christianity into a religion, just like every other religion. This has been ongoing for a very long time so it’s our “normal” but, really, there’s nothing normal about it.
In a nutshell, religion is transactional, following Jesus is relational.
Religion is inviting God into our life; following Jesus is God inviting us into His life.
With religion, you follow a set of rules or rituals to make God happy. This M.O. hasn’t changed much since the Garden. Under this scenario, leaders (like me) can use fear to manipulate and control you with threats of punishment for infractions of the rules or, worse, to excommunicate you from the tribe.
The problem is, we’ll always emphasize certain rules over others. Some churches hate some sins more than others. But, because it’s based on rules, we inevitably judge other people’s weaknesses based on our strengths.
Or, we may dangle a carrot in front of you: we like numbers and tidy outlines so we create messages like, “Five ways for a better….” or “three things you need for….” (fill in the blanks). Like lost sheep, we chase after the hot speaker who promises to give us the answers we’re looking for. Yet, after years of chasing this illusion, we remain unchanged.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have leaders who teach us and encourage us. I’m saying that there’s really only one thing that will give you what you’re searching for: “Christ in you the hope of glory” (Col.1:27).
Religion is a lot like a vending machine. You put money in and a snack (or some other unhealthy thing) comes out. With religion, you put the formula in (make the commitment, study, pray, obey, tithe, etc.), but if God doesn’t “put out” what do we do? We shake the machine! We bang on it. In other words, we get mad at God or begin to question His goodness. After all, God’s not keeping His end of the bargain. (He must not be real!) These are all symptoms of transactional religion, because if you knew Him this whole thing becomes irrelevant.
Religion is about separation and distance; Christianity is about being in Christ. You see, it’s not just what God did for you, or what He did as you, but what He did to you on the Cross. He placed you in Himself and brought you with Him, so now your life is Christ’s very own life (Gal.2:20; Col.3:3).
I hope you realize this is not theoretical and understand that it’s at the core of what it means to be a Christian. Of course, we need our minds renewed in order to have a grid to contain this amazing life in our experience. But if you think God is up in heaven and you’re down here on earth, you’ll never be able to grow fully in the reality of who you are. You’ll stay stuck in the counterfeit: transactional religion.
Religion is about gaining head knowledge. Of course, you don’t need an ongoing relationship with Jesus once you’ve successfully removed all mysteries from your life. But then you also don’t have access to His knowledge (1 Cor.2:9-16).
Authentic Christianity is heart knowledge. It’s based on knowing Someone. The heart is the gatekeeper to all transformational revelation, and revelation of Jesus Christ is at the center of all knowledge. Head knowledge is important, but only as it serves a deep personal revelation of the Truth (who is a Person). But we seem to want it all backwards. Head knowledge is like being intellectually married.
Another problem with head knowledge is that it hates a vacuum so we make stuff up to fill in all the blanks about God. But Jesus came to change all that (Matt.11:27; John 1:18).
Heart knowledge is about letting the Living Word study you: “even penetrate to the very core of our being where soul and spirit, bone and marrow meet! It interprets and reveals the true thoughts and secret motives of our hearts.” (Heb.4:12 TPT)
So, from this place of ongoing, intimate communion with Jesus, His life begins to manifest in my life (called the fruit of the Spirit – Gal.5:22-23). This gives Him glory (“glory” being the manifest goodness of God expressed through me). And, to the degree that I do this in every area of my life, I’m living according to my life mission, which is to know Christ and to make Him known.
14 God always makes his grace visible in Christ, who includes us as partners of his endless triumph. Through our yielded lives he spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of God everywhere we go. (2 Cor.2:14 TPT)