Throughout the Gospels, the question asked of those listening to or following Jesus is who he is. Jesus asks it explicitly in passages like Mark 8:27-29 and it is still the question we must ask of others today.
Last week on our way down to the LaTrobe / Swinburne uni Summit (Mid-Year Conference) we gave a lift to two mainland Chinese guys. One had become a Christian about a year ago; the other, Frank, was not a Christian. He was quite open about that. He observed that Christianity was ‘Western’ and that it was believed because it was cultural to do so. He saw Australian society as founded on Christian principles, and so speaking of Christianity for him was speaking about a set of values and a lifestyle. Such an association of Christianity with the West is ironic considering its Middle-Eastern roots but certainly understandable, in light of the current worldwide religious and political climate. But in the end, discussions about values or the history of Christianity were side-tracks. We said to Frank that we thought that Christianity was more about following Jesus than signing up to Western values. His Christian friend at this point added that Jesus was Lord, not just of the West, but of the whole world, including China! So we asked him who he thought Jesus was. Did he exist? What did he teach? Did he die? Did he rise?
Yet, it is not just our international friends who need to consider Jesus. Someone was lamenting to me about a girl in her small group who is not a Christian. This girl has been coming for some time but she just has too many questions that result in unsatisfactory or distasteful answers. Many have engaged with her on an apologetic level, yet to no avail. Apologetics are an essential part of (pre-)evangelism but I wonder whether they were masking the real issue here. Because in the end, we can explain the gospel all we want, but ultimately, our job is not to sign people up to a philosophy but to call them to a relationship with Jesus. Based on his character, can you trust him? In our conversation, I likened it to a marriage. In the end, you don’t know if the person you marry will turn into a complete psycho and you certainly can’t know everything about them before you marry them, but from what you do know, you decide one way or the other. That’s not about knowing the information. That’s about knowing the person. Who do you say Jesus is?
The more I talk to people who aren’t believers, the more I’m convicted that this is the central question. The more I talk to Christians, too, the more I see the importance of it. When it comes to obedience or trust, time and again, the issue is a lack of understanding of Jesus’ goodness, Lordship or compassion. And so that question Jesus posed to his disciples is one for each of us. ‘Who do you say I am?’
Categories: Uncategorized Written by Tamie
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.
How do you explain “knowing Jesus” to someone? I think the phrase “relationship with Jesus” as used by Christians generally is extremely misleading without a re-definition of the word ‘relationship’. I don’t think your analogy would help to clarify it, whether Christian or not. In the case of marriage there is a relationship in the normal sense, with a human person who can speak, write, physically act in a way which is clearly attributable – all things that we can make a judgement on when deciding on a relationship. You can’t do that with Jesus. Why would anyone who understands a relationship only in human terms NOT feel unconvinced about the idea of a relationship with someone they can’t experience in the normal way?
I’m quite serious here. I think it’s a big problem, and getting bigger. I’m convinced that most Christians don’t know what they mean by “relationship with Jesus”, let alone have the capacity to explain it to a non-Christian (or even harder, to someone who has left Christianity because they were unable to understand it and gave up trying). Maybe the language is wrong altogether.
Thanks for the observation. As you say, Christian jargon can stand in the way of helping someone (even a Christian!) to understand what we’re talking about. What do you think it means to know Jesus?
I think ‘knowing Jesus’ starts by reading the gospels. At one level, you can explain this to someone as reading Jesus’ biography and working out who he was. Those of us who are Christians know that the Word Jesus is known and revealed to us in his words (e.g. John 15:7-10) and so we can have confidence that there is something far more dynamic going on there.
Relationship with Jesus is an abstract concept to our Western minds. Interestingly, I’ve found a greater openness to this amongst those of an Eastern religious or Catholic background – perhaps because these tend to be more associated with interactions with ancestors or saints?
So prayer is a part of it, but I understand the frustration. Is God really there? Why doesn’t he talk back to me? Why can’t I feel him? I think I have two comments there.
Firstly, we need to help people to understand how Jesus speaks and works in our lives. Passages like John 14-17 are great for that, because it’s Jesus explaining to his disciples what the deal will be once he goes. We need to help people to hear God in his word and to attribute the ordinary and the extraordinary of life to him.
Secondly, I still think language of relationship is worth pursuing because the issue at stake is where a person stands before God and on what grounds. That is, how do they relate to God? As absent? As Lord? Like the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus? This is where it becomes deeply person. I want people to see what my reactions say something to God.
In answer to your question, I don’t know. Then again, I know that I’m in transition mode from lots of assumptions about God which were obviously wrong because they didn’t coincide with experience. That’s why I’m asking the question myself (seeing as I seem to have passed the point of asking whether the question has any meaning at all). The best I can do for now is “not what I assumed it meant, but I’m working on it”. When and if I find a more satisfactory answer I’ll let you know :-)
Ultimately, I suspect we mean something similar, I’m just being picky about language. However, the language is obviously so frequently misinterpreted that I think it’s important to be extremely careful. There are plenty of ex-Christians out there who would completely deny the concept of any God at least partially because the phrase “personal relationship with Jesus” did not meant what they thought it meant, they never found an adequate explanation, and so became disillusioned. I’m still vaguely surprised that I’m not one of them.
I’ve just been reading 1 John and finding it particularly helpful on this issue. One of the main questions on view is how Christians can be sure that they are saved and much of this is couched in terms of knowing God, or perhaps more poignantly to this issue, how I can know that I know God.