Contract, or Shared Life?
People talk about having a “personal relationship” with Jesus but when they talk about it, it seems more like an arrangement, agreement or even contract rather than living their life with God, every day. People try to fulfill their side of the contract by trying hard to do good things (things they read in books or hear the pastor preach about). God’s role in the contract is to answer their prayers and to let them go to heaven when they die. Then in the back of their minds, they may even feel betrayed when prayers aren’t answered as they wish - why didn’t God fulfill the contract? Most of this is unspoken and even unrealized.
I also watch people beat up on themselves when they yell at their kids or refuse to help someone or flirt with the wrong someone. They’re sure God is upset with them for not fulfilling their side of the contract. Their good behavior was their end of the bargain, not a daily dependence on God’s life flowing through them or a co-laboring adventure with God. Living a with-God life is not an option.
If God had been interested in writing a contract with us, John 3:16 would read:
“For God felt so frustrated about what a failure the world was, that Jesus volunteered to be sacrificed so that anyone who feels obligated enough to go to church and read the Bible gets to go to heaven when they die.”
But a with-God life, relational version John 3:16 would be:
“God created us to build a heavenly community on this earth, a dwelling place for God’s own self on this planet. But we haven’t always cooperated. However, God wants us back! As we hang out with God throughout the day, we start living an eternal kind of life all day long. So Jesus demonstrated self-giving love for us so that whosoever sees the glory and beauty of God and the son Jesus Christ and puts all their confidence in them - they start living an eternal quality of life now and forever.”
You probably noticed that phrase: eternal kind of life. Part of what creates the contract approach is the idea that “eternal life” is something that happens when we die. It’s that, but much more here and now. As I said in Invitation to the Jesus Life, “Eternal” (aionios) refers not just to how long we live but the quality of our life now, one in which we “experience here and now something of the splendor, and the majesty, and the joy, and the peace, and the holiness which are characteristic of the life of God.” An eternal kind of life is one of tasting daily the love of God - a love that “is a divine life, an infinite energy, an irresistible power” that you and I are invited to participate in (2 Peter 1:4). It is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). It is “nothing else than the life of God himself” in you.
God wants to have shared relationship with us right now: hour by hour personal interaction. In this ongoing connection, we have shared life experiences with God. Shared life with someone on earth means that I can taste a food and tell you if my husband would like it; you can tell me a joke and I’ll know if my daughter would laugh; I can look at my son from across the room and know if he likes you or if he’s just being polite. That’s shared life experience. God wants that shared life experience with us. Because we were created for it, it’s what we truly crave.
If you decided you also wanted that, what simple thing might you do right now to share your life with God?
Grace and peace,
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