Christianity is a Relationship—But What Kind?

Christianity is a Relationship

Often we hear people assert that Christianity is not about “a religion but a relationship.” This cliché makes the valid point that the relational aspect is central to the meaning of being a Christian.

Relationships Require Conditions

Our current secular and evangelical cultures rooted in the concept of unconditional acceptance assert that the ideal relationship is characterized by people accepting each other unconditionally. For example, it is asserted that marriage at its best entails a husband and wife extending unconditional acceptance to each other.

However, this represents a misunderstanding of relationships. All relationships are defined by conditions which established the nature, meaning, and functionality of the relationship.

For example, marriage is based on the conditions of love and fidelity. Those qualities define the nature of marriage, give marriage its meaning, and provide parameters within which marriage can function effectively. Remove those conditions and marriage is no longer marriage, no longer has meaning, and is unable to function effectively.

Carl Rogers advocated open marriage, the idea being that spouses should unconditionally accept their mates including when they chose to mate with someone else. Most would agree that this perspective on marriage is not marriage at all, has little meaning, and does not work in the real world.

Our Relationship with Christ Requires a Condition

Since Christianity constitutes a relationship, and since relationships require conditions to circumscribe their nature, meaning, and functionality, we must ask regarding the condition upon which a relationship with Christ is based.

First, it should be noted that the above discussion tells us that our relationship with Christ is not based on unconditional acceptance. As we noted, without conditions no meaningful and functional relationship can exist. Rather, Scripture teaches that our relationship with Christ is based on the condition of faith.

“Trusting Christ to Save You” Provides No Basis for a Relationship  

In our previous post we noted that many people delimit saving faith to “trusting Christ to save you.” We noted there that according to Scripture we are not saved by “trusting Christ to save us,” but by “believing in Christ,” that is, receiving Him in His totality, which as far more substance the faith. Therefore, “trusting Christ to save you” does not represent a biblical understanding of saving faith.

A functional problem with limiting saving faith to “trusting Christ to save you” is that this truncated view of faith provides no substantive basis for a relationship with Christ.

A girl swimming at the beach may be trusting the lifeguard to save her if she finds herself drowning, but that does not connote a relationship between the two. She may be swimming with her boyfriend and paying no attention to the lifeguard. He is merely there to meet her need. Even if she is drowning and he saves her, she may feel and express gratitude, but this does not commit her to an ongoing relationship with the lifeguard.

Likewise, faith defined as “trusting Christ to save me” may elicit gratitude but does not entail entrance into a relationship. The reason for this is that this formula in effect describes unconditional acceptance. It asserts that I am accepted unconditionally, and therefore faith entails no more than acknowledging God’s unconditional acceptance. Doing so does not call us into a relationship with Him.

 “Trusting Christ to Save You” Often Produces No Relationship

One might argue that the person trusting Christ to save him will enter into a relationship with Christ, that doing so constitutes a spontaneous response of a person trusting Christ to save him. However, that is a false assumption.

When I was attending seminary in the Los Angeles area, I pastored a little church. I received a call one day asking if I would follow up people who had responded to the gospel message at an evangelistic crusade in the area. I agreed, and they sent a list of names and addresses. Of all those that I visited, not one showed any interest at all in an ongoing relationship with Jesus Christ. They had responded to an invitation calling them to trust Jesus to save them, and they probably did invite Jesus to save them. But this message did not suggest to them an ongoing relationship with Christ, and such a relationship did not develop spontaneously as a result of their trusting Christ to save them.

This was a time when the hippie movement was in full bloom in California, and the message of unconditional acceptance was prominent. Therefore, the fact that Jesus accepted them just as they were apart from any conditions made perfect sense to them. This message contained no basis for a relationship with Christ, and they felt no need for one, but instead chose to continue in their present lifestyle, but now with the assurance that they had eternal life.

Evangelicals without a Relationship with Christ

My great concern is that the contemporary evangelical church is filled with many who have responded to this type of gospel presentation in a similar way. Perhaps they manifest somewhat more of an ongoing relationship with the Lord than the people I encountered in Southern California. They may attend church because it makes them to feel good or provides a good social atmosphere. However, since their relationship with the Lord is based on unconditional acceptance, life is still on their terms.

This leads to the question of whether these people possess saving faith—whether they actually have entered into a genuine relationship with the Lord. Our next post describes the nature of saving faith, which constitutes the condition for entering into an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ.

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