The Trouble With Having a “Personal Relationship with Jesus”

26 Jun

This will not be a thorough post.  Nor will it be one with much detail (at least at this point).  I merely want to get the issue out in the marketplace of ideas, along with a few quick points, so that you can begin to think through them personally, in community, and before God and His Word.

Almost anytime we hear about receiving Christ today, it is in the form of “having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”  But how often do we think about the foundations for this statement, as well as its implications, both explicity and implicitly, actual and potential.  Words are a powerful thing, and they must be used wisely.  Below are a few thoughts regarding our emphasis today on having a “personal relationship” with Jesus:

1. Much of the personal relationship language rose out the revivalism of the 18th Century.  This was a time in which pragmatism was front and center in evangelism/ministry, as well as a renewed focus on the “inner life” and spirituality (over and against what many called “religion”). Some have called this a return to gnosticism, or at least an embracing of elements of gnosticism.  

2. There is much good that comes from framing things in this way, not the least of which is the way it highlights the necessity of personal faith.  Your parent’s faith does not save, baptism does not save, communion does not save, and being in a local church does not save.  Rather, it is through personal repentance of one’s sins and trusting on the person and work of Jesus Christ that saves.  

3. Such an emphasis on having a personal relationship with Jesus implicitly asserts the optionality of involvement in the local church.  If its all about my personal relationship with the divine, the lives of others and involvement with the local church is tangental.  I may choose to be a part of it, but only if it will further my personal relationship with God.  

 4. The phrase itself is misleading, because we all already have a personal relationship with Christ, either as enemies under the wrath of the King against whom we are rebelling, or as brothers/sisters and fellow heirs of the blessings and promises of God.  

5. When the focus becomes our personal relationship with Christ (oftentimes at the expense of the familial relationship with Christ, or communal relationship with Christ), it often emphasizes the things we must do to cultivate this relationship, which can easily cause us to fall into a works-driven religion of Bible reading, prayer, and emotionalism.

6. A focus on the inner life, spirituality, and personal relationship can cause problems when it comes to challenging a brother or sister in Christ, or confronting them about sin in their life.  No one can argue against a person who appeals to their personal experience/emotions/inner life, regardless of how ridiculous, untrue, unreliable, or unbiblical it may be.   

These are just a few of the things that come to mind when I think about the language of “having a personal relationship with Jesus.”  While there are benefits to the language, there are also important repercussions that must be dealt with.  I believe that we need to move more towards emphasizing Union with Christ, which must happen personally and encompasses all facets of one’s life, but also points to the familial and corporate relationships that are so often missed by emphasizing the personal relationship.

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One Response to “The Trouble With Having a “Personal Relationship with Jesus””

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  1. Top Posts of 2012 « Brevity & Clarity - December 26, 2012

    […] Trouble With Having A “Personal Relationship With God” […]

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