This Is Personal
Why You + Jesus is not enough
You don't like it when the preacher gets too personal. I know you don't because you've told me as much. Well, maybe not you, but someone just like you. Or maybe they came to me for you because you didn't want to get too personal with the preacher. Whatever the case you don't like things to get personal. That is...until you are desperate, alone, searching for answers, dying to find a way. Then all of the sudden I know more about you and your business than your mother (don't worry I won't tell her). What we need to understand about our faith is this: It's Personal.
I hear you. I know what you're thinking. You have a personal relationship with Jesus. You + Jesus equals everything. God said it, you believe it and that settles it. Thanks to Carrie Underwood you let Jesus take the wheel. Jesus is your homeboy. You've got coffee mugs and wall art filled with Scriptures. You have more crosses in your home than a cemetery. Jesus is still alright with you. I get it.
And those things are exactly NOT what I am talking about. In the contemporary church when someone says something about their "personal relationship with Jesus" it makes me cringe. I literally feel my stomach turn over inside me (and it's not a cool thing like that friend you had in high school who could make his belly roll over and over). The reason that I feel so poorly about the phrase "personal relationship with Jesus" is not because it's somehow heretical or even Biblically inaccurate. I hope everyone who claims to know Jesus seeks to know his person and his work and the implications that has for their own personal lives. If everyone who spoke of a "personal relationship with Jesus" was actually on a quest to know as much as they could about the person of Jesus and have their personal life begin to reflect his, then my stomach and I would love the phrase.
However, most of the times we use the phrase we use it in a very impersonal way. In fact there is usually only one person involved when we speak of our personal relationship with Jesus. Oh, I know, that's harsh, and maybe I shouldn't speak in such general terms, but the way I see it most people use the phrase "personal relationship with Jesus" to refer to a private relationship with Jesus. Here's the point: A relationship with Jesus is personal when it involves people. And its about time that our faith became personal.
Now everyone in the room is uncomfortable (I happen to be sitting alone in a room). I am an introvert. I know all of the extroverts are reading this and saying "It's about time!" But I've learned that being extroverted doesn't guarantee that your relationship with Jesus is propelling you to build personal relationships with people. Especially those who will tromp all over your precious feelings for the sake of the gospel. And yet, whether you are an innie or an outie, our personal relationship with Jesus requires us to build relationships with people, believers and unbelievers.
If you love Jesus, you must build personal relationships with believers. This is what we call the local church. If you claim to have a personal relationship with Jesus but you don't have a relationship with the people that Jesus calls his bride, then you've met a different Jesus than the one described in the New Testament. Did you know that Jesus gave himself up for the church (Ephesians 5:25)? Now set me straight on how a personal relationship with Jesus would not lead someone to desire to be with the group of people for whom Jesus died. Consider the ministry of the Apostle Paul. If anyone could have been a solo Christian it would have been Paul. He was CRAZY (in a good way). And yet we find him surrounded by brothers in Christ whom he is discipling and with whom he is fellowshiping. And when he is separated from them he longs for their company. Almost every example in the Scriptures of a believer operating alone goes awry (Eve, Noah after the ark, Lot, Samson, David on his rooftop, Elijah after Carmel, etc.). And I hate to break it to you, but that trend hasn't changed.
Not only must a believer build personal relationships with believers, but we must also pursue meaningful relationships with non-believers. Consider Jesus's ministry on earth. He surrounded himself with people and poured his life into them and then poured his life out for them. He told him that he didn't come to be served, but to serve, and he encouraged them that the greatest among them would be the servants. He called his followers to follow him. And when they followed him they followed him to people. Dirty people, possessed people, sick people, rich people, poor people, dead people.
A personal relationship with Jesus demands for you to have relationships with people. The Bible is a people book about God's glory. It doesn't hide any of the ugliness of relationships between people. In fact the Bible puts man's ugliness on full display and then shows the way of redemption. There never was a time for private faith, but if there ever was, the time has passed. And public faith is not faith through politics, or faith through media, or buying more Christian paraphanalia. Public faith is not about Christian concerts, or podcasts, or conferences. Genuine faith in Christ, is about people. Not because people are an end unto themselves, but because God has chosen people as his eternal agents of glory.