Saturday, August 1, 2009

You'd think we'd have it down by now...

Christ came nearly 2000 years ago. He is the express image of God (Hebrews 1:3), and revealed to us fully who God is and how God is to relate to man. Within the first one-hundred years of Christ's death and resurrection, the knowledge of Him had spread far from Israel through his Apostles and the early church. Through Paul and the dispersion of Christians from Israel, Christianity was shared and told to people from Africa to Asia to Europe.

The works of the New Testament were completed within the first century and copied and passed from church to church. The early church continued the work of the Apostles. Writings emerged from the disciples of the Apostles and beyond. Centuries later, the innovations in papers and ink allowed information to be passed from one person to another, and with the printing press, the Bible, early church writings, and the writings of great church leaders could be distributed to the masses.

In our day, we are flooded with information. The average family may own several copies of the Bible, books explaining Biblical themes, access to commentaries, devotional materials, and study guides like no other time on this earth. Through our current technology, we can read the Word of God, instantly see the original languages and explanations of what the words mean, see what anyone and everyone has had to say about a passage from the early church until now, and then get interpretations on how it should be applied.

The question then comes: don't we, in the year 2009, have an advantage the early church does not? It has been nearly two thousand years since Christ came, so should we not be further along in our Christian walk than those in the first century? They did not have the vast resources and two millennia of learning that we enjoy. So why does it seem that we are further behind than they? Why does it seem like every Christian starts from scratch, and, while all our accumulated knowledge and study aids are of great help, in the end we have not progressed any further than those who did not have these things?

The answer is that many times we are pursing the wrong thing. For most of us, Christianity is about realizing that we are sinners and at odds with the standards of God, getting right with God, and now living the life that God has called us to live. We are now new people, and thus we must live like it. We have to strive to do good and please our God and Father. Sound familiar? But what is often lacking is the true thrust of Christianity and that is a relationship with God that is cultivated over the course of our lives. Upon conversion, we are introduced to Him by the Holy Spirit through the person of Christ. After conversion, we set out on a path to please Him by trying to live up to what He has done for us. The problem is we can't. I repeat, WE CAN'T. And it becomes and endless cycle of trying hard, and failing, trying hard, and failing, trying hard and failing.

But a relationship with God provides us with all we need as we spend time with Him and He begins to work the life of Christ through us. It's kind of funny how when two people spend a great deal of time with one another, they often pick up each others' characteristics. We need to spend time developing a relationship with our Heavenly Father so that we too pick up the characteristics of the divine. In Philippians 3, Paul said, "I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death..." Paul's aim was to know Christ. It wasn't to do better or try hard to live up to a new standard. His goal was to continue to grow in his active relationship with His Lord and Savior. And he prayed that for those he preached to as well.

So if it seems that every Christian starts from square one in the Christian life in spite of all that has been learned and compiled over the past two-thousand years, it's because developing a relationship with God takes a lifetime, and during our time on this earth pursuing Him with a dependency that builds as we continue our pilgrimage. A young man our young woman, in anticipation of getting married, may surround themselves by teachings, wise council, and hundreds of books about the marriage relationship. And while those things may be of great value and help, they must start at square one the day they get married and begin a lifelong relationship with their husband or wife that will grow and develop over the years, just like married couples have been doing for quite a long time. The same is true with our Christian life. We may have an advantage in an information rich culture, but the relationship building process remains the same. We must all start by pursuing Him, desiring Him, and treasuring Him above all. Then we continue on our pilgrimage, getting to know Him, the person who is the one true living God. That relationship is true Christianity.

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