“Beware of the delusion that religious busyness is equivalent to knowing God. It is not.”
AT ITS HEART, the Christian faith is not a religion as such. It is a Person. Rules and rituals may be important but they are not at the heart of Christian discipleship or church life. It is the relationship with this Person that is the soul of Christianity. Everything else is built on this. When we come to know this Person (and the reader will know by now that I am talking about Jesus), we will also come to know the Father and be connected with His Spirit.
Eternal life, as defined by Jesus, is the personal and relational knowledge of God the Father and God the Son. We come into the relationship when the triune God makes His residence in our hearts. By relating to Jesus, we are introduced to the Trinity and the life of the Triune God.
Jesus must therefore be at the centre of our discipleship. We must remember what the Lord said about Himself: “I am the way, the truth and the life” (Jn. 14:6).
This is a radically diﬀerent way from usual conceptions of the religious life. Even Christians who regularly attend church may fail to grasp this.
Let’s think about religious ways. It is common to think of salvation and well-being in terms of finding and employing spiritual methods. We think that we can live a relatively trouble-free life and finally reach heaven by following a spiritual prescription. Find a better way to pray. Look for a new church. Try a new 10-step programme, or the latest spiritual technique. But the heart of the Christian life does not belong to prescriptions or programmes, but a Person.
It is possible to become busy pursuing spiritual methods more than pursuing Jesus. Beware of the delusion that religious busyness is equivalent to knowing God. It is not. We are well-advised to note the warning of Jesus (Mt. 7:21-23), that the ultimate test will not be how busy we are or how religious our calendars are, but whether He knows us (and whether we know Him). e great separation of people will be between those who had pursued religious ways and those who had pursued Jesus, the Way.
For some Christians, the essence of religion is knowing precepts and principles, doctrines and creeds. Not that they are unimportant, but they do not lie at the heart of the Christian life. The essential Christian knowledge has to do with a Person. Truth is ultimately a Person.
No amount of information and factual knowledge can substitute knowing Jesus in a personal relationship with Him.
Here again, Christians can get it wrong. We may focus our attention on gathering facts and information instead of gathering around Jesus and listening carefully to Him through His Word. It is possible to know the Bible quite well and yet fail to know Jesus. ere are people who know the Bible as literature or even develop skills to analyse the Bible. But such skills are rather useless if they do not lead to knowing Jesus intimately. Do not get me wrong. Bible reading and meditation are essential Christian disciplines, but they must be done in the presence of Jesus and in the light of a real ongoing relationship with Him. We must read our Bibles as we talk to Jesus the Truth. We must open our Bibles in order to find Him.
OUR CHRISTIAN CALLING is not to cram our heads with facts, but to fill our hearts with Christ. It is not to reduce truth to information but to find ultimate truth in the Person of Jesus Christ. Alas, we live in the information age where knowledge is power (not love, as in older times). It is possible to become cleverer and more foolish at the same time. T. S. Eliot puts it well in his poem:
The endless cycle of idea and action, Endless invention, endless experiment, Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence; Knowledge of words, and ignorance of The Word …
Where is the Life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
Increasingly, Christians seem to reduce the Christian life to experience rather than relationship. What is the diﬀerence between the two, one might ask. Relationship is conveyed in story while experience is cutting up story into episodes (like television serials). Or as wise Christian spiritual writers have said it so often over the centuries: in following Jesus, we will encounter spiritual experiences; however if our attention shifts to these experiences, we will drift away from Jesus.
When we reduce the Christian life to the pursuit of experiences (and this is usually the more exciting varieties) rather than the pursuit of Christ, we have missed the point and have lost the heart of Christian discipleship. It is easy to turn from being a follower of Jesus to being a collector of exciting spiritual experiences. Let us consider signs and wonders (which are interpreted in various ways by Christians). ere is, indeed, a legitimate place for them. It is important to note, however, that the true biblical kind of signs and wonders occurs when we are in focused and single-hearted pursuit of Jesus. As long as our attention is on Jesus, we are on safe ground. However, when our attention shifts to the phenomena (rather than the Person), we are in danger of being deceived by Satan whose bag of diabolical tricks includes signs and wonders (2 ess. 2:9). Satan knows our weaknesses.
There is a profound diﬀerence between the Life that is found in Jesus and mere spiritual experiences, many of which may be deceptive. We are called to seek Jesus who is the Life rather than run from one experience to another. One leads to profound love; the other to crippling addiction. We are wise if we know the diﬀerence.
The heart of the Christian faith is a Person – Jesus. We are to seek Him and pursue Him more than spiritual methods and programmes, information and techniques, and entertaining and exciting experiences. Those who realise that ultimately the way, the truth and the life is a Person will live a radically new life – the very Life of Jesus.