What does it look like to have a real relationship with Jesus Christ? I’m not interested in creating a religious box or formula for you to follow. That’s not what this article is about. Rather, I want to point you to the thrilling, adventurous, enjoyable Person who always has your best interests in mind: Jesus Christ.
That may sound strange to some of you — that Jesus has your best interests in mind. This awkward feeling typically comes from a worldview that sees humans as mere pawns in a grand, theatrical, cosmic play that is only for the glory of God. Yes, Jesus is passionate about bringing glory to the Father; but the way He does it is through partnering with you!
John 14:13 — You can ask for anything in My name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. (NLT)
Today I want to present some mind-blowing, exciting traits of a living, vibrant relationship with Jesus that may challenge some traditional perspectives.
Lessons from a Healthy Marriage
What does a healthy, thriving relationship with Jesus look like? Well, what does ANY thriving relationship look like? Specifically, what does a thriving marriage look like?
Maybe it seems strange to investigate marriage as we discuss relationship with Jesus — especially if, like me, you’re a man! But Paul drew this correlation very clearly:
Ephesians 5:22-32 — Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church — for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery — but I am talking about Christ and the church. (NIV)
Paul’s famous instructions about marriage are more importantly a sermon about how Jesus and His Bride, the Church, relate to each other. We — the Church — are respectfully submitted to Him while He self-sacrificially loves and cherishes us, cleansing us through active communication and caring for us as His own Body. He has made us ONE with Him! (See also 1 Corinthians 6:17.)
In a healthy marriage, each spouse lives wholly and completely for the other. I’m happy to say I have an incredibly healthy marriage. I seek my wife’s best interests, and she seeks mine. I don’t have to seek my own desires because I can trust her to see those things and address them. And she doesn’t have to seek her own desires for the same reason.
Now think about this for a moment: Would God design earthly marriage to be better than our divine union? Would He have in mind a lesser relationship for Himself and me than I have with my wife? Of course not! Marriage is only a shadow of the reality in heaven. It is a prophetic picture of Christ and His Church. Therefore, understanding a healthy marriage produces a clearer understanding of a healthy relationship with God.
Consider these Biblical traits of a thriving relationship with God:
- It involves us seeking His needs and Him seeking our needs. (See Matthew 6:33.)
- It involves us seeking His pleasure and Him seeking our pleasure. (See Psalm 37:4.)
- It involves us exalting Him and Him exalting us. (See James 4:10 and 1 Peter 5:6.)
- It involves us drawing near to God and Him drawing near to us. (See James 4:8.)
- It involves us doing whatever He asks and Him doing whatever we ask. (See John 15:10 and 16.)
- It involves us living fully for Him and Him living fully for us. (See Ephesians 5:1-2.)
- It involves us laying down our lives for Him, just as He laid down His life for us. (See John 15:13.)
Just as in a healthy human relationship the husband pursues the wife and cherishes her, so too Jesus has gone out of His way to pursue us. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” He laid down his life for us long before we even considered laying down our lives for Him.
Recently, though, some have been teaching that this one-sided pursuit of mankind is synonymous with Christianity. They present a one-sided relationship in which we passively enjoy the blessings of our generous Benefactor in the sky. They speak of “oneness” in theological terms without mentioning the self-sacrifice required of both parties to truly walk in oneness. What they miss is the purpose of God’s one-sided grace — something far greater than any of us could imagine. You see, I didn’t pursue my wife so that she would merely agree to let me pursue her further. I pursued her so that she would agree to enter a life-changing covenant with me. Things may have started one-sided, but the objective was always a two-way relationship.
Grace has a purpose.
Receive God’s Grace with Purpose
Some Christians behave as though a theological awareness of God’s grace is sufficient. Yes, a theological awareness is GREAT because it reminds us that we are forgiven apart from any merit of our own, that He accepts us, that every spiritual blessing is ours, and more. These realizations are important for us, which is why Paul prayed for his fellow believers that the eyes of their hearts would be enlightened and that they would know the hope to which they had been called.
Nevertheless, a mere realization that I have a wife who loves me is worthless if I never do anything with that knowledge! Marriage is more than a legal contract. It’s a partnership and a sharing of lives. Too many Christians point to the marriage contract of “grace” and gleefully carry on with their lives as though they’re still single. That’s not a marriage. In the natural realm, this is a waste of a marriage; and in the spiritual realm, this is a waste of grace.
Second Corinthians 6:1 warns us not to receive God’s grace “in vain.” Recently, my friend Andrew Layer led a group of us in Communion and pointed out that “receiving God’s grace in vain” is “receiving the grace of His blood without having it accomplish what it was meant to do.” How often do we drink of the cup, enjoying the sweetness of His life poured out on our behalf, but refusing to digest His grace and allow it to change us? How often do we live unaffected by the most powerful event in all of history?
Jesus didn’t go to the cross so that we could sign a marriage contract and then go our separate ways. He went to the cross so that He could have a healthy marriage with us — giving Himself fully to His Bride so that we, in turn, would be able to give ourselves fully to our Bridegroom.
2 Corinthians 5:15 — [Jesus] died for everyone so that those who receive His new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them. (NLT, emphasis added)
Be Aware of His Presence
A healthy relationship with Jesus requires an awareness of His presence with us. Yes, He is always here with us. (See Matthew 28:20.) We still, however, need to be aware of Him. If I’m always present with my wife but she constantly ignores me (except, maybe, on Sundays), then we’re both missing out! For this reason, I need to guard myself against ignoring God’s presence.
Living aware of His presence with me looks a lot like when I live aware of my wife’s presence with me. Consider what happens when one spouse purposefully chooses to be conscious of the other:
- You allow your emotions to be influenced by the other Person’s emotions. This doesn’t necessarily mean that we match the other person’s emotions — it simply means that we are affected by them. When my wife is sad or nervous, she doesn’t need me to be sad or nervous. She also doesn’t need me to swing to the opposite extreme and start telling jokes! If my wife is sad or nervous, then she needs me to be strong for her — lovingly and gently providing emotional support that lifts her up. In a similar way, Jesus allows His emotions to be influenced by ours — not to match our emotions or flippantly invalidate them, but to come alongside us and lift us up. Lest you think our Lord’s emotions are a roller-coaster of highs and lows, realize that because of His infiniteness, He is able to express Himself differently to each and every person on the planet in the way that they individually need at the moment they need it. While Jesus is dancing with a woman in Canada who is rejoicing about her new job, He may also be gently and quietly comforting a child facing persecution in Indonesia. The reverse is also true: My emotions need to be affected by His! And since His emotions are only ever righteous and good, I know that I will always be influenced in the right direction when I draw near to Him.
- You make big decisions only after discussing the options with the other Person. I would never buy a car or decide to move my family to another city without discussing it with my wife. In a healthy marriage, major decisions are discussed because both parties have willfully chosen to surrender such things to their relationship. In Amos 3:7, we read, “Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets,” and in John 15:15, Jesus says to His followers, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” In the Old Testament, God was about to destroy Israel and start over with Moses; but first He shared His plan with Moses, submitting this major decision to the context of relationship. Moses then shared his heart with God, and we read, “Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.” (See Exodus 32:9-14.) Bring all your big decisions to the Lord, and you may find Him bringing big decisions to you.
- You make little decisions with the other Person’s will in mind. For example, I don’t need to call my wife about whether or not I should buy a candy bar while I’m grocery shopping. If I want a candy bar, I know she would have no problem with it. However, as a married man, I make that decision with my wife in mind. So rather than simply buying a candy bar, I buy her one too (or at the very least, I hide my wrapper so she doesn’t know she missed out!). I regularly make little decisions with God in mind too. I know that I don’t have to ask for His permission to go for a walk, but I do think about how that walk fits into my relationship with Him. Am I going for a walk so that I can connect with Him in some way? Or am I going for a walk to emotionally escape from something? Am I trying to avoid God or connect with His heart? When I’m at the grocery store, I often pay with my debit card so that I know I’ll have cash to give at church or to someone who needs it. It’s not because God told me to use my debit card; it’s because I had Him in mind and made the decision on my own. I used to feel like I needed to run every decision by God, but then I realized that I would be exhausted if my wife ran every decision by me! (Not that God would be exhausted, but that it’s unnecessary.) I trust my wife to make good decisions with me in mind, and Jesus trusts you to make good decisions with Him in mind. He’s not interested in micromanaging your life; He’s interested in sharing your life.
- You pay attention to subtle cues from the other Person and learn to please them without their asking. If my wife shivers, I bring her a blanket. She didn’t need to ask me for one because my awareness of her allowed for me to notice her desires. In the same way, God notices our subtle cues. Jesus said that our Father knows what we need before we even ask Him. While on one hand, James warns, “You have not because you ask not,” on the other hand, God sometimes meets our needs without our asking. Jesus said we’re more valuable than sparrows, and I’ve never seen a sparrow laboring in intercession for its next worm. A little over a year ago, my wife (weeks away from giving birth to our second boy) and I were playing with our 18-month-old son, Joey, in the yard. I said, “What would you think of getting a play-structure with a slide or something like that for the boys?” She answered just as I was thinking: “That would be great, but how will we afford it?” I didn’t know either, but I simply wanted to run the idea by her and see what she thought. Within less than a week, someone at my wife’s work came up to her out of the blue and said, “You have kids. Would you like a play-structure for your yard?” A few days later, we had a brand new play structure for our boys, completely free of charge. I didn’t ask God for it, but He picked up on my subtle cue and decided to bless me with it! This encourages me to look for His subtle cues. I try to notice the little nudges I feel when I have a quiet sense that He wants to meet with me or that He wants me to share His love with someone near me. I don’t wait for the big, booming voice to move me to action. I pay attention to His subtle cues, and I take initiative to fulfill His desires before He needs to ask me.
- You engage in activities that are enjoyable for the other Person, placing their interests above your own. My dad loves classic car shows, but my mom could probably care less about them. Nevertheless, she goes with him simply because she likes to be with him. My mom loves dollhouses, sewing, and crafts, but my dad could probably care less about them. Nevertheless, he takes her to craft stores and shows because he likes to be with her. My parents regularly engage in activities that are only enjoyable to the other person simply because they love being with each other, and they love seeing the other person happy. Similarly, I love writing, and I know Jesus regularly joins me in that. I love filmmaking, and I know Jesus regularly joins me in that. I love playing with my kids, and I know Jesus regularly joins me in that. But the opposite is also true: I look for the things Jesus loves to do, and I regularly join Him in those — healing the sick, preaching truth, showing love, etc. The beauty of this relationship-trait is that in time, we find ourselves actually enjoying what the other person enjoys. After more than fifty years of marriage, my parents both have fun with each others’ interests. Similarly, how many of us felt like evangelism was a chore until we joined Jesus in it a few times? And that’s the key: Join Jesus in it! I guarantee my dad would never have enjoyed dolls if he weren’t spending time with someone he loved who made them enjoyable. In the same way, evangelism, healing, preaching, teaching, serving, giving, and so forth will always be religious chores unless we do these things in partnership with the One who loves to do them!
Do You Have a Real Relationship with Jesus?
As you can see, relationship with Jesus is vital to Christianity. While I suppose a marriage license is all I need to rightfully say that I’m married, the whole point of that license is to secure the relationship of which it speaks. And while I suppose grace (through faith) may be sufficient to enter a legally-binding “covenant” with Jesus, the whole point of that covenant is the relationship that it procures.
“As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain.” (See 2 Corinthians 6:1.) Do not squander the blood Jesus shed. Some believe that they are making full use of Jesus’ blood by living any way they like. This is a natural misconception that even Paul addressed 2000 years ago. (See Romans 6.) Squandering Jesus’ blood happens when we celebrate what He did without embracing the purpose for which He did it: Real relationship with Jesus.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve been a churchgoer for years. If you’re not enjoying the quality of relationship with Jesus that I have described in this article, then you’re missing out! Jesus paid for so much more! And if you want that relationship, the solution is not to slip into depression or start hating yourself. The solution is to simply realize that He wants this relationship even more than you do, and come to Him humbly to receive His embrace.
If you’ve never surrendered your life to Jesus Christ to enter a thriving relationship with Him, today is your day. You can have this relationship with Him because He rose from the dead and is alive today! Simply talk to Him like you would talk to anyone who loves you unconditionally and wants desperately to know you. Express your heart to Him. Decide that He is indeed Lord and Master of all, and ask Him to lead you in this relationship. Give yourself to Him to fulfill His desires, trusting wholeheartedly that He will serve you in love.
You can expect a whole new way of living — in fact, you can expect to be made into a new creation whose very life is brand new. When I became married to my wife, everything changed for me. My life was no longer my own. The same thing happened when I surrendered to Jesus.
He’s totally worth it.
2 Corinthians 5:20b — We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. (NIV)