relationship_religion_thumbI shifted my huge bag from one shoulder to the other, and shoved my cold hand down into my pocket. It was quite cold outside. The skyscrapers caused the wind to whip around the buildings with intensity not felt outside of the city. I knew I was going to be late for my train if I didn’t move quicker. I passed a man who had a loudspeaker telling people they were going to hell. Without pause, I kept walking; he was always on the same street. Many city blocks later, two men were trying to hand me a tract asking me if I had Jesus. They weren’t always there. I figured I had probably already missed my train, so I stopped to talk to them. I found out they were from Milwaukee and were down here in Chicago trying do some “outreach.” I expressed to them that I graduated from Moody and shared their faith in Jesus and we made some small talk, shook hands and parted ways.

Later, I wondered how effective their “ministry” was that day. I wonder how many people in this day and age will really read those gospel tracts. Typical gospel tracts try to break down the gospel into simple step-by-step instructions giving the basic facts and basic truths. Man is sinful. He can do nothing about his condition. God cannot live with sin. Because of man’s sinfulness, he is condemned to hell forever. However, God sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world to live a perfect life, to die for all of mankind’s sin. Jesus didn’t remain dead, He rose from the grave on the third day showing that He was indeed the Messiah, the son of God. If you believe these things, and put your trust in Jesus, your sins will be forgiven and you will spend eternity with God. These things are true. But do they really give someone an accurate understanding of the gospel?

Please hear me out, I’ve grown up in the church my whole life. I’ve read numerous tracts that lay out these simple truths. I’ve studied theology in college and have read dozens of books on faith, Christian theology and practical-Christian living. I’ve read the Bible through a number of times. However, I realized something was wrong when I had a hard time staying awake in my “systematic theology” class. How come I found the simple truths of the Gospel boring? Was I missing something?

“Maybe the gospel of Jesus, in other words, is all about our relationship with Jesus rather than about ideas. And perhaps our lists and formulas and bullet points are nice in the sense that they help us memorize different truths, but harmful in the sense that they blind us to the necessary relationship that must begin between ourselves and God for us to become His followers. And worse, perhaps our formulas and bullet points and steps steal the sincerity with which we might engage God.” -Donald Miller, Searching for God Knows What

I think that we’ve misrepresented the gospel, we’ve attempted to reduce the Christian faith to traditions, clichés, rules, do’s and don’ts, or reduced the gospel to a list of steps to get to heaven. We’ve tried to reduce the beauty of the gospel in the context of Scripture to bullet points in tracts that use cheesy superheroes or basketball analogies to try to sell the gospel to non-believers. We keep marketing Jesus and the church without helping people understand who Jesus really is and what the whole point was in Jesus coming to die for people’s sins. I find that no one wants to spend eternity in hell and will happily say a prayer to keep themselves “safe” but many people want nothing to do with the God of the Universe, let alone have a relationship with Him — on God’s terms.

“I recently heard a man, while explaining how a person could convert to Christianity, say the experience was not unlike deciding to sit in a chair. He said that while a person can have faith that a chair will hold him, it is not until he sits in the chair that he has acted on his faith. I wondered as I heard this if the chair was a kind of symbol for Jesus, and how irritated Jesus might be if a lot of people kept trying to sit on Him. And then I wondered at how Jesus could say He was a Shepherd and we were sheep, and that the Father in heaven was our Father and we were His children, and that He Himself was a Bridegroom and we were His bride, and that He was a King and we were His subjects, and yet we somehow missed His meaning and thought becoming a Christian was like sitting in a chair.” -Donald Miller, Searching for God Knows What

I remember watching the Passion of the Christ and realizing how much I had totally missed when I had read the Gospels. Tears filled my eyes as I tasted afresh the sweetness of the story of what Jesus had done for me. I wondered how something I knew so well could be presented in such a way as to make me realize I had missed the whole point of it. I don’t think the whole point of all that coming to earth, living, talking in parables, healing people, feeding thousands of people and visiting people’s houses can be reduced to a little booklet trying to inform people how to avoid burning in hell forever. The whole point was to make it possible for us to have a relationship with the God of the Universe.

If you thought being a Christian is merely insurance to keep you out of hell, think again. If you thought that being a Christian would mean that God would bless you with possessions and an easy-going life, think again. If you thought that going to a church would mean that your life had all the meaning and fulfillment that you would need, you’re missing the point of church. If you thought that the Bible holds the answers like some kind of magical formula, you’ll miss the message. If you thought praying was like a magical utterance, then think again, you’ve missed the point of prayer entirely.

The point of it all is to have a relationship with the Maker of the Universe, the Savior of your soul, the One whom you were made to have a relationship with, the only One who can change you, change your circumstances, who desperately loves you and wants to spend eternity with you. Do you have a relationship with Him?