I have a bible that I received some years ago that has a page at the back for me to date and sign to indicate the day I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal saviour. It sounds honourable and perhaps you’ve done that before. I’m not criticising the intention but, for me, it changes the dynamic of the relationship that Jesus Christ has established. Jesus is very clear when he says: You did not choose me but I chose you.
While it sounds admirable and respectful and appreciative of all that God has done for us to proclaim our decision to make Jesus our personal saviour, decision theology, as we call it, can place ourselves in the driver’s seat with Jesus as the example we are simply following. Jesus leads the way – I make the decision to follow him. It puts “me” as the one who has begun the relationship – the day “I” chose to accept Jesus as “my” Saviour. Again, Jesus warns against this type up understanding. I do not call you servants any longer … but I have called you friends. One thing is clear in the way Jesus describes our relationship with him: Jesus promises to stay in relationship with us regardless of what we might decide.
Jesus has established an intimate relationship with us whether or not we have accepted him as our Saviour. Jesus relationship with us is not dependant on anything we say or do or sign. Jesus did not come to set an example of right living, goes away and then returns someday to see how we did. Jesus didn’t come to live a model human life for us to imitate and then leave us on our own to live up to his example. Not according to Jesus who says “I am with you always till the end of the age”.
Our relationship with Jesus is not a relationship where “I” have decided to live the example he set. Yet that is how so many people understand Christianity – a decision to follow Jesus and the example he lived. And sadly so many people struggle to live up to that example and believe that God no longer loves them because of the way they live their life. And that leads many to disassociate themselves from Jesus because they just can’t do all the things God commanded us to do. But while we can disassociate ourselves from Jesus by our own decision, we cannot disassociate Jesus from our lives. Jesus is intimately involved in each of our lives whether we have accepted him or not. That might sound strange – why would Jesus want anything to do with people who want nothing to do with him. Well, that’s the nature of God. God is always seeking the lost and unsaved – just like the Good Shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep that have decided to stay with him so he can look for the one lost sheep who has decided to leave the sheepfold. It surprised Peter and the other disciples when God revealed himself to those who were outside of their sheepfold: While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers – those who were in the sheepfold – who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. Even on the Gentiles – those who were outside the sheepfold.
God is always active and present in the world. He isn’t up ahead at the “pearly gates” waiting for us to arrive and check out how we measured up to Jesus’ splendid example. If there is any role that we play in the relationship then we will always be wondering “will he let us in, or tell us that we failed to live up to his expectations”. Have I led a good enough life. We could sign a million pledges towards God and it would make no difference at all because Jesus is the one who has done it all. We have a saviour who stays with us. I don’t know if that’s important for you – but I’m finding it more important than ever. Satan seems to know exactly where to find where I am struggling in my faith. Whether it’s because I haven’t been visiting enough. Whether it’s because I haven’t been praying enough or reading the bible enough. He seems to know exactly where he can make me feel inadequate no matter how much I’ve done. He knows how to make me wonder about my salvation. And what Satan does next is quite extraordinary. He will guide you back on track to do even more for God to show your love and dedication for him. Satan wants to turn the relationship around so we feel that we are the ones serving God faithfully. And that’s when we find we can never do enough for God. That’s when people begin to burn out. That’s when people become disillusioned about their faith. That’s when the work of Christ becomes so important for us. It is only when we begin with the starting point of what God has done for us rather than what we can do or are doing for God where we will find a loving and caring God who laid down his life for us. It is only then when we will discover God as our friend and not as someone to whom we are answerable as servants. As Jesus said – I no longer call you servants but friends.
We are known and cared for, as sheep are loved and cared for by the shepherd who even lays down his life for the flock, rather than running away. Unlike the frightened disciples who ran away when Jesus was arrested. Because of that love, we can trust the One who knows us intimately and cares for us tenderly, who holds our very lives in that care even when we fail to live up to the commandments. We are known and held and loved. We don’t need a model of ideal behaviour to follow with our lives. We need a saviour who will stay with us to guide us until we have reached our home in heaven. And that’s exactly what we have in Jesus who promised – I am with you always till the end of the age. Without our relationship with Jesus we would be left on our own to do our best to follow his life and live his commands and we would fail miserably. And the truth is, on our own, we wouldn’t be able to live such a life. And if God’s love for us depended on us living up to such an example then none of us would know just how much God loves us because we would always be basing God’s love for us on what we have done. We are assured we already have God’s love. This is real love–not that we loved God, but that he first loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. It is not something we must earn by keeping the commandments.
God’s love always comes first. We are his friends and he tells us, so now go out and live like friends with one another. Love one another as I have loved you, he says. We apply various titles to ourselves as Jesus’ followers: we call ourselves his ambassadors of Christ, apostles, messengers, servants, but no greater title that we can claim for ourselves than we are his friends. We are his beloved friends. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. And that’s exactly what Jesus did for us. So don’t look to what we have done for Christ but let us keep looking to what Christ has done for us: In our Baptism where we were made children of God.
In the Lord’s Supper where Jesus body and blood are given to us for the forgiveness of our sins. And may we continue to abide in his love as his dearly beloved friends.