Systematizing A Relationship


The nugget my missions pastor passed on to us on Sunday referred to “high theology.” I know what he was talking about. The previous sermons in the book of Ephesians looked at what Paul was telling the believers about their faith, or more accurately, the result of it.

In chapter one, for instance Paul gives a number of “in Him” statements: He chose us, redeemed us, sealed us. Of course he elaborates some on each of those, so that we can understand them and the great gifts we have.

In chapter two Paul gives several “you once were … but now” statements, tied together with a couple “remember” passages. Again he is clarifying who the believer is: what he was saved from, how he was saved, and what he now enjoys as a result of salvation

This is theology.

As Pastor Mike Erre, our soon to be new senior pastor, said when he preached from Ephesians, the first half is full of indicatives–expressions of simple statements of fact.

Theology.

Paul undergirded a number of his letters in this way. First the indicatives, then the imperatives.

In other words, before he addressed what instruction he needed to give the church, what things they should do to live up to their calling, he first wanted to be sure they understood that calling, especially God’s provisions and promises attached to it.

What struck me today, though, as I was reading a book about the Church, is that today we seem to be systematizing our theology to the point that it would be easy to forget we as believers in Jesus Christ primarily have a relationship.

The particular chapter I was reading followed a discussion of what the kingdom of God meant and whether the kingdom of God is synonymous with the Church (no), whether it has come as Jesus said from time to time or if it is still to come.

The discussion reminded me of the interviews I heard with Rob Bell when his book Love Wins first released (see “If Love Wins, How Come Earthquakes Happen?”). He made much of the fact that Jesus said the kingdom was near, was within, and he ignored any statements that indicate the kingdom is something yet to come.

As I’m thinking about this, I suddenly thought, maybe these scholars are being too scholarly. Maybe they’re trying too hard to understand something, to systematize something that is really easy to understand if you get the fact that it is relational more than it is rational.

Rational things can be analyzed and categorized. Relational things are harder to do so. But to a great degree, relational things are easier to figure out.

Jesus made it quite clear: “If you love me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). He expanded on that moments later:

He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him…If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me. (John 14:21-24)

Interestingly, John also records a conversation the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ had with Peter. His repeated question was, Do you love Me? (see John 21:15-17)

I don’t think it requires some kind of understanding of primary languages or a degree in theology to get what Jesus is saying.

If you’ve ever loved someone, you know that you want very much to make them happy. You want to do things they will appreciate, give them things you hope they like. Even if it means giving up what you want. The desire to please them is greater than the desire to go to the movie you want to see or whatever else might be at issue.

Our relationship with God is much the same, Jesus is saying. If I love Him, I’ll want to please Him. It’s not really an academic study, not something we need to understand as much as commit to.

If you’ve been by A Christian Worldview of Fiction before, you probably know that I really like theology. I love studying the Bible and understanding what it says. But I think sometimes we can get so caught up in our study we forget we are dealing with a Person, that we are in a relationship, and that it’s not an overly complicated one–unless we make it so.

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