If we’re not careful, it’s easy to settle for less than God has for us. Not just in our theology or our worship services, but maybe most importantly, in what we experience and expect from our relationship with God. Most gospel presentations zoom in on sin, confession, repentance, and forgiveness, as they should. Luther said the entire Christian life is one of ongoing repentance. To be clear, I think we need more, not less of that sentiment in our hearts and in our churches.
The problem is that many Christians, sermons, and gospel presentations never move on from that point. There's more to the Christian life than being forgiven, than thinking about Christ's sacrifice and being thankful, even than being sure that you’ll go to Heaven when you die.
The result of forgiveness is that you now have a relationship with God, through his son Jesus Christ. I like to think of Jesus’ words to the disciples in John 14: “In my father’s house there are many rooms… and I am going to prepare a place for you” I wonder how many of us have effectively been standing in the doorway, marveling at the glorious invitation into the house of God, but unaware that there’s more to this house than an entryway. The truncation of the gospel leads us to revere and settle for a transaction, rather than the fullness of life God has prepared for us. There’s more for us than standing right inside the front door.
On one side, this truncated version of the Christian life makes it hard to be sure that you’re saved, and even harder to live like it. Thankfulness is a necessary, but ultimately weak, motivator for the Christian life. You’re not designed to be motivated by guilt for what it cost God to redeem you. On the other, this vision of the Christian life makes it difficult to preach the whole counsel of God. How do you preach the Old Testament without worrying about works’ based righteousness? How do you talk about right and wrong when you know you’ll be forgiven later? It’s easier to offer a chance at weekly rededication than it is to invite people into a joyful relationship with God.
The final pages of the Bible show us the whole picture. In the very end, we get to be with God forever. Yes, he will do away with pain and suffering and he will destroy death, but notice the language John uses in the final scene of Revelation:
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” Revelation 22:1-4
The fullest life you can imagine starts now, because in Christ, you have been brought back, reconciled, to God. The relationship has been healed. The Bible can be summarized as a picture of what it looks like to live with God and what it looks like to live estranged from God.
Sometimes we treat our faith like it grants us access to watch a well-acted biopic about this amazing gracious God, when that same God wants to know us and have a relationship with us. How many Christians are standing in the doorway, when the fire is lit, the table is set, and the father is waiting inside?
So we are thankful for forgiveness, we think often of the cross, and we live as those who remember what it was like to be lost. But we also live like we have a loving father we speak with every day. We don’t read the Bible like distant observers, but as those who are taking part in the world it speaks of. In what has become one of my favorite verses, John explains the intimate reality of being a Christian:
“That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” 1 John 1:3-4
This is what Jesus offers: forgiveness, fellowship, love, and joy. If your faith is missing a restored relationship with God, you’re missing out on the fullness of the Christian life.
Cole Feix is the founder and president of So We Speak. Follow him on Twitter, @cfeix7.