“When you are hungry, do you want to eat and drink the meal, or the vessels used to bring you the meal.” – Yours Truly
I love Jesus Christ.
And while I love the stories about Jesus Christ, the book that contains those stories, the writings in that book written by others that loved him, the literature in that book that set the stage for those stories, the histories in that book that record how those who first loved him went about showing that, the letters in that book between folks who loved him, and all the religious practices and sacraments and people that have pointed me to him, I would trade them all in for Jesus Christ himself.
This may sound odd to you at first. It did to me when I first found myself saying it. But two things opened me up to the idea:
- My longing for a real relationship with Jesus and the God he spoke of.
- What Jesus, as I read about him in the Bible, said was possible in that regard.
These two things combined like water on a seed in perfect conditions, and a whole new landscape of Christianity came bursting from the depths and into view. It changed my life forever.
Better said, he changed my life forever. I started reading things, seeing things, practicing things, and experiencing things that, even though they had the Bible as their source, the Christianity I grew up with never taught me.
The Christianity of my youth taught me to be baptized, take the Lord’s Supper, and go to church services that practiced worship in a certain prescribed way. All of this, I was told, was “Biblical” – which everyone around me seemed to agree was a weighty and important word – and so I did it all. And I can even deem these teachings as “good” and better yet, “useful” in my journey with and towards Christ.
But let me tell ya (and try not to panic)…
…for one authentically spoken word from Christ to my soul securing its place with him in his Kingdom forever, I would trade my water baptism.
…for one moment of spirit-on-spirit communion with the living Christ, I would trade a lifetime of practicing the Lord’s Supper.
…for the the thick and real presence of Christ with me and on me, I would trade every single religious practice that I hold to, utilize, and teach.
How can this be, you may ask? Do you not need your baptism in order to get your Kingdom securing word from Christ, your supper in order to have actual communion with Christ, your religious practices in order to experience and enjoy Christ’s presence?
Allow me to attempt an explanation of why my integrity demands that I say no. And allow me to utilize Jesus’ words as a guide. (primarily from John 6)
Many have participated in religious, Biblical things, and even though they were gifts from God, they still were caught in their sin, shame, guilt, and insecurity. This is because what really matters is the Person behind these things, the true treasure from heaven to which they point and lead: Jesus Christ. (Jn 6:49-50)
Jesus Christ alone saves from death. He alone allows you eternity. His giving himself, not his gifts, is what gives life to anyone in the world. If you do not have spiritual (comm-)union with him, have his spiritual presence with and on you, or receive in your spirit his personal word guaranteeing your Kingdom identity, then is it a surprise that you have no life in you, even if you practice Bible-based and truth-connected, but external, things? With a real and personal connection, resurrection is not only believable, but natural, and easy to live in confidence about. But without it (him), you will not be raised to life in the last day, no matter what you did Biblically right externally, because the power of life is not in you, because he is not in you, and you aren’t in him. (Jn 6:51; 53-56)
Jesus is a weighty and personal reality that is to be experienced, not merely an academic and doctrinal reality that is to be believed in and argued for. The intimate relationship that we witness Jesus having with the Father is supposed to be our model for what Jesus is saying we get to be experiencing with him. Tell me, what external practice can deliver on this? (Jn 6:57-58)
This is a hard teaching, you may note. Hard enough that you may not accept it. (Jn 6:52; 60)
And unacceptable enough, that it may offend you. But this is because of some predetermined and well-rehearsed ideas that you carry, not because it can’t or doesn’t fit with what God has done and told you. And this is tragic, because while you sit around being offended, there is so much more to come in this life with Christ that your limiting beliefs do not allow you a category with which to interpret! And getting past your “offendability,” and opening up to a deeper understanding, well, it is required work in order for you to appreciate it. (Jn 6:61-62)
So let me put it as simply and concisely as I can: The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. (Jn 6:63a)
I wish I could make it simpler than that (but Jesus couldn’t either, I guess, so I don’t feel so bad), because even these nine words that explain what I’m talking about require that you open up to the truth they carry for you to understand, accept, and then experience them as the reality that they are. The irony is that this news is the best yet, and what every human is longing for. (Jn 6:63b)
Yet, surprisingly, I know there are many who haven’t the depth of belief to allow for this. For this, you have to be spiritual. You have to allow God to be inclusive of, but more real, vital and necessary than what you can do and experience in the body and with the physical senses and faculties. As someone said to me when I struggled with this, I can explain it to you, but I can’t understand it for you. And that is because this stuff is truly the stuff that can only be worked out between a man and God in dedicated, faith-fueled, practical experience. (Jn 6:64-65)
But many will leave this highest of all gifts, that of Christ himself, and instead will try to find their belief, hope, and eternal life elsewhere. (Jn 6:66; 68-69)
Many will, in direct opposition to Christ’s teaching, insist that the flesh counts for something, which contains just enough truth (when properly understood) that some will attach their hope for life in this world and resurrection in the next to earth-bound, history-based, temporal and physical actions and things. They will take what were meant to be powerful and useful from within the life-giving relationship with Jesus and pretend that they are mandatory and required in order to academically believe that you have the life-giving relationship with Jesus. Without intending to, and with some of the best motives available to man, and denying it all the way, they will look right at Jesus and ask for him to give them some external works to do that will save them. (Jn 6:28)
He won’t do it, mind you. He won’t. He will just constantly, faithfully, and creatively keep on offering them the very treasure that they are looking to gain from those works. He will offer himself. (Jn 6:29)
I love Jesus Christ.
He is the real food. He is the real drink. (Jn 6:55)
All the rest are serving utensils. Do I “need” them to partake of the meal? No. Do I “use” them to partake of the meal. Yes. Powerfully so. Beautifully so. Biblically so. But if I ever say “don’t forsake the assembly” or “take this cup in remembrance of Jesus,” or “this baptism saves you” – it should be taken in the same way as I would say, “you need this plate to eat dinner” or “here’s a cup to drink to some water,” or “this fork feeds you.”
The food and the drink are the point. They are what nourish. They are what sustain. They are what give life. All utensils that help me partake of the actual food and drink, I use faithfully, and I’m grateful for. But I don’t consume them. That would even be dangerous. I use them. I consume Christ.
He, and only he, is what gets me life now and forever. (Jn 14:6)
And life, the eternal kind, is, after all, best described as…him. (Jn 17:3)
As Jesus often said, if you get it, you get it. (Mt 11:15)