Relationship vs. Concept | How Do You Know God?


Do you have a relationship with God or simply a concept (abstract knowledge) of who God is? It is too easy to go through our daily lives without living life spiritually. When we are distracted by the knowledge and stop focusing on a relationship with God frustration at the hypocrisy and small-mindedness of those around us can set in. Relationship takes time.

A good friend of mine, Ryan, once put it this way, “The Bible is like God’s Facebook page. You can learn a lot about Him and view His status updates but unless you actually spend a lot of time talking and listening to Him you can’t actually know him.” That’s what it’s all about. Do you have a relationship with Him or don’t you? What’s it worth to you to build one?

I hate to break it to you, but just knowing about God is not good enough. The all too familiar mentality that states we simply have to know about (or simply verbalize belief in) God to attain salvation is one of the most effective traps I’ve seen in my lifetime. Too many people go through life having a concept of God rather than entering into a relationship with Him.

What’s a concept?

Merriam-Webster defines “concept” as:

  1. Something conceived in the mind: thought, notion
  2. An abstract or generic idea generalized from particular instances

It’s essentially a thought or a notion. I’ve had opportunity to spend quite a bit of time observing others throughout my lifetime on the pew and, unfortunately, I’ve seen too many “Jesus-constructs” to even begin to be able to keep track. The most common I’ve seen is the “modern day, middle class, American Jesus.” This is the Jesus that wants us to be comfortable, safe, secure, and popular. In the culture I’m surrounded by, this Jesus is the most popular. Sure, there may be slight variations in the details from person to person but for the most part this is where the majority seem to land. This construct typically seems to be found in the lives of those that may actually truly be striving to follow God. They faithfully attend church (some attend “every time the church doors are open”) and can even hold positions of leadership.

So, what’s the problem?

The issue with the “middle class Jesus” construct is that…well…it’s inaccurate. To believe that Jesus wants us to live a safe, secure, comfortable life flies in the face of what I read in scripture. Jesus told His disciples that they would follow in His footsteps…they would be tortured, rejected, hated for His name’s sake, and martyred. He told them to pick up their cross and follow him. These days we don’t even have a clue about how powerful that imagery was to them…These people walked past crucifixions (probably) on a fairly regular basis…Their lives had undoubtedly been seared by the images of gruesome punishment and death at Golgotha. I’ve sat for about three minutes wracking my brain to come up with a similarly powerful modern analogy but can’t. Our modern day tools of execution are too humane to compare! Lethal injection, electric chair, gallows, firing squad, even the guillotine are all humane in comparison to the cross. Jesus wasn’t joking around or trying to make following Him easy. It’s a commitment to denying yourself, dying to your desires every single day, and following Him no matter the cost.

Headline Gathering

An abstract/generic idea generalized from particular instances…This seems to be the result of a “headline” information gathering technique or a result of being hurt in the past. By “headline gathering” I’m referring to the practice of looking or acknowledging only the stories one wants to hear or takes the time to listen to. They see or hear “headlines” from other people but never seek out the truth for themselves. They hear about bad things happening to good people or they’ve experience bad things themselves while “living right” and make their judgements based on those stories/experiences.

The flaws in this method of thinking seem pretty obvious. Making massively important life decisions based on incomplete information is not a good policy. Unfortunately, I’ve seen this happen countless times when it comes to following Christ. Rather than seeking out the truth for themselves countless individuals take the various “articles of faith” that they’ve heard second, third, and fourth hand from others, throw them in a blender and drink the resulting Kool-Aid. I’m not sure about you but I don’t even like to buy deoderant on someone else’s recommendation! I want to read the label and smell the scent for myself before making the decision whether or not to buy. Yet I find myself accepting the “reviews” of Jesus and making eternity impacting judgements based on biased, third party information. That’s absolutely terrifying!

What about relationship?

I struggle with both maintaining a concept of God and an abstract conglomeration gleaned from comments and opinions of others. I find myself downplaying the sacrifice I know God wants me to exhibit in my life on a regular basis and feel guilty about it on a daily basis. So what’s the answer? When we’re faced with the reality that our tendency is to hold fast to a concept rather than relationship we have to make a decision. Will we continue down the path of least resistance or will we put forth the effort to make this relationship a reality?

Hopefully, you choose (like I have) to work on the relationship. This is the only true option. The alternative leads to a future none of us want to know anything about…How do we foster the relationship with our creator?

Most importantly, pray for an understanding of the depth and power of His love for us. This is something only He can reveal to us. The only experience I have with love is what I feel and experience in the context of friendship and family. I understand the depth of love that I feel for my spouse, my daughter, sister, parents, and my friends. Even at the lowly level of humanity,  that love is sometimes an overwhelming emotion that leaves me involuntarily wiping away tears. I can’t imagine the depth and power of what God feels for me. I think about the sacrifice represented in Jesus being tortured and crucified so that I can be saved. Imagine that! What sacrifice! Try to put yourself in that position…sacrificing your child as a proxy for someone else…wow! It blows my mind. It rips at my heart to think of that, and then to think of how unforgiving I would be if someone were to make light of that sacrifice by refusing the relationship provided by my child’s death. Daily, I make decisions that belittle the sacrifice of Calvary, but every single time I turn around and seek His face He’s there with arms wide open waiting anxiously for me to turn and look to Him. How great is God’s love for us!

We must have a realization of this. Once we do everything else will begin to fall into place. This is the foundation that our relationship is built upon. God is love. He loves you and me. He wants a relationship with you enough to sacrifice Himself to have it. The question to ask yourself is not, does God really love me and want to be with me? The question is, what can I do today to show Him I want to be closer to Him?