Your Jesus Is Too Personal – Part 2

I want to follow up on last week’s post with some things I didn’t have time to get to.

When I say “your” Jesus being too personal, what I mean is that a subjective interpretation of the real person of Jesus must not be allowed to take the place in our hearts that belongs to the person of Jesus. Jesus isn’t open to change based on my interpretation. He is who he is, and I should seek to know him, not define him. Think about your spouse or your best friend. Do you spend time with that person meticulously writing down facts or trying to summarize who they are? Of course not. We spend time with those we love to know them better.

Another reason the “my Jesus” language hits me the wrong way is because it represents a supremely individualistic mindset that is tragically prevalent in the West. As Westerners, and especially as Americans, we tend to filter everything in our world in a very personal way. Each person has his own car, her own phone number, blog, wardrobe, bank account, you name it. We view ourselves as the master of our own domain, the reigning sovereign of our own kingdom. What follows is that when we confess/accept/receive the Lordship of Jesus, it is often lordship over this kingdom, our own personal one, that we have primarily in our minds (for example, “accepting Jesus as your personal savior”).

But Jesus isn’t simply the Lord of the people who accept him, he is Lord of all. If I have an over-emphasis on the personal aspect of Christ’s saving work, I will undoubtedly lose the more cosmic or global understanding of salvation. Listen to what Paul says concerning salvation:

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

(Colossians 2:13-15 ESV)

If you’re like me, you’ve even read that passage with a strong emphasis on the “you” and the “us,” and we aren’t wrong to rejoice in Christ’s victory and how it applies to us personally. But let’s not miss the comic implications of our Savior who has triumphed over ALL the rulers and authorities in the universe. The triumph goes beyond my experience into the cosmic reality. He has defeated not just my own personal demons, but ALL of the demons.

In the saving work of Jesus God was reconciling all things to himself (Col. 1:20). All things. That’s a lot of things. And “all” is definitely bigger than “me.”

Your Jesus Is Too Personal

The other day I was stopped at a stoplight and saw a car in front of me sporting a bumper sticker which read, “Let me tell you about My Jesus.” Do I even need to say that this didn’t sit well with me? What is implied by this phrase, that this person somehow knows the “real” Jesus that everyone else has missed? Maybe I’m overreacting to a simple bumper sticker… or maybe not.

There is a great misunderstanding when it comes to Jesus as our “personal Savior,” a phrase you won’t find anywhere in the Bible. Maybe it’s a Western tendency to individualize and personalize everything, including faith, to an extreme degree. But there is certainly danger in this kind of thinking.

If you study American religious history, you will find it to be characterized by a myriad of denominational splits through the years. A handful of denominations existed in the early colonization of America, but disagreements birthed new slices of the Christianity pie and left us today with upwards of 1500 different denominations. It seems that it is the American way to pursue life, liberty, and whatever denominational expression of Christianity seems right to us.

Don’t get me wrong, variety is good and I believe God loves it. It is one of the evidences of grace that there are so many different styles and types of worship. Isn’t this what it means to be a body? We are all members of one another, some of us are hands while others are elbows. We run into trouble when we start to say hands are better than arms.

The problem with an overly personal Jesus is that it inherently places more emphasis on subjectivity than objectivity. Opinion starts to replace reality. To be honest, I don’t really want to know your Jesus, I want to know the Jesus. Jesus is a real person with real attributes who really did miracles and really died and really is still alive today. Your interpretation, my interpretation, or even your favorite podcast host’s interpretation of who Jesus is isn’t more real than Jesus himself. We’re all grasping at straws when it comes to describing the massive and infinite Son of God. No one has the market cornered on Jesus.

Now I’m not saying no one can know Jesus. That road leads to relativism. We know Jesus through the Word of God, and by the Spirit he has given to us (Matt. 16:17, Rev. 19:10) and yes, as the body, our perspectives on who he is can help others grow and know him better. But we have to understand that he is bigger than our interpretation of him. As humans, our best efforts to understand and explain him are bound to fall short in one way or another. As John writes in his gospel, “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” (John 21:25)

Let me encourage you to humbly expand your horizon of who Jesus is. He reaches far beyond your own experience, beyond American culture, beyond human language and beyond our limited understanding. Our best response to who he is simply to worship him and know that we are dust (Ps. 103:14).

Walking in Enemy Territory

Perception is everything. You’ve undoubtedly heard that one before. In fact, you may have heard it enough times that you forget how true it really it.

In the past week I have had several meetings that I went in to with a lot of
concerns and uncertainties. Have you ever built something up in your mind in theBusinessmen fighting name of preparation, but it didn’t seem to help? I sometimes try to be prepared for everything, but no matter how much I prepare and think it through I still don’t know how it’s going to go. I go into conversation feeling uncertain, but how will I feel afterward? Victorious? Superior? …Whipped?

Well, in each of my conversations, I walked out not in triumph but enlightened.
Instead of taking the gloves off, I asked some questions. And you know what? 100% of the time I didn’t fully understand the other person’s point of view until they told me.

If there is one thing that’s true about human beings, it’s that we are NOT good mind readers. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have people calling me all the time asking me to “channel” some kind of answer for life’s biggest questions. The best way for me to understand other people (and I know this may be shocking) is by talking to them. Questions are your best friends in tricky situations. Assumptions, well you know what they say about those…

A good way to think about perspective is to picture yourself as a spy working spy-6undercover. I’m not sure what spies do on their day off, but I have a feeling they are more laid back than when they’re on the job. They aren’t looking around every corner in an effort to prevent being caught or exposed. People act differently when they believe they are in enemy territory than when they’re on friendly soil. Our whole perspective changes. This is especially true in every relationship that experiences conflicts (which, as it turns out, is all of them).

If I walk into any conversation thinking I’m engaging the enemy, I’m only going to come out swinging. But friends are different. Friends are given the benefit of the doubt. Friends are your friends because you tell each other the truth. So before I do anything I need to remember who I’m dealing with.

I’ve been learning again that if I hold back the truth in any valuable relationship, whether what’s true is that I’m scared, skeptical, angry, happy or hurt, then I am cheating that relationship of its full potential, and I can’t blame anyone but myself.

If I am unwilling to trust my colleague, spouse or friend enough to tell them the truth, I am simply allowing a sad game of charades to take the place of real relationship. (Inherent in this is the underlying assumption that I know how they are going to respond, which is why I choose to hold back. I blame the other person for the response I assume they will make, not upon reality. And we’re back to assuming…)

So give it a try. You’re not required to agree with everyone, but if you don’t agree, learn how to tell others your views. That’s actually the reason you have differing views, because we are not all the same. That would be an incredibly boring world to live in. Our differences make us better, but only if we let them.