Last time, I promised I’d write about the life-changing effect of embracing Jesus as your Savior. This effect is not one that only comes into play once you’ve died and get to go to heaven for eternity vs. going to hell for eternity. This is something that you can embrace on Day One, that will be with you for the rest of your life if you will let it. I am talking about a change in identity.
I’m in love with a wonderful woman. Soon, I will propose to her, then a few months after that, we will be married. Once that happens, she will no longer have her current last name. When she talks about her family, she will mention that she has a husband first, unless a family member is standing right beside her. Her ring finger won’t be bare anymore. She won’t think of herself as single, nor will she continue to live with her parents. She will have my name, a set of rings I’ve given her on her finger, and she will live with me. Her identity and the way she thinks of herself will change and will remain this way as long as we’re both still alive. Even if I were to die first, she could not return fully to the way she was before we were married. She could ditch the name, the rings, and the house, but her heart and memories would always have me in them.
Christianity is similar. You might have heard it said before that it is a relationship, not a religion. Well, that’s true. But what kind of relationship is it? I think many Christians who have some grasp on the relationship part have misunderstood what sort of relationship we’re meant to have. They view God as a combination friend, judge, and giver of blessings. God does fill these roles, certainly, but that’s not where the relationship is supposed to stop.
You can shut out a friend. You can give up a friend and end that relationship. There’s no real tie to a friend. The relationship is based on liking the other person, not on a real commitment. Now, a good friendship can survive fights and even betrayal, but it’s because the love there will see past faults, not because there is a solemn covenant to always be friends. If you have just a friendship with God, you will feel as though you can ignore Him, that you can “agree to disagree” without consequence and just patch things up later. That’s not giving Him authority in your life.
If you see Him as a judge, now you have the authority, but you miss the mercy aspect of it. You’re waiting on Him to smite you for your misdeeds. It will make you eager to hide from Him, especially when you mess up, and leery of getting close to Him.
If He is there to give you blessings, then you love what He can give you rather than loving Him. To a certain extent, all our human love is based on this give-and-take. If my girlfriend never wanted to hug or kiss me, never wanted to be around me, and only spoke to me once a week, our relationship would have a problem. Much as I love her, I recognize that I don’t love her without any thought of myself. Likewise, there’s a certain part of us that will seek God for His blessings, but that can’t be the extent or even the greatest part of our relationship with Him. We have to love Him because of who He is, regardless of what He does for us. Even if we love Him because of what He’s already done, that’s not enough because gratitude by itself is not enough to cement a deep, loving relationship forever. A friendship and a debt, yes, but not the level of relationship God wants with you.
God wants you to be His son or daughter. And He wants Jesus to marry the church. In other words, we are the (adopted) children and the promised bride of the Son of God. Those are the two relationships we have with the deepest bond. We can’t get closer to God than that.
One interesting thing about our being adopted children is that, in those times, a parent could disown their natural child, but never an adopted one. Once you were adopted, that parent was your parent for life, regardless of what you did. Likewise, God has adopted you and called you His children. He has already promised to never leave you (Deut. 31:6) and He cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13). In other words, once He has sworn to Himself, He cannot go back on His own word.
Also, in the Bible, marriage was for life. Jesus allowed a man to put away his wife for adultery, but aside from that, it didn’t matter if she was a nagging, loveless, sharp-tongued harpy who wasted all his money. He was not allowed to divorce her. And God has said that He will not put us away even though we have walked away from Him many times. For Him, that marriage covenant is forever, regardless of what we do.
And both of these relationships are much stronger than mere friendship. They are meant to be deep, open ones where you’re vulnerable before Him as a child before his mother or a bride before her husband on their wedding night. And as a child is to be submissive to his parents or a wife to her husband, so we are to be submissive to God.
This is not abject slavery, though God has every right to demand that it be. It is an honor of the highest imaginable degree, that God would condescend to allow us to have a deep relationship with Him, as closely approaching the oneness He enjoys with Himself as we can bear. That is the gift He wants for us: a new identity.
To get back to my future bride for a moment, she doesn’t introduce herself to people as a friend of so-and-so, even if that person is well-known in our circle. She might introduce herself by what she does for a living, but even that is subject to change. Once we are married, though, that identity is changed until she dies. And while she is alive, our relationship will be like none she has ever had. It will be closer, more open, more trying, more challenging, and happier than she could be in any other relationship. There will be aspects that we will only share with each other, too.
As a Christian, you likewise have rights to share things with God and have a deeper relationship with Him than with anyone else. He has given you the right to call yourself a Christian, to declare that you belong to Him. He has promised to always love you and never leave you. This is not friendship, this is His being your Father. This is Jesus calling you His future bride. Don’t settle for friendship when that’s the least He wants to offer you.