The more I interact with people about their faith or just spiritual things in general, the more I find the conversations focusing on what people know and what they do. Most people, when we’re talking about their faith, describe their faith by what they know about the Bible or the Quran or certain philosophies or by what they do, like going to church, praying, meditating, and doing good works. To be honest, this happens whether I’m talking to folks who consider themselves to be Muslim, Buddhist, atheist, or even Christian.
However, most Christians with whom I speak will make a distinction that their faith is more of a relationship with God, and I would agree that one of the greatest distinctions between our Christian faith and any other religion or worldview is that we are able to know God and have a relationship with God through our faith in Jesus. But when many Christians talk about their relationship with God, again, they describe it by telling what they know and what they do.
So what does it really mean to have a relationship with God? Is it really enough to know about God, to know what Jesus said and did, and to say or do certain things because the Bible “tells me so”? Does that mean we really know Jesus? I mean, just because we are aware of the fact that George Washington was born in February 1732, that he was the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolution, and that he was the first president of the United States, does that mean that we know George Washington? Would celebrating his birth by buying a mattress on Presidents Day prove that we know him any better? Certainly not. For one thing, George Washington died in 1799, and he is still buried at Mount Vernon, while we worship and serve a living Savior.
But how might we know Jesus? Paul wrote this in Philippians 3:10, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” Paul’s goal wasn’t to know about Jesus – to know the details of his life and ministry, to know the content of his teaching – his goal was to know Jesus, to have a relationship with Jesus. The key is in the phrase “fellowship of sharing.” That’s not a mental exercise; it’s not something you can learn. It’s something that must be experienced.
In order to know Jesus, we need to fellowship with Jesus, to share, as Paul wrote, in the suffering of Jesus, even to the point of “becoming like him in his death.” Obviously, since Jesus walked the earth nearly 2000 years ago, we will need to learn about Jesus; so we ought to spend some time and put some effort into reading the Bible, studying it, and meditating on it, so that we might know about his life, ministry, suffering, death, burial, and resurrection. If not, how can we share in those things?
Then, as we learn about Jesus, we can fellowship with him and share with him in his sufferings. The first step would be in sharing in his death, burial, and resurrection through our own baptism. Paul explains this in Romans 6:3-5:
Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.
That’s how we actually know Jesus; that’s how we have a living relationship with Jesus. When we share in his death, burial, and resurrection and when we share in his sufferings – struggling with temptation, being separated from friends and family and even persecuted because of our faith – that’s when we know Jesus. That’s something that we share with a living Savior and not just something we know. And when we know Jesus in that way, that’s something that we can share with others, so that they might know our living Savior.