|Volume 17 Number 4 April 2015||
Louis Rushmore, Editor
Relationships can be baffling, and there is no more important relationship to understand than one’s relationship with God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Of course, relationships with other persons are no less challenging. This includes relationships between fellow Christians and even spouses. Yet, figuring out the nature of one’s relationship with either God or with people is essential on so many levels.
Understanding the proper relationship that the Christian ought to have with God is of chief importance, but that can be daunting, especially when it comes to “works.” On one hand, the student of the Bible recognizes that he is not saved by and his eternal redemption does not depend upon meritorious works (Galatians 2:16; 2 Timothy 1:9; Romans 11:6). “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9 NKJV). On the other hand, there is a real sense in which the children of God under Christianity need to show forth “works” (James 2:14-26) or “fruit” (John 15:1-8). “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples” (John 15:8). Jesus Christ even stated that a determining factor in where a person spends his eternity is based on what he or she does or does not do benevolently toward others (Matthew 25:31-46).
Since Christians do not earn their salvation and eternal redemption, how should we harmonize these apparent contradictions or this paradox? A paradox concerns what appears to be but is not really a contradiction. The famous Reformation History leader Martin Luther resolved this paradox to his own satisfaction with a critical judgment on the Book of James, calling it “a right strawy epistle.” Dispensing with the Book of James, though, does not counteract our Lord’s call to be fruitful or to perform works. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
The seeming contradiction between one’s inability to earn his salvation with works, while at the same time being obligated to work is resolved by understanding “relationships” or “fellowship.” “Fellowship” in the Bible comes from either of two Greek words (i.e., “koinonia” or “metoche”). Between them, the definition of “fellowship” includes the concepts of communion, sharing in common and partnership. The English language definitions of “fellowship” (“the condition or relation of being a fellow”) and “relationship” (“a connection, association, or involvement”) are similar to each other (Dictionary.com). An obedient child of God enjoys both fellowship and a relationship with God.
Summarized, salvation from past sins (Romans 3:25) and eternal redemption are available conditionally upon one’s obedience to divine instruction. A person obtains salvation from sins as well as fellowship and a relationship with God by agreeing to the terms set forth by God in the New Testament. One must believe that Jesus is the Christ (John 8:24), repent of sins (Acts 3:19), profess Christ (Matthew 10:32) and submit to immersion in water for forgiveness (Mark 16:16; Colossians 2:12). Mankind as part of the creation has no standing to negotiate salvation and redemption with the Creator! Eternal redemption, likewise, depends upon continued obedience (Revelation 2:10; Acts 8:22; 1 John 1:9).
Obedience (Romans 6:17; Hebrews 5:8-9) rather than disobedience to the Gospel (2 Thessalonians 1:8; 1 Peter 4:17) puts one into a relationship and fellowship with God. The proper motivation for obedience is reciprocal love. “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Obedience by Christians manifests itself by faith in action—works or fruit, but the correct incentive for this obedience is the relationship and fellowship the children of God have with Deity. Furthermore, obedience and works or fruit, which lead to salvation and Christian service, are the result first of the pursuit of a relationship with God, and then, as a consequence of enjoying that relationship with God. Works do not save us as much as they are the byproduct of fellowship with the Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. In other words, because we want to have a relationship with God, we obey Him and do what He requires of us, and because as Christians we have obtained a relationship with God we obey Him and act out our Christianity via works. In both instances, a relationship or fellowship with God results in “works.”
The Bible is instructive regarding relationships in the home as well. It particularly describes the complementary roles of husbands and wives (1 Timothy 2:8-15; Ephesians 5:23-33). Yet, the definition of who we are as husbands and wives or as fathers and mothers is not wholly dependent upon what we do. We are more than our productivity in our respective, God-given roles. We are who we are beyond what we do based on our relationship as spouses or as Christians.
Our self-worth is not tied to what we can do—our works or fruit. This has never been clearer to me than it has become when counseling my seriously ill wife and attempting to uplift her spirit. Despite not being able to perform her ordinary role as homemaker, she is not useless as she supposes. Instead, our relationship is bigger than cooking, doing laundry and sundry other household things. When she was healthy, homemaker duties were the willingly performed byproducts of our relationship in the home that we have made together under the oversight of God. The motivation or incentive for those activities arose out of our loving relationship, much like the motivation or incentive for Christian works pertains to one’s relationship or fellowship with God.
Opportunity equates to responsibility regarding Christian works or homemaking. The relationship or fellowship with God is the motivation to become children of God, and once becoming children of God to exhibit Christian service. Therefore, relationship religion drives management of opportunity and responsibility, whether discussing Christian works or a wife’s domestic duties. Lesser opportunity, though, lessens responsibility—without marginalizing self-worth—because opportunity has no bearing on relationship or fellowship. No one is expected by God to do what he or she is incapable of doing (i.e., works or fruits), and yet, because of a relationship or fellowship with God (or a wife with her husband), we do what we can do. (The tables could obviously be turned around and have been for many where the husband or father or any other person faces partial or complete incapacitation; self-worth in those cases, too, is not tied to productivity but to relationship or fellowship with others and with God.)
Relationship religion drives Christians to manifest themselves in Christian service, works or fruit. Opportunity determines personal responsibility. However, relationship or fellowship with God—rather than Christian service, works or fruit—is the basis of self-worth. Likewise in the home, self-worth is tied to relationship rather than to works or fruit.